COMMENTS ON GRATIEN GELINAS’
THESE NOTES STRESS THE FOLLOWING POINTS:
theatre as well as in other disciplines, Gratien Gélinas has been, throughout
his career, a pioneer - often going into unexplored fields.
started writing in 1937. The recent success of Fridolinades at the
National Arts Center and at the Rideau Vert, 50 years after its creation, is an
irrefutable proof of the durability of Gélinas' work; having played to full
houses for months in Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and in the whole province.
same month (January 1987), a new play by Gratien Gélinas, La Passion de
Narcisse Mondoux, created at the Théâtre du Rideau-Vert in Montreal, was
welcomed by both critics and public as a triumphant success. There was a
revival of this play at the same theatre beginning September 1, after which it
was scheduled to go on a long tour.
two simultaneous successes by the same author with a half-century interval is a
precedent for the whole of Canada.
IMPORTANCE OF THE FRIDOLIN SERIES
generally thought that TIT-COQ was one of the major starting
points for creative theatre in Canada. However, it should be remembered that at
the time of his first play, in 1948, Gratien Gélinas had already spent 10 years
as dramatic author working on the Fridolin series, without which
Tit-Coq may never have been born.
March 1938, on the stage of the Monument National, a revue artist by the name of
Gratien Gélinas appeared as Fridolin, and proved to be a total theatre unto
himself: playwright, stage manager, actor, director,. and a completely original
comedian. His accent is raw, different from that of any of his predecessors in
the genre. Moreover, he brings to the Fridolinons revue a style of
presentation and a tasteful choice of scenic material which is as novel as his
impertinent tone and his spontaneous humour. In short, the revue becomes with
him a great genre, of national dimensions: not only does he manage to break down
the famous East-West barrier which, at least symbolically, separates Montreal
between francophones and anglophones, but he also manages to attract to his
revue Canadians from every province. Thus, long before the creation of his
three-act play, Tit-Coq, in May 1948, the name of Gratien Gélinas becomes
that of the greatest theatre personality in Canada.
Béraud, The Arts in Canada (MacMillan) p.79)
the publication of the text of these revues - played again on the stage later -
we can appreciate even more the importance they have achieved, not only for
Gratien Gélinas as their author, but also in the establishment of a Canadian
theatre literature; very few lasting works had been created in Canada before
that, either in English or in French.
was the first Canadian play to not only reach the l00 mark but to be played 200
times in the same city (Montreal) in one season (1948-49). This was all the more
remarkable in that it was presented not in a little hall, but in two large
theatres (the Monument National - 1408 seats and le Gésu - 963 seats). It was
essential to have large audiences, as there were 9 actors and l2 scene changes
and this was 10 years before anyone in Canada knew what a grant from the Arts
was the first play to be translated into the other official language of Canada
and to be staged in French and in English by the same bilingual cast throughout
the country. (It even played in English in Quebec City and in French in
Toronto.) Gratien Gélinas was thus paving the way for other enriching
experiences for the cultural unification of Canada. We could ask ourselves
whether the famous Plouffe Family by Roger Lemelin would have been
telecast in English on the national channels of the CBC without the lucky
precedent of Tit-Coq.
Gratien Gélinas was also a pioneer in films. In 1942, he made - with makeshift
means and an obviously inexperienced crew - a talking film La dame aux
camellias, la vraie.. This twenty minute film may be the first Canadian
fiction color film and has proven its durability by being presented in France,
30 years after it was made, at the Journées Cinématographiques in Poitiers, as
the ancestor of a retrospective of Quebec films. It is still being used
as a teaching tool in Canadian schools where film-making is taught.
Bousille et les Justes (Bousille and the Just)
was revived in 1976 1990, and 1996, 17 30 and 36 years after it was written, and
played more than 705 times in four languages by professional production
film Tit-Coq made in 1952 from the original play is still shown
about once a year on television.
interesting to note that Ti-Coq, Bousille and the Just,
Yesterday the children were dancing! and The passion of
Narcisse Mondoux are amongst the Canadian plays which have been staged
the most often in English.
of these plays by Mr. Gélinas are part of the curriculum in schools, both
English and French, throughout Canada.
Comédie-Canadienne, which Gratien Gélinas founded and whose mission was to
contribute first and foremost to the establishment of a Canadian identity in the
interpretative arts, did not become a pedestal for Gélinas the actor, the
director or the playwright: in 15 years, he staged only three of his plays, and
produced two other shows at the Comédie-Canadienne. Bousille et les justes
It was truly a stage open to all Canadian creative artists and which
offered the public during its existence more Canadian productions than all the
other Quebec companies together.
then, Gratien Gélinas has continued in this vein; for 8-1/2 years, most of his
time has been devoted to the Society for the Development of the Canadian Film
Industry, where he has been able to put at the disposal of his colleagues a
knowledge of playwriting quite unique in Canada.
should be noted that Mr. Gélinas has served the community in many other
functions: among others, as vice-president, for 7 years, of the Arts Council of
the Montreal Region and as a member of the Executive of the National Film Board
conclusion, Gratien Gélinas, during the 60 years of his career, both in the
theatre and in his other activities, has never deviated from this principle:
to serve first and foremost the expression of a national identity.
did not prevent his works from being presented, at the theatre or on television,
in the USA, in England, in Scotland, in Ireland, in France, in Sweden, in
Finland, in Poland, in Italy and in other countries.