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October 24, 2002 Students showcase work in quirky vid-fest



Emily Shelton

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj


by Scott McRae

Emily Shelton is going on a fully funded world tour next year with an international celebrity, Quebec director Robert Lepage. She and seven others will be restaging The Dragons’ Trilogy, a six-hour multilingual epic that sweeps from 1930s Japan to contemporary Canada.

The second-year Concordia theater student began acting by accident while growing up in Japan, where after-school club participation was compulsory. Her friends had enrolled in the drumming club and she vowed to be with them. Unwittingly, she picked drama, not drumming. This was fifth grade. By grade seven, she knew she wanted to be an actress. Now 20 years old, Shelton will soon be onstage in a production by one of contemporary theatre’s most talented directors.

Robert Lepage has been labelled a genius since he hit the stage in the early 1980s. In the past 20 years he has been the first North American to direct a Shakespeare play at London’s Royal National Theatre, presented his own movie at the Cannes film festival, directed in Tokyo and New York, and collaborated with Peter Gabriel. He won the Legion of Honour in France and received an honorary doctorate from Concordia in 1999. Now, he is returning to the 1985 production that first made his international reputation.

“When I was studying him in school, he felt like such a mysterious artist,” Shelton said. “But he’s not like that. He’s very sensitive to the actors and really funny.”

Working with Lepage may not be as daunting as she feared, but Shelton is still a little bit bewildered by her break into professional acting. “I didn’t expect it to happen like that. They say you’re first supposed to sweat and work and bleed.”

She has crossed both the divide between amateur and professional acting and the gap of her dual heritage. She is half American and half Japanese and, whether in Japan or in the United States, she was labelled an outsider growing up. “Wherever I go, I’m never going to be one thing,” she said. “Now, it’s kind of cool. You get the best of both worlds.”

In The Dragons’ Trilogy, Shelton plays characters that embody the transition between these two worlds: three generations of Japanese women, all named Yukari. One is a geisha, another a model and the third, the bridge between East and West, lives in Vancouver and falls in love with a québécois.

Not only is Shelton playing these characters, she helped rewrite them. Lepage is well known for encouraging actors to participate at all levels of the creative process and Shelton took advantage of this to improve a problem she had with the original play.

“[The Dragons’ Trilogy] was, to use Lepage’s words, a bit naive,” she explained. “It seemed written by a Caucasian. I tried to familiarize it for a Japanese audience.” Not only will the play feel more Japanese, but it will sound it, too. Lepage has encouraged Shelton to deliver many of her lines in Japanese.

Now that the semester is over, Shelton is back rehearsing full time. “I hadn’t planned to do any acting outside of school until I’d been fully trained,” she said. Agents and paycheques had then seemed distant dreams.

Now, Shelton is thinking about the next step: treading the boards of the Globe Theatre while reciting Shakespeare.

The Dragons’ Trilogy will be playing at the Usine d’Alstom, 1830 Leber St., as part of the Festival de Théâtre des Ameriques. The production runs on May 22, 24, 25, 30, 31, June 1, 6, 7 and 8. Tickets cost $60. For more information, call 842-0704 or email info@fta.qc.ca.