Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bonus Feature: Jean-François Plante-Tan on La Cravate Bleue (Fringe: Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria)

                                                                                                                           All photos by Olivia Bownman
The Fringe adventure
by Jean-François Plante-Tan

Jean-François Plante-Tan decided to live his dream of becoming an artist after completing an architecture and urban planning degree. He had a personal piano tutor when he was a child and came to love music at a young age. He learned to compose for competitions, where he was told that his music had a movie score quality. With this input, he decided to take on music after his studies and hired a voice coach to improve his singing. Two years into his artistic career he took a shot at musicals. Today, he is touring Canada with his first musical production La Cravate Bleue. He created the play in a month, and with the help of his director and artistic collaborator, they were able to produce it in less then three weeks from opening night.

My Fringe adventure started one year ago, on the night of September 16, 2012. When I got in line five  hours before midnight for early-bird registration, I had no idea I was going to tour Canada with my first musical production. And who would’ve thought that it was going to be in French. Also, I had no clue what the Fringe Festival was, aside from the fact that it’s an art festival happening in Montreal during the summer. I didn’t even know this thing was world-wide. Let’s just say I wasn’t expecting anything much out of this experience. 

To tell you the truth, my original plan was to write in English in hopes of working my way towards a Broadway-type musical theatre production. We all have dreams right? But here is what actually happened. Early-bird registration means that the first eight English plays and the first eight French plays are automatically accepted first. The others had to wait for lottery night. With my waiting-in-line buddies, we calculated that I was the 12th English  play but only the 7th French play. What did this mean? I had found what I was looking for – a spot at the Fringe – but it had to be in French.

I did hesitate at first, because French does not rhyme with Broadway. It took me a while to embrace this opportunity. Why not, I asked myself. After all, it’s still the same opportunity I was looking for. Plus, I could always translate it afterwards. So I registered as a francophone musical theatre production company and that’s how I got my first gig.

Now that I was in, I could hear the alarm: dreaming of writing and performing a play is one thing and actually doing it is another. “Do it”, said the little voice inside. “Think bigger”, it continued. Bigger? Yes! Tour with your play! And so I registered to all the other Fringe festivals I was eligible for. 

In December, I got drawn in the Edmonton International Fringe Festival and in January, I was chosen by the Calgary Fringe Festival, as a BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue). I was 2nd and 3rd on the waiting list for Victoria Fringe Festival and Vancouver Fringe Festival. In my mind I knew there were big enough chances that I’d be in. And I did get in, three months later in April.

So this was it. I was going on a Canadian tour with my first musical, five cities and 34 shows. My dream was becoming true.

The French adventure

I was strongly advised to translate my play into English. Business-wise it was the smartest thing to do, right? English play in an English market. It also allowed me to bring my play to the United States if I wanted to. But I didn’t translate it, for two reasons: time and interest. I didn’t have the time to translate it and I wanted to present in French. Of course I knew that financially I could make more money, but it was not about the money. In art it’s never about the money. It was about the experience, others and mine. 

I felt that the Fringe circuit was really going to be un-censored and diverse with my francophone play. On top of that, I heard, and I knew, that Canadians and Fringers liked French. And they do. Who doesn’t like French? It’s a beautiful language! This being said, I believed they’d love to see something really different in the Fringe Circuit this year. Different doesn’t mean being crazy and wacko on stage, it’s about having a new approach and having a new vision about what we do, putting everything together and sharing our experience with others. Isn’t that what the Fringe is all about? Isn’t that what art is all about? I believe it is and that’s why I decided to tour my play in French.

Making history and living the dream

My play, La Cravate Bleue, is making history this year. Not only is it my first play, but it is also the first francophone play in the Calgary Fringe Festival and the Victoria Fringe Festival. It also happens to be the only francophone play in the Edmonton International Fringe Festival and the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

If a year ago, I knew this was going to be the case, I probably would have started writing my play a lot sooner. The fact was, I never went to Theatre School and I had to start somewhere. So here is what happened in a nutshell: I read this book Writing the Musical, I studied my subject for four months and in March 2013, I started writing the play. It took me six weeks to compose and write everything and was obligated to produce it in the six remaining weeks before the world premiere. Let’s just say that I had to wear my blue tie and get to work if I wanted to make it happen. 

And I did it. 

Here I am today, at the 32nd Edmonton International Fringe Festival – the largest one in Canada and the second biggest one in the World. And with what? My first musical!

Luck? No. Hard work.

I can’t tell everyone how excited I am to be here in the Western Canadian Fringe Circuit. I had never set foot here before and at first I had no idea what to expect. Well maybe a little, but it didn’t take long before my vision of Canada, the Fringe festival and art changed for the better.

I had such an amazing time at the Calgary Fringe Festival. They were so supportive of what I was doing, bringing them their first francophone play in their history. And I was right by the way: they do like French! Everyone told me they knew a little and wished they had more opportunities to practice. The majority of the audience members didn’t even understand French. They came because they were curious, they wanted to see something new and they wanted to be entertained.  Critics said that I’m an energetic performer. The Calgary Herald  compared me to the francophone equivalent of Rachel in Glee. Now was I surprised! I always have the same approach before each show: have fun and respect the audience.

And so I did, and will continue to do so.

I feel at home on stage. Does it feel different because the audience members may not understand what I say or sing? Not at all!, I’m giving a show, doing my best so everyone can feel the emotion, feel what is happening on stage, all of this while having so much fun. French-speaking or not, I believe the audience is entertained by my energy on stage. And by the music, of course !

The 32nd Edmonton International Fringe Festival is my second stop in my Canadian Tour. I’m performing in the Auditorium of Campus St-Jean, the French campus of University of Alberta. What more can I expect? This is actually a Bring Your Own Venue. I was first Mainstage and by moving there, I opened a spot for someone on the Mainstage Waiting List. That feels great!

La Cravate Bleue and the idea behind the blue tie.

Let’s just say that the universe has a plan and that the blue tie is part of it. Let me tell you a little bit about my story first.

Three years ago, in 2010, I graduated from Université de Montréal in Urban Planning. I had been a tour guide for three years, bringing high school students to New York City, Boston and Washington. I had a great job: teaching students about important urban hubs of our society. But three years into my tour guide career, I told myself two things: I want to travel for myself and I want to make art. 

I most probably was going to be able to travel in the field of work I studied, but travelling with my art and being able to live off it? I had high doubts about that.  So I took a break to think about my future and there was no better way for me to do so than by hitting the California beaches to surf for six weeks during my graduation summer. I promised myself that I would come back to Montreal with only one goal: to make art my career.

Six weeks into my trip, I had to head down to L.A. to see my sick uncle. I felt as if my plan to head north to Vancouver, to surf, and cross Canada to come back home had taken an unexpected shift. I felt as if it was time to head back home. I was really happy about surfing in California and all, but I had the impression my trip was incomplete. With no more money to travel, and also no motivation to continue my trip, I told myself that one day, I’ll kick off where I had left off.

For two years I tried as a singer-songwriter. Let’s just say that I did learn about myself as a writer and a singer. I hired a singing coach and I joined the Grand Choeur de Montréal, this big classical choir where I gained much confidence in myself as a singer. But I felt that I wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to do. Then the Fringe happened.

As I registered for the early bird of the 2013 Montréal St-Ambroise Fringe Festival, I told myself that this was a great opportunity to try something new, to explore another side of me as an artist and performer, but mostly to pick up a new challenge. And that’s when Broadway popped into my mind: I wanted to write musicals. Singing, dancing, big music? 

That was my calling. 

At the time, I didn’t know I was going to tour Canada and head out West.

But here I am today, three years have passed since my surf trip. Here I am today, completing my two original objectives: making art and crossing Canada. I will finally be able to surf in Vancouver once the Fringe tour is over in September. Just in time for high surf season.

What does all this have to do with the blue tie? Well, the Universe has a plan, and if you decide to put on your blue tie, it will only say yes to you.

Three years ago I said no to high paying jobs to give it a shot at my artist career. Was it an easy decision? Not really. Was it going to be a lot of work? Of course, and this is where the blue tie comes in.

The blue tie is about working to make your dream come true. It’s about believing in yourself and about why you do what you do.

The truth is we live in a society that makes work essential. We all need to work, sooner or later: to feed ourselves, to have shelter and to have fun. The question is which job are we going to take in order to do so? Are we going to hate our job so we can make enough money to pay the things that will make us happy? Or will we work at a job that will make us happy, thus making money a little less important.

Three years ago, I knew, with my background, that it wasn’t going to be easy – making art my career. There are so many talented artists out there. What did I need to do to make it, considering I was far behind? The answer was there: to put on the blue tie. To work hard, practice, improve my skills, make mistakes, learn from them and move on to the next challenge. 

That is what the blue tie is all about.

We all have to work. We all feel blue once in a while. The question is: is it for the right reasons?

La cravate bleue is presently at the Edmonton Fringe and continues on to the Victoria and Vancouver Fringes
Read our review of La Cravate Bleue

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