PuSh Blog

Behind the Creation of Joe Jack et John’s VIOLETTE

January 01, 2021

We see a multiplicity of viewpoints… Our aim is to decolonize the writing.

—Catherine Bourgeois

Decolonizing art: it’s a vital practice in these times, and one can see it manifested in Joe Jack et John’s VIOLETTE, one of PuSh 2021’s mainstage shows, co-presented with Théâtre la Seizième. VIOLETTE is a mixture of Virtual Reality and live theatre; its creators use the two modes to powerful effect in telling the story of a marginalized woman and the oppression she faces.

Director Catherine Bourgeois and the rest of Joe Jack et John are finely attuned to the ethics of representation. The group is known for its work with neurodiverse actors, and, in the course of researching gender oppression, Bourgeois became aware of a grim reality: the high rate of sexual victimization among members of that community. From there, the goal was clear: to mount a production about the topic. To reach that endpoint, however, Bourgeois knew she needed collaboration, needed input, needed decolonization.

Photo: © Charles Lafrance

Montreal, where the theatre company is based, is a hub for VR, and Bourgeois notes that much of the local content is touristic—serving to reinforce privilege instead of disrupting it. “There’s a fine line between being a tourist and having a genuine encounter,” she says. With VIOLETTE, the intent is to cross clear over that line. To that end, the work employs live interaction as an introduction to its VR experience: participants are invited into an apartment setting by the titular character and allowed to peruse it freely before donning a headset and entering a 360° world. It’s an encounter they’ll emerge from feeling moved, even shaken, but with a new understanding.

The ethics of empowerment are also there in the company’s creative process. The cast of VIOLETTE, most of whom are neurodiverse, made their imprint on the show at all stages—from concept to dialogue—so that a story of oppression goes out into the world as an act of self-expression. That’s the decolonization Bourgeois speaks of, and it can be found in every facet of VIOLETTE.

PuSh and Théâtre la Seizième present this work in the spirit of solidarity, of subversion, of decolonization: solidarity with the many Others who face oppression; subversion of conventional theatre practice, which the festival has been committed to from its inception; and decolonization of the performing arts right down to their very roots.

— Mike Archibald, PuSh Copywriter

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