From the start, the company experienced difficult times. In spite of its anti-establishment spirit, it projected a somewhat incoherent image. A combination of "boulevard" (light comedy) theatre, dramatic comedies and eclectic casts marked the programming of the early years. The first play, Les Innocentes (The Children's Hour) by Lillian Hellman, was well received by a small audience. This was followed in February 1949 by a Parisian hit, Jacques Deval's K.M.X. Labrador, a light comedy which broadened the audience and hinted at a surer style. The two first plays were directed by Yvette Brind'Amour.
In the first 3 seasons, Rideau Vert put on only 5 plays, but in 1950 it staged its first so-called Canadian work - a play called Saint-Innocent written by one Annie Dubreuil. In fact this production was a hoax; the real name of the play was Maire et Martyr. It was a clever comedy about municipal life written and directed by French-born Loïc Le Gouriadec, the husband of Yvette Brind'Amour. Le Gouriadec, who also wrote under the pseudonym of Paul Gury, combined his talents as actor, producer of variety shows, author of melodramas and experimental producer in the interest of the company, and he gave Rideau Vert a credibility previously lacking. He described himself as the company's godfather. As for Brind'Amour, she made a strong impression in the title role of Giraudoux's Ondine (February 1951), but the play, underfunded and with a generally weak cast, was considered a failure.
Neither a return to boulevard theatre with Michel Duran's Sincèrement nor an uneven production of Jean Anouilh's Antigone (in which Yvette Brind'Amour in the title role alone shone) could prevent the inevitable: the company ceased operations between 1952 and 1956.
With no permanent performing arts venue, Rideau Vert's first productions were staged in Montréal spaces such as the Theatre of the Companions of Saint Laurent on Sherbrooke Street East and at the Gesù (Ondine and Sincèrement had been staged there, the latter in a version censored by the Jesuits). However, on 16 February 1956 the company staged its return production at the immense Monument-National. The play, Rideau Vert's first truly Canadian work, was Sonnez les matines, a picturesque popular comedy written by Félix LECLERC - badly received by the critics but attracting an overall audience of 15 000. The company also performed in the small Salle de l'Anjou (90 seats), before installing itself permanently in 1960 in the Stella on Saint- Denis Street. The Stella, which operated for many years as a movie theatre known as Chanteclerc, has been renovated by Rideau Vert twice, once in 1968 and again in 1992. The 1992 renovation increased its capacity to 426 seats.
Since 1960 Rideau Vert has created eclectic programmes (7 to 10 shows a season) made up of light Parisian comedies (by Roussin, Barillet and Grédy and Marcel Achard), dramas (by Sartre, Anouilh, Chekhov, Garcia Lorca and Pirandello), classical pieces (by Molière, Marivaux, Musset and Shakespeare) and avant-garde plays (by Beckett, Duras, Ionesco). In such a context, it is not surprising that Rideau Vert's management ran the risk of mounting Michel TREMBLAY's Les Belles-Soeurs on 28 August 1968. An immensely popular success, this play caused strong reactions, contributing to the growth of Rideau Vert's audience and stimulating Québec theatre in general. Since then, it is at (or in co-production with) Rideau Vert that Tremblay has staged Albertine, en cinq temps(1984), Le Vrai Monde (1987) and Encore une fois, si vous le permettez (1998), successes which have led to repeat productions and translations.
Several other Québec authors have been favoured by Rideau Vert including Françoise LORANGER, Marie-Claire BLAIS, Marcel DUBÉ, Gratien GÉLINAS and especially Antonine MAILLET who, with La Sagouine (October 1972), became part of the house. Maillet premiered almost all her plays at Rideau Vert and translated or adapted several works by Shakespeare.
From 1967 to 1978, Rideau Vert was one of the chief professional companies to develop an interest in children's theatre, staging 12 productions during the first 4 seasons. The real start was L'Oiseau bleu by Maurice Maeterlinck, a play mounted each year during the Christmas holidays until 1970-71 in Théâtre Maisonneuve on the Place des Arts. Notable works for children produced by Rideau Vert include: Alice au pays des merveilles (Alice in Wonderland), fairy tales by Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, texts by Roland Lepage and by Marcel Sabourin, and puppeteers Pierre Régimbald and Nicole Lapointe. André Cailloux, director of the youth program, staged children's shows on weekends and during the week for school matinees.
Shortly after becoming installed at the Stella, Rideau Vert began world-wide touring, a rare phenomenon at the time among companies with regular seasons. The company organized tours to Paris, Moscow, Leningrad and Rome from 1964 to 1969, presenting Une maison...un jour by Loranger, Shakespeare's Le Songe d'une nuit d'été (A Midsummer Night's Dream), L'Heureux Stratagème by the French playwright Marivaux (at the Théâtre des Nations by invitation from the French Minister of Culture, André Malraux) and Hedda Gabler by Ibsen, a production which won the medal Premio Roma at Rome in 1969. La Sagouine was also played by the actress Viola Léger at the Théâtre de la Compagnie Renaud-Barrault at Paris in 1976 and, along with two other plays by Antonine Maillet, at the Festival of Avignon in 1978.
French actress Madeleine Renaud came to Montréal in 1967 to perform Oh les beaux jours (Happy Days) by Beckett in 1967, and again in 1972 with Claude Dauphin and Michael Lonsdale to perform L'Amante anglaise by Marguerite Duras. Russian director I. M. Raevsky, from Moscow's Theatre of Art, and Italian director Giovanni Poli, from the Theatre l Avogaria in Venice, also came to mount The Three Sisters by Chekhov in 1966 and Barouf à Chioggia by Goldoni in 1971.
From a visual viewpoint, the company's image owes a great deal to the designer François BARBEAU, who has made stunning costumes since 1961. Despite an eclecticism often criticized and a predilection for light comedies which have previously succeeded in Paris, London or New York, Rideau Vert has several major achievements to its credit along with a faithful audience which has steadily renewed itself for fifty years.
Author MICHEL VAÏS
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Théâtre du Rideau Vert
A brief history of the theatre company Théâtre du Rideau Vert. From the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia.
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