Last Thursday, at the premiere of Cher Tchekhov, by Michel Tremblay, a group of young theater artists delayed the raising of the curtain in order to denounce the management that is letting the TNM “die”. After protesting in the hall and discussing with the director Serge Denoncourt, about fifteen protesters were taken into the room to read a short message to the public. “We take the risk of coming here to say a truth that hundreds of us believe: the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde is dying. And don’t offer anything new. La Presse on Tuesday brought together the director of the TNM, Lorraine Pintal, and the spokesperson for the group of protesters: the author and director Hugo Fréjabise.
Lorraine Pintal: I found it violent; there was a bit of panic in my team. Then I wondered why no one had tried to warn us. Because the TNM has the reputation of being very open to dialogue, to speaking out. I understand the difficult reality of succession, but why target us now, after two years of pandemic, in full recovery? It’s a funny time to blast the TNM.
Hugo Fréjabise: Because the TNM is a symbolic, historical, mythical place. This theater represents the idea that young artists have of a national theater that occupies a central place in society. However, one has the impression that the theater has become complacent with power.
Lorraine Pintal: That’s right. And each time it happened, I met the naysayers one by one. In fact, before La Presse called me, I had intended to meet you. You know, a theater like the TNM is a big iceberg. From the outside, only its tip is seen; not everything below. It is clear that we question ourselves with each program on the causes that you defend, such as the lack of succession and diversity. We are not where you would like the TNM to be, but we are making progress.
Lorraine Pintal: At the time, we demonstrated in the street, in front of the entrance, not inside a theater. At the limit, Hugo, if your group had remained in the hall, I would not have said anything. I was backstage and unfortunately I could not intervene when Serge [Denoncourt] decided to bring you into the room, when the show was about to start.
Lorraine Pintal: I don’t understand! I respect actors too much to disrupt the start of a show. The performers were nervous and I feared it would destabilize them for the whole performance.
Hugo Fréjabise: There are people who thought it was orchestrated, staged by Serge Denoncourt…
Lorraine Pintal: For sure! By opening the doors to you and making a prologue to your demonstration, some people may have thought that. If Serge wanted to criticize the TNM, to shoot himself in the foot, that’s his problem!
Hugo Fréjabise: The movement prefers to remain anonymous. I understand that anonymity is scary, but it is the basis of democracy, like the secret ballot. And also to protect artists from reprisals. Some people are afraid of ending up on a blacklist.
Lorraine Pintal: I can reassure them right away, there has never been a blacklist at the TNM. For or against, the house is open to all talented artists who have something to say. They will always be welcome. It is part of the values of the TNM.
Hugo Fréjabise: I know it feels like hitting the family. But I have the impression that the TNM is moving away from pure creation as in the 1970s, with Jovette Marchessault, Claude Gauvreau or Les féées ont soif. The TNM makes something new out of the old. We ask young authors to take up Camus, Dostoyevsky, Ibsen.
Lorraine Pintal: Each theater has its territory. It is important not to all do the same thing. The TNM has the mission to create a bridge between the classics and the contemporaries, and to write the founding texts in the present. And we need classics. We don’t know our past in Quebec, there is a huge lack of memory, everyone is looking to the future!
Hugo Fréjabise: I was fed up with the classics, I have nothing against it. Koltès said that we love differently in the 20th century than in the time of Marivaux. The theater must be in a state of resistance to its time. Why, during the health crisis, did the TNM not go outside to play, in the street, to convey the words of artists in the public square?
Lorraine Pintal: On the contrary, I find that there was great solidarity from the cultural community during the crisis. We were working on all fronts at the same time. You send the ball to the TNM, and I catch it on the leap. But we are not alone.
Hugo Frejabise: No. It is the enormity of the system and its management model that worries me. In my opinion, the essence of theater is insurrectional, revolutionary. The theater must find its place of resistance in relation to power. And naively, I would have hoped that the TNM would be this place of freedom, this public agora, far from power games.
Lorraine Pintal: That, I think we have to do by discussing all together. Not by stabbing each other in the back between artists. If the leaders see a real solidarity of the medium, that is likely to move more quickly.
Lorraine Pintal: Personally, it drives me forward. No need to always agree between us, otherwise it would be boring. I believe in the clash of ideas.
Hugo Fréjabise: I understand that you found the timing bad. But Che Guevara said that there is never a good time to make a revolution.