The oldest continually operating professional theatre in Acadie, Théâtre populaire d’Acadie has been based in Caraquet in the north-east corner of New Brunswick since 1974. With over 130 productions to its credit, TPA’s repertoire, while including important original Acadian creations, has tended to emphasize international and classical plays, developing performance styles drawn from diverse sources such as commedia dell’arte and French neo-classical drama. TPA has developed a strong tradition of collaboration with Québécois and international theatre companies. It tours extensively not only through the Maritimes, but also into Quebec and across Europe.
TPA witnessed a renewal as, after twelve years as Artistic Director, René Cormier decided not to return for a fourth three-year mandate, and TPA named Maurice Arsenault as the new AD. Arsenault has had a long history with Acadian theatre, including a six-year stint as Artistic Director of Théâtre l’Escaouette in the early 1990s.
Arsenault’s vision for the company included the continuation of co-produced works in the TPA repertoire: “Even though these collaborations pose certain challenges in terms of harmonizing the artistic practices of the various partners, they create for the Acadian theatrical milieu an intensely stimulating space of artistic encounter and confrontation. The trap of our theatrical milieu would be to close in upon itself, and these co-productions force us to open it up and question it” (Arsenault). This desire for openness and questioning extended to his view of the social role of theatre which is “essential for our society” because while it “contributes to the construction of the collective Acadian identity,” it also “participates in the development of critical thinking in the individuals that compose it” (Arsenault).
Two plays from Cormier’s final season, both by the young Emma Haché, reflect the double trajectory of the company and the complex relationship to Acadian identity which it appeared Arsenault shared. On one hand we have the grand spectacle of Les défricheurs d’eau. Not unlike Antonine Maillet’s L’Odysée at Pays de la Sagouine, this TPA co-production (with Théâtre la Dame de Coeur de Upton, first produced in 2004 and remounted in 2005) was performed at the Village Historique Acadien near Caraquet. The “grandiose family spectacle” featuring 8 professional actors and 50 volunteers, depicted the great moments in Acadian history in order to celebrate the ingenuity, creativity and resilience of the Acadian people. On the other hand, is Haché’s lyrical piece entitled Murmures which TPA co-produced with Théâtre français du Centre national des arts in the fall of 2005. The play depicts personal tragedies arising out of the creation of a leper’s colony in Tracadie, New Brunswick in the mid-nineteeth century. The colony’s existence is historical fact; Haché’s play, however, does not retell the story, but uses the story to examine how walls, both physical and psychological, become as destructive as the disease and infection (real or metaphoric) they are built to contain.
The current Artistic Director and Co-Director General is Allain Roy. When the Covid-19 pandemic closed theatres across Canada in 2020, he initiated a series of four "balados" or podcasts - an auditory experience that stimulates the imagination and intellect: "Arrière-scène" profiles backstage theatre creators; "Histoires de la Côte" enacts historical events and stories; "Tempête" is an auditory adaptation of Shakespeare's play; "Wannabe Concepteur Sonore" features interviews with Acadian theatre practitioners. These are accessible via the theatre's website.
Further Reading: Canadian Theatre Review 128 (Fall 2006).
Profile by Glen Nichols, Université de Moncton
Last updated 2021-12-16