Canada's largest province, and its second-largest in population with 8,585,523 (Statistics Canada, 2021). It has a very active theatre scene in French and English.
Theatrical activity in Lower Canada/Quebec was uneven until the 20th century, due to many factors, but principally the interference of the Church which ruled in pre- and post-Conquest Quebec with a fist of iron. Despite the censorship inherent in parochial life and in British dealings with the region (see: Troupe Comedienne), the garrison soldiers did manage to perform their entertainments and even plays by Shakespeare and Molière. Companies like Les Jeunes Messieurs Canadiens and Allen's Company enjoyed a modest success.
From the early 1800s, at least twenty-five theatres were mounting productions in Montreal, including the Hayes Theatre, l'Académie de Musique, Théatre Montreal, Le Théatre des Variétés, and Le Monument National. As in all the other provinces, touring groups dominated the cultural landscape during the 19th and early 20th centuries (Sarah Bernhardt (nine visits), Edmund Kean, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens were some who made the stop in Montreal), but the spirit of theatre was being kept alive by amateurs across Lower Canada/Quebec despite the misgivings of the Church towards it. Indeed, the Jesuits, who encouraged the arts of communication, presented works by the neo-classicists in the schools.
The 1948 premiere of Gratien Gélinas's Tit-Coq can be singled out as the start of the modern professional theatrical tradition, although Gélinas and his actors rose from an amateur theatrical tradition. Professional theatre was firmly established with Fr. Émile Legault and his Compagnons de Saint-Laurent. Another Jesuit priest, Gustave Lamarche, also participated in the explosion of post-WWII theatre.
1949 saw the birth of the Théâtre du Rideau Vert and 1951 the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde. Théâtre-Club was founded in 1953. In 1957, Gélinas founded the Comédie-Canadienne, and with the alternative companies which were springing up around these, a dramaturgy was born to fill them. Gélinas himself, Françoise Loranger, Jacques Languirand and Marcel Dubé were being played in the large and the small houses like L'Estoc and L'Égrégore. The radio and television arts were also encouraging Quebec theatre artists, and soon there was a give and take between the theatres and the mass-media (see Radio-Canada).
The walls of traditional theatrical propriety, which had defined the province's theatre and which were being battered by mainstream writers like Dubé and Gélinas, were blown open with the presentation, in 1968 at the Rideau Vert, of Michel Tremblay's Les Belles-soeurs. With the confluence of several events: the Quiet Revolution, the foundation of the Centre des auteurs dramatiques (1965), the formation of the CEGEP (professional and pre-university schools) system (which made acting training more accessible), and the opening of Belles-soeurs, Quebec theatre would never turn back. It was, almost by definition, a theatre of exploration; Quebec theatre became as varied as its languages and inhabitants.
Companies were born, flourished and died quickly or were transformed (as is the case with the Théâtre expérimental de Montréal which begot the Nouveau Théâtre Expérimental, the Théâtre Expérimental des Femmes and the Ligue Nationale d’Improvisation).
With the formation of the Théâtre Populaire du Québec, theatre began to reach all over Quebec. Summer theatres were popping up in barns (some summers there are hundreds of them playing). English theatre struggled but survived (Centaur Theatre, the Saidye Bronfman Centre). Ethnic theatre, by the 1970s, began to be a force (Black Theatre Workshop, Yiddish Theatre and later Montreal's Teesri Duniya Theatre).
The history of theatre in Quebec is now one of its artists and companies and, of course, of funding. Despite promises, the positive impact on theatre of a nationalist government in the National Assembly was negligible.
Other articles in the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia on the WWW:
See also: Canadian Theatre History.
Profile by Gaetan Charlebois
Last updated 2021-08-23