Just before the premiere of Cher Tchekhov by Michel Tremblay, fifteen young people invaded the room and attacked the TNM and its director.
Led by Hugo Fréjabise, these young “theatricals” claimed that the Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde is “dying… that it no longer offers anything new… that it has become complacent”. Other young people had also invaded the TNM towards the end of the “reign” of Olivier Reichenbach, who led it for 10 years. They had invoked exactly the same arguments.
Even if the theater community claims that we have almost as many choices in Montreal as in Paris, nothing could be further from the truth. There are more than 80 active theaters in the French capital, while there are barely a dozen in Montreal. The Odéon and the Comédie-Française opened their doors at the end of the 18e century, but it was not until Les Compagnons de St-Laurent, in 1937, that a real theater company existed in Montreal.
AT THE HOOKS OF THE STATE
Most Parisian theaters are not subsidized. They live off their audience. Without the substantial grants from our governments and the various arts councils, without the annual fundraising campaigns generously donated by philanthropists and corporations, none of our theaters could survive. Not easy, in the circumstances, to avoid any “complacency with power”, another criticism of Hugo Fréjabise.
Our theaters also need the public. It assures them of an important part of their income. Even though seats in our theaters are among the cheapest in the country, the public is not acquired for all that and the theaters must do a lot of advertising and promotion.
Despite appearances, our theater is a fragile business, which the pandemic has further weakened. Despite some directors’ desire to take serious risks by presenting more original plays and daring performances, they have no choice but to temper their ambitions if they do not want to see the audience dwindled to a trickle. Like all other theater directors, Lorraine Pintal must offer the public a hybrid program consisting mainly of safe works and one or two high-risk performances.
KNOW WHERE TO HIT
Each theater has its territory, in the words of Lorraine Pintal, or, if you prefer, its vocation. These “territories”, theater lovers know them, but they are not very well defined. They can even vary a lot in the same season! This is how the Green Curtain can present a piece as demanding as Miss Julie and follow it with a crazy and absurd comedy like Vania, Sonia, Macha et Spike. At the TNM, next season, Twelfth night of Shakespeare will precede The dreamer in his batha creation of Hugo Bélanger, an author who is far from traditional.
At the Théâtre Jean-Duceppe, we mainly presented adaptations of American plays, interspersed with a Quebec play. After the departure of Michel Dumont, artistic director for 27 years, Jean-Simon Traversy and David Laurin, who replaced him, changed the vocation of the theater to present more daring plays and, above all, more original plays from Quebec, with the risks that such a change entails.
In Quebec, the situation for theater has never been simple. It depends a lot on the generosity of governments. It was therefore not the TNM that Hugo Fréjabrise and his group had to invade, but the office of the Minister of Culture.