By: Caleigh Crow
At the time of our interview the full moon was just behind us and the ides of March were just ahead of us, and outside the window the beginning of the last flurries were fluttering into Montreal. We don’t expect that those flurries are the onset of a record setting snowfall that will precede six days of snow removal. I met with Glen Robinson on this grey morning for the most no-nonsense interview I’ve conducted in my first month at QDF.
Glen is the director of Balconville by David Fennario, which first hit the stage in Montreal in 1979 to rave reviews. The play was so successful the title has entered the Montreal vernacular. There are even three businesses in Montreal called Balconville; two pubs and, perhaps a little more surprising, a legal entity dedicated to landlord-tenant relations. Glen is not immune to Fennario’s charms either, and admits he’s “always loved the play” and wanted to work on it for a long time. “It impacted a lot of people,” Glen reflects, “It speaks to a lot of people. It attracts people who don’t go to the theatre regularly.”
While, according to Glen, Balconville is the least political of David Fennario’s plays, it does address the political atmosphere of Quebec at the time, and includes Marxist themes of class struggle and Francophone/Anglophone language tensions. “Class struggle unites French and English interests,” Glen explains, “the language might be a divide, but the struggle unites.”
The play takes place in Pointe-Saint-Charles, a historically working-class Montreal neighbourhood, which was and continues to be a “hotbed”, per Glen, for community and political groups. The setting is important because “the set is a character too, in its way,” he says of the two-storey structure they have been building since January. He laughs and explains, “we’re building it in a barn.”
Outside, the snowflakes are swirling ever the more menacingly, in stark contrast to the heatwave afflicting the city as the events of Balconville unfold. The play’s summer season is punctuated by a high-stakes Expos game. In the real world, the beloved Expos live in Washington; though the Habs are on their way to clinching their division. So, things change.
The play’s writing has been described as simple, which Glen indicates is a boon to actors as it “gives [them] an opportunity to be more rich. It opens the door for more creativity.” The cast is, of course, bilingual as Balconville is estimated to be Canada’s first bilingual play. The play’s ‘everyman’ and working class themes are reflected in the casting. The actors’ experience level varies, from veteran to virgin, and Glen himself is employed outside the theatre industry. The direction is rooted in realism. I ask Glen if he’s willing to give some insight into his directorial process. “It’s about character development,” Glen divulges, “We do a lot of metaphor work. I want the actors to have clear intentions.”
Glen calls this production a “dream project” for him and lauds Hudson Player’s Club for creating the opportunity to see his dream realized. He credits HPC for taking on such a “big project for a community company” and cherishes the trust and support that comes from the organization. “I’ve set myself up so I can pick and choose which projects I work on,” he says.
Glen concludes by letting me know tickets are already going fast, and mentions again that this is a show that even sporadic theatre-goers will make an effort to go and see. “Plus,” he says with a wry smile, “there’s a bicycle onstage.”