The Théâtre français de Toronto is the oldest Francophone professional theatre troupe in Ontario and one of the oldest French-language companies in Canada west of Quebec. Active since 1967, it has received a number of distinctions and continues to showcase the talent of French-speaking playwrights and actors, contributing to the dynamism of theatre culture. Its productions, which are very popular among the Francophone and Francophile public, attract large and growing audiences in the Queen City. It even has offshoots! Several other Francophone companies, professional or community-based, are now active in Toronto.
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Extending the influence of the Francophone community in Toronto
Toronto’s artistic sector is booming, brought about by the diversity of its population and competition among the very large number of players on the cultural scene. The city’s thriving and dynamic Francophone theatre is a source of inspiration. Roughly a dozen drama companies are active in the city, especially community troupes, but also some professional ones, the oldest and largest of which is the Théâtre français de Toronto. This company stages seven productions per season, both contemporary creations and classics, including two plays intended for children. Since its creation, the Théâtre français de Toronto has presented over 260 productions and attracted more than 9,500 people per season!
The French-language theatre has played and continues to play an important role in the development of the Franco-Ontarian culture it reflects, values and nourishes. Although the classic works are always popular, the welcome extended to playwrights in residence brings about new creations. Meanwhile, the use of music, dance and new technologies makes it possible to offer modern shows in keeping with the contemporary Francophone community. Making room for original works has proven to be a great springboard for up‑and‑coming Francophone playwrights.
The most populous Canadian city, Toronto is now an important player in the French-language theatre landscape. More and more Francophone visitors take advantage of their stay in the Queen City to take in a performance at one of Toronto’s theatres, an outing that often becomes a highlight of their trip.
Birth of Francophone theatre in Ontario
The origins of theatre in Ontario go back to the 19th century. It was in the religious communities that the first plays were performed, which were often edifying and educational skits. Directed by the clergy, these small productions brought together the Francophone community; often, the whole parish got involved! People also tried their hand at the classics. In 1923, Collège Sacré-Cœur in Sudbury put on an adaptation of Molière’s great play the Malade imaginaire, to great acclaim.
French-language theatre lived on and grew in the 20th century, gradually emancipating itself from the parish context. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was now at universities that the Francophone theatrical arts were to undergo significant development. In 1971, a group of students at Laurentian University in Sudbury, including André Paiement, Robert Paquette and Pierre Bélanger, wrote the play Moé j’viens du Nord. They created the Théâtre du Nouvel Ontario a few years later, in 1975. The educational environment thus played a prominent role in developing the Francophone identity in Ontario through theatrical expression.
Originally, theatre companies were primarily present in Ottawa and Sudbury, which had the largest concentrations of Francophones. Nevertheless, French-language theatre also carved out a place for itself in the province’s most populous and multicultural city, Toronto. Once a year for 21 years, the troupe Les Tréteaux de Paris, created in Toronto in 1953, put on a play from the boulevard or avant‑garde repertory.
The Théâtre français de Toronto began its activities in 1967 as the Théâtre du P’tit Bonheur, the name of the very first play staged there. Initially amateur, the organization became more professional as time went on. It took on a new name in 1987, the Théâtre français de Toronto, on its 20th anniversary.
In the course of its history, many of the plays produced by the Théâtre français have enjoyed tremendous success, both popular and critical, and have won awards and nominations, in particular the Dora Mavor Moore Award and the Rideau Award. After 116 performances, the coproduction Une maison face au nord by Jean-Rock Gaudreault was even designated as Canadian play of the year in 2009, according to Eye Weekly. Every season is more successful than the last, confirming the role of the Théâtre français de Toronto in the world of contemporary drama.
Other professional theatre companies such as La Tangente and Scuderia Production have also been making French heard in Toronto’s cultural landscape in the last several years.