Looking back on an “exceptional” season: this is not our last word on the subject!
I could never have anticipated that the title given Théâtre français de Toronto’s (TfT’s) 2018-2019 season, Paroles manifestes, would resonate with such force. The civic urgency of making manifest our presence as Franco-Ontarians quickly became as important as our initial desire to celebrate the uniqueness of each project.
And so we note that the suspension of a French-language university scheduled to open in Toronto and the abolition of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner by the Ford government mobilized an entire community. And as you would expect, TfT’s staff and board members, artists and audiences rallied to resist these incomprehensible political choices. In doing so, we also underlined our collective support to invest a distinct French-language cultural space, one we could always and forever call our own. And so in every production, every event, every speech, TfT served as a gathering place for all those who continue to believe that art has a vital role to play in a society that looks to the future. I believe this viscerally: the “theatre of infinite possibilities” remains more than ever at the heart of a dynamic and engaged community!
Personally, I will always remember the nuanced performances in Marivaux’s La Seconde Surprise de l’amour and the delight we experienced together in the rehearsal room as we explored this demanding play. And we can’t ignore the electric energy of Les Zinspirés: l’âge de raison masterfully directed by Chanda Gibson. Nor can we forget Impatience by Anne-Marie Ouellet and Thomas Sinou, a moment of communion that allowed us to connect with the dreams of three exceptional teenagers. Estelle Savasta’s Traversée represented a historic moment for TfT: the first time that a story was told using Québec Sign Language (LSQ) to tell the story of the unconditional love of a mother for her daughter. The lively reactions and discussions with the children who attended Le Bibliothécaire by Marie-Hélène d’Amours (presented in partnership with the Alliance française de Toronto), as well as Mokatek by Dave Jenniss and Le Carré de sable by Diane Loiselle (presented in partnership with the WeeFestival), reminded us of the importance of providing young audiences with the high-quality shows they deserve. Finally, Bigre, by Pierre Guillois, Agathe L’Huillier and Olivier Martin-Salvan, Écoutez nos défaites by Laurent Gaudé and Par cœur by Tiago Rodrigues made us think even as they made us laugh. It goes without saying that our guests from Paris, Montréal and Lisbon share our concerns about the importance of community, the need for deeper reflection about international politics, and the fragility and beauty of memory for both the individual and society at large.
Concurrent with its season in Toronto, TfT continued to act as an ambassador. Michel Ouellette’s Le Dire de Di, co-produced with our colleagues at Théâtre la Catapulte, won audiences in Ottawa, Montréal and Kingston before being staged at the Carrefour international de théâtre de Québec. Emily Pearlman’s Avant l’archipel, co-produced with Théâtre la Catapulte and l’Irréductible Petit Peuple (Québec), continued its cross-country tour, starting with a three-week run at the Salle Fred-Barry in Montréal before charming audiences in Ottawa and New Brunswick. Exercice de l’oubli, by Emma Haché, a finalist for the prestigious Governor General of Canada Award, was featured in Caraquet at Théâtre populaire d’Acadie before touring elsewhere on the East Coast. Last but not least, Théâtre de la Veillée in Montréal and the TfT continued to explore a shared passion for contemporary writing with our “Toronto-Montréal Corridor”.
I hope you’ll allow me to take advantage of this review to highlight some of the less visible but equally important accomplishments of the crafts persons who make TfT a cultural institution.
In 2018-2019, TfT’s commitment to outreach and cultural mediation gained unprecedented momentum. We adopted new strategies that allowed us to improve our ties with Francophones, Francophiles and new Canadians. In addition, as part of a project supported by the Trillium and Metcalf Foundations, TfT productions reached a record number of children and teens. In particular, the Zinspiré.e.s writing contest, managed superbly by Pierre Simpson, inspired 13 high schools in the GTA and Southern Ontario to submit a total of 165 entries. In addition, 17 teenage authors participated in writing workshops with dramaturgs and professional actors. TfT’s Drama School continued to grow: Jean-Michel Le Gal, together this year with Ziad Ek and Eudes Laroche-Francoeur, welcomed students on Saturday mornings and throughout the week thanks to a new partnership with the Lycée français. Finally, TfT is continuing to offer summer theatre camps this coming July and August for children aged 5 to 12 in collaboration with the Alliance française de Toronto.
At TfT, we care as much about the professional development of our artists as we do about our audiences. Not surprisingly, playwrights are part of our DNA. In September, we offered staged readings of L’Affaire de Juliette B. by Lina Blais, Le Club des éphémères by Alain Doom, Flush by Marie-Claire Marcotte and Cartouche [j’ai aimé ça] by Michel Ouellette at the Feuilles Vives festival in Ottawa. Througout 2018-19 we were able to support authors Lina Blais, Alain Doom, Natalie Feheregyhazi (Théâtre Apuka), Bruno Gaudette, Jean-Michel Le Gal, Sarah Migneron and Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin by offering free access to our rehearsal room and exploratory workshops for their scripts. Lisa L’Heureux (winner of the 2019 Trillium Award) and Sarah Migneron continued to develop projects for young audiences as part of the “Dramaturgie en chantier” initiative we offer with Théâtre la Catapulte and Sudbury’s Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario. It is with playwrights and other partners that we develop the projects of tomorrow.
And we ended it all with a party! On May 15, 2019, TfT celebrated the end of its 51st season with a fundraising evening at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, hosted by Radio-Canada’s Isabelle Fleury and presided by Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP Amanda Simard. This cabaret included performances by the talented Patricia Cano as well as surprise musical interludes by Robert Godin, Valérie Descheneaux and Nathalie Nadon. Thanks to all who participated.
All that we do is made possible due to the overwhelming commitment of our artists, certainly, but also thanks to the devotion of our exceptional team. Ghislain Caron (Managing Director), Camille Mauran (Corporate Liaison), JoAnn Mailloux (Accounting), Sandra-Émilie Veilleux (Customer Service and Executive Assistant), Manuel Verreydt (Director of Communications and Marketing) and Hadrien Volle (Cultural Outreach Officer), as well as our trainees and summer employee Anouk Bortuzzo, Marie Douillard, Gloria Lokwa, Tobias Pivato, Marion Ser, and Clara Zederman. You are the heroes in the shadows! On behalf of our audiences, on behalf of our artistic community, a thousand thanks.
Finally, with sorrow we say goodbye to Natalie Gisèle, our Production Manager since 2014, who is taking on new challenges at the prestigious Theatre Centre. Natalie, we cannot emphasize enough your contribution to the current growth of TfT! I am pleased to announce that Mélanie Hall, our long-time stage manager, will take on this role next season. We also want to welcome the newest addition to our board of directors, Fayza Abdallaoui, a well-known Toronto entrepreneur.
Regardless of the challenges that lie ahead in 2019-2020, whether political, social or artistic, I know we will meet them together. TfT remains “the theatre of infinite possibilities” for a simple reason: you!
16,463 audience members attended a TfT performance in 2018-2019, an increase of 15% over 2017-2018;
In particular, 9,803 audience members attended plays presented at the Berkeley Street Theatre: 6,330 in the Upstairs and 3,473 in the Downstairs spaces;
The shows co-presented with the WeeFestival and the Alliance française de Toronto were seen by 1,840 audience members;
Three co-productions on tour were seen by 4,820 audience members;
In the case of Les Zinspirés : l’âge de raison, a total of 2,665 audience members attended the 16 performances – that’s 346 more people than last year;
Les Zinspirés : l’âge de raison received the most nominations for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards (The Doras) for a single show in TfT history: congratulations to Chanda Gibson who won the Outstanding Direction award for the second consecutive year and to Nick Di Gaetano, Ziad Ek, Bianca Heuvelmans, Sheila Ingabire and Eudes La Roche-Francoeur who collectively won the Best Performance (Ensemble) Award;
TfT’s benefit evening raised $30,000 in support of TfT’s upcoming artistic programming. 130 friends of the theatre attended!
Photo by Marc Lemyre. Cast of La Seconde Surprise de l’amour. October 2018.