Geordie Productions: keeping the dream alive for 35 yearsby Lucie Renaud
/ September 1, 2015
Image from Beethoven Lives Upstairs
Since 1980, the year Geordie Productions was founded, it has been presenting live English theatre to young audiences. More than 300 times a year, whether in schools or in the theatre (with its Mainstage series), it has broken new ground and brought the magic of theatre alive, constantly reaching out to broaden the audience base.
Artistic director Dean Patrick Fleming is well aware of the pitfalls the company has to overcome on a daily basis, on the creative and marketing fronts. “Your approach constantly has to change because the world is changing, in terms of media. Especially in English, it has shrunk so much,” he explained in a phone interview.
Old favourites and two new productions
Though an anniversary season may seem like the ideal time to stop, ponder and feature “hits” from previous seasons (in this case, the ever-so-popular Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Hana’s Suitcase, and A Christmas Carol), the company must also continue to address contemporary social issues. Squawk, a play by Newfoundland writer Megan Coles, deals with the choices a young Aboriginal faces, as she is torn between traditional life and the one most kids live nowadays, on the Internet. The world of video games becomes an outlet, a tool to help her voice her fears. “Our video director worked very hard in reproducing something that reminds us of [the video game world of] Sin City; the rest of the play takes place in the food court,” said Fleming. It is not the first time Geordie Productions has taken a less familiar route. In the 2012-13 season for example, Geordie Productions presented Jabber, a show about a young woman who is the only one in her school to wear a hijab.
The other new production, Cliff Cardinal’s Chalk City, looks at a friendship between a sixth-grade boy and a fourth-grade girl. When the boy finds out his parents are separating, he feels the need to separate from his best friend as well, the age difference becoming an unsurmountable obstacle. When the confrontation between the two occurs, their world starts to crumble and the chalk world they had been drawing every day side by side comes to life. “It’s very simple animation, almost a homage to Scooby Doo,” said Fleming. “We’ve never done anything quite like this before, where the video and the characters interact with each other.”
Writing with kids in mind
For 35 years, Georgie Productions has continued to push the envelope further when writing for kids. “Young audiences will follow you anywhere you want to go,” Fleming strongly believes. “They have the best imagination in the world. The only thing they won’t accept is if you lie to them or stop telling a good story. We’re dealing with maybe smarter and more reactive audiences than 35 years ago. I think, nevertheless, that kids have always been the smartest audiences. They’re trained to listen to stories, and they’re really good at it.”
Though he has been acting as artistic director for the last 10 years, Dean Patrick Fleming is not about to sit back and relax. “I get to create the most imaginative worlds and work with amazing artists who love their job, even if the money is terrible,” he chuckled. As the Anglophone market continues to shrink, the shows are now also presented in French schools as part of the English curriculum. (The company offers detailed study guides to assist the teachers both before and after the play has been presented.)
A theatre school has also be started, with both a program in schools and classes offered at the Geordie Productions headquarters on evenings and weekends. Last year, about 140 kids aged 5 to 17 took advantage of the offerings. They work on basics first, such as character creation in improvisation games, but they also put on a complete show that runs for two evenings at the end of the year.
Fleming insists on the necessity for the company’s shows to have a life after their first run in Montreal schools. Jabber, for example, was seen in Toronto and in the US last year, and it will be presented in two major showcases. “This will most probably lead to another tour in the States,” he believes. “I think in some ways that’s what this company needs to do: create shows that will continue to have another life and keep touring through this country and the States and, we hope, get to Europe - that would be years down the road. We would like to tour Beethoven Lives Upstairs across Canada next year, and the two shows we’re working on right now are also designed for that purpose.”
On top of catering to local schools, Geordie Productions aspires to become a vibrant ambassador on the international market.
Mainstage plays this season include Hana’s Suitcase (Thu Nov 5, 2015 - Sun Nov 15, 2015) and Beethoven Lives Upstairs (Fri Apr 29, 2016 - Sun May 8, 2016). geordie.ca