Co-founder and artistic director of Platypus Theatre and Kitchissippi resident, Peter Duschenes, is a new recipient of a 2015 Chalmers Arts Fellowship from the Ontario Arts Council.
Chalmers Arts Fellowships support artists in Ontario to examine, investigate, explore and/or experiment with style, technique, process, method, content, or an issue of concern in their arts practice. The program allows artists to dedicate themselves to their arts practice, impacting their career beyond a single project. The award allows Duschenes a two-year period in which he can focus on an artistic project. It’s a time to rejuvenate in mid-career.
“You can spend so much time on your career, instead of being an artist,” says Duchenes as he reflects on his 25 years with Platypus Theatre touring company.
Duschenes trained as an actor in California, and grew up in a musical family in Montreal. His mother was a child psychologist who valued the role of the arts in education. His father worked as a conductor and pioneered interaction in young audiences between the audience and performers.
Platypus Theatre presents theatrical symphony concerts to young audiences. Founded in 1989, with his brother, Michael, who provided the musical background, Platypus Theatre has performed more than 500 times. They have worked with more than sixty orchestras, and performed for almost one million audience members worldwide.
A recent show in Montreal had 10,000 kids in the audience. “It’s not very intimate,” Duschenes explains, adding that his objective is to get away from big orchestra shows and return to a more intimate connection with the audience.
“Children will be more involved in the creation of the show [in the future] – blurring the line between audience and performers,” says Duschenes
Duschenes is an award-winning playwright, mostly writing his own work, with some exceptions. Recently, he adapted Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Platypus Theatre’s production was originally created in collaboration with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and premiered in 2014 at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. In the play, two dancers portray a myriad of characters featuring music in the role of character and storyteller.
Platypus Theatre worked with the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa for many years on their Family Adventures and Student Matinee series. In 2001, the NAC Orchestra commissioned Music Under a Midnight Moon, a collaboration that allowed the theatre to create a piece in which much of the music was written specifically for the show by Ottawa composer, Patrick Cardy. The show contained no spoken words – for neither the actors nor the conductor – and travelled all over Canada, the United States and overseas to Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Now a father of two, Duschenes has lived in Ottawa since 1999. He often sees his children in parts of the projects he writes.
“I see bits of my son in the character I’m writing right now,” he says, adding that parenthood “definitely informs” his work.
His artistic work in theatre with young people often explores difficult issues such as finding one’s identity and place – in society and the world.
“I’ve always been interested in the struggles children face,” says Duschenes.
Part of his two-year grant time will be spent learning from other theatre groups in the world. He will spend time with Denmark’s Teatre Refleksion, who have performed in Ottawa at the Children’s Festival and whose work he admires. An artist in Switzerland who does puppetry set to music will also inspire his future work.
Duschenes will travel across Europe and North America working with some of the world’s most respected musicians, puppeteers and storytellers during the two-year period, researching new models for interactive audience experiences that combine music and theatre.
The shows coming out of the Chalmer’s grant, he hopes, will help prevent kids from lapsing into despair.
“They are surrounded by environmental and political disasters,” he says, adding that he would like to help children find hope and see the beauty that shines within them.
“How do you foster that?” he adds.
For a listing of Platypus Theatre productions, go to platypustheatre.com.