For MMIAM students and graduates, Anne-Marie is an indispensable resource; answering questions before the program begins, ensuring that students have the proper visas and paperwork before traveling, that students are reimbursed in a timely manner, lending support throughout the completion of the program and beyond. Anne-Marie has been with the program since its inception. Keep reading to get to know the woman who keeps the MMIAM program running smoothly.
Tell me about your interest in the arts. Are you an artist?
Probably. Although I have been a puppeteer for 27 years, I have never felt 100 percent comfortable calling myself an artist because I was able to compare myself to real and fantastic ones. I have many artistic qualities though, otherwise, I would never have done what I did, but I consider myself a good mix of left and right-brained.
I think my family infused me with an appreciation for the arts. I grew up in Trois-Rivières, there, my father was a librarian and my mother was a nurse. They provided us with a very creative environment. I remember my mom taking us to puppet shows at Théâtre du Rideau-Vert in Montréal, which at that time was a three-hour drive from Trois-Rivières. She took us to other shows as well, but I remember the puppet shows vividly. My father flew small planes for fun so he took the whole family on short trips where we visited new cities and museums. I learned to play the violin—which I played for 14 years—and my sister played the cello. We attended musical camps and youth orchestras.
However, when I was deciding on a career path, culture was not really an option in my mind. I went to a school that followed a French curriculum—this was very important to my parents—but I remember being told by the school that we would be closing many doors if we chose a non-scientific academic path. So, I chose the sciences; the more challenging for me considering my grades at the time. I wanted to be an architect but I was put on a waiting list by the university, so I went on to study city planning and found it boring.
Around that time, my mother sent me to a giant puppet show from Théâtre Sans Fil, The Lord of the Rings, actually. That show knocked me out of my seat! There were special effects that you might have only seen in the movies at that time, puppets walking in the aisles or flying over the audience…I knew how you could become an actor or musician, but didn’t realize that someone could be a puppeteer as a profession. Almost by fate, a few months later, I saw an ad in the newspaper for Théâtre Sans Fil advertising training to become a puppeteer. So, out of curiosity and not because I wanted to become a puppeteer I took the course while continuing my studies.
Guess what: at the end of the training sessions, I was offered a position with The Lord of the Rings! So I dropped everything and said yes! I planned to live a dream for one year then (boringly) return to school and complete my degree. Well, I never got back to that diploma. I worked with Théâtre Sans Fil until it stopped touring in 2013.
Very early in my career, I realized that I would do Théâtre Sans Fil forever but that it would never be my full-time job, as it just could not provide enough work for the puppeteers. So I had to fill my schedule with other jobs that I learned while doing them: stage technics, stage management, and touring direction, which I did for a long time.
That’s quite the career!
Well, this is just the “stage” part. As none of those were not full-time jobs, I went back to school and did my undergraduate degree part-time while touring. I remember having to send final papers through fax machines in hotel lobbies! Eventually, I became interested in arts administration which I studied— always part-time —at HEC Montréal. I ended up co-directing an adult puppet company called Soma for five years then became general manager of a multidisciplinary company called Dulcinea Langfelder & Co. Once I realized that I’d done all that I could do, I would move on from a company.
It was always my experience and my networks that took me from one job to the next. François [Colbert] was on the board of the Théâtre Sans Fil, but I didn’t know him that well yet. I was friends with his assistant, Louise Saint Pierre, and I went to visit her at HEC. By chance, it was on the day that they needed someone to start helping with the MMIAM program. I thought it would be only for a few weeks. I feared working for a big organization. But when the position I was working for became available on a full-time basis, I applied and got it. I gave myself a deadline of two years because I thought I would really miss working in the field and well, here I am. It’s been 11 years.
So, the MMIAM program is celebrating 10 years, can you share what still excites you about the program, after all this time?
The students! I’m their first contact; I see them from the first info session or the first time they reach out with questions to the start of the program—I used to meet the students in Dallas, actually—through graduation and hopefully as we keep in contact. Through all of this, I get to see the students evolve and grow. I am doing my best to reassure them and solve problems. It is very rewarding. The job is fun as well! It is extremely diverse, there are many different things to do, and I have a good boss who really appreciates what I do and backs me 100 percent. That’s precious.
I would like to one day travel with the students. The travel can be a way of getting to know the students a bit better and witnessing their discoveries and amazement. Even though I’m in Montréal with them, they are working so hard. You know that the winter semester is quite challenging. So, the opportunities to gather with them don’t come up often. The tenth anniversary is coming up. I can’t wait to see everyone again and get to know how they’re doing in their professional careers and personal lives, to see their kids—some graduates have them now—to see them get to know the graduates of other cohorts and weave new professional bonds…I’m very excited!
Can you describe a typical day in your role? Or is it everything all at once?
It’s a lot of emails! I work with a to-do list because I’m juggling too many files and I don’t want to lose track of any. I start by sorting emergencies from what can wait at least 24 hours. My priority goes to answering requests from my boss and from the students, then, on the same level, from our partners, professors, colleagues, candidates, and suppliers. I update my task list, then I work on the files indicated on my list, starting with what needs to be done in the short term. Then I work on the files that need to be done on an ongoing basis: information sessions and recruitment, follow-up of applications for admissions and students’ files, processing payments and invoices, updating the database, following up on promotional actions, updating the website, programming the MMIAM Journey newsletter (yes, I programmed what you are reading right now!), summarizing the scientific article that is in it… and so on.
The winter session (January to April) is particularly intense because in addition to the usual tasks, there are schedules, course outlines, grades, students’ expenses reimbursements, visa information, and support, plane tickets and hotel reservations, as well as other related tasks! You have to be versatile and look after the details without losing the big picture. My experience as a tour manager helps me immensely in juggling all the little details that make what we have control over go as smoothly as possible. I also of course am constantly in touch with the program partners at SMU and SDA Bocconi.
What are your hopes for the future of the program?
I hope that the future students keep having (as the present and past ones) the most incredible and enriching year of their life and that they make great memories and great friendships that will last their lifetimes.
I hope that many more people discover this program. It is a hidden gem, a program that makes you feel not only part of an extensive international cultural network but also part of a family. I hope donors show up from around the world to offer scholarships to our students! I also hope that the program can find financial resources to make room for another person in the office. We have needs and wishes in terms of communications but not yet the means to implement them.
You’ve had a long career as both an artist and an administrator, is there a key lesson you think readers would find helpful?
Having experience in the field has continuously been useful for me. As an arts administrator, I have worked to ensure that artists have a high-quality work environment. I also understand that in many ways, the artists lead; they are the ones creating the work. You cannot move the company forward without the work they create. As a general manager, you may have a dream and a vision for an artistic company, but if the artistic director doesn’t share it, you won’t get anywhere. So you’d better share the artistic director’s dream and do your best to help him or her achieve it.
This doesn’t prevent you from being discerning or offering guidance, because you understand the administrative consequences, financial needs, and context in which the work is being created. But no decisions should be made without the two halves working together; dual leadership. Tension sometimes, but complementarity, and great complicity. Does that ring a bell to the student that you have been?
Can you share one thing, personal or professional, you’ve done in the past year that you’re proud of?
Yes! I worked very hard on my partner’s album release. It was something I’d never done before. I co-produced the album and spent time in the studio with the producer and the sound engineer. I learned where to ask for the rights and where to register ours, what mastering was, and how distribution worked… I wrote the texts for the booklet, got them revised and translated, and coordinated the graphic design for the album art (created by my niece Roxanne who did a great job!). We learned quite a bit through this process and of course, if there is a second album, we will do many things better; however, we’re very proud of what it ended up being.
I am also on the board of Dulcinée Langfelder & Co. the company I mentioned before and of Casteliers, a specialized presenter of puppet theatre that holds an international puppet festival here in Montréal every year. Incidentally, in 2019, Casteliers co-founded an international center dedicated to puppetry arts, the Maison internationale des arts de la marionnette whose acronym is MIAM. Isn’t that funny? Once a MMIAM, always a MMIAM!