A conversation with artistic director Mike Payette, and actors Briauna James, Anton May and Daniela Sandiford

Abena Bentley

Geordie Theatre, one of Montreal’s oldest theatre companies, is celebrating it’s 37th anniversary as well as its recent success on the local theatre circuit.
The company is currently leading the upcoming META (Montreal English Theatre Awards) nominations for the 2016-2017 season with 13 nominations. The awards will take place Monday, October 23, at the Montreal Rialto Theatre.
I recently had an opportunity to interview Mike Payette, the theatre’s artistic director, along with the cast members who are currently touring schools across Canada with two plays, The Mountain and Pinky Swear.
Payette joined the Geordie team last season and I wanted to know his thoughts on Geordie’s success and its 13 nominations.
He based the success on what he describes as “strong scripts, a strong vision and strong team.”
He also emphasized the important presence of the current META jury taking into consideration this year’s quality of plays and how the stories are being told, as opposed to “how much stuff one may carry on tour, or money that’s put into it.”
Mike says that given the resources you get to work with (especially when doing school tours) you’re a lot more limited with what you can do with set design, etc., and he feels that the panel is focusing more on the theatre’s ability to lift the stories and bring them to life.
He added that, “It helps when you’re working with really dynamic, current plays, very smart artists and exceptionally powerful cast members.”
The two plays on the current school tour, The Mountain and Pinky Swear, starring a trio of local actors, Briauna James, Anton May and Daniela Sandiford, have been making stops across Canada for the last four weeks and will on the road until spring 2018. They are running simultaneously throughout the tour with the cast doing two shows per day, with rotating roles. All three actors are recent graduates of the Dawson’s Dome Theatre program.
By the end of the tour, the three emerging actors would have covered more than 27,000km across Eastern Canada and will have performed a little over 200 shows, gracing the hearts of easily 40,000 students all the way from elementary school to the CEGEP levels.
Daniela knew at a very young age what she wanted to do. She often found herself mimicking the actors on television and putting together her own pieces and “forcing her friends and families to star in them.”
Briauna says she was bullied as a young child and overlooked it as being okay. She said she would often tell her mom, “Maybe they were having a bad day.” Luckily, her mom was a life coach and used the technique of role playing with her daughter who soon realized bullying wasn`t cool.
However, it peaked her interest and ignited a flame in her for acting.
Growing up, Anton “had a hunger for the stage.” He says he used to sing for a community opera house, with his father and other siblings and knew right away he wanted to be on stage.
The Mountain, which is being presented to elementary schools was written by Chelsea Woolley, a National Theatre School graduate who at the time was inspired by several things in her life, according to Payette.
The play predominately focuses on the experiences of new arrivals to Canada. The main character (played by Daniela) is from “away” somewhere in the Middle East. She soon becomes acquainted with (Anton) who plays an 8-year-old child, who himself faces his own issues of bullying and isolation.
The playwright was inspired by a U.N. documentary she had seen on the human rights commission called Calling Sierra.
The documentary portrays family members that had been separated and would have to go to the outskirts of the village and practically have to hold up their phones to get a functional signal in order to communicate with their loved ones, who had unfortunately migrated.
Therefore, it piqued the interest of Chelsea to explore that matter. Their experiences and challenges of relocating far away from their natural habitat.
The other play, Pinky Swear, for high school and CECEP students is inspired by Kalale Dalton-Lutale, another National Theatre School graduate, and her personal experiences.
According to Payette, the playwright is a “mix race young woman” who wanted to investigate the relationship between females and their celebration of womanhood.
It focuses on the power female relationships carry and their abilities to embrace mourning and what it means to be loyal to each other to the end. Similar to the way men often are with each other.
In the play, we often see layers of mix race, gender issues and the complications that often come with them.
Mike describes it as “a really coming of age piece of two young women that are at a crossroad.”
In gauging the effectiveness of the theatre, Payette says Geordie is doing “a wonderful job in aiding the moulding of the minds of young children by focusing on what’s relevant and current in society, while bringing together the enchantment and magic of theatre.”
The young actors agreed.
Contact Geordie Theatre: Geordie.ca 514-845-9810.