In honour of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, Imago Theater presents Have We Forgotten Yet? produced in conjunction with five other Montreal theater companies. I sat with Artistic Director Micheline Chevrier to discuss her vision, the inspiration behind the series and what audiences can expect.
Stephanie Weiner (SW): Tell me about the name of the series and inspiration behind it.
Micheline Chevrier (MC): The title comes from a poem. A British poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who fought in the First World War wrote a handful of poems. He actually started to talk very openly about the difficulties and impact of war and how horrible it was. He has a poem called Aftermath, in which he repeats that line “Have you forgotten yet?” and then he says at the end, “May you never forget”. And I think that’s where this whole idea of Remembrance comes from, certainly our understanding of it comes from the First World War. I like the idea of the tension between how you kind of have to forget in order to move on but you can’t completely because then the stories are lost and then you make the same mistakes.
SW: What is the story behind this series, was it inspired by the reading of this poem or…?
MC: I had wanted to do this for awhile. I think I’m obsessed with war, not why we do it, but I am mostly concerned about the consequences of wars. I have wanted to mark the centenary of World War I by having a discussion about it. I wanted to look at the impact of that war and it’s treaties, the creation of borders and how that’s what created further conflict. So, the war that was supposed to end all wars actually created all the wars we have been living through in the 20th and 21st Century. It has very little to do in the end with freedom or personal identity and more to do with the economics and the power. It’s never really about the people. That was what I was interested in doing here is hearing the stories of the people impacted, the people on the ground.
SW: Do you have any personal stories of war?
MC: No, I don’t. No one in my family fought in wars, but I’ve always been intrigued by the First World War. I think it’s the complete uselessness of it, or the waste, and I think this stayed with me. A lot of the writers I was drawn to at an early age were playwrights who lived in Europe between the wars. They were responding to a society that had really been through conflicts. So it started with playwrights, but also I was just intrigued by the question of why we feel that we can resolve conflicts in an armed way.
SW: The plays being performed this week give a humanizing look at the impacts of war. Tell me about the importance of that for you.
MC: I think it’s important for people to understand that it’s because they’re told from that point of view, that all the qualities of human interaction are present, which is love, and humour, acts of courage, also some horrible stories too, absolutely (…) but this incredible resilience of the human spirit to not only survive it but to talk about it. I think that’s what I admire the most, is that people are willing to talk about their stories so that other stories like that don’t occur.
SW: How were the stories to be performed curated for this week?
MC: Six plays, six companies. I approached the companies and had a dialogue with them about what plays they wanted to produce within their mandate. We worked with them to find plays that reflected this idea of the impact on children, women, the displaced. It was important that that dialogue be very well-respected.
It’s important to mention that the wars (in these stories) are from all over the world and that if there were more time, I would have loved to do more. We have stories from Chile, the Congo, Africa, Iraq, European stories, American and Canadian Stories. We have an incredible number of perspectives being represented. I wish I had more time and more money to represent other people.
SW: I understand there will be a discussion following the shows. Who will be participating?
MC: All the shows have a talk back following the performance. This is something that Imago has implemented at all shows. It’s important that people get to chat about what they’ve just witnessed. We’ve invited experts to give some context and be part of the conversation so that the audiences have a chance to respond. We have a professor from McGill who specializes in children impacted by child warfare and their reintegration into society. There’s a specialist in refugee law, and a young woman who was set on fire while protesting in Chile and has since moved to Canada and started a new life.
SW: If there were one thing you would like to say to the readers about Have We Forgotten Yet?, what would it be?
MC: This is a rare opportunity to see six extraordinary stories being told, from different points of view, from different conflicts. It allows us to reflect on our place as Canadians and what we can do about this. I would invite people to come be part of the conversation.
For more information and showtimes:
The Sound of Cracking Bones by Suzanne Lebeau presented by Geordie Productions
The Refugee by Carmen Aguirre presented by Tessri Duniya Theater
The Possibilities by Howard Baker presented by Scapegoat Carnivale Theater
Refuge by Mary Vingoe presented by Playwright’s Workshop Montreal
Palace of the End by Judith Thompson presented by Imago Theater
Ruined by Lynn Nottage presented by Black Theater Workshop
Have We Forgotten Yet? at Monument National (1182 Blvd St-Laurent) November 11-15. For tickets click HERE
Rehearsal of The Sound of Cracking Bones. L-R: Letitia Brookes, Mike Payette and Warona Setshwaelo. Photo by Stephanie Weiner