Gascon-Thomas 2018: Laureate Speech
It is with great emotion that I stand here today on the stage of the Monument National.
With great humility as well.
All that is so grand, so vast.
I say "that" because it could be a word, a comment, a play, a story, a fiction, a body, a character, a presence onstage – in short, the theatre. I no longer know precisely what that is, but what I do know is that it is essential. Essential for me, for all of us, for the world.
I know that life must be proclaimed and portrayed. Magnified.
I've always loved being in the audience just before the curtain rises. Everything lies behind that curtain – the unknown, the unexpected, the sublime, dreams or nightmares, mystery, the inexplicable, the chatterbox and the mute, the inexpressible, the marvellous, the invisible, the other.
I've always loved being here because behind that curtain tonight maybe a bomb will explode. Maybe tonight the terrorist will be me. And the victim will be you. Or me. Or both. And that explosion will hit me, affect me for a long time. That I will bear scars, be deeply affected.
Since childhood I have been hit by countless theatrical explosions. Those explosions are a huge part of who I am.
I’ve always wanted to have a career in theatre. Always.
To be better, to be elsewhere. To be better looking, wittier, more intelligent. Also to be uglier, because, to be frank, the world is often ugly. Theatre is a place of courage, a place where dark deeds are summoned.
If you only knew how at home I am here on the stage! Here in the theatre, yes, but also backstage and out there as well, sitting in the darkness and silence. And also in the clear light of the rehearsal hall where it all begins, with lots of enthusiasm but also the fear of not being equal to the task. I'm at home in the costume workshop, in a fitting room where the character makes his first appearance. In the set construction shop, in the sound studio. In the kitchen or shambolic living room of a designer talking to me about an incredible idea that, for the moment, is completely baffling and bewildering. I’ve always wanted to be here with you, whether you are an actress, an actor, a playwright, a set designer, costume designer, makeup artist, lighting designer, props master, sound designer, composer, assistant director, stage manager, translator, artistic director, an answer to my questions, an affirmation, a collaborator, a co-conspirator. For theatre is all that. It is also, of course, a place for love. For humanity. For life.
Like you, I went to theatre school to become an actor. It was wonderful, it was atrocious. I began theatre school in St. Hyacinthe in 1979. It was a century ago, it was yesterday, I was minuscule, ill-formed but vigorous. I wanted so very much to succeed.
My schooling is ongoing, I continue to learn. I keep striving, I'm still improving. Classes at that school with oh how many blunders, that feeling of being unable to understand what's going on. I go back there every morning:
That is what I am fleeing! Too late, I avoid
Those cruel exchanges where I have nothing to contribute.
I flee from Titus: I flee that name that makes me querulous
That name that keeps tripping off your tongue.
What more can I say? I flee distracted eyes
Always gazing at me but never seeing me.
Adieu. I am leaving, my heart too full of your image
Yearning and loving you, though death is my destiny.
Fear not that blind sorrow will fill
The universe with the clamour of my misfortune,
Madam: the sound of a death that I beg for
Will remind you that I live on.
Was it better this time, Mr. Dalmain?
I've been reflective since 1979, letting the world spin round in my head. I wanted to be sure that I was touching (or almost touching) an audience, that I was dazzling or almost dazzling, that I was relevant or almost relevant, that I was fully present.
After some 35 years in theatre, or of claiming to be a theatre artist, the most precious thing I have developed is doubt.
Was it good enough? Did they like it? Could it be more precise, less ostentatious, wilder, messier, dirtier? Is that what the writer meant, really meant to say? What is hidden between the lines? Did its meaning escape me? Is there a nuance that I could add, perform, feel? Could it be better? Am I committed to what I am saying, does it ring true? Am I saying something or am I simply filling a void?
Behind the curtain in the Monument National's Ludger Duvernay Theatre I experienced moments of pure theatrical delight, grand moments of life. I saw Macha Limonchik suffer a memory lapse, forgetting her lines in a performance of The Learned Ladies. She ended the scene with a brilliant So that's that! I wiped away the tears of the actors performing Claude Gauvreau's L’asile de la pureté because I kept telling them You're not sticking to the script! I shivered listening to the incredible sound design underscoring Olivier Kemeid's Nous qui ne rêvions plus. I dreaded the moment when I had to tell a set designer that I was throwing out his set design four days before the première because, even though it resembled the scale model that we had agreed on, a better understanding of Dominique Parenteau-Leboeuf's script was leading in another direction. I was very nervous when I asked Mathilde Dumont to write an additional scene for a character in her play because the supporting role was performed by Benoît McGinnis, and I thought it would be criminal not to see more of him onstage.
As artistic director of the FTA, I was very touched one evening in the small town of Prato in Italy, near Florence, after a show that I had just seen. I was having dinner with friends of the Swiss choreographer. I mentioned to the tour manager, an elderly gentleman, the name of a Swiss set and costume design student I met during a theatre school presentation in Montreal. I loved the work of that talented young man, whose name was Valère (a name worthy of Molière). He returned to Switzerland, and I never saw him since. The old man said, "Valère! I also love what he does. He works all the time in Lausanne."
That is what school is for me. People we meet when we are young, wild and crazy, and then meet again years later, in Montreal or elsewhere, one way or another, older and wiser, confident, radiant. The emotion of reuniting with Line, Pascale, Marie-Hélène, Emmanuelle, with Stéphanie as my assistant at rehearsals at Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui, Espace Go, la Licorne, of seeing actors and actresses I had first known when they were sleek and fair of face. Now they are greybeards or have snowy white hair, with wrinkled skin and bodies that have been transformed, just as I have been transformed since attending a theatre school that never ends.
I am also thinking of all those I met but never saw again, those who are no longer in theatre, no longer part of "all that". I hope with all my heart that the pursuit of attaining "all that" did not crush them, for the desire for success in theatre can be terrible and cruel. I think of them and of myself in moments of profound discouragement when rehearsing my first public performance. I was acting in a piece of crap by Pirandello, and I was completely lost and flummoxed.
The maelstrom, the abyss, that utter emptiness is also part of theatre, of "all that".
I stand here before you, fragile. I am an old man aged 105, yet am forever 20 years old.
I adore this curtain. I've seen it rise for plays by Brecht, Sophocles, Tennessee Williams and a hilarious fresco of New France by André Ricard. I will never forget that Tremblay/Genet/Claudel collage directed by André Brassard, a master stage director to my mind, the professor I never had but who taught me so much.
When I was 19 I was here in the Monument National as it was back then, covered in dust, decrepit and beautiful. Slowly the red curtain rose to unbelievably triumphant music by Bach (all strident organ and noisy trumpets) to reveal the stage set, a huge bedroom. It was so opulent, so magnificently flamboyant, full of gold decorations, tapestries and extravagant woodwork. An enormous canopy bed dominated the room, sparkling in golden light. We the audience were blown away by all that splendour, so impressed that we burst into a standing ovation. Then the actors came onstage, slowly and in unsettling silence. And then, in an act of incredible savagery, right in front of my unbelieving eyes, in a matter of seconds the screeching and howling actors demolished the set, turning it into a battle field where real theatre could make its appearance.
That night André Brassard taught me that theatre is a bomb and that, to shake us out of our complacency, the bomb must explode. We never know when or where, but there will be an explosion, combustion will take place.
The bomb can take on any form. It can be a word, a seemingly innocuous remark, the surprising colour of a costume, a brief silence that emerges in the middle of a floodtide of words, in how one character caresses another who hates him. It can be whatever you want, a detail or the whole ball of wax.
Half the world detests the other half, and with reason. That is why we must begin, in tragedy or comedy, to set off bombs in the theatre work we present. In order to break down barriers, the frontiers of the reasonable, the limits of the known, break down prejudice, presumptions, conventional wisdom, clichés, the bland and the beige of life as Réjean Ducharme put it.
I now see myself as a bomber. I travel the world and bring bombs back to the festival, theatre and dance bombs. I give voice to those who want to tear down those impediments. Whether gently or violently, those false idols must be shattered.
I have done only one thing in life, and that is theatre. At school in St. Hyacinthe I really loved some of my teachers; others I hated. That love and that hate made me who I am, and affect me still. Trial and error, success and failure, are part and parcel of my life. I remember being in a school production of Ubu roi that was so bad that I told myself that it wasn't real theatre, that theatre can't be like that And ever since I've been trying to find "that".
Theatre led me to invent and reinvent the person I became, allowed me to find myself. I don't know what tomorrow will look like. And all the better. Someone is waiting for me. Maybe that person is here tonight. The best is yet to come.
Behind this curtain was the set design for the Mystère d’Irma Vep, the most outlandish theatrical adventure I had ever had as a director. It reconnected me to the essence of acting, to childhood play, to that innocence, that naiveté, that freedom that must be preserved at all costs. The bomb is not always where we think it is.
What I have been able to accomplish in the world of theatre I owe to my stubbornness, yes, but also to a very large dose of recklessness.
The road is long. Difficult. Passionate.
I could never have travelled it alone.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all those who shared that road with me. They are very precious to me. It is because of them that I am here with you tonight.
I wish to thank Marie-Hélène Falcon and the Festival TransAmériques for allowing me to connect with the entire world. For me, the theatre and dance that I see here and elsewhere are truly energizing.
Thank you, Claude Poissant, a lifelong friend with whom I endlessly rework the staging and the casts of every show we see, including our own plays.
A tip of the hat to Jean Fredette. I was his house guest for a month in Berlin, where night after night I went to theatre performances at the Schaubühne, the Volksbühne, the Deutsches Theater and where I realized that theatre has no limits.
Thanks to Gilles Renaud for his initial invitation to come work at the school directing an unforgettable Femmes savantes.
Thank you, Réjean Ducharme, for your essential writing, words that will be with me throughout my life. And thank you, Benoît Vermeulen and Suzanne Lemoine, my partners in crime for À quelle heure on meurt?, which was where it all began. Thanks to Ginette Noiseux who opened the doors of her theatre to me when I was first starting out.
Thank you Sarah Berthiaume, Carole Fréchette, Lise Vaillancourt, Jasmine Dubé and Emmanuelle Jimenez for allowing me to plunge into your writing, into your worlds.
Thanks to Daniel Léveillé for giving me a dancing body, for his patience, for listening for hours to woeful me, down and discouraged in the kitchen on Champagneur St. when I wasn't performing, and thanks especially for his love.
I want to thank Louise Lahaye and Diane Miljours who asked me to play the snake Gator in Le cocodrille, my first acting contract after leaving theatre school.
At that school, I wish to thank the voice teacher Andrew James Henderson.
And Yvan Ponton for his incredible improv classes that freed me from the shackles that were blocking me (One day we did an incredible improv. The premise was that it had to take place in the real world. In the centre of the city on Cascades St. we carried out a mock kidnapping of a girl in our class who got on our nerves. And then the police showed up!
Also Jean Dalmain, trouvez-vous à midi à la petite fontaine/mais que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère/Bon appétit messieurs, for introducing me to the classic French repertoire and how it should be performed, and for being a master of the French language with all its subtleties, richness and poetry.
Thanks also to the director of that horrible Ubu Roi.
Thanks to France Arbour with whom, from age 8 to age 16, I studied theatre in Granby, where I was born and raised.
I grew up in a house full of books, records and light.
I remember telling my mother at age 6 that I wanted to be in the theatre. Her response was You want to do theatre, Martin? Then that's what you'll do.
Fifty years later I'm still doing theatre.
André Brassard said We are here to pass on the torch, to transmit a sort of exaltation at being alive despite everything.
And my thanks to all of you. You do me a very great honour today.
I am extremely grateful for this honour.
Martin Faucher, Artistic Director of the FTA and director
Martin Faucher, Artistic Director of the FTA and director and the actor David Fox and director and Gil Desautels
Martin Faucher, Artistic Director of the FTA and director and the actor David Fox
Raoul Bhaneja, Martin Faucher, David Fox and Gil Desautels