Yesterday I received a beautiful letter from Jennifer Paquette, a director whose production of Soldier's Heart opens in Woodstock on February 8th. The Paquette family has a heartfelt connection to David's work, and the Theatre Woodstock production of Soldier's Heart features real-life father and son playing Esau and Jacob...but that's just part of the story! Jennifer has kindly given me permission to quote her letter on this blog: “Life Does Indeed Imitate Art” A Love Letter to David French This is our family’s story; In the spring of 1991, I learned that I was being offered my directorial debut with a small community theatre in Woodstock, Ontario. The show was David French’s Salt-Water Moon. I was a 29 year old single mom who had lived and breathed theatre since I was a girl, and Mr. French’s plays had figured prominently in my development as an actor, director and writer. I had toured Ontario schools with a repertory theatre in the early 80’s and Leaving Home was in our line-up and was one of our most requested productions. I was excited and nervous to finally have the opportunity to share my vision of one of a series of plays about the Mercer family, written by the man who was and remains Canada’s most important English speaking playwright. I met my husband Jason when he auditioned for the role of Jacob Mercer. Obviously, he got the part, and, well, the rest as they say... Our modest production of Salt-Water Moon ran in February, 1992 and surprised us by going on to win the coveted Best Production award at the Theatre Ontario festival in Sault St Marie that spring. Jason and I were married in 1994. In May of 1995, Jason and I learned that we were expecting a child. We had been raising my two little girls together and I think we both knew instinctively that we were having a boy. We didn’t even need to discuss what his name would be. The day before I gave birth, my husband telephoned Mr. French and told him our story. He explained how our own love had blossomed while telling the love story in Salt-Water Moon. Then Mr. French and my husband spoke of the thrill of becoming a parent. Jacob Anderson Paquette was born the following day, on February 1, 1996. Three days later, after returning from the hospital with our beautiful new bundle, a package arrived in the mail. We opened it to find a copy of Salt-Water Moon with this inscription: Jan 31/96 (this was the night I went into labour) To Jason & Jennifer, who are proof positive that life does indeed imitate art. - David French We treasure this generous gift. But the story doesn’t end there. In February of 2013, our son will play his namesake, Jacob Mercer in a production of Soldier’s Heart. His dad will play Jacob’s father, Esau. In July 2012, Jacob, Jason and I traveled to Newfoundland where Jacob stood at Coley’s Point, was officially “screeched in” and did a first read-thru of Soldiers Heart with his dad on the steps of the old railway station in Bay Roberts. And so continues our connection with the Mercer family. It is as if these characters are our kin. Jason and I have been fortunate to share our love of storytelling with our children. We believe that our stories are our most cherished inheritances. We are reminded of this every time we hear our now adult children recall to their friends their favourite story about a play called Salt-Water Moon, and of how their parents met and fell in love. With gratitude, Jennifer Paquette
The Writing Home exhibit about David's career closes on September 30, so if you haven't seen it yet, now is a good time to plan your visit. Curated by Theatre Museum Canada and the National Arts Centre, the exhibit looks right at home in the upstairs rehearsal hall at the Tarragon. Here's a link to the Tarragon website, which tells you times and days when the exhibit is open for viewing: http://www.tarragontheatre.com
The Tarragon, where most of David's plays were originally produced, is hosting the marvellous National Arts Centre/Theatre Museum Canada display about his career, Writing Home. The exhibit will be open to the public for free from today until September 30, on each day that the Tarragon has a show. Check the Tarragon website for details about dates and times: http://www.tarragontheatre.com/ If you're in the Toronto area, please go see the exhibit. It's a great tribute to David and his work.
Congratulations to actor Eric Peterson, who was recently appointed a Member of the Order of Canada. Eric was in two of David's shows: The Seagull at the Tarragon in 1977, and Of The Fields, Lately at Soulpepper Theatre in 2009. I had the privilege of seeing the latter, and Eric's portrayal of "Uncle Wiff" was heart-breaking -- a masterful, brilliant performance. Of course, Eric is renowned for the marvelous musical Billy Bishop Goes To War, and as Oscar Leroy in "Corner Gas," among his many other accomplishments. Congratulations to Eric and his family! A well-deserved honour for one of our country's finest actors.
A production of Salt-Water Moon on Granville Island next month stars two amazing young actors: 18-year old Jesse DeCoste, and 16-year old Sofia Newman. The two got to know one another during a high school production of Grease. Sofia and Jesse are both serious about pursuing careers in the theatre, and Jesse is off to LAMDA in London in the fall. The fact that the actors are so close to the ages of the characters in the play will add an authenticity to the show...and both have proven that they have the acting chops! Sofia has a family connection to David's work -- her mother, Lisa Bunting, played April in Bill Glassco's wonderful production of 1949 at CentreStage (now Canadian Stage.) Sofia's father, Richard Newman, directs the show. He once played Jacob in Of The Fields, Lately -- and he saw several premiere productions of David's plays while in Toronto. Designers for the show include Amy McDougall (costumes) and Sean Malmas (set and lighting), both of whom have worked with the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. Further information about the show can be found here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/241512 Break legs to all involved! If you're in the area, be sure to pick up tickets. The show runs from June 19 through 29th at the Carousel Studio Theatre.
https://event-wizard.com/PACT2012/0/pages/50244/ The display was curated by the National Arts Centre and Theatre Museum Canada. An online version is available at: http://www.artsalive.ca/en/eth/playwright/david-french/The marvelous exhibit about David's life and career, "Writing Home," is going to be on display at the conference of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres in Grand Bend next week. You can find out more about PACT and about the conference here:
I'm happy to report that Theatre Northwest in Prince George, B.C. will be producing That Summer in September and October. Theatre Northwest is one of Canada’s smaller regional theatres, but the organization has gained a reputation for its exceptional production values, its penchant for casting from across the country, and the local enthusiasm for Canadian work. Some of the theatre's most popular productions include Corker by Wendy Lill, A Guide to Mourning by Eugene Stickland, Amigo’s Blue Guitar by Joan MacLeod, The Invisibility of Eileen by Kit Brennan, Thy Neighbour’s Wife by Tara Beagan and the works of Norm Foster, Guy Vanderhaeghe and Lance Woolaver. And 1949! Here's a link to the Theatre Northwest website: http://theatrenorthwest.com/current-plays/ I'll keep you posted as I find out more details.
About a week ago I received a notice from David's agent Charlie Northcote that Cawthra Park Secondary School in Mississauga will be performing Leaving Home during the last week in April. I wrote to teacher Stacey Tiller to ask if she'd mind sharing a few details with me to post here as the show progresses. She wrote me a beautiful email about what David's work -- and his personal interest -- has meant to their school. I will quote some of it here: "I was delighted to hear from you as your late husband's work has played an important part of our theatre education here at Cawthra for many, many years. In fact, two years ago, David came in to our school to talk to our Grade 12 students about playwriting. They were amazed and inspired. In our grade 10 year we study all of the Mercer plays for our Canadian Theatre unit. That collection of plays are my all time favourite plays and am thrilled to be able to direct Leaving Home. Writing on the blog would be just fine! And as soon as we get some production photos, I'll send them on to you along with our poster. If you need further information, please let me know. I'd be more than happy to oblige. Thanks so much for your interest. My condolences on David's passing. While I didn't know him personally, his work will always have a place in my heart and at our school." Thanks, Stacey. David was often asked to do school visits, and sometimes it took up a whole day, as he always used public transportation. He usually came home energized and inspired by the students and their interest in his work. It's great to know that students appreciated his making the effort to talk to them.
Break a leg to the cast and crew of Mariposa Arts Theatre's Leaving Home, which opens tonight at the Orillia Opera House. Paul Blanche, who plays Harold in the show, sent me a copy of the beautiful poster he designed for the production: Michael Clipperton, the director, wrote an article for the February 2012 issue of The Green Room that gives some insight into the cast's rehearsal process. He's kindly given me permission to quote from the piece here: “In his first play, Leaving Home, which is based in part on his relationship with his father, the late playwright David French presents a story of troubled relationships, unspoken desires, and consequences of epic proportions. He also gives us some earthy bawdiness, some classic Newfoundland humour, and an unbridled joie de vivre. Among the questions that he asks are: What is a family? What does it mean to be a father? A mother? A son? A daughter? A husband? A wife? What does it mean to work all your life to support your family, and suddenly see that family break apart? What does it mean to be so angry that you strike the person you love most? What does it mean to feel trapped in a situation that is beyond your control? Delving into the world of the Mercer family has revealed many things to me and to the cast and crew. It has been a thought-provoking, laughter-filled journey…” The show has eight performances, Feb. 9 to 12 and Feb. 16 to 19. Tickets are available from the Orillia Opera House box office, 705-326-8011 and online at www.orilliaoperahose.ca.
Last night Mary and I, French family members, and many friends were in Ottawa at the opening of Salt-Water Moon and the "Writing Home: David French" exhibit at the National Arts Centre. It's a wonderful show, and the exhibit is so beautifully put together! Some tears were shed, and some laughs shared by those of us who knew David; it was an altogether magical night. I'd like to thank the NAC -- in particular Peter Hinton, Peter Herrndorf, Nancy Webster, Micheline Chevrier, and cast and crew of the show. I'd also like to thank the amazing Judi Pearl of the NAC, and her colleague Gerry Grace. And of course many thanks to Theatre Museum Canada, Michael Wallace in particular. I said a few words on behalf of the family at the vernissage, and I think I'll just share part of that speech here: I’ve been thinking a lot about David’s work this past year, and I’ve been realizing how much of it has to do with memory. That iconic monologue from the beginning of Of The Fields, Lately, for example -- the memory of a baseball game that epitomizes the son’s whole relationship with his father. The way memories -- and the device of remembering – permeate That Summer, one of David’s last plays. The memories of war that haunt Esau in Soldier’s Heart, and the collective memory of country that flows through the blood of the young lovers in Salt-Water Moon. In the theatre, the most ephemeral of arts, the latest hit often seems to eclipse the work that came before. I know that David, particularly in the years before Soulpepper Theatre revived the Mercer plays, wondered about how – and if – his work would be remembered. This exhibit -- this recognition, this remembrance of the impact his work has had and continues to have -- would have meant a very great deal to him. As it means a great deal to us. I’ll let David have the last word. Near the end of his play That Summer, the Narrator says, “Henry James thought the two most beautiful words in the English language were ‘summer afternoon.’ For me, the most beautiful have always been ‘I remember.’”