There is no better place than Montreal for a French theatre company to flourish in North America. Several renowned French acting schools, such as the Conservatoire de ThÃ©’tre, Ã‰cole Nationale de ThÃ©’tre, CollÃ¨ge Lionel-Groulx and UQAM can be found in the Montreal area. Consequently, the city is filled with promising actors eager to be part of the theatre industry.
Montreal is home to major theatre companies such as ThÃ©’tre du Nouveau Monde, Espace Go, ThÃ©’tre d’Aujourd’hui and Rideau Vert, which have, on average, seven shows each planned for the 2010-2011 season. With advertisements all over Montreal’s metro stations, famous actors and acclaimed directors collaborating with their productions, selling tickets is not a problem. For the upcoming season, every show presented at ThÃ©’tre du Nouveau Monde is already sold out at least once during the four or five weeks it is playing.
That success seems to have had a trickle-down effect. “We’re doing very, very well,” said Abat-Jour ThÃ©’tre co-founder Sarah Berthiaume. Abat-Jour is an independent theatre company created in 2004. Berthiaume and her former classmates came up with the idea to create their own company while they were still enrolled at Lionel Groulx’s acting program.
“Of course, it’s always the major institutional theatre companies that get all the public and the critics’ attention,” said Berthiaume. Nonetheless, the Montreal French theatre network is like a family; they are always helping each another out. For one of their latest plays, called Simon a toujours aimÃ© danser, Abat-Jour was able to use the Jean-Claude-Germain room in the ThÃ©’tre d’Aujourd’hui. “The ThÃ©’tre d’Aujourd’hui team helped us with media relation fees,” added Berthiaume. “We also benefit from their help for our different projects.”
Money is, as always, a major problem. “For a couple of years, the number of grants has drastically been reduced,” said Maxime Mailloux, a third-year acting student at the National Theatre School. Quebec’s ministry of culture gave 2,773 grants to different programs in 2008-2009. A year later, the number had gone down to only 2,660. “Our current government does not see the necessity of investing in the arts,” Mailloux said. The 22-year-old student is very much concerned with the place artists occupy in our society. He wrote La “belle bulle rose” des artistes QuÃ©becois with some of his classmates as a response to criticism towards some artists’ involvement in the shale gas debate.
Every year, an average of 60 students graduate from an acting school throughout the province. “Another problem is the obvious saturation of casting agencies,” said Mailloux. “Young actors who graduate have trouble getting accepted into those agencies because they already have too many clients.” The only solution for some of those graduates is to create jobs for themselves by founding their own theatre companies 8212; which is exactly what Berthiaume and her friends decided to do with Abat-Jour.
However, that creates another problem. Just like there are too many actors in casting agencies, there are too many theatre companies in the province. “Every year fewer grants are available, but more companies have to fight for them,” said Berthiaume.
But the main challenge encountered by French theatre in Montreal is be the inability to reach a broader audience. “French theatre will only survive if we can find a way to work together,” said Ariane BÃ©rubÃ©, a second-year student at Lionel-Groulx.
That difficulty has led to the growth of organizations working towards that goal, like as Carte Prem1Ã¨res. With a $25 subscription, they offer a 50 per cent discount on over 30 plays and a 25 per cent discount on a variety of shows presented during six different festivals in Montreal. Carte Prem1Ã¨res subscriptions are available at ThÃ©’tre Aux Ã‰curies, ThÃ©’tre d’Aujourd’hui and Monument-National.
The changing demographics of Montreal is perceived as a threat by some people in the French theatre industry. Without necessarily considering themselves to be nationalists, they feel that they have to fight for the survival of the French language as well as French theatre. “In fact, the more in danger French theatre would be, the more I would feel the necessity to defend it, to fight for it,” said Mailloux.
There definitely is a future for French theatre in Montreal, and a considerable one according to him. “Just take a look at our artists shining all over the world,” he said, mentioning homegrown talent like Wajdi Mouawad and Robert Lepage. “But the next generation is, I believe, even more promising and eager to create.”
For more information about Abat-Jour ThÃ©’tre, visit www.abatjourtheatre.com.