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 theatres
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 Londons 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
When I was studying him in school, he felt like such a mysterious
artist, Shelton said. But hes not like that. Hes
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 didnt expect it to happen like that. They say youre
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, Im never going to be one thing,
she said. Now, its kind of cool. You get the best of both
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 Lepages 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
hadnt planned to do any acting outside of school until Id
been fully trained, she said. Agents and paycheques had then seemed
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 dAlstom,
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 email@example.com.