Artistic director Sylvain Bélanger has been thinking for a long time about the 50th anniversary of Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui, now known as the Centre du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui. The result? Inclusive and ongoing programming that honours the meaning of the word aujourd’hui (today) and invites artists and spectators to take their place positively in the course of history.
Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui has always been recognized as the showcase of Quebec drama. To mark its jubilee, Bélanger organized a number of discussion groups and, as conversations progressed, the main theme of the season emerged.
“Quebec society emphasized the 50 years of the Quiet Revolution not so long ago, and this number corresponds to the age of our theatre,” explains the man who is also one of the founders of the Théâtre du Grand Jour and of the recent Théâtre Aux Écuries.
But how to reclaim today’s present, on which we have so little influence? How to fit into the curve of history? Because the loss of belonging and the breakdown of collective certainly confront the playwrights of early 21st century. How to dream, to love, to exist, in 2018?
“The artists in the end decided to work on their desire to create new affiliations and new projects, without ever losing sight of the idea of facing the issues linked to our history,” Bélanger explains.
This 50th season is like a tectonic movement that gently, imperceptibly, triggers new forces on the ground and then creates new landscapes. It is not the 50th anniversary in itself that is so special, but all the conversations that surrounded it, insists the director. The process gives the season an organic side, open, porous as dialogue.
“Artists at Centre du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui (CTdA) have a home, an interface to connect with people who are outside their theatrical family,” he says. Like Mani Soleymanlou, who opens the season with Neuf [working title]and who, with his generation and with artists who preceded them – such as Henri Chassé, Pierre Lebeau, Marc Messier, Mireille Métellus, Monique Spaziani – go further together. Because Bélanger knows and promotes the essential idea of encounter. A dozen years ago, he produced Moi chien créole by Bernard Lagier, which was staged in Montreal, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Toulouse and at the Comédie-Française in Paris. This unveiled a whole new francophone side of the world for him.
The “creolization” of French inspires Bélanger. The process doesn’t scare him.
“I like to see the theatre as a house to air, and open doors and windows,” he says, in the gently provocative tone of someone pretending not to touch it. “From the concept of the founding people, I keep the idea of nation and all the elements of our national dramaturgy. The theatre has changed. There are no more us and them, just a Quebec that is evolving.”
A Place in History
The mandate of the CTdA remains to work on the evolution of Quebec’s dramaturgy. “For me, these dramaturgical writings make visible a Quebec that already exists and that we just don’t know yet. This is kind of artistic adventure I want to pursue!”
Born in an spirit of rebellion, hasn’t the Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui become, over time, a recognized institution? This jubilee season is also an critical one, says the director, who wants to lay stress on dramaturgy and the influence of staging on the text. “Forget about confining ourselves to questions of identity. We have to reposition the theatre in an open and moving world.”
This year, there is a component that is actually a mise en abyme of the season, a comment by the artists who give us their intimate version of the history of Quebec. Marc Séguin, Catherine Bourgeois and the Black Theatre Workshop were invited to propose decisive projects in their respective artistic approaches: “I wanted them to take their place in the history of Quebec’s dramaturgy and also to take their place in the history of the CTdA. It is a historic season, it’s time to take the bull by the horns!”
Bélanger wondered about the place of women in the theatre as soon as he arrived at Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui.
“I realized that we had a problem because women did not even want to propose projects as they felt unwelcome,” says the artistic director. “In this anniversary year, seven productions out of 10 are texts written by women. It was a decision on my part.
“The theatre has to form the viewer’s gaze, to train it differently, into love, empathy and respect. If we listened to women, we would certainly be in a better situation.”
Bélanger discerns in women a different way of writing: “Women have another relationship to events, another way of storing the world. So the form of the show, the relationship to substance, necessarily become distinct.”
A case in point is the writing of Émilie Monet, whose Okinum will be seen in Salle Jean-Claude-Germain in October. “It’s exciting to feel we’re getting to something else.”