Le Cercle Molière

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Le Cercle Molière is a theatre company in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, dedicated to “promoting French-language theatre in Manitoba”.[1]

In continuous operation since 1925, its activities include a four-play subscription season, a youth production that tours Manitoba schools, a high school theatre festival (Festival théâtre-jeunesse), a series of live play readings (5 à 7 ½), a directing workshop for new works and talent (Marathon de mises en scène) and children’s drama classes (The Cercle Molière's Theatre School). Le Cercle Molière is also well known throughout Winnipeg for the Lobster Gala du homard, its annual lobster feast fundraising event, a tradition begun in 1977.

The company is housed in a dedicated theatre in Old Saint-Boniface, the city's French quarter. The 125-seat, flexible multi-purpose theatre opened in 2010. Designed by Cibinel Architects, the building was awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED Silver certification.

Le Cercle Molière began as a group of amateurs performing one or two plays per year, like most Canadian theatre groups in the early twentieth century; however, by the 1970s it had become the professional company it has remained. Le Cercle Molière is thus the oldest continuously running theatre company in Canada.[2] It operates as a registered not-for-profit arts organization under a volunteer board of governors.

It is a member of the Association des théâtres francophones du Canada (ATFC or Canadian association of French-language theatres) and is a founding member of the Association des Compagnies de théâtre de l'Ouest (ACTO, or Association of Western Theatre Companies).

History[edit]

Manitoba's Cercle Molière is the oldest permanent theatre company with uninterrupted programming in Canada. Le Cercle Molière owes its longevity to the continuous involvement of several generations of a minority language community that values theatre in French as a mode of expression. The earliest recorded “dramatic and literary evening” in Manitoba took place in 1866, and some twenty groups formed and dissolved [3] before Le Cercle Molière was founded on March 8, 1925 by three friends who had worked together on other theatre projects: André Castelein de la Lande (artistic director 1925-27), Raymond Bernier (secretary and treasurer) and Louis-Philippe Gagnon (president 1925-27). They chose the name “Le Cercle Molière” to reflect their ambitious goal of performing the great works of French dramatic literature in St. Boniface, Manitoba. The company's founders wanted Cercle Molière to create ties between the French and English communities in Manitoba. To this end, an advisory committee composed of six members - three francophone and three anglophone - was established, a mechanism that helped to bridge the gap between the two languages and cultures.

The first play produced by the Cercle Molière was Édouard Pailleron's "Le Monde où l'on s'ennuie", directed by Arthur Boutal and presented at the Dominion Theatre on 25 April 1925. The production sold out and even generated profits of $116.25.[4]

In 1928, after a triumphant Canadian première of Alphonse Daudet's musical "L’Arlésienne", involving 115 performers, Arthur Boutal became the second artistic director. During his tenure, the theatre company built its reputation locally, through well-attended performances in the major theatres of Winnipeg, such as the Walker Theatre (now the Burton Cummings Theatre), the Pantages Playhouse Theatre and the Civic Auditorium, and nationally through the prizes it brought home from the Dominion Drama Festival. As early as 1929, Le Cercle Molière began a tradition of touring the French-speaking municipalities of rural Manitoba. Le Cercle Molière participated in the Dominion Drama Festival twelve times, starting in 1934, and won numerous awards, including three first prizes for best production. The company raised funds to attend, and in 1937, three local English-language theatre groups performed benefits to help cover their travel expenses;[5] the reward was a third win for best play and for best French-language actress. Among cast members at the time were Pauline Le Goff Boutal and a young teacher named Gabrielle Roy.


During World War II, the Dominion Drama Festival was cancelled, but returned in 1947; however, Le Cercle Molière continued to produce plays in aid of the Red Cross. Another notable participant during this period was Henri Bergeron,[6] who later rose to prominence in Radio-Canada. When Arthur Boutal died suddenly in June 1941, his wife, Pauline Boutal, was persuaded to take over his position. Pauline Boutal was a commercial artist working for the Winnipeg office of Bridgens, which produced the Eaton’s catalogue, another Canadian institution. She had been involved in many aspects of the productions, and she would spend over 25 years as artistic director, directing 27 plays. She also designed costumes for the Winnipeg Little Theatre and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, produced artwork for a number of local arts groups, and gave art classes. Boutal firmly believed in keeping esthetic standards high in the theatre, both visually and through elevated language. She insisted on the quality of the French spoken on stage, maintaining that stage characters did not need to speak as ordinary people did.[7] As she saw the need to offer training locally, she organized numerous workshops, to be given by theatre professionals brought in from Central Canada.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Le Cercle Molière produced Molière’s "L’Avare" (The Miser) in 1950. Other plays by its namesake playwright would include "Le Malade Imaginaire" (The Imaginary Invalid) in 1954, Les Fourberies de Scapin in 1956, Le Médecin malgré lui produced in 1955, touring in 1959 and 1962 and much later, "Le mariage forcé" in 2010.

In 1957, the Canada Council for the Arts was founded, and Le Cercle Molière received one of the first touring grants, which allowed them to reach 5000 spectators across Western Canada in 12 days.[8] Four years later, in 1961, they toured their first Canadian play "Chambres à louer".

As early as 1963, the urge to go professional had led to a major restructuring, under a Board of governors who were community business leaders.[9] It was also time for Le Cercle Molière to have a full-time artistic director. Pauline Boutal remained until 1967 when she hired Jean-Guy Roy to be the first salaried artistic director. He was followed the next year by a young fine arts graduate with a teaching background named Roland Mahé. He had studied at the National Theatre School in Montreal, then at the École supérieure d'art dramatique de Strasbourg (fr), France. Roland Mahé became Le Cercle Molière’s first full-time artistic director. In retirement Pauline Boutal received many awards for her contributions over the years to the vitality of the francophone community of Manitoba.

During Roland Mahé’s 44 years of service, Le Cercle Molière would undergo numerous changes, in keeping with the major trends throughout Canadian theatre. Mahé set out to turn Le Cercle Molière into a professional theatre company that could expand its programming beyond the standard French repertoire. The 1960s and 70s were an exciting period for theatre in Canada, when many other professional theatre companies were launched in a wave of cultural nationalism.[10] The season was expanded to include four and then five productions per season, and in 1969, children’s theatre was added to the programming. By 1970, Mahé began reaching out to young people by setting up the Festival théâtre-jeunesse (FTJ) where high school students would produce their own plays and present them in a festival setting. French-language high schools re-opened in 1972 for the first time since 1916, when legislation had altered Manitoba’s educational language rights.[11] The company began sending performers to do workshops in these schools, as there was no formal drama education in the curriculum. The festival clearly filled a need for expression in the French language, complementary to the school program. By its 40th anniversary, in 2010, the FTJ was a week-long event with adjudication and a gala awards ceremony, involving over 700 students from Manitoba’s French schools and French-Immersion programs.

As part of the 1970 celebrations of Manitoba’s centennial as a Canadian province, a production of Obaldia’s "Du vent dans les branches de sassafras" toured in Quebec and New Brunswick and played at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Although Le Cercle Molière was not an avant-garde theatre by vocation, that same year Mahé produced Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-soeurs for the Manitoba audience, only two years after its explosive opening in Montreal. It was closely followed by "À toi pour toujours, ta Marilou" which sold out its 10-night run in 1972. In 1973, Mahé was ready to offer the first all-Canadian season, which was well-received, and this convinced Mahé that his audience wanted the theatre to reflect its identity and preoccupations.

For several decades, the company had moved around to wherever rehearsal and performance space was offered: private houses, classrooms, empty commercial space, the basement of the St. Boniface Cathedral, a wing of Académie Saint-Joseph where Gabrielle Roy taught and which housed the St. Boniface Cultural Centre. After the construction of a multipurpose cultural centre, the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre (CCFM) in 1974, the company moved its shows into the 300-seat Salle Pauline-Boutal, and for the first time acquired offices, workshops and storage space. This led to twenty years of further expansion, with bigger, costlier productions and elaborate sets by such designers as Réjean Labrie; however, by 1997 filling the stage would strain the company’s finances. Mahé introduced the subscription season in 1974 to establish financial stability for the company. By this time, Le Cercle Molière was seen to have a pivotal role in providing the minority language community with a forum for expression. In 1975, experimental theatre workshops, called CM2, were offered for young adults, and these served as a training ground for new performers for the next ten years. To celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary in 1975, rather than mount another Molière text, a new Franco-Manitoban play, "Je m’en vais à Regina", by Roger Auger, was the season highlight. Other experiments included the Bureau d’animation théâtrale (BAT), set up in the 1980s to coordinate activities for young people, resources in the schools and communities and a community theatre festival. Various formats were tried out, such as opening the rehearsal space as a café-style theatre (Le Café-théâtre). The season now included a guest production from elsewhere in Canada, as a way of sharing with local audiences the talent on display in similar-sized theatre companies from coast to coast.

In 1985, a division for youth programming and community development was set up. Le Théâtre du Grand Cercle (TGC) would be directed by Roland Mahé's sister, Irène Mahé, who had been active in the company for years. Its mandate was to produce two shows per season to take on tour through Manitoba schools and the Western provinces. This led to organizing school matinées for the main season’s shows, a young audience production, a touring review, entitled De bouche à oreille, as a support for French language learning in the schools, acting and technical workshops, preparation workshops for the FTJ, and the Festival of student plays itself. By 2012, the TGC was reaching out to over 8200 young people. Irène Mahé was inducted into the Ordre des francophones d’Amérique in 1996.

With a base of faithful subscribers, the challenge year after year was to design a season that would be interesting to new theatre-goers and to those who had seen many previous seasons as well. Thus, 1986 was the first year to feature all Franco-Manitoban plays.[12] Since then, each season has a central theme and numerous new writers have been produced by Le Cercle Molière.[13]

Financial strains and scheduling problems brought on by the success of the CCFM sent Le Cercle Molière to its smaller space, the “Théâtre de la Chapelle”, in 1997. Here, shows easily filled the 75-seat café-style theatre for 3-week runs in a space that could be reconfigured for every show. The café format was popular, subscriptions rose and, overall, the experiment proved to be a success. It was in the Théâtre de la Chapelle that another all Franco-Manitoban season was played in 2000 for the 75th anniversary. When the 2004-05 season sold out completely, it was considered to be an indication that such programming choices were in tune with the audience, and that a larger space could allow ticket sales to grow.

The ambitious idea of having a properly equipped theatre built for Le Cercle Molière arose and fundraising efforts began. After several years of fundraising, the company's efforts finally bore fruit, and Le Cercle Molière moved to its new location in 2010. The new space was an invitation to creativity: the 2011 production of Li R’Vinant, by Rhéal Cenerini, was an experiment with dialogue written entirely in Métis French, and a production that exploited the technical possibilities of the new theatre, with a cast of sixteen, musicians, projections and special effects.

Roland Mahé retired in 2012 after 115 productions and 44 years of service to Le Cercle Molière and to French-language theatre in Canada. He had also served on the Boards of Governors for the National Theatre School’s French section and Prairie Theatre Exchange, co-founded the Association des Théâtres francophones du Canada, sat on numerous committees and juries for the arts councils of Manitoba and Canada, and accumulated numerous awards for his contribution to the theatre and to the vitality of the French language in Western Canada.

His successor, Geneviève Pelletier, also a native of St. Boniface, took over in July 2012, bringing the company a background in theatre, documentary film and the spoken media. Her first involvement with Le Cercle Molière in 1992 triggered an interest in the various aspects of theatre productions. Further workshop training has taken her to Eastern Canada, Switzerland and Germany. Plans for the company include an expanded repertoire, continuing to develop new writers, actors, designers and technicians for the company, and further exchanges with other companies and theatre schools. Le Cercle Molière continues to be a focal point for francophone theatre in Manitoba and a major player in Western Canadian theatre in French. It provides a forum for expression and its performances reach out to audiences of all ages.

Awards[edit]

Over the years the Cercle Molière has received many honours and awards. The French government has recognized the services rendered by the company in promoting French culture and, through its embassy, has given several awards to members of the troupe: the Palmes académiques to Arthur and Pauline Boutal (1939); the Médaille de la Reconnaissance to Pauline Boutal (1950); and the Médaille du Ministère des affaires étrangères to Norbert Trudel, Christiane LeGoff and Suzanne Tremblay.

The Canada Council for the Arts has also offered bursaries to members of the Cercle Molière for studies in Canada or abroad. The Canadian Drama Award was awarded to Arthur and Pauline Boutal (1950), Elisa Houde (1949), Christiane LeGoff (1963) and Gilles Guyot (1966). Pauline BOUTAL received the award of Mérite de la culture française in Canada (1971) and became a member of the ORDER OF CANADA (1973). In 1991 the Prix Réseau was awarded to Irene Mahé, who became a member of the Ordre des Francophones d'Amerique (1991). In 1995 Roland Mahé received the Prix Manitoba Award.

Artistic Directors[edit]

The artistic directors of the Cercle Molière, with their dreams and visions, all influenced the evolution of the company.

  • André Castellin de la Lande (1925-1927)
  • Arthur Boutal (1927-1940)
  • Pauline Boutal (1941-1968)
  • Roland Mahé (1968-2012)
  • Geneviève Pelletier (2012–present)

Collaborations[edit]

Finally, the Cercle has collaborated with companies such as the Prairie Theatre Exchange, the Manitoba Theatre for Young People (1986), the Théâtre français du Centre national des Arts Centre|national des Arts (1991, 1992 and 2002), the Unithéâtre (2002) and the Théâtre français de Toronto (1989 and 1991), and has hosted productions from visiting companies across Canada, France and Germany.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Le Cercle Molière Statutes 1925, revised 1995.
  2. ^ Gaboury-Diallo, Lise. "Le Cercle Molière". The Canadian Encyclopedia. 
  3. ^ Saint-Pierre, Annette. Le Rideau se lève au Manitoba, Winnipeg, Les Éditions des Plaines, 1980.
  4. ^ Dubé, Jean-Pierre. "Passion et création, Le Cercle Molière", 75e anniversaire, Winnipeg, Le Cercle Molière, 2000, p.66.
  5. ^ Dubé, Jean-Pierre. Passion et création, Le Cercle Molière, 75e anniversaire, Winnipeg, Le Cercle Molière, 2000, p.17.
  6. ^ Toussaint, Ismène. "Henri Bergeron". The Canadian Encyclopedia. 
  7. ^ Gaboury-Diallo, Lise and Laurence Véron, “De l'audace, toujours de l'audace : le théâtre franco-manitobain du Cercle Molière” in Les théâtres professionnels du Canada francophone - Entre mémoire et rupture, Hélène Beauchamp and Joël Beddows Ed. 2001, pp. 105-134.
  8. ^ Dubé, Jean-Pierre. Passion et création, Le Cercle Molière, 75e anniversaire, Winnipeg, Le Cercle Molière, 2000, p.30.
  9. ^ Dubé, Jean-Pierre. Passion et création, Le Cercle Molière, 75e anniversaire, Winnipeg, Le Cercle Molière, 2000, p.34.
  10. ^ Connolly, L.W. "English Language Theatre". 
  11. ^ See Manitoba Schools Question
  12. ^ Gaboury-Diallo, Lise and Laurence Véron, “De l'audace, toujours de l'audace : le théâtre franco-manitobain du Cercle Molière” in Les théâtres professionnels du Canada francophone - Entre mémoire et rupture, Hélène Beauchamp and Joël Beddows Ed. 2001, pp. 105-134.
  13. ^ Ladouceur, Louise; Nolette, Nicole. "Bibliography of Western Canadian theatre in French".