A magical mix of plays
Theatrical companies from Europe, Australia and North America joined in a triumphant Quebec International Theatre Fortnight to help the province celebrate its 450th anniversary. Scores of actors took to the stages of nine theatres in Quebec City to present a remarkable cross section of international drama—many in their own languages. They also vigorously traded ideas about the nature of their art in round-table discussions and workshops. Artistic director Alexander Hausvater promised to present “completely different” plays—and indeed one Belgian production featured 20 live chickens. Quebec City audiences responded enthusiastically to his programming: attendance averaged 80 per cent at the festival, which ended last week.
Organizers spent seven years planning the fortnight and skilfully allocated its $700,000 budget to combine the classics and the avant-garde. France’s La Comédie Française presented an innovative interpretation of Molière’s L’Ecole des femmes, Sweden’s Fagei Bla company offered a burlesque look at Noah’s ark, and Holland’s Jim Van der Woude challenged traditional definitions of theatre with his acrobatic satirical mimes. The language differences of the visiting companies proved to be only a minor problem. As the bilingual Hausvater put it, “If an actor truly communicates, he can do so beyond language.” Ironically, it was Hausvater’s choice of
Canadian theatre that drew the most controversy. The artistic director said that few Canadian plays were available, because of the limited-run subscription seasons common in English-Canadian theatres and what he claimed was the unwillingness of the French-Canadian companies to participate. But critics disputed that and questioned why Calgary’s Loose Moose improvisational company—which performed “three nights, three bombs,” according to one company member—had appeared.
Still, the festival demonstrated that theatre is developing an international language with an increasing emphasis on visual, mime and pure sound elements. An outstanding example was Nanas de Espinas by the Cuadra Company of Seville, Spain, in which violent images, deafening ceremonial music and intoxicating incense forcefully reminded audiences of theatre’s ritual and nonverbal origins.
The festival drew to a close on the St. Jean Baptiste holiday weekend with a patriotic revival: Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles Soeurs. That play’s debut 15 years ago marked a turning point in Quebec’s spiritual rebirth. The choice was fitting: after exploring their own culture, Quebec artists can now confidently embrace the world. The festival showed that the province itself has become an international stage in which both the past and the future have stimulating roles to play. -MARK CZARNECKI