When it comes to theatre offerings, few things are as unusual as Montreal’s International Anarchist Theatre Festival (MIATF). The festival has much to boast about. It is both the biggest and only anarchist theatre festival in the world, and is now in its eleventh year. What is an anarchist theatre festival, you ask. The festival presents plays that combine anarchy (of course), social justice, and good theatre. There’s even a closing night of music with a Chilean band. The result is an eclectic and challenging line-up of works that are unlikely to visit this fair city more than once.
I asked Sandy Laplage, a member of the collective about the festival — how it is run and organized, as well as how the plays are chosen.
First off, I asked what anarchist theatre is. According to Laplage, “Our festival is dedicated to anarchist theatre, which means theatre written by anarchists, about anarchists or plays that reflect anarchist values. Plays that reflect anarchist values have an a message that is against illegitimate authority or against capitalism. However, other themes, such as racism and patriarchy are often developed from an anarchist perspective.”
The festival presents plays by both professionals and amateurs alike, with an emphasis on creativity and high quality. Some of the plays are new creations, while others have been around for some time.
Plays are chosen after a call-out on facebook and the website. In order to select those that will be performed, a collective of members read and discuss the plays and watch any visual material that has been sent and select the plays. This year, the two nights of theatre include Justice from Berlin, SMV from the US, El Montaje from Chile, No Past, No Future, from Brockville, and two local pieces: Ni clowne, Ni femme! and a work with the very long title “Indigestion collective ou comment domper sa peau de lézard dans fosse aux chacals.”
The pieces themselves often relate to themes of social justice as much as anarchy. “Social justice is an important part of anarchism and can’t be separated from it,” says Leplage, “The plays often have a theme relating to situation of social justice, or a lack of social justice.” In general, though, this is not the deciding factor when it comes to choosing plays. “For our festival, the quality of the play, the creativity is as important as the message,” says Leplage.
This year, the festival is quite proud to bring in people from around the world and offer the shows at such an affordable price to audiences. “We want to encourage local talent as well as showcase actresses and actors from elsewhere, so we’re very excited to present performers from Montreal and Ottawa as well as those from Chile, Berlin and the US. But it’s rare for a small festival like ours to attract troupes and individuals from the rest of Canada, Europe, South America, and the US. This year we are especially pleased to have a troupe from Chile and one from Germany. And we’re going to have a closing party, on May 20, with the troupe from Chile and others playing music.”
Money is an issue for the festival, especially since it doesn’t rely on monies from outside sources. “The festival doesn’t solicit government or corporate grants, on principle,” says Leplage. “This means that we can only give a $50 per diem for each day of the festival for performers who do not live in or near Montreal and find them a place to stay (in peoples’ apartments) and that we can’t pay traveling expenses.” Sadly, this means that there are many who can’t participate. “The biggest challenge we have revolves around money. Many actors, actresses and theatre troupes from Europe, Haiti, Latin America, the US and the rest of Canada who would like to participate in the festival, but can’t afford travel expenses,” says Laplage.
Nonetheless, having financial independence and non-reliance on government and corporate sponsors is very much in keeping the spirit of anarchy. “Anarchism can be considered to be a collective movement for empowering each individual so he or she can reach their potential. Two of the basic tenets of anarchism are being against capitalism and being against authority that is imposed on people without their consent,” says Leplage. “That isn’t the authority that parents often have to use with their children, for example, but authority imposed by decision makers who don’t consult people. Governments as they function now impose their authority. For these reasons, we don’t apply for government or corporate sponsors.”
The MIATF also organizes itself according to collective principles. Laplage says that the collective makes its decisions collectively by consensus. “The work that has to be done is divided up according to the skills that we each have,” she says. There are no titles.
The collective believes very much in the connection between creativity and anarchy. “Creativity has always been an important part of anarchist movements, and there is a long tradition of anarchist theatre,” says Laplage. “Theatre is a means of exploring themes and ideas important to anarchists. Many anarchist plays can be found at L’Insoumise, the anarchist bookstore in Montreal (2033, boul. St-Laurent, 413-313-3489).”
Montreal is a great place to host a festival like this, of course. “Anarchist movements are strong here,” says Laplage, who further adds that “May has been the month of anarchy for 12 yeas, with many events taking place besides our festival, including films, launches, and the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair, which take place the last weekend in May.”
Laplage concludes by encouraging everyone to come to the festival. “The audience has the chance to see two evenings of excellent theatre at a very low price. They also can develop a greater understanding of anarchism. Some of the plays are serious, some are humerous and some have music. There are monologues and troupes with six performers. And, of course, the closing party will be great.”
Laplage says that if anyone wants to participate in the 2017 edition of the festival, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. The MIATF takes place May 17 and 18 at La Sala Rossa. Tickets are $13 for one night, and $20 for two and are available at L’Insoumise or La Sala Rossa HERE. A closing night party takes place at Casa del Popolo with Cohete, Chârogne, and Crocodile. $5-10. Tickets at the door.