It’s the end of a historic season for Théâtre français de Toronto (TfT): the 50th year of the “theatre of all possibilities” marked by the outbursts of an entire artistic community. During 2017-2018, we challenged and entertained 14,333 audience members from Toronto and all of Canada, from coast to coast.
This past fall, audiences discovered or rediscovered Toronto’s incredibly talented francophone playwrights, novelists and poets in Ici, les arbres s’enracinent dans l’eau. For the first time, TfT then hosted a play created by our sister company, Toronto’s Théâtre la Tangente, Americandream.ca by Claude Guilmain; a production and a text that continue to win awards (congratulations, once again). The teenage writers of Les Zinspirés once again surpassed our expectations in a production masterfully directed by Chanda Gibson. And during the holiday season, the characters of Marco (John Doucet), Sarah (Chloé Tremblay) and Rose (Danielle Le Saux-Farmer) touched the hearts of children and their parents in Jean-Philippe Lehoux’s Petites Bûches. They proved that hope can be found in the most unexpected places. A big thank you to Ottawa’s Théâtre de la Vieille 17 for stopping at the Berkeley Street Theatre to perform this oft-lauded production.
It was the TfT’s first playwright-in-residence, Michel Ouellette – it was none other than the company’s first Artistic Director John Van Burek who spotted his immense talent – who penned Le Dire de Di. The company was proud to present a first production of a text written by one of Canada’s most important living playwrights. Without a shadow of a doubt, Marie-Ève Fontaine’s remarkable performance touched and amazed us. It was also a pleasure to see the Berkeley Street Theatre transformed into a world of celebration and poetry during Avant l’archipel. Actors Louis-Philippe Roy and Caroline Yergeau charmed audiences in Theatre du Trillium’s astute comedy Fucking Carl, just as Le Menteur’s talented cast provoked laughter and debate. Impossible to forget Shiong-En Chan’s (Lucrèce) coy smile or François Macdonald (Cliton) and Inka Malovic (Isabelle / Sabine) deliciously scandalous frolics, or Géronte’s concluding monologue, so brilliantly delivered by our very own Guy Mignault?
To close the 2017-2018 season, the TfT presented four productions for children aged 6 and under in collaboration with the WeeFestival – another first. More than 1,000 children and their parents enjoyed plays from France, Québec City, Montréal and Ottawa. A special congratulations to Sarah Migneron, one of the first winners of Théâtre la Catapulte and TfT’s writing contest for her script Mots de jeux, masterfully directed by Vox Théâtre’s Pier Rodier, presented during the festival.
It was also an important touring season for TfT. Le Dire de Di, our coproduction with Théâtre la Catapulte, took the stage at the National Arts Center of Canada’s French Theatre in Ottawa. Emily Pearlman’s Avant l’archipel, the result of a five year development and research process led by Danielle Le Saux-Farmer, André Robillard and your humble servant, traveled across Canada, from Moncton (NB) to Victoria (BC), via Saskatoon (SK), St. Boniface (MB), Longlac (ON) and Laval (QC). Thank you once again to the many venues and companies that hosted this production. We also launched the new “Montreal-Toronto Corridor” in partnership with Montréal’s Théâtre la Veillée, a project that will improve the circulation of cutting-edge theatre between our two cities. I had the pleasure of exploring La Pirerre by Germany’s Marius Von Mayenburg at the Théâtre Prospero in May, and director Catherine Vital is now running a first exploratory workshop around the script Bovary by Portugal’s Tiago Rodrigues here in Toronto with actors Sheila Ingabire, Patricia Marceau, Pierre Simpson, Bruno Verdoni et Manuel Verreydt
TfT’s season was also punctuated with a number of significant events. The film series Converging Views, offered in collaboration with Toronto’s Alliance française throughout the year, allowed audiences to discover the many links to be made between TfT’s productions and cinema. Surrounded by colleagues from other companies, we had the pleasure of reading the Franco-Ontarian, theatre for young persons, Canadian and international messages during World Theatre Day – thank you Nina Aquino, David Baudemont, Geneviève Cholette, Miriam Cusson, Edwige Jean-Pierre, Djennie Laguerre and the actors from Le Menteur. TfT and Théâtre la Tangente coproduced a reading of Un quai entre deux mondes by Alain Doom in September presented as part of the Zones théâtrales festival in Ottawa, followed by a second reading in Sudbury in May at the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario in conjunction with the launch of the published version of the play. As part of Théâtre Action’s AGM in June, playwright Marie-Thé Morin read the latest version of Les Couleurs de Floyd, winner of Théâtre la Catapulte, Théâtre du Nouvel Ontario and TfT’s Dramaturgie en chantier prize. Finally, a reading of Lawrence Aronovitch’s Chemin de fer lavande, the new translation of The Lavender Railroad by Hugues Beaudoin-Dumouchel directed by Alex Côté, was presented in our studio as part of Toronto Pride and a fundraiser for Franco-Queer in support of gay refugees.
The development of new works has undeniably become an important part of our programming. In addition to Les Zinspirés orchestrated by Pierre Simpson that reached 177 teenage writers throughout the GTA and Southwestern Ontario, TfT supported many playwrights and creators including Lina Blais, Krystel Descary and the creative team of Nombre, Alain Doom, Bruno Gaudette, Marie-Claire Marcotte, Sarah Migneron and Nathalie Nadon in 2017-2018. And I have to mention TfT’s 50th anniversary gala, a chance to rekindle old friendships as well as hear Les Billets de théâtre produced in collaboration with Radio-Canada: congratulations to Mathieu Allard, Lina Blais, Alain Doom, Marie- Hélène Fontaine, Edwige Jean- Pierre, Jean-Michel Le Gal, A.M. Matte, Marie-Claire Marcotte, Ng Meillie, Nabil Traboulsi, Donald Woo who made this tribute to French language theatre (in retrospect, a very ambitious project) a great success.
Despite this extraordinary year and your excellent work, difficult challenges await Ontario’s oldest Franco-Ontarian theatre company. Faced with the exorbitant operating costs specific to Toronto, Ghislain Caron and I have already been forced to make some difficult decisions. We have closed our costume workshop and will soon empty and close our props and set warehouse. More significantly, there will be one less original production next season and we have reduced the overall number of performances presented in 2018-2019. Finally, our presence at 21 College Street remains precarious for reasons beyond our control, despite investments by the company to build our current creation centre. Clearly, we have work ahead of us: we must raise awareness among the associations that represent us and our public partners about the specificities of our context, significantly different from the rest of French speaking Canada. Finally, we wish the best for departing staff members Michel Rommel, Corporate Liaison Manager, and Diane Courvoisier, our Cultural Outreach Officer.
This being said, I still believe that better days are waiting for us. I am inspired by the commitment and great talent of the artists, designers and volunteers surrounding me.
So: thank you! A huge thank you to all those not mentioned for lack of space. You are the oxygen and the DNA of the company, and as long as you’re here, TfT will be secure in its mission and welcome audiences to its productions.
As I often say in the office, “Nous vaincrons!”