Mani Soleymanlou tells
When Mani Soleymanlou found out he was going to direct the French Theater at the National Arts Center (NAC), one of the first people he wanted to break the news to was Luc Bernier, his teen drama teacher.
“It was Luc who came to get me in the gymnasium to show me the theater and who, later, made me understand that we could make a living from it!” I didn’t want him to hear the news in the papers. Indeed, the nomination of Mani Soleymanlou to the CNA made the headlines. At 38, he will succeed, in September 2021, big names like André Brassard, Robert Lepage, Brigitte Haentjens and Wajdi Mouawad as artistic director of the French section of Canada’s only national theater.
Originally from Iran, Mani Soleymanlou did his secondary studies in a French-speaking school in the suburbs of Toronto, the Étienne-Brûlé school. “We were 350 students from 82 nationalities. It is in this particular context that Luc Bernier took care of the theater company. “Doing theater with children of immigrant background, in Toronto and in French, is already an extraordinary feat! », Underlines the director, playwright and actor that we have seen in This is how I love you.
Mani Soleymanlou remembers his first steps on stage, he who was at the time more used to volleyball courts. “One day in April, Luc came to ask me to interpret the main role of the play Waiting for baby. I had done sketches at cabaret evenings – notably a monologue by Michel Courtemanche! -, but not more. ”
I was 14 years old. It was a monumental shock to me. A world opened up thanks to him. Let’s say that math, chemistry, bio got the hell out of the way!
“My school day has also become richer. I quickly said to myself: it’s theater that I want to do in my life. And Luc understood it. Thanks to his good humor and his extraordinary kindness, he was a remarkable teacher for many. Moreover, we are three students of the time to have chosen careers in theater: Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon, Léa Simard and me. ”
Their teacher, Mani Soleymanlou recalls, was very involved in all stages of the creation of the shows. “He taught me all the hard work that goes into producing, the blind work that comes with passion. We stayed at school late at night to do the sets, create the posters, seal thank-you envelopes… He taught me the pride of a job well done. ”
For Luc Bernier, every opportunity was good to open the theatrical horizons of his troupe, says his former student. “He took us to see the premieres of Guy Mignault’s Théâtre français de Toronto so that we could meet the artists. We went to Quebec and even to Detroit to see plays! He is a big fan of culture, a big fan of Quebec too.
“For him, the theater was serious. It must be said that the school occupied an important place in the Franco-Toronto community. We did eight to ten performances a week, in front of 400 people each time. As an artist, that’s where I learned the sense of timing that comes with humor, how to deal with laughter in the room… It gave me self-confidence. ”
One day, Luc Bernier took a leaflet from the National Theater School out of his drawer to show it to his protégé. “He told me that it was possible to study and make a living in theater. However, it is quite rare that immigrants choose the arts route. Two days later, I showed the flyer to my parents. And that’s where many negotiations began! ”
Luc Bernier tells
The scenario repeated itself at each new parent meeting. Mani Soleymanlou’s mother appeared before Luc Bernier to ask him to dissuade her son from embarking on a theatrical career. “I didn’t want to confront Mani’s mother. I only told him that his son was talented… Except that I never, never tried to discourage him! I couldn’t do this! Mani was so good! And he only dreamed of that… His parents understood that later. ”
Luc Bernier and his former pupil have kept close ties despite the passage of the years. The teacher from the Eastern Townships has always closely followed the career of the actor who will soon be seen on Radio-Canada in the series Outlive his children. ” I have seen several of his shows. I believed in him when he was young and it is normal for me to continue to encourage him. He always kept me posted on his plans, but I admit that when he announced me for the NAC, I was shaking. I was very moved. In 20 years, he has gone from a passionate student to author of 10 plays and artistic director of the NAC. It is a teacher’s dream to see a student, a friend flourish in this way. ”
Luc Bernier is a modest man. Difficult to make him recognize the impact he may have had on the professional career – and human, will say Mani Soleymanlou – of his former student. “I may have been Mani’s mentor, but he pushed me to go further in my productions. He pushed me to make more daring text choices, to invest myself more. He made me grow up. ”
Mani made me dream of what life could offer him. I wanted him to see big, because when I was younger I also wanted to make a living from the theater.
Luc Bernier, theater teacher
For this teacher who has touched almost every school subject in his career, teaching drama to a multicultural clientele like that of the Étienne-Brûlé school posed a particular challenge, especially at the turn of the millennium. “In Mani’s day, there wasn’t much to talk about multicultural reality. The repertoire was very limited. I had actors who came from Afghanistan, Peru, Africa, each with their own accent and expressions. The public also came from all cultures… So I decided to set up summer theater, to reproduce on stage what I had seen in Quebec. ”
Thus, it is through comedy that Mani Soleymanlou made his debut in theater. “I told him he reminded me of a Quebec actor: Benoit Brière. He had the same way of making laughs. He didn’t know who it was… One day, he called me to tell me that he had a role in Madame Lebrun, with Benoit Brière! I flipped! ”
For Luc Bernier, the current school year is the last. “I have decided to retire. It’s special: I extinguish my flame while Mani’s is lit with the CNA. I’ll be nostalgic to leave with all my satchels and posters, but when I get settled in Montreal, I’ll stay plugged into the theater. My passion will be conveyed in another way. And I will be able to attend all the plays of my former students… ”