dossier: Marie France Forcier of Forcier Stage Works for IN absentia

Slowly but surely, it seems, I’m getting to all of the current and past ADs of hub14. The amount my hub colleagues work is astounding to me, and I feel like I can never keep up with their ability to constantly produce. At least, in terms of this project. I’m happy about what my dossiers can do, but sometimes they feel inadequate as I keep wanting to promote the amazing work folks like Heidi Strauss, Cathy Gordon and Kate Nankervis are doing. This project, however, would get overrun with the same names too quickly, and that’s definitely not the direction I want to take this. I want each dossier to be unique.

I am lucky to be working closely behind the scenes at hub14 with Marie France Forcier. She radiates a maternal energy, one that is always in control and capable of steering the ship safely through the storm. She helps bring stability to what can otherwise easily turn into chaos, and the amount of trust she has in others is admirable. I can only imagine what it’s like to work with her creatively.

Enough gushing, on to dossier #25:

Marie France Forcier

Who are we talking to?

Marie France Forcier, artistic director of Forcier Stage Works ( and MFA candidate in Dance at York University; co-artistic director at Hub 14. Montreal-born and raised, Toronto-based for the last decade. Graduate of The School of Toronto Dance Theatre’s professional training program, performer, writer, pedagogue, road warrior but most predominantly choreographer ever since. Academically researching the expression of trauma and dissociative states in contemporary choreography.

What gets you going in the morning?

Since I started my grad studies while keeping up my professional life? The sheer fear of not being able to stay on top of an ever growing pile of work! …In all seriousness: the excitement I feel about my work and my research.

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?

I was in my first of a three year as a double major in Psych and Dance at CEGEP de St-Laurent in Montreal. I noticed that the director of the dance department and senior dance majors were addressing me with the assumption that I was planning on a career in dance.

I’d always vaguely dreamt of it as I was growing up, without ever allowing myself to believe that I had the chops. Finding out that others thought that my going in that direction was plausible allowed me to get there myself.

Have there been times you seriously question why you pursue this lifestyle/art form? If so, what was it that keeps you in it, or has brought you back?

I never question why I do. The drive is always very present although it constantly renews and redefines itself. There certainly are times when the hardships that come with a career in the live arts seem to outweigh the benefits, but those dips never make disconnect with the impetus.

Why IN absentia?

Three choreographic projects make up my MFA’s practical component: an autobiographic solo in studio theatre, an ensemble work for the proscenium stage and a self-produced dance event including the candidate’s choreography off campus. IN absentia is my off campus production. My choreographic contribution to the program is entitled Levity as IN (absentia); it is a short duet, it explores the experience of dissociative states in the presence of the other, revealing the dissonance that creates for the viewer.

My piece being less than 15 minutes long, and since I had Hub 14 for the event at my disposal, I figured: why not create a mixed program, providing an opportunity for other artists to present new work in a casual setting? Lucy Rupert (Blue Ceiling dance) and Brandy Leary (Anandam) are prolific creators, whom I admire and have know through collaborations on various projects. Heather Berry-MacPhail has been a pillar in my work since Forcier Stage Works’ inception.

Half Second Echo is an emerging collective of recent York dance graduates. Offering them a spot addresses my personal mandate to create opportunities for the emergence wherever I can.

In the year that followed my own graduation years ago, I was blessed with opportunities that kept me active and persevering in a competitive world. I am very grateful to those who provided me with such opportunities; the first year often determines the course of a career; whether the young person will persevere in the arts or abandon. I believe that returning the favor is a good way to make the dance community sustainable, on a micro-level.

Dancers Heather Berry-MacPhail, Justine Comfort (photo credit: Walter Lai)

What kind of atmosphere do you wish to create with IN absentia?

With Levity as IN (absentia), I am creating an atmosphere where coping mechanisms keep the characters standing. Where “retreating within following an episode of trauma” becomes the new normal. Where they have to share physical space with one other, externally present, internally elsewhere, trapped in a snapshot that may never be successfully processed; in absentia.

The other pieces on the program will bring their own atmospheres.

Brandy Leary in process for IN absentia

This is part of your MFA thesis work with York University. Did you ever think your work would bring you to IN absentia?

It has been a gradual process. The awareness that my own history of trauma had been seeping through the symbolism in my choreographic work arose within me over the course of 2 years or so, in phases. This insight about my own work led to my decision to dedicate my MFA research to the expression of post-traumatic stress in choreography. The process for Levity as IN (absentia) is a part of that.

What’s your favourite story about working on this project?

Levity as IN (absentia) is a work that has been in progress for nine months now, re-adapted twice for presentation over the course of that period. The most recent one was presented at Collective Space in Toronto, where the walls are curved, and the two dancers were climbing, reaching for unattainable levity, and sliding off walls as a choreographic feature. It was fun to watch, playful despite the contrasting content.

Describe IN absentia in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

An assignment adapted for the better into a community event.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?


the storm clouds make night come so much faster.

So. Tomorrow’s the day. My first solo show, totem., will open to a willing audience ready to hang out in an art gallery and watch a boy from Toronto try to find his footing in a city he hasn’t properly been introduced to yet (I mean, he did live there in his Junior, and Senior kindergarten days, but all he really remembers is living up on the escarpment and driving down into the city proper to get things).

It’s been an interesting ride with this piece. It began as the product of a writing exercise at the first meeting of Steady State Theatre Project’s Writer’s Circle. The next week it expanded a bit and then became an experiment in rhythmic reading and performance at Theatre Caravel’s Sea Change. When I heard about the Gallery Mini-Series taking applications, I thought, why the hell not? If I get in, then I’ll have a deadline and need to finish writing the damned thing. And I did get in. And I did finish writing it.

The original totem., as it sits in my computer, is an 8-page, 3200-word short story. It belongs in a world I created a few years ago for a play I have yet to move from messy first draft to messy second draft. It is not part of that play, though. It is it’s own entity.

So transferring it from a short story to a solo performance has been an interesting feat. It is very true what they say, when crossing disciplines, what works in one will not always work in the other. My working script for the show opening tomorrow is full of black horizontal lines, scratching out all those little things, not because they’re bad, but because they just don’t translate. Now, usually, I’d be hesitant to do this. Usually, I’d hate seeing my baby cut because-every-word-is-in-there-for-a-reason-and-is-integral-to-the-whole. But this time it was easy because I actually haven’t changed the whole; it still exists as a short story. And tomorrow, and Saturday and Sunday, I will not be performing a short story. I will be performing a play.

I appealed to my director / choreographer Kallee to animate my words. I would be in charge of them, she would be in charge of my body. Move this way, stop there, turn to your right, keep moving, I don’t want to see you stop. This is how it began. She got me up on my feet. Exactly what I wanted.

As it continued, as we worked through page after page of dense writing, of thick black slashes and puzzled over how to adapt narration, our roles blurred. No longer were we actor and director. Together we became devisors. Today and yesterday, specifically, I had flashbacks to my days at York University with my fellow Creative Ensemblers, puzzling over the texts we were given, the limitations we had to flourish within. We worked together to figure out how to animate something that was not, and will never be, theatre. We learnt how to work together. We learnt how to create something entirely new.

So. When totem. opens tomorrow, I will not be presenting my short-story to a theatre audience, even though I am endlessly proud of this specific short-story. I will be showing them a piece of theatre. A brand new piece of theatre with one performer and two creative minds.

It feels good to get back to my roots.

totem. opens Friday, July 19th @ 7:30, then again @ 9pm at the James North Studio Gallery, as part of the inaugural Gallery Mini-Series at the Hamilton Fringe Festival. Tickets are $8 if you make a one-time purchase of a Fringe backer button ($4) and are available at the door or online.

Come and celebrate the 10th birthday of the Hamilton Fringe, the inauguration of its Gallery Mini-Series, and the birth of a new play.