This is a banner year for Lorraine Pintal. The artistic director of the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, who was honoured in May with the 2019 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement (Theatre), has finally secured the necessary grants to update the St. Catherine Street institution and will conclude the season with a much-anticipated Lysis.
It is a major victory. Her team has been filing applications for the extension of the TNM for the last 12 years; the mere acceptance of the project holds out the hope of realization. “I keep repeating that the TNM is like a big hand in a small glove; it is high time to give it a better fit.” The TNM welcomes a considerable number of spectators 300 days a year. The site, which has recently been the subject of some essential renovations, still requires serious upgrades. It is often said that theatre is an ephemeral art, but it still needs a sustainable home. The last significant renovations, carried out in 1997, have proven unsatisfactory in use. The 200 people who work, play and live in the walls of the famous house confirm that it is only when living in it that you notice its flaws, quips the TNM director general.
First sponsored by Nathalie Roy, Quebec minister of culture and communications, the project was then approved by Canadian Heritage and the City of Montreal. The Quebec ministry of culture has increased its initial offer of $4 million to almost $12 million, while Ottawa has agreed to inject another $4 million, continues a radiant Pintal. For its part, the City of Montreal will participate in the financial package with a contribution of $1 million. That leaves $4 million to be found in the private sector, as part of the Déployer the New World campaign: “We can soon begin the bidding and announce an architectural competition to officially start work in the summer of 2021. We aim for the unveiling of our new architectural signature to take place on the 71st anniversary of the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, in 2022,” says the executive director. Spaces dedicated to hospitality, broadcasting, creative workshops and administrative offices will be renovated. A second rehearsal room is planned on St. Catherine Street, while a new tower will be erected in the south. Matching the height of the current building, this tower will be dedicated to educational and therapeutic art workshops and the exploration of stage techniques.
The plan is for an unveiling of the new space rather than a reopening since Pintal wants to keep the season programming intact. The renewal of the TNM should therefore take place on site and the famous house remain accessible to the public. The artistic direction of the TNM currently claims 10,000 to 10,500 subscribers per year so it is out of the question to break with this base, which allows the theatre to invest in less accessible productions. “We took note of the affection that subscribers have for the TNM’s walls during the work done in 1997, when we were welcomed at Salle Pierre-Mercure and at the Monument-National,” Pintal says. “We must not break such a strong attachment.” Especially with the proliferation of new companies, the popularization of circuses, and foreign musicals on tour, the TNM must constantly deal with an infinitely more abundant and competitive cultural offering than in 1996. “Our creative people will certainly be able to cope with the renovations,” she says. “The biggest challenge is probably to keep the café open.”
Making it work
When questioned about her remarkable tenacity, Pintal laughs: “I bring the same care to administrative work as to the implementation of a show, whether it is for subsidies or staging a production, I will not let go and I will do all I can to make it work!” Women artists are very committed and determined, she says. “Of course, there is still a long way to go before reaching perfect parity, but it’s great to see several women artists rewarded and being invited to join the select group of Brigitte Haentjens, Marie Chouinard and Suzanne Lebeau.”
“I thought I deserved this recognition, and I’m not embarrassed to say that I applied for the Governor General’s Awards,” says the actress and director. “For women to be in the running, get on the finalists list and win, they have to show up themselves or have someone submit their candidacy. I submitted my own name for this award, which comes with a $ 25,000 cheque.” Pintal chose to devote this money to the creation of a philanthropic fund with the Foundation of Greater Montreal and to create her own foundation to encourage the appointment of women to key positions in theatre, from the company management side to onstage management, by awarding a $5,000 bursary. “Help to encourage women to reach high positions is nonexistent,” she says. Since charity begins at home, part of the purse ($6,000) will encourage the Déployer the New World campaign. “I especially want to make this scholarship grow since I want to give out $5,000 each year.”
This fall, for its first contribution, the Lorraine Pintal Foundation teamed up with the TNM to grant the Jean-Pierre Ronfard Scholarship Award, which the executive director created in 2013 in the form of a staging residency, as a tribute to the theatre visionary who was very involved with young TNM actors. The Jean-Pierre Ronfard 2019 Fellowship, awarded by the Lorraine Pintal Foundation, goes to the prolific and talented director, Edith Patenaude, who has already won a critics’ award for staging (2017). This scholarship will allow her to explore the repertoire of Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen in the perspective of possible programming on the TNM stage.
In office since 1992, Pintal has always been a feminist, proud to have participated in some significant battles. However, there was a time when it was better to avoid aligning oneself too openly with feminism. But now, in the aftermath of the #MeToo and Femen movements, the director plans a large-scale comedy in which women take serious measures to force men to end the war with the Spartans. “The show will be both very engaged and public,” she says. “Three musicians will provide accompaniment from beginning to end.”
Can one scrutinize the text of Aristophanes based on the test of Bechdel test (developed in 1985 by Alison Bechdel and Liz Wallace) which evaluates the quality of the female presence in a film by analyzing whether it includes at least two clearly sketched female characters who talk about a subject other than a male character? This text was written at a time when women did not have access to the stage, but all the vulgarity, phallic allusions, misogyny and coarse humour that is latent (and that we have seen in some versions) has been evacuated (pitfalls that were also avoided by Michel Tremblay and Claude Brassard in their production at the National Arts Centre. The idea was to seize the unifying character of Lysis; the play Lysistrata no longer exists. But not to refer to it would have been improper. Lysis has become a high-ranking ecofeminist activist who works for a company that has revolutionized the treatment of infertility. “So, we retain our source by moving away from it – while retaining the chorus of women and old men.”
Pintal also speaks with satisfaction of the immense effort of adaptation carried out in concert by Fanny Britt and Alexia Bürger: “These two authors have irony, sarcasm and humor to spare,” she says. “That’s what I wanted – to talk about women’s intelligent and playful creativity and their way of expressing their claims in the context of the #Me Too movement.” The director is now working on the third revision of the text, which she describes as more a sharing of impressions. Included are such hot topics as the abortion debate in the United States; the ecology battle, where women take their rightful place; and let us not forget the famous glass ceiling and the repercussions of the #MeToo movement, even if the first salvo of revelations is already behind us. “It was striking to note that the male archetypes first appeared more precisely than the female characters,” she observes. The show is engaged in interpreting female body language. Choreographer Jocelyne Montpetit guides the body movements while musical tracks instill a ceremonial, ritual and sacred meaning. “Nineteen performers on stage make it very powerful.”
Lorraine Pintal, Fanny Britt and Alexia Bürger: two generations of women who unite, as in Lysistrata? “It is natural to aspire to a form of solidarity with the cause of women,” Pintal says. “TNM confirms its openness by giving these two brilliant people the opportunity to speak to 20,000 in 20 to 30 performances.” It is a magnificent platform, which we must build upon. We must take further action while the wave is gaining momentum. “I want to see the evolution of our female artists, quite simply because they have so much talent.”
Translation by CMP Translation
Lysis at the TNM, with Anne-Élisabeth Bossé, France Castel, Monia Chokri, Pierre Curzi, Nadine Jean, Soleil Launière, Etienne Lou, Widemir Normil, Olivia Palacci, Philippe Racine, David Savard, Mani Soleymanlou, Manuel Tadros, Marie Tifo and Tatiana Zinga Botao, runs April 21 to May 16.