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Celebrating the Fransaskois Voice: la nouvelle dramaturgie de La Troupe du Jour.

Theatre for the Fransaskois Voice

Following a theatre workshop offered by the Commission culturelle fransaskoise at College Mathieu in Gravelbourg during the summer of 1984, Alphonse Gaudet, Carmen Gareau, and Michel Quirion were inspired by Claudia Gendron (Gaudet, email 3 June) to establish a French theatre company in Saskatoon (Gaudet, email 15 June). Determined to develop a fransaskois theatre which highlighted self-exploration, self-definition, selfacceptance, and self-celebration, the three created La Troupe du Jour (LTDJ) in 1985. A devised piece, Azarie (October 1985) marked the debut of what was to become the company's focus on new play development. It repositioned the language debate in Saskatchewan by investigating the cultural marginalization of elderly Fransaskois in the provincial nursing-home system (Lusignan 7). The material hit a nerve with its public; the show became an instant success.

Bypassing the repertories of Quebec and France, founding members became resolute in their endeavour to bring the fransaskois experience to their public. The first season's program announced their goals:

[...] le reve est de faire du theatre francophone, communautaire et professionnel, qui reflete la realite fransaskoise [...]. C'est par la creation et des representations de textes fransaskois que la troupe espere developper un nouveau sens theatral dans la communaute francophone. (Qtd. in Forsyth 141)

They incorporated LTDJ as a non-profit company in 1985 with Gaudet as its first artistic director. The time was ripe "de passer a un theatre 'fait maison' qui serait le reflet du peuple fransaskois, de sa langue, de ses defis, de ses mythes" (Bonetto 3). This paper explores two questions. The first, "What defines fransaskois playwrights?", draws attention to a binary feature I refer to as dis/bislocation and re-examines the notion of minority status as it applies to French-Canadians living outside Quebec. The second, "How has LTDJ cultivated fransaskois playwriting?", examines the mechanisms LTDJ has instituted to develop new work since the arrival of Denis Rouleau.

"Dis/Bislocation" of the Fransaskois

Saskatchewan's first French settlers were a heterogeneous lot, hailing from Quebec, France, Belgium, and the United States (Beaulieu par. 25). (1) Linguistically compatible despite cultural differences, they merged into an unusual minority population due to extraordinary circumstances, as Roger A. Lalonde noted in 1974:

Ces gens ont ete metamorphoses par l'experience de l'expatriation, par les mesures repressives contre le francais et par tous les autres evenements survenus au cours de leur histoire. Tous cela faisait d'eux des << Canadiens francais pas comme les autres >> (2). (Qtd. in Beaulieu par. 25)

Settlers straddled two geographies, both "there" in linguistic expression and social customs, and "here" in practice, living and negotiating the tensions in the gap between the two.

LTDJ's fransaskois playwrights follow this pattern: like the first settlers, linguistic compatibility and cultural hybridity are features they share. Geographically and culturally severed from the place where their French originated (dislocation), these individuals constantly negotiate two francophonies (bislocation), the formative one from the pays d'origine which is hors contexte in the geographical present, and the current one which dynamically lives and transforms in a Saskatchewan context. Unless a fransaskois playwright is a recent transplant from Quebec or has been assimilated into Quebec culture, joual plays an inconsequential role in the linguistic idiosyncrasies found in fransaskois plays. David Baudemont writes in an idiom particular to France, specifically to Alsace where German and French cohabit; Ian C. Nelson, a Francophile originating from Nottingham, England, has adopted an Ile-de-France French distinctively coloured by French argot; Madeleine BlaisDahlem and Raoul Granger incorporate certain spoken idiosyncrasies of quebecois in their writing, but belie their Quebec origins with a standard French that occasionally is encroached upon by English constructs, such as syntax, vocabulary, and colloquial expressions. Scripts by Baudemont capitalise on the playwright's European origin; Nelson blends British humour with French sensibilite in his; Blais-Dahlem and Granger disrupt and interrogate cultural, societal, or historical values familiar to their Quebec ancestors in theirs. A patchwork of idiomatic voices, their hyphenated experiences, their dis/bislocation of knowledge and purpose, of ethos and practice produce a unique hybridity found in la nouvelle dramaturgie fransaskoise of LTDJ.

Double-minority Status

A neologism coined in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the term Fransaskois, modelled after the word Quebecois, presents its own problematic. Born of the sixties, Quebec nationalism was territorial and exclusive:

Generalement, on dit que l'effondrement du Canada a ete cause par l'affirmation du nationalisme quebecois qui a reduit au territoire du Quebec et a son Etat provincial les enjeux nationaux des Canadiens francais. Les francophones hors Quebec auraient alors ete laisses pour compte. [...] La provincialisation des identites francophones mena a la creation de nouveaux noms pour les designer : les Franco-Ontariens, les FrancoManitobains, etc. (Beaulieu pars. 16, 17)

While Anglophone Canada looks to Quebec to locate the official minority voice of French Canada, all other francophonies, from the Maritimes to British Columbia, become marginally resituated as the geographically overlooked voix minoritaires outside of Canada's official minority. (3)

When other francophonies are dispatched from the fold, repercussions are inevitable. During the Festival du jamais lu in Montreal (2011), Madeleine Blais-Dahlem articulated her feelings of artistic alienation from Quebec interests in a public forum:

Le quebecois contemporain que j'ai entendu [...], debite a une rapidite de mitrailleuse en Warp speed, [est] plein de jurons d'une religion qui fait p'us peur, plein d'elisions et de raccourcis machouilles, plein d'allusions << in >> a des personnalites mediatiques quebecoises inconnues hors des frontieres.. [...] Le theatre quebecois--existe-t-il pour se raconter a soi-meme, ou pour se faire connaitre et comprendre sur le plateau national, ou meme international ? [...] [J]'ai l'impression que la langue quebecoise au theatre risque de devenir de plus en plus refermee sur soi-meme, un code pour les inities, une langue qui refuse un sentiment d'appartenance aux autres francophones. Ca risque de devenir une porte qui se ferme au lieu d'une fenetre qui donne sur le monde. (Rebuttal)

Blais-Dahlem is fastidious in ensuring the particular fransaskois elements found in her plays relate to universal experiences. Occasionally, invited artists most often from Quebec (dramaturgs, playwrights, and directors) promote their cultural agendas when working with fransaskois playwrights. A positive occurrence at the best (and worst) of times, it provides fransaskois playwrights with a fluid margin to establish in what ways they are like, or decidedly not like, their quebecois counterparts.

Cultural hegemony imposes itself on two fronts, by Francophone Quebec and Anglophone Canada, imprinting fransaskois playwrights with a double-minority status. Unlike Quebec's majority French population, less than 2% of Saskatchewan's inhabitants declare French as their mother tongue (Statistics Canada). The peculiar advantage to being overwhelmed by the majority culture is how specific fransaskois playwrights use English to advance their scripts. Although English drafts by Baudemont and Granger are rare, Blais-Dahlem and Nelson regularly alternate French with English drafts, allowing them to explore the myriad ways one language impacts on the other and to discover which ways they firmly resist any kind of influence. Fransaskois playwrights live, interrupt, and negotiate the tensions between their cultures, the official minority culture and the majority culture--a part of, but not the same as either. They write their alterity in an in-between space: historically, sociologically, linguistically, politically and/or religiously.

New Leadership and Dramatical Experimentation

Gaudet ceded artistic directorship to Denis Rouleau in 1990. Modifications began immediately, starting with the composition of the season. Rouleau maintained three community-based productions, but the fourth--for young audiences--, Joel Richard's Monsieur tout gris, was professional (Rouleau). Touring the province, it strategically connected isolated fransaskois enclaves to LTDJ, making LTDJ a dynamic cultural hub. Laurier Gareau, regarded as the godfather of fransaskois playwrights, remarks that, "C'est un moment cle. Denis Rouleau a fait d'un theatre encore tres amateur une troupe professionnelle" (Leveille 19). In a few months, LTDJ became the only professional Francophone theatre company in Saskatchewan. The next step was to develop its artists (Beaudoin 6).

Following Rouleau's investiture as AD, Gareau publicly called for the creation of a dramaturgical volet to hone the skills of fransaskois playwrights:
   La Troupe du Jour doit aussi se lancer dans le domaine de
   l'ecriture dramatique, car elle se doit de developper des textes
   fransaskois. L'etablissement de cours d'ecriture, de cercles
   d'ecrivains et d'ateliers de developpement de textes doivent faire
   partie de l'agenda de la Troupe. (5)


Although this focus waned somewhat during LTDJ's early professional stage, the unexpected arrival of Alain Pomerleau in 1992 rekindled Rouleau's interest. In 1993, Rouleau directed Pomerleau's first play, Le Vieux fou. The play's remarkable popularity prompted Rouleau to alter LTDJ's season again, reducing the community shows to two in order to add a second professional show targeting la dramaturgie originale.

Spurred by public enthusiasm, Rouleau acquired a $25,000 Saskatchewan Arts Board grant in 1996 ("Moving Drama") to offer Pomerleau the position of Writer-in-Residence. Pomerleau's mission was to write plays and evolve the skills of established and emergent fransaskois playwrights intra-provincially (Allary 2). Rouleau further demonstrated LTDJ's commitment to la nouvelle dramaturgie fransaskoise by including it in the company's mandate (Allay 2). Halfway through Pomerleau's two-year residency, Rouleau introduced LTDfs first cercle des ecrivains. Established as a provisional mechanism of support, it provided fransaskois playwrights with writing workshops and one-on-one dramaturgical assistance. Although in its infancy, le Cercle des ecrivains was to become the vehicle through which all new plays would be developed. Response to this initiative was so great that Rouleau created a public outlet for texts of promise: Le Festival de la dramaturgie fransaskoise. Although Rouleau anticipated two or three scripts of promise (Allay 2), an unprecedented five creations originales were given platform readings with professional artists (Forsyth 146).

Following the termination of Pomerleau's contract, LTDJ hosted Le Festival de la dramaturgie des prairies. The shift from "fransaskoise" to "prairies" signalled an "intra-" to "inter-" provincial expansion, welcoming writers associated with Edmonton's L'UniTheatre. This festival occurred three times: in 1998, 1999, (4) and 2001 when I was one of the festival's dramaturgs. By 2003, the name changed to the Festival de la dramaturgie de l'Ouest. Over the course of five weeks, three companies hosted the event in three major western cities: Theatre la Seizieme in Vancouver, L'UniTheatre in Edmonton and La Troupe du Jour in Saskatoon. As a festival dramaturg, I witnessed firsthand Rouleau's unwavering commitment to developing la nouvelle dramaturgie fransaskoise.

A Permanent Infrastructure for New Play Development

At the end of the last millennium, fransaskois playwrights began advocating for a permanent infrastructure to support their writing. Rouleau responded by making le Cercle des ecrivains a cornerstone of the company, targeting all levels of writing competency for development:

Ces ateliers regroupent des ecrivains de tout genre--debutants, experimentes ou chevronnes--qui se rencontrent de facon reguliere au courant de l'annee, sous l'animation du conseiller dramaturgique Ian C. Nelson. Ce lieu de rencontre a favorise l'emergence d'une dramaturgie bien de chez nous et a permis a la compagnie de decouvrir des nouveaux textes et de nouveaux auteurs. (LTDJ Projets)

Since 2001, Ian C. Nelson--actor, director, and playwright--has been LTDfs in-house animateur/conseilleur dramaturgique. Nelson guides writing exercises, leads group discussions on produced works, offers individual supervision and provides playwrights with insightful feedback following a production when requested (Nelson, Telephone).

Today, le Cercle des ecrivains operates on a three-year cycle which allows texts to be produced by LTDJ when they meet the criteria of the artistic directorship:

La premiere annee du cycle en est une de depistage et de periode intense d'ecriture, pendant laquelle les auteurs d'ici sont jumeles avec des dramaturges. La deuxieme annee comprend un laboratoire de developpement avec des comediens et un dramaturge-conseil. La troisieme annee represente l'aboutissement du travail sur scene avec la production de la piece par la compagnie, si la direction artistique de LTDJ juge que le texte est pret et qu'il repond aux inspirations artistiques de la compagnie. Ce cycle de trois ans permet donc a LTDJ de developper trois textes simultanement, et ce, a differents stades. (LTDJ Projets)

Given the size, the fiscal means of the company, and its tiny nucleus of artists, LTDJ has produced a remarkable collection of new fransaskois plays. Dramaturgs, almost always from Quebec or Ontario, are usually integrated at phase two or three of the process, following Nelson's preliminary guidance. They have included: Alain Pomerleau, Robert Marinier, myself, Alain Jean, Marie-Eve Gagnon, Yvan Bienvenue, Paul Lefebvre, and LouisDominique Lavigne (Nelson et al. 2, 4-6). Cultural imperatives dictated by quebecois interests do not necessarily fuel or interest fransaskois playwrights; often, they have the opposite effect. External dramaturgs work best with fransaskois playwrights when they can accept the "not like us" status of these artists, who are shaped by their cultural hybridity, their double-minority status and a gaze that opens out onto the world.

Local, National, and International Tributes

Prior to 2011, Le Centre national des Arts (CNA) honoured two fransaskois plays: Le Costume by Raoul Granger appeared at CNA's 15 jours de la dramaturgie en region in 1999 (Cote 25); Rearview by Gilles Poulin-Denis was produced at CNA's Zones theatrales in 2009. That said, 2011 was LTDJ's landmark year. After twenty-five years of peripatetic wanderings, LTDJ opened its state-of-the-art, multi-million-dollar Centre de production in Saskatoon. Madeleine Blais-Dahlem was recognised for "Outstanding Playwriting" by the Saskatoon and Area Theatre Awards (SATA) (5) committee for La Maculee. La Maculee was the only entry from the West at CNA's Zones theatrales (Centre national 12-13). Company artist, David Granger, was one of seven young Francophone artists awarded a Prix d'excellence by La Fondation pour l'avancement du theatre francophone au Canada (Centre national 30). The most outstanding accomplishment was the bestowment of the prestigious life-time achievement award, the Prix Marcus-Banque Nationale, on Denis Rouleau as the Francophone artist "dont la carriere a contribue de facon majeure au developpement du theatre francophone au Canada" (Centre national 30). International attention is currently on the rise. Five scenes from Blais-Dahlem's La Maculee will receive a platform reading at the Women Playwrights International Conference in Stockholm in August 2012. One of eight Canadian entries, it is the only translation from a French original. A Catalan translation of Poulain-Denis's Rearview by Elizabet Rafols of Saskatoon's Theatre Tant per Tant (Rafols Email 19 June) will receive a platform reading in Barcelona, Manresa and Girona come November (Rafols Email 20 June). Accolades proliferate: municipally, nationally and internationally.

The significant role LTDJ currently plays on local, national and international stages is entirely due to Rouleau's agency. He listened to his public's desire for fransaskois theatre and answered their need. He welcomed those with the potential to become fransakois playwrights, valuing the francophonies they embraced, culturally, politically, and linguistically. He respected their "like us/not like us" status, encouraging their similarities and welcoming their differences as they negotiated and revalued the doubleminority context in which they live. He methodically and systematically expanded dramaturgical programs to enhance their skills, finding public outlets for their works in progress. Eventually, he produced the most promising scripts. Successful plays toured provincially, nationally, and soon will appear internationally. A tiny fransaskois theatre company, LTDJ has become a national treasure. Focused on cultivating and promoting la nouvelle dramaturgie fransaskoise, LTDJ celebrates the fransaskois voice. Given LTDJ's birth as a little-known, alternative, grassroots organization, it has grown exponentially in terms of its reputation, thanks to the fransaskois voices it nurtures and to the quality of work it produces. A true theatre rassembleur, LTDJ has given agency to the fransaskois voice which has found its way into the minds and imaginations of so many.

Works Cited

Alary, Etienne. "Saskatoon aura aussi son artiste en residence." L'Eau vive [Regina] 22 Feb. 1996: 2. Print.

Beauchamp, Helene and Joel Beddows, eds. Les theatres professionnels du Canada francophone. Entre memoire et rupture. Ottawa: Le Nordir, 2001. Print.

Beaudoin, Sylvain. "La Troupe du Jour obtient une salle permanente." L'Eau vive [Regina] 15 March 1990: 6. Print.

Beaulieu, Frederic Roussel. "A la recherche d'une identite. De FrancoCanadien a Fransaskois: l'emergence d'une nouvelle identite francophone." Revue historique [Regina] 16.2 December 2005: 31 pars. Web. 13 March 2012.

Blais-Dahlem, Madeleine. "Rebuttal." Le festival du jamais lu. O PATRO VYS Theatre, Montreal. Unpublished address, 5 July 2011.

Bonetto, Estelle. "Le theatre, l'enfant doue du developpement communautaire." L'Eau vive [Regina] 30 September 2004: 3. Print.

Centre national des Arts. Program. "Zones theatrales." Ottawa. (11-17 Sept. 2011): 1-38. Print.

Cote, Christian. "Le Costume : un complet fransaskois." Le Droit 17 June 1999: 25. Print .

Forsyth, Louise. "La Troupe du Jour de Saskatoon: Une compagnie laboratoire." Beauchamp and Beddows 135-150.

Gaudet, Alphonse. Email to author. 3 June 2011. --. Email to author. 15 June 2011.

La Troupe du Jour. Program. "Festival de la dramaturgie fransaskoise 1998" 20-22 Feb. La Troupe du Jour, Saskatoon. Print.

--. Program. "Festival de la dramaturgie des prairies 1999." 19-21 Feb. Le Relais, Saskatoon. Print.

--. Centre de production. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2011.

--. Projets de developpement artistiques--Cercle des ecrivains. Web. 2 June 2011.

Lalonde, Roger A. "Les Fransaskois, ils sont la!" L'Eau vive [Regina] Special Edition. 7 November 1974. Print.

Lapointe, Richard et Lucille Tessier. Histoire des Franco-Canadiens de la Saskatchewan. Regina : Societe historique de la Saskatchewan, 1986. Print.

Leveille, J.R. "Entrevue avec Laurier Gareau, le parrain du theatre fransaskois." Liaison 135 (2007) : 16-21. Web. 16 June 2010.

Lusignan, Yves. "Nouvelle troupe de theatre a Saskatoon." L'Eau vive [Regina] 23 Oct. 1985: 7. Print.

"Moving Drama." The Star-Phoenix [Saskatoon] 21 March 1996: D1. Print.

Nelson, Ian C. Telephone discussion with author. 14 June 2011.

--. et al. "Creations de la Troupe du Jour: Textes developpes sous plusieurs volets de la programmation de la Troupe (Artiste-en-residence, Festivals de la dramaturgie, Cercle des ecrivains, Mots d'ados) et traductions/adaptations commandees et/ou developpees pour la scene de la Troupe du Jour." 6pp. Unpublished. Revision dated 28 June 2011.

Rafols, Elisabet. Email to author. 19 June 2012.

--. Email to author. 21 June 2012.

Rouleau, Denis. Personal interview. 15 June 2011.

Statistics Canada. "Population of French Mother Tongue, Canada, Provinces, Territories and Canada less Quebec, 1996 to 2006." Web. 16 June 2011.

Notes

(1) See also Lapointe and Tessier 118.

(2) See Lalonde 10.

(3) Beauchamp and Beddows remark that: "Depuis une trentaine d'annees, au Canada francophone, se sont produits dans toutes les spheres du quotidien des evenements qui ont bouleverse les espaces vitaux et les imaginaires, le plus important d'entre eux etant l'affirmation d'une difference fondamentale entre les communautes canadiennes-francaises et le Quebec" (9).

(4) LTDJ Programs 1998, 1999.

(5) LTDJ has won six SATA awards since the launch of the award in 2008.
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