Internet Shakespeare Editions

Shakespeare in Québec -- page 7

Whose Shakespeare?

In the decade of the '90s, Shakespeare in francophone Québec, as elsewhere (for example in mass-distribution films), was all the rage. However, all but four of the seventeen productions were in large, subsidized, big-budget, "institutional" theatres, and many who were not part of this network also wanted to make their Shakespearean voices heard.

For example, the Shakespearean event called Événement 38 in 1996 was designed to give young theatre people a piece of the Shakespeare action. Thirty-eight playwrights under the age of thirty-eight were given the resources to stage fifteen-minute monologues over five days, each inspired by a different play by Shakespeare. The pieces were as varied as their authors. Performed against a backdrop of Shakespearean graffiti, they had much in common with the québécois genre of the conte urbain [urban tale] popularized by Yvan Bienvenue of Théâtre Urbi et Orbi, one of the organizers of the Événement 38. Literally cutting Shakespeare down to size, the festival rejoiced in its transgressiveness and subversiveness. It was a celebration, not of Shakespeare, but of young québécois voices. As Diane Godin wrote, "Instead of . . . receiving an offering, the dreaded god [became] the victim of a sacrifice destined to 'liberate' thirty-eight authors from the Shakespearean yoke."

Shakespeare was also extensively revisited by many "new" Québecers, i.e. artists who, while participating in francophone theatrical culture in Québec, at the same time brought with them and communicated to their audiences their association with other linguistic or national cultures. For example, in the fall of 1993, while Le marchand de Venise was being performed at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, Tibor Egervari staged a few blocks away (in English and French on alternating nights) Le marchand de Venise de Shakespeare à Auschwitz [Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice at Auschwitz]. [9] In Egervari's play, Shylock, Tubal and Jessica are performed by an S.S. officer and his assistants, while the remaining roles are assigned to Jewish and gypsy prisoners. Egervari, who positions himself as a Jew and a Shoah survivor, insists on the impossibility of separating Shakespeare's play from the history of its performance and interpretation.

Egervari's 1993 production competed with that of the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde. In 1995 controversy entered the TNM itself when translator Marco Micone, to the dismay of reviewers (but not audiences), made of the Italian context of The Taming of the Shrew an important intertext by adding references to such things as Galileo's lectures that would have been taking place in Padua at the time of Shakespeare's writing, and making audible the play's marginalized voices - of servants, of women, and of Italians. "As an immigrant I wanted to make clear the heterogeneity of [québécois] culture," he said in a telephone interview.

This heterogeneity has also been felt in the Shakespeares of more recent immigrants to Québec. For example, in the 1998-99 season directors Oleg Kisseliov and Alexandre Marine brought their Russian theatrical experience to bear upon remarkable adaptations of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet. Kisseliov's Dream at the Théâtre Espace La Veillée gave voice to the dispossessed. In it the mechanicals displaced Theseus and Hippolyta (who disappeared) as the motor of the play, and Peter Quince became the author/ dreamer of Shakespeare's Dream. His emphasis on the subterranean and earthy were contrasted with Robert Lepage's emphasis in his staging on the vertical and aerial in 1988 and the aquatic in 1995. Marine's stripped-down Hamlet, performed by only seven actors explicitly refused the interiority that had characterized the Théâtre du Rideau Vert Hamlet just a few months earlier. The aggressiveness of both productions was expressed in the lighting schemes which often made one squint to see, in the physical risks taken by the actors in their movements, in the derisive treatment of clichés of romantic love, and in the in-your-face music ranging from opera to jazz. They offered brutal, not beautiful, Shakespeare, implicitly resisting what Shakespeare in the institutional theatres in Québec had become.

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Notes

[9] Egervari, who lives in Hull, Québec, originally created the play in 1977 with students at the University of Ottawa, where he is a professor. However, it was only in 1993 that it made its way into professional production for the first time. [Back]