Gilles Renaud: Recipient of the 2019 Gascon-Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement
Gil Desautels, Gilles Renaud, Valérie, and Gideon Arthurs at the Gascon-Thomas
Thank you to the governors and the administration of the School for this immense honour.
I’ve been connected to the National Theatre School for 55 years, first as a student when I spent what I consider to be the best years of my life here. In 1964, the School was located on St-Laurent at the corner of St-Paul. I remember that first morning, sitting in the bus on St-Laurent (the metro didn’t come until the following year). We had to show up to our first class with the complete works of Molière, the Garnier edition. I noticed the girl sitting across from me had the same books in her hands. I gave her a smile and showed her my books, and we both burst out laughing. It was Odette Gagnon. She would be my best friend for years afterwards.
The three years that followed were extremely important to me. I discovered in myself the young artist that was just starting to come alive. I was fascinated by everything I learned. I couldn’t get enough. Would you believe me if I told you I never missed a single class in three years? In my time as a student at the School, I met some of the people who would have the biggest influence on my artistic life forever after: Jean-Pierre Ronfard, Marcel Sabourin, Paul Hébert, André Pagé, Powys Thomas.
"We all at one point dreamed of being part of the artistic scene. And we are the lucky ones who got to make that dream come true"
During our time at the School, we’re in contact with 5 cohorts: the two classes before us, our own class, and the two class that follow us. This is our artistic generation. We keep bumping into and working with these people. They are without a doubt the biggest influence (along with certain professors) that we will encounter. Myself, I was influenced during my training by Sophie Clément, Nicole Leblanc, Michel Catudal, Robert Charlebois, Mouffe, Odette Gagnon, Réal Ouellette, Jean-Yves Laforce, Jean-Roch Achard, Jean-Claude L’Espérance, Véronique Leflagais, Yves Sauvageau, Michael Eagan, Guy Neveu, Claude Deslandes, Paule Baillargeon, Gilbert Sicotte, Pierre Curzi. Fifty-five years later, I am still working with many of them. As theatre people, we are privileged. I hardly know a single person who didn’t dream as a child of being an actor or actress, writing plays, directing or creating sets and lighting. We all at one point dreamed of being part of the artistic scene. And we are the lucky ones who got to make that dream come true.
Gilles Renaud as the Director of the Interprétation and Écriture Dramatique programs
It is therefore important to give back. After a few years, I came back to the School as an instructor. That’s when I really caught the bug. I taught a lot, for a long time. I even served as director of the Interprétation and Écriture dramatique programs. And I relived the same passion I felt 25 years earlier, thanks to the people around me. I think that’s my strongest asset as an artist and a teacher: I know how to surround myself with the best people. At the very beginning of my career, I had the tremendous luck to meet two incredible artists with whom I’ve often worked since: Michel Tremblay and André Brassard. From Hosanna (well, Cuirette) in 1972 right up until Bonjour, là, bonjour, in 2018, I’ve been blessed to be part of a dozen different Michel Tremblay plays. I’ve even had the honour of playing the character of Jean-Marc, Michel’s own alter-ego, several times. There is no greater joy for a Quebecois actor from the Plateau-Mont-Royal than to play Tremblay! For André Brassard, I was one of his principal actors for 30 years. In addition to the Tremblay plays he directed, I had the great pleasure of acting in pieces by Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Dario Fo, Racine, Brecht, Jean Genet, Tchékhov and so many others. Working with André Brassard means working with the most intelligent and brilliant stage director I’ve ever had the chance to meet.
Soon, the siren song of television will come calling for you. It will be tempting, and will pay very well. Go for it. Be on television, do some dubbing, variety, comedy, circus, whatever comes your way. But please, don’t abandon the theatre. I encourage you, I beg you to pursue a career mainly on the stage. That’s the source. That’s where you will find the creative energy that lets us keep learning and renewing ourselves. Go to the theatre, talk to directors, put on shows with your friends, start your own company, figure it out, BUT MAKE SOME THEATRE. As Jean-Pierre Ronfard, who I consider a mentor of mine, said: “I’ve done many things in my life in order to live, but I made theatre so that I wouldn’t die.”