The day before Halloween, I noticed a homemade print pasted on a streetlight post at the corner of Fleury and St. Charles. The poster was announcing that the neighbors of the St-Charles Avenue and Péloquin Street back alley between Sauvé and Port Royal, were inviting us to visit their "Haunted Alley" the following evening.
I passed by the lane a little before dusk at the beginning of the parade of the young and old in costumes, curious to see how this initiative would take shape. Many residents were working feverishly to finalize the decorations. I approached some people to learn more and, as was often the case this summer, I was referred to the person who had spontaneously assumed the leadership of the event: Isabelle Payant.
I then took a few pictures of Isabelle and her spouse Stéphane in a butcher’s disguise, along with Marie-Noël in the role of a good witch. I found out it was Marie-Noël, a neighbor, who had taken charge of promoting the event and pasted the poster that I had read. As they had a lot of things to do, I left, but dropped in again later to see how the evening was unfolding. It was a success: because of the influx of small costumed beings, many of the parents had had to leave to refuel their candy baskets!
Isabelle and I met again the following Monday at Le Goût des Autres, a caterer’s shop with a few tables in the vicinity on Sauvé Street East to talk some more. That’s how I enriched my vocabulary with a French word unknown to me: castelier. This somewhat antiquated word describes a puppeteer. Isabelle is a castelière. In fact, this actress by training is the co-founder with Stéphane, of the Théâtre des petites Âmes (Little Souls’ Theater). She is the artistic and managing director of this puppet theater company specialized in shows for very young children.
Isabelle spent her childhood in Laval and her adolescence in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa. She studied interpretation at CEGEP Lionel-Groulx. During a year off from her studies, she realized that while theatrical play was not an absolute necessity in her life, she wanted to practice it as long as she could do so with happiness and pleasure. This spirit animates everything she does. As she experiments in every aspect of her productions, she clearly has great curiosity and diversified interests.
After CEGEP, she performed in "Le prince serpent", a production of Parminou, a socially committed popular theater company. Dedicated to a high school public, this play was aiming to contribute to the prevention of teenage prostitution. She also collaborated on productions of the Théâtre des yeux, where she became familiar with the art of puppetry.
Like many artists, commitments being irregular, she began, in a quiet period, the process that led to the creation of a first show, PEKKA, and to the foundation of the company Le Théâtre des petites Âmes. Stéphane, who has been part of the project from the beginning as administrator and manager, had long been coordinator for the Association Québécoise des marionnettistes. The company's plays are designed for intimate settings and audiences of no more than 75 children to maintain the toddlers’ attention. Created in 2008, PEKKA is still performed today by Isabelle and her puppets.
The Théâtre des petites Âmes presented its creations in Western Canada, the US, France, Spain and the Czech Republic, in French, English and Spanish (and exceptionally in Czech!). Having an excellent reputation in the community, the company is a regular at festivals, cultural centers and cultural centers. As a result of the tours, the company managed to establish a good exchange network, which led to the creation of POMME, a joint creation with Garin Trousseboeuf Company, in coproduction with Casteliers, The Puppet Theatre World Festival of Charleville-Mézières (France) and Le Théâtre de Laval (France). The play was shown both in France and in Quebec.
A true jack-of-all-trades, Isabelle also works on the writing, directing, decors and music of her shows. For the company’s latest creation, OGO, which will tour in early 2016, three puppeteers-actors are on stage, a first for the company.
Sincerely believing in the importance of citizen involvement and culture in community life, Isabelle and Stéphane sponsored the first Little Free Library of the borough via the Théâtre des petites Âmes. Locally known as a “Croque-Livres”, the first one is located inside the Ahuntsic Arena. Another has been added since in front of 9762 St. Charles Avenue.
You will certainly hear about them in the community over the next few years, especially since the Haunted Alley will likely return next year.