I did not need much convincing to buy tickets to the production in which our young neighbour was performing (the themes of forgiveness and compassion immediately appealed to me).
The play I Forgive You is based on a true story — that of choral director Scott Jones left paralyzed at the age of 27 after a homophobic attack in Nova Scotia. His story garnered international media attention when Jones chose to publicly forgive his attacker during the trial.
Sold-out performances of I Forgive You ran at the NAC’s intimate Azrieli Studio theatre from March 1-11, 2023, and many in the audiences came to see the choir of Ottawa youth, directed by Jones himself.
In that choir, Sandy Hill residents would have recognized at least two faces — those of Emma Barrette and Henri Trépanier, both Grade 9 students at l’École secondaire publique De La Salle and its Centre d’excellence artistique de l’Ontario.
Barrette and Trépanier, who both, at the young age of 14, already have considerable experience singing and performing, were selected out of 85 youth who auditioned for only 21 spots, based not only on their voices but their personalities as well.
Robert Filion, the play’s music director and a well-known name in Ottawa’s music and choir scene, was responsible for selecting a diverse group of choristers that would also move and dance on stage, and in some cases, play the piano, as did Trépanier.
Filion explains that it was also very important for Jones to feel a connection with the children, which is why they took the time to really get to know each other before the staging rehearsals even began.
Trépanier admits the practices were intense, with some eight-hour days and only one day off per week. And the monosyllabic musical pieces, adapted from the songs of the Icelandic band Sigur Rós, were at times challenging.
But Trépanier insists he loved the entire experience, especially being on stage. “The shows were fun!” he exclaims.
This sentiment is echoed by Barrette who added “You could see people react — laughing, crying. It was really cool to see!”
The actors’ powerful performances, displaying a wide range of emotions from anger and despair to sadness and joy, left no one unmoved. The subject matter was heavy, which is why the show has a content warning.
“I was so impressed with the care that Artistic Fraud (a St. Johns, Nfld. company) took [with the children],” said Filion, explaining in detail how the wellbeing of the children was always a priority. “We all agreed that this was a place where we could learn.”
Barrette and Trépanier clearly have no regrets despite the intensity of the work and subject matter, and Barrette had this advice to share: “If you ever get the chance to do something like this, go for it! It is one of the best experiences you will have.”
For more information about the Ottawa production, including the biographies of all involved, visit the show’s program notes at https://nac-cna.ca/en/event/31897 and follow Artistic Fraud at www.artisticfraud.com if you want to be kept apprised of possible future performances.