Interview with Peter Duschenes

Music Under a Midnight Moon
Peter Duschenes

Peter Duschenes is the Artistic Director of Platypus Theatre, who will join forces with the NAC Orchestra for Student Matinée performances of “Music Under a Midnight Moon” on January 14th, 2013. The show is an original NAC commission, includes pre-concert study guides for teachers and students, and demonstrates how beauty can be found in the most unlikely places!

RP: A little about you: where are you from, and where is home right now?

PD:  I grew up in Montreal with my sister and three brothers.  There was a lot of music in my family as my father was a musician and all my siblings played one musical instrument or another.  I went outside the family box and studied theatre at the California Institute of the Arts.  I then lived in Vancouver for several years before moving back to Montreal and then to Ottawa where my wife Sarah was already living when I met her.  Ottawa is definitely our home now as we have a house and two children, Magda (11) and Theo (9).

RP: You have been part of the NAC Orchestra’s Family Adventures and Student Matinee series for many years, and with many different shows. Can you tell us a little bit about those experiences, and how they have played a role in your career?

PD:  I've always enjoyed performing with the NACOrchestra.  Not only is it a fantastic orchestra but since Ottawa is now my home it's always special to perform here.  As well, in 2001 the NACOrchestra commissioned one of our most exciting shows, Music Under a Midnight Moon - the one we'll be doing in January - which was a great collaboration and allowed us, for the first time, to create a piece in which much of the music was written specifically for the show by Ottawa composer Patrick Cardy.  Being able to tailor the music to the show (and the show to the music) is an amazing opportunity and Patrick was great to work with. In the meantime, we've taken that show all over Canada and the United States and even overseas to Hong Kong and Malaysia.

I have also been fortunate to tour with the orchestra several times, not to perform my own shows, but to take on the role of Mozart and Beethoven in shows created by Boris Brott.  The tours to Quebec, Alberta and the Yukon were very exciting and a lot of fun.

RP: “Music Under a Midnight Moon” is unusual in that it contains no spoken parts for the actors or the conductor. Do you think of the work as mime, physical theatre, or something else entirely?

PD:  I'm not trained as a mime so I would be loath to call it mime, however it definitely requires us to tell a story only using our bodies and the music.  At the same time, because the action and the music work so integrally together, it's almost like a dance - like a choreography.

RP: What do you think students will find most engaging about the absence of the spoken word?

PD:  It's funny, we actually don't get that many comments about the lack of spoken language.  I think, as with any show, the challenge is to tell a story that the children find engaging and as long as the story interests them, they don't particularly care whether there are spoken words.  Of course there's a long tradition of this kind of story-telling, mostly in the form of silent movies.  This show in particular bears a resemblance to the movies of Charlie Chaplin because it is about two tramps.  Patrick was keenly aware of this when he was writing the music and there are definite similarities between his music and the music one hears in old movies. 

RP: What led to your interest in presenting theatre and orchestral music to kids?

PD:  Growing up in a musical family with a father who was a conductor meant that I was exposed to a lot of orchestral music as a child and in particular, concerts for young people as that was my father's specialty.  My mother too had an influence on my career path as she was a child psychologist with a very strong belief in the importance of the arts in education.  My own interests led me to theatre and so presenting theatrical symphony concerts was a good blend of the two worlds.

RP: Do you have a favourite memory of a concert you have either attended or been a part of?

PD:  Doing "Music Under a Midnight Moon" in Hong Kong was particularly memorable.  One of the reasons behind creating a show with no words was to make it easier to tour internationally.  Because of the historic connection to England I expected the audience in Hong Kong to have some knowledge of English but, as we found out in the post-concert Q&A sessions, for the most part they spoke very little English.  It was exciting to see how the show could cross languages and cultures.

RP: Do you have preshow rituals?

PD:  Oh yes!  A lot of it is just routine that I have developed over the years: warming-up, applying make-up, etc.  But I also always try to take some time to focus remembering the importance of telling the story - making sure that we start at the beginning and take the audience on the journey through the twists and turns along the way.  Also being open to whatever might happen in a particular performance.  The actors are only one piece of the puzzle that makes up this show.  There's also the conductor and a big orchestra made up of spectacularly talented musicians.  They all influence what will happen in a particular performance.  And not all audiences are the same and a particular audience can affect the energy and momentum of the show.  That's what makes live theatre and music exciting and I try to be open to whatever is going to happen so that we can adjust.

This show is very physically demanding and, especially as I get older, I also need to make sure that I do a lot of stretching before the performances so that I can still get out of bed the next day!

RP: What is your favourite thing about Ottawa?

PD:  There's lots that is wonderful about our city but perhaps my favourite thing is how easy it is to get out of the city.  Within minutes we can be in Gatineau Park!  There aren't many cities that have such beautiful natural environments so close to the urban centre.

To register your group for Student Matinée performances of “Music Under a Midnight Moon,” contact Kelly Abercrombie, Music Education Associate at or 613-947-7000 x382.

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