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Sunday, May 1, 2011
Sunday Feature: Guy Rodgers and ELAN
Building a community
Guy Rodgers leads ELAN for third year
by Sarah Deshaies
There was no finer PR moment for Montreal’s arts scene than when Paul Giamatti accepted his Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for incarnating Mordecai Richler’s iconic anti-hero in 2010’s Barney’s Version. Gushing to millions of viewers, the bespectacled Hollywood actor showered praise on the “incredible beautiful city that I dream about.”
The moment repeated itself days later, when the ecstatic independent band Arcade Fire proclaimed its home base’s greatness to the Grammy crowd. "Thank you, merci, to Montreal, Quebec, for taking us and giving us a home and a place to be in a band,” said frontman Win Butler as his bandmates beamed and clutched golden statuettes for Best Album of the Year.
It’s moments like these that make Guy Rodgers smile.
He isn’t focused on the pencil-pushing aspect of these myriad jobs.
The adopted Montrealer and playwright has made strengthening the arts community in Montreal one of his avowed goals. He is currently executive director of the English Language Arts Network, a community-oriented group dedicated to promoting and supporting anglophone artists.
He has also been either at the head of or managing the Quebec Drama Federation, the Saidye Bronfman Centre, Playwrights' Workshop Montreal and Quebec Writers’ Federation, but he isn’t focused on the pencil-pushing aspect of these myriad jobs.
“Well, to me, its less about administration - I mean that’s an inevitable part - but the focus is more on community-building,” said the writer.
Rodgers, originally from out West, returned to Canada after leaving a failed marriage in Australia. Settling in Vancouver, he saw an ad in a newspaper for a newly-minted program at the National Theatre School. Hammering out a draft of a play (about Australians) over the course of a month-long trek by train to Montreal, Rodgers dropped off his application and script en route to Europe for the summer.
"A lot of people were leaving town, and there was a total polarization in the theatre school between the francophone students and anglophone students..."
He didn’t stay overseas for long. In three years, Rodgers was one of the first graduates of the NTS’ playwriting program, having studied alongside Fringe favourite Keir Cutler.
But back when Rodgers started school in the early ‘80s, after the first referendum, he noticed a palpable gulf between students at NTS.
“A lot of people were leaving town, and there was a total polarization in the theatre school between the francophone students and anglophone students, and there was not a whole lot of dialogue between the two groups,” he recalled. The city, however, felt like home, and Rodgers stayed.
“Being able to add up a set of numbers comes in quite handy when you’re the executive director of an arts organization.”
He felt an urge to “bridge the gap” he first witnessed at school - a motivation that has stuck with him in his work at ELAN and other groups. Back then, “because there wasn’t much in the way of artistic community, and there wasn’t much in the way of structure, it was just something that attracted me.”
ELAN, said Rodgers, was a “really modest” DIY group at its start- as most arts groups seem to be - but has since grown in scope. His degree in economics, obtained during his years Down Under after his in-laws persuaded him to expand beyond his career as a young musician, has since been put to good use. “Being able to add up a set of numbers comes in quite handy when you’re the executive director of an arts organization,” Rodgers quipped.
"...the more that the two communities can communicate and work together, the better it’s going to be for all of us."
Though ELAN has grown bigger than originally imagined, Rodgers has high praise for its ethos of artists supporting one another. “There’s lot of things you can do as a group that you can’t do as an individual. It just gives you a clarity, a credibility, a voice or a weight to the voice that no single person can have.”
While ELAN’s focus is on the English arts community, Rodgers (who married a francophone) is still interested in bringing Montreal’s two solitudes together. “I just love the language, and I love the culture,” he said. “And the more that the two communities can communicate and work together, the better it’s going to be for all of us.”
And while he says he’ll never feel like he’s finished doing his part for the arts, Rodgers also mentioned that he is not limited to working on this one challenge.
“My ultimate goal would be to bring people together who are divided across religious lines,” he said, predicting that this goal will take up more of his time in the years to come. In a multi-ethnic hotspot like Quebec, Rodgers is picking work cut out for him.
Until then, he looks forward to organizing an upcoming summit and public debate about the place of English language and culture in Quebec, slated for this fall. And there’s the RAEV project, an ELAN initiative to highlight the work of local artists through online videos and interactive maps. (The acronym break down into Recognizing Artists: Enfin Visibles!)
Buoyed by the new flood of artists and students attracted to Montreal after years of English exodus, Rodgers is optimistic.
Harkening back to Giamatti and Arcade Fire’s glowing wins, Rodgers recalled how soon after the National Assembly drafted a motion to celebrate the achievements of both English and French artists bringing Quebec culture to the international stage. (It brings a small twinge of irony to see how anglo writer Richler, long “persona non grata” in Quebec, could be posthumously linked to such a change in attitude through a film adaption of his work.)
Rodgers feels that the motion was “the closest” we’ve come to achieving recognition of local English artists, and sees this as an opportunity to create positive links with government bureaucrats.
Buoyed by the new flood of artists and students attracted to Montreal after years of English exodus, Rodgers is optimistic. “It’s important to keep getting the message out that this is a great, dynamic community that just needs to be given a little bit of bit of love, nurturing and respect.”
Check out ELAN.