07 March 2020
Originally from Calgary, Felix Beauchamp is a bilingual performer who has worked in both English and French across Canada both onstage and on film. His work extends into clown work and music as well: he’s a member of the Cirque du Soleil talent roster and the drummer for the indie rock band People Walking By. In Kaitlyn Riordan’s ambitious Portia’s Julius Caesar, he delivered a Brutus whose conflict was grounded and deeply humane, a highlight in a strong ensemble, earning him an Outstanding Leading Performance in a Play nomination.
Tell me about yourself. How’d you get into acting?
It’s one of those things I’ve always done, whether it was in class for a skit or something like that. I did the Lion King in grade 4; I was cast as Simba. I honestly don’t remember exactly what it was. I know I did that scene where Scar throws my dad off. It’s quite tragic. That was my first play experience, in a French school.
Did you grow up in a French family?
I did, yeah. My parents are from Montreal. I guess it was a French version of the Lion King. [laughs]
Then you went to theatre school at Ryerson. What brought you to Toronto?
That’s what brought me to Toronto, and I’ve stayed ever since. Great teachers. A lot of great people in my class as well.
How did you get involved with Portia’s Julius Caesar? This is the second time they’ve done it – and most of you weren’t in the first version?
No, none of us were. I loved the production, and I know Eva [Barrie] from Ryerson. Eva was the director, so we knew each other from being in the halls and all that. I really wanted to work with Eva, and I love her work, and I’ve seen her own plays and stuff like that, so this was an opportunity to get to do that.
When I saw it, I thought all the non-Julius Caesar text was written by Kaitlyn Riordan, but then I read a lot of it is amalgamation of other Shakespearean texts. Is that correct? I mean, there’s Julius Caesar scenes, but the scenes that she composed include other Shakespeare.
It’s an adaptation. It’s Kaitlyn’s writing, and then she just pulled from a bunch of different Shakespeare plays to make it all fit and keep the iambic going, stuff like that.
Do you have a lot of experience doing Shakespeare?
I do, yeah. It’s primarily what I do. I do a lot of French work, a lot of French TV and plays. I’d say when I do English work, it’s mostly Shakespeare.
Is there any particular process of doing that Shakespeare stuff and then making what she’s written work with it? She’d written it very well, making it sound like it’s all of a piece with the Shakespeare.
Yeah, we applied the same techniques to Kaitlyn’s work. It’s slightly different just because Shakespeare wrote his play 400 years ago, so there’s gonna be differences. The way Kaitlyn wrote her text is a bit more contemporary, but all in all, you still have the rhythm, the imagery and all these things that you can work with, so it all blends together. There’s Shakespeare and then her writing, and it flows really well.
Was it basically the same text, or do you know if there’d been changes?
They had done changes, yeah. I think they changed the prologue and the epilogue, and just a few things within. I think they cut a few scenes as well.
And I’m sure you’d seen Julius Caesar before – had you been in it?
I have been in it. I played Casca, and eight other characters. It was a five-person Julius Caesar with Wolf Manor Theatre Collective, which was a lot. Dylan Brentwood was in my class at Ryerson – it’s his company, and he directed that one.
That would be really fun, just getting to run around and play.
Yeah, it was. We had to have a track backstage to know exactly where to put our costumes, and how all of that works as well, so the whole thing was like two hours of nonstop running around.
Did playing both Shakespeare and Kaitlyn’s Brutus change how you thought about that character and had perceived him before? He’s always a very sympathetic character, but with this one, it’s all about the women, in a sense. But he’s still there. Did it develop your impression of him in a way that was surprising?
It was different for sure. Just the way that the scenes were organized changes the narrative in a way. I really liked seeing Brutus’s family side, and more of his relationship with Portia and his mother as well, who is a character that Kaitlyn introduced. I feel like there’s more of a way to make it less one-noted. There’s more colours to his character, I believe. So that was one of the things I wanted to focus on – to explore those different colours and see what his arc is, and the necessity of doing what he does in the play. I still find it interesting that he chooses to do what he does, despite what his wife tells him and all these things.
You came off as very honourable. And I have to say – even though it was this more feminist approach – in the middle section, it still felt like Brutus’s play, in a way. I think just because the story gravitates towards that conflict, but as you say, it’s the women who you don’t often see who are highlighted.
Were there aspects of the rehearsal process that were particularly memorable or stood out?
I liked having Kaitlyn in the room with us. It was a lot of Eva and Kaitlyn together, and she could give insight into why she chose to put certain things in the play, or answer questions that we had.
I think there was a lot more of a discussion to be had about the text itself, rather than if you’re doing a play that’s already published; you kind of take the words for granted. But we changed a few things as well. There was that dialogue with her, which was fantastic.
It was an incredible ensemble. How long did you work on it?
It was six weeks, I believe. So three or four days a week of rehearsals.
Even when there was just a couple of people onstage, it feels as if there’s a lot going on around it. Were you guys rehearsing at Hart House a lot, or a different space?
We actually rehearsed on the stage quite a bit, which was nice. We had the set of Rocky Horror there, for a little while. We didn’t have the set pieces and all that until the very end, though. We rehearsed it for a long time, but having the set introduced near the end where we opened meshed everything together. And the music, too. They had that chorus.
Did you find the audience response interesting? Were there surprises to how people took it?
No, not really. I’d assume some people have seen it before but I think they really liked it and just seeing the perspective of the women having more agency and stuff like that. I think it’s definitely refreshing for audiences.
Could you tell us about what you’re doing next? What’s coming up for you?
I have a few French and English contracts [laughs] but I can’t really talk about it.
Do you like doing both?
I do. I think it opens up a lot more doors. It’s another market that’s out there, which is fantastic.
Does it do anything to your acting brain, to jump back and forth between those?
Not really. It’s more natural. I’m more comfortable in English, just because I speak a lot more English in my day-to-day life, so there’s a bit of that challenge to retrain my brain to be like “Okay, yeah, this is how I’m gonna think and speak for the next couple of months”.
I was doing some brief research on you, and I saw you’d been part of a clown troupe. Is that kind of work something you’ve always had going on?
That came out of Ryerson. The New Voices Festival is a student-generated festival where you create your own work, and I created a clown piece with two of my friends, Kaleb Horn and Kevin Forster, which is a really short piece, but packed with energy, music and all these things.
That did really well after school, and we did that piece for a while. I haven’t really clowned since, but that translated into those guys and I becoming a band, which is funny.
What’s the name of the band?
People Walking By. It’s indie folk rock.
How does that develop from clowns?
Clowning is very rhythmic, and our piece had a lot of drumming. It has vocals and all that as well. But we’re all musicians, part of that troupe. So it’s just another way to let our creativity run wild afterwards.
Do you work in Toronto and Montreal, or do you mostly work in Toronto?
Mostly in Toronto, but I’m trying to go to different cities to do some work. I worked in Vancouver last year on a French play. It was called Le Soulier with Théâtre la Seizièm. So the French community is smaller, definitely.
What’s it like doing a French play in Vancouver?
It’s interesting. They do have a lot of French-speaking people, which I didn’t know. The community’s actually pretty big.
Is that most of the people who are coming out for the show?
It used to be, for that theatre, but I think they said recently that it’s been 50-50. So they have surtitles for the plays, and people can follow along. It’s the same for the French theatre here in Toronto.
How does clown work tie into something like Julius Caesar?
Being a clown’s very physical, so being more in your body.
Would you like to do more Shakespeare?
Always. I think that’s my go-to for sure.