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Ars Poetica
Struggles of the Montreal anglo art world
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 9 février 2012

Photo by Brian Morel

Noel Burton, Danielle Desormeaux, and Elana Dunkelman (under table) in Arthur Holden’s Ars Poetica

Actress Danielle Desormeaux might be drawing on more personal experience to play her role in Arthur Holden’s new comedy than one might assume.

In Ars Poetica her character Diane Langlois is a stressed-out Canada Council grant officer who buzzes with anxiety over meeting deadlines and fulfilling quotas. Having worked at Industry Canada for 10 years, Desormeaux herself directly experienced the pressure of working as a federal employee.

“That actually happens in real life,” she admits. “People would get crazy when there was a deadline. You have to find the truth behind characters like these. It makes it more fun.”

Yet Desormeaux’s real demeanour, freed from the restraint of office life, is friendly and jovial.

The actress’s comic talent and personality made her an easy choice for the role of Diane, remarks Arthur Holden, Ars Poetica’s playwright. “She brings a lot of reality and energy to the role of Diane. She’s wonderful to write for, so imaginative and full of ideas.”

“She’s a good person too, supportive and smart,” added Holden, who felt the role was perfectly suited to her. The comedian’s biculturalism was a key factor in the casting. Based on director Guy Sprung’s idea, the character was transformed from an anglophone to a native French speaker who is “perfectly attuned to what’s happening in the English environment.”

Born in Timmins, Ontario, Desormeaux grew up speaking both English and French. Her film and television credits include How the Gimquat Found her Song, the Oscar-winning Affliction (dir. Paul Schrader), Stardom (dir. Denis Arcand), The War of 1812, and Big Sugar (dir. Brian McKenna).

She has now lived in Côte-des-Neiges since 1995. “I like this area a lot,” she enthuses. “I love to cook and I can find anything here.”

Fellow cast-member Howard Rosenstein lives nearby in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce district. The two had met through Montreal’s small, tightly knit English theatre community, and she had already worked with Ars Poetica’s creator Arthur Holden on the Quebec TV series René Lévesque, among other projects.

Ars Poetica’s depiction of a fledgling anglophone poetry organization’s fight for survival rings true for the comedian. “Many English language organizations are small, and every penny counts. People go to tremendous lengths to stay alive,” she recounts.

Clearly, Desormeaux, along with the rest of the cast of Ars Poetica, are both living and performing the passion and pain behind creating English language art in Montreal. “As an actress in this community, I don’t do it for the big bucks, no one does. I just can’t see myself doing anything else.”

Happily, they also know how to laugh about it.

The world premiere of Arthur Holden’s Ars Poetica is featured at Bain St-Michel until Feb. 12. Tickets can be purchased online at, or at the door in cash only.

[ Ingrid Wissink ]

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