Joël Beddows’ empirical art

Professor Joel Beddows

Joël Beddows, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre at the University of Ottawa, is forever pushing the boundaries of his art form. A tireless worker, scholar and well-known artist, he has worked for nearly 10 years to breathe new life into French-language theatre in Canada. His achievements have been recognized with a Research Chair in Canadian Francophonie, which he has held since 2006, and a nomination for the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2014.

After a few minutes in his company, it quickly becomes clear that he is passionate about what he does.

Beddows has two main priorities: conventional scientific research and aesthetic/artistic research. The first — writing articles and books, organizing symposia — comes naturally. His most recent project is a collection of articles co-edited with theatre professor Louise Frappier on questioning the role of history in dramaturgical and contemporary theatre practices.

“This project stemmed from the exploration of how certain authors use memory as subject matter,” he says. The professors saw that theatrical history as a changing force had not really been explored in francophone theatre studies.

Beddow’s second principal priority is to dig deep into an issue to stir up the theatre world, especially Franco-Ontarian theatre. This year, Beddows is dividing his time between three projects.

The first, Petites bûches by Jean-Philippe Lehoux, is geared to children and explores the notion of travel by digging into its epistemological roots. The second, Un neurinome sur une balançoire by Alain Doom, questions the concept of “ugliness.” It is, in fact, a defence of the grotesque in modern society. The third, Avant l’archipel by Emily Pearlman, asks the question “What is happiness for?”

Throughout the interview, the subject of “laboratories” comes up often. Beddows explains this idea is part of the mission of his research chair, which encourages researchers to head off the beaten path. “We must embrace exploration and develop new forms of theatre, sometimes using the novel or poetry or by incorporating new technologies,” he explains enthusiastically. “I create a space where there is permission to fail and where failure is even a source of meaning: this is what a laboratory is all about.”

The theatre Joël Beddows creates is indeed empirical. Art and a scientific approach are key to this artist’s work, allowing him to create pieces that have garnered honours almost every year since 2003. “What I’d really like to say about my work is I believe that in the creative process there are methodologies, basic approaches and hypotheses to be tested. As an artist, I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything is intuitive,” he says. “Quite the contrary, actually. I think that everything about the creative act must be thought out, tested, then kept or rejected.”


by Patrick Roussel

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