Blais follows in the footsteps of Elsa Bolam, who founded the company in 1980; Dean Patrick Fleming, who now runs Hudson Village Theatre; and Mike Payette, who, after five years, recently left to take up the post of artistic director at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre.
A member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation — his family heritage is Plains Cree and French settler — Blais hopes to continue Geordie’s tradition of reaching diverse communities, both in the city and beyond.
Speaking to the Montreal Gazette by phone, Blais praised Payette for doing a “really good job of expanding Geordie’s audience base. My hope is to continue to do that. One of the things I hope to do is to reconnect with a lot of the Indigenous community with which Geordie had a relationship — especially in the North — earlier on in Elsa’s tenure. That’s when funding was a bit more robust, but it’s one of the things that I’m hoping can be a priority.”
Blais, who celebrates his 40th birthday this month, has since performed with Geordie in its 2016 show The Halloween Tree, as well as teaching, mentoring, assistant-directing and fundraising for the company. He has also acted for the Stratford Festival, Hudson Village Theatre, Porte Parole, Teesri Duniya and Centaur Theatre, among others. He is known to television audiences, too, most notably as construction worker-turned-cashier Watio in the comedy-drama Mohawk Girls.
Despite his extensive theatre experience (he’s also a playwright), Blais has yet to helm a theatre production as director. He has, however, had plenty of hands-on experience with assistant-director gigs, including on Imago Theatre’s gruelling Pig Girl, under Micheline Chevrier, and on the Segal/Hudson Village Theatre co-production Every Brilliant Thing, under previous Geordie boss Fleming.
No artistic director can avoid the administrative challenges of running a theatre, made doubly headache-inducing by the current health crisis. But Blais’s CV gives him a solid footing there, too: not only did he co-found his own theatre company, PlayShed, a few years back, he also studied at business school and took a job in marketing before theatre beckoned.
“We’re very privileged to have somebody like Jimmy coming into Geordie during this chapter of its story,” Payette told the Montreal Gazette in a phone call. “I’m really excited to learn where he’s going to go when it comes to community engagement, which has always been something that’s important to me and to Geordie. Jimmy is highly creative, he leans forward, and he absolutely wants to foster Geordie’s mission and take it to the next level.”
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