New faces in theatre: meet actor Rochelle Laplante

They’re young, adaptable, and creative. And as theatre returns in this late-pandemic grind, and the doors open to live audiences, we’ll be seeing the work of these theatre artists light up, and transform, the scene here, on- and backstage. Meet six of these sought-after up-and-comers in this annual 12thnight New Faces series. Here’s actor Rochelle Laplante, in a continuing 12thnight series that began with designer Beyata Hackborn.

Laura Raboud, Nadien Chu, Rochelle Laplante in Macbeth, Freewill Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Rochelle Laplante, actor

If you caught a clever, unexpectedly funny version of the Scottish play last summer on its travels through town (and possibly in your own backyard), you saw a raffish trio of bouffons play all the characters, provide stage directions, recruit audience members directly, sing a selection of biting satirical songs….

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That was Freewill Shakespeare Festival’s black comedy/ tragedy/ satire mash-up take on Macbeth, which charted the endlessly repeating cycle of power grabs, corruption and assassination. And in Dave Horak’s high-speed production, newcomer Rochelle Laplante was, among her other roles, an impressively confident Lady M. How often does an actor who’s also a musical theatre triple-threat get to reveal that skill set … in Shakespeare?

actor Rochelle Laplante

It was her “first big stage thing” out of theatre school, “a clown version, with songs!” And “I absolutely loved doing it!” says Laplante, now 24, who has one of those deep, husky, amused voices you associate with golden age of Hollywood stars. “Going out, travelling around town and showing people some Shakespeare!”

“People could rent us,” Laplante laughs. “One of our last shows was for eight people in a backyard, so ‘OK, we’re not going to get the most audience interaction but…. In smaller spaces you realize you’re making eye contact with the same people over and over.” She found fascinating the reaction of diverse audiences to the disconcerting weirdness of finding themselves laughing, “the slow burn from the thought that, hey, this is a tragedy; what’s happening right now?”

Laplante grew up in Edmonton, a theatre kid who “loved to sing and dance — all the time! Finding theatre was a good thing.” “What really drew me into it,” she laughs, “was I saw my  sister in an acting class. And ‘little sister jealousy’ took over: ‘I could do that!’”

Inevitably she went to Vic (the Victoria School of the Arts), and found herself in the big musicals Greg Dowler-Coltman directed there. She was in musicals with the Citadel’s Young Company. The distinctive voice was a distinctive asset; greetings from alto section of the ensemble. Fringe audiences saw Laplante in a modern dress production of The Importance of Being Earnest from the clever indie theatre Empress of Blandings Productions in 2018. Then came the National Theatre in Montreal. “I was lucky to not be in school during the pandemic.” She emerged with a career waiting to happen: “things booked, all cancelled by the pandemic.”

The time-honoured Edmonton theatre DYI principle has evidently been an inspiration. At the digital edition of Nextfest last year, audiences saw her solo creation Homegrown, “an audio-visual exploration of the connections between my natural hair and different plant life.”

Rochelle Laplante (top) and Kristi Hansen in Hiraeth, Bright Young Things. Photo by Mat Busby.

Bright and charismatic onstage, Laplante has caught the eye of veteran theatre artists, including Horak, Belinda Cornish and Rachel Peake. In Hiraeth, the new Cornish two-hander comedy that premiered last fall in Peake’s Bright Young Things production, Laplante co-starred as a mysterious and kooky young neighbour-from-hell who moves into the house of Kristi Hansen’s accomplished mid-career professional woman. Who is she, really? A reveal/withhold situation that Laplante handled expertly.

It’s an odd-couple comedy of a sort, and it unfolds in surprising ways — with in vitro fertilization as its centrepiece.“I had a great time,” says Laplante. Both the playwright and the director “wanted us to be open with our ideas…. It’s such a personal story for them, and it felt like such a beautiful thing to be part of it!” And Laplante was amused to realize that “hey, I’ve worked on a play about IVF before!”

There’s an exclusive subset of Canadian theatre: Hiraeth was her second new Canadian play about pregnancy. As part of their last year of training, NTS actors appear in plays by their playwriting classmates. Her assignment was in Jacob Margaret Archer’s Think of the Children, “a story of a trans man who accidentally gets impregnated by his boyfriend.”

The future is in many ways mapless terrain for young theatre artists. But Laplante has upcoming work, details as yet unannounced, at the Citadel and Teatro La Quindicina. She does imagine being based in Edmonton for a while. “I lived in Toronto for a year after graduation,” she says. “And I found out how exhausting it is to be part of the grind of a big city, trying to have enough money to live, but also wanting to start my career. Here, I can find acting jobs that interest me, and I can enjoy doing theatre!”

“Yes, I do feel positive!”

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