The Many Lives of Paul Crepeau

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Mark Leiren-Young & Paul Crepeau

Mark Leiren-Young & Paul Crepeau

Paul Crepeau accidentally spelled his name “Pual” when he set up his Facebook page. He told me that by the time he discovered the error Pual already had several friends, so there was no point in fixing things, everyone who needed to find him would figure it out. Paul – aka Pual – was famous for mangling words in print and in person. He knew he was dyslexic, but there was more to it with Paul – the words and thoughts flew faster then he could organize them.

Today I woke to the news that I would never be hearing another new Crepeau-ism. Paul’s sister Manon says he died Monday night while driving from Regina to Saskatoon. He pulled over to the side of the road and it appears he suffered a massive heart attack. He was 60-years-old.

Paul said several times – Paul tended to repeat all his stories several times – that he didn’t expect to see fifty. Men in his family died early. They had heart attacks. I think his father died at age forty-nine. Decades ago Paul said he assumed that was his expiry date. So for Paul, every year after the half-century mark was like playing in overtime for his team, the Habs, and he was making the most of it – making art and short films in Saskatchewan and working on a movie about his life (with John Cassini, Tony Wosk and me).

I always suspected that expiry date was why Paul jammed so many different lives into his time on earth.

The first version of Paul I met was a theatre student at the University of Victoria in 1982. We became friends even though I was a kid starting university and he was, “an adult.” Paul was an old guy, probably thirty. I thought it was cool that the UVic theatre department had so many adults in it. It was months, maybe most of the year, before I realized they were all ex-cons or current cons – transfer students from the William Head Penitentiary theatre program.

From the moment Paul told me his story I had to share it – especially when I could help him sell tickets to one of his shows.

When Paul was a prisoner of the drug war at Matsqui, and then William Head, he found theatre the way some convicts find religion. (He also spit on the child killer, Clifford Olson. He was very proud of that.)

I’ve lived my entire life among the tribe known as theatre people. Almost all of them – almost all of us – don’t just consider theatre a career, but a calling, maybe a holy calling. But I have never met anyone who loved theatre as much as Paul did.

He wasn’t just called to serve the muse, he was an apostle. Paul inspired everyone he worked with. He made us all better. He believed, so we believed.

He learned how to direct at the University of Victoria. One of our professors, Giles Hogya, taught him about the “Hodge Analysis” – a way of breaking down plays that managed to focus Paul’s ideas. Theatre was his religion, Hodge was his bible and scripts by writers like Mamet, Shanley and Sheppard were his prayers.

After starting a theatre company with a mix of friends from in and out of prison, Paul began crossing the pond from Victoria to Vancouver and doing shows in the big city. The company was called FEND and I recall Paul having a different explanation for the name almost every time we talked about it. My favourite – though I’m sure this wasn’t the version on his grant applications – was that it was short for “Need to Offend.”

When he moved to Vancouver, Paul wanted to open a theatre on a barge – and while he never quite let that dream get away he took over a former Hell’s Angels Speakeasy instead and briefly turned it into Vancouver’s most vibrant theatre venue – The Station Street Arts Centre. He surrounded himself with true believers who both bought into his vision, and made it possible. And they made it possible even when Paul got in the way.

Paul was an amazing director who loved working with all the people involved in creating a show. He was also funny, fearless and crazy – which is why everyone who worked with him has a hundred Paul stories.

One of my faves… When he directed Cold Comfort the actress, Maggie Langrick, had to do a nude scene. She was nervous so, before she got naked for the first time, Paul and Maggie’s two co-stars (UVic friends Peter Lacroix and Graham Caswell) stripped and streaked. I was told by all involved that Maggie couldn’t stop laughing.  And when it was time for her big scene the nerves were gone.

Theatre fans of a certain age remember Ray Michal’s City Stage before all the theatre there was replaced by TheatreSports. Station Street had a brief reign from the mid-to late ’80s to the early ’90s as the heir to City Stage.

Paul put together a board of advisors that read like a Who’s Who of the city’s cultural scene. He had big plans – Paul always had big plans. He wanted to turn Stephen Reid’s novel Jackrabbit Parole into a movie.

Just before the theatre went under, Paul slated a season that might have included more Canadian plays that year than every other company in the city combined. He didn’t get his grants. Paul said the Canada Council rep told him the season was too ambitious. I don’t know if that’s really what happened, but if it was, whoever made the call didn’t know Paul or the tireless team at Station Street (including Bryan Pike, Liesl Jauk, Eduardo Meneses and another fellow U-Victim, Joan Maclean).

The Station Street team launched a program to help street kids find theatre the way Paul had. It was called TheatreStreet. As much as Paul hoped the kids would be saved by his muse, he said the most important thing he was doing was making sure they all got fed each day courtesy of his film catering company, Reel Appetites.

Like I said, a lot of lifetimes.

When the theatre folded Cowboy Paul rode into town. Paul became part owner of the Flying U Ranch near 100 Mile House – a dude ranch where tourists lived out their cowboy dreams. Paul said it was his favourite place on the planet. He loved riding, he loved sharing the place and the life with his friends and, most of all, with his daughter, Genevieve. He dreamed of turning the ranch into a place where artists could play.

I spent a few months living at the ranch and, as Paul’s roomie, I was shocked to discover that the manic mile-a-second Paul that I’d always assumed was Paul on something was just Paul. Drugs and/or alcohol seemed to be his way to slow things down and take the manic away.

Cut to:

Everything goes sideways. Paul loses the ranch, Reel Appetites, all his money and a lot of friends.

There’s a long story here and I’d probably have to hire a lawyer before sharing it, so let’s just go with… Paul hit rock bottom. Again.

Some people lose it all once and come back. Paul lost it all for the second time.

I know that a couple of the heroes from his Station Street days helped Paul survive, so did some of his other friends. Thank you.

A big part of Paul’s survival was moving home to Saskatchewan, so that he and his mother could take care of each other.

Paul caught his breath, cleaned up and went back to school. He enrolled at the University of Regina to get his Masters Degree and started making movies. He started loving life again. He started inspiring people again.

And he was helping me write a script about his life in prison – finding his religion. I wrote a part for him. He wanted a bigger one. I didn’t tell him, but I wanted him to help me direct it. I had visions of sitting up with him all night as he chain smoked, I drank Diet Coke and we did a Hodge analysis and joked about UVic.

I could keep writing about Paul all night. I could probably write about Paul for years. And I have. I’ve written two screenplays inspired by his life. I could write more. There were parts of his life Paul didn’t want to talk about, but he said that one day, if we got this movie right, he’d share those stories with me and maybe I could write them too.

I could add another hundred names of people who helped Paul – and vice versa – and I’d still be leaving out the hundreds or thousands I don’t know. But Paul didn’t forget you. And he probably had your phone number memorized. My heart goes out to all of you – but especially to his family and his daughter, Genevieve.

Over the last few months Paul and I were talking a lot about his new short film and the discovery that prompted it. Paul was diagnosed with ADHD. My first thought when I heard the diagnosis was, “no shit.”

My second was, “this explains so much.”

Paul was so excited about starting another new life – a life where he understood how his mind worked. He wasn’t angry about his diagnosis. It was something he wanted to celebrate – like misspelling his own name.

Since theatre was Paul’s religion I’m going to end with two theatre quotes.

The first is from the Bard: “Good night, sweet Prince.”

The second from David Mamet: “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!”


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