Inouk Touzin

The Learned Ladies by Molière, Directed by Inouk Touzin | Photo: Citrus Photography

Inouk Touzin

Using creativity to connect and celebrate Calgary's French culture

In 2008, Inouk Touzin moved to Calgary to launch Théâtre à Pic as part of a mandate to revive French language theatre culture in the area.

It turns out that the old encampment at the meeting of the Bow and Elbow Rivers was known as Fort Brisebois before it was ever known as Fort Calgary. The city’s Mission district, just off 17th Avenue, was known as Rouleauville. It was where the city’s first school was built, by Francophones. However, by the time Touzin moved to Calgary in 2008, he discovered a Francophone community of approximately 25,000 that was either assimilated or isolated from each other.

“There’s a very large French community here,” says Touzin, “but it’s very hard to reach them, because many of them don’t [even] discover there’s a Francophone community at all [in Calgary] until four or five years down the road, when they’re ready to sell their house, and make good on the [economic] gains they’ve made to go back to wherever they’re from or move on to the next challenge or whatever.

“It’s because there’s this constant upheaval of people,” he adds, “and in that, there’s also this group of people who have been here 20, 25, 30 years—and so it’s [a question of] how do we mix those two [in order to build a stronger Francophone culture]?”

In Touzin’s case, that has featured a combination of events—bringing in French-language theatre, hosting a monthly night of French improvised comedy at a cafe in town, teaching and even conducting walking tours of the Rouleaville district, where Touzin utilizes a bit of theatrical magic to bring those original 19th century French settlers back to life.

It’s a kind of pioneering project in exploring our city’s original founders.

“Yes, it’s pioneering work,” he says, “but at the same time, there’s something fundamental about just saying, yes, we’ve been here all this time—poured our sweat and blood into this city, built hospitals and built schools.

“We were part of that original push to make Calgary what it is today, so I feel the need to connect that [pivotal role in Calgary’s early years] now to the future,” he days. “What I feel we’re doing today is building a more positive and open line to the future.”

Touzin is in the process of completing an MFA degree in directing from the University of Calgary, which included directing a production of Moliere’s The Learned Ladies, performed primarily in English with some French included.

“I want to make sure that theatre is a way to connect people,” he says, “and allow all Calgarians to connect to the Francophone community, because it’s rich to have the opportunity to get to know French and [Alberta’s] French culture.”

 Inouk’s Call to Action | Video: Courtesy of Inouk Touzin

It’s all a little more improvised and ad hoc way of building a French culture in Calgary than Touzin envisaged when he arrived here from the Ottawa area in 2008—but by the same token, it’s the very essence of living a creative life.

“For me,” he says, “the creativity is kind of how I organize my ability to fund plays, and work at them. Through contact with other artists I try to develop a little bit of reflection on what creativity means. Working on different shows to allow me to do that.

“There’s also another component to it, which is really the kind of lifestyle and decisions I make that allow me to connect to my creativity,” he adds. “It’s an ongoing process to discover what what activates my sense of creativity for myself.”

That creative approach to living is one Touzin says Calgary and Alberta must embrace in order to weather the blow of the oil shock on Calgarians.

“We traditionally associate creativity to be about the arts,” says Touzin, “but as much as I like to consider myself an artist and the work I do here to be useful for the soul of the people living here and for their enlightenment, it’s also an economic activity. When I sell the tickets, when I rent spaces, when I hire other artists, it makes a more livable place for people who work in my sector by generating investment. And they are investing in this place by participating in these events.”

His future may be as much about telling that story about Calgary’s Francophone roots to the rest of the world as it will be about telling it to present-day Calgarians.

“I want to keep Calgary as a home base,” Touzin says, “but I want to continue to build good theatre and I’d like to tour it.

“I’d like to explore bringing the experiences I’ve had in Calgary savouring the flavour of this city to other people because it’s an exciting place,” he adds. “With the boom and bust kind of dynamic, I think it makes for good stories that are full of the success, the hopes and the dreams—but also the disillusionment and challenges you can feel when the economic situation picks up and [then] drops off.”

About The Storytelling Project

On November 16, 2015, Calgary Arts Development hosted a working session with approximately 30 creative Calgarians from various walks of life. Many of the small working groups voiced the need to gather and share more stories of people living creative lives.

That need has turned into The Storytelling Project.

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

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