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Modern Theatre in Context: A Critical Timeline

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Compagnons de Saint-Laurent, 1941

Regarded as the pioneer of the modem Quebecois theatre renaissance, the Catholic priest Émile Legault founded Les Compagnons de Saint-Laurent as an amateur company, producing starker, more stylized classics and rejecting the "decadent realism" common in Quebec at that period. This early company included future luminaries of Quebec theatre, such as Jean Gascon (who would establish the National Theatre School of Canada), Jean-Louis Roux (who, with Gascon, would found the Théâtre de Nouveau Monde), and Georges Groulx. It influenced the development of French Canadian theatre in three crucial ways.

When the Compagnons eventually moved into their own theatre, their repertoire shifted from French and Italian classics to more contemporary translated works, such as Williams' Le Ménagerie de Verre (The Glass Menagerie), Wilder's Notre Petite Ville (Our Town), Eliot's Meutre dans la Cathédrale (Murder in the Cathedral), and Pirandello's Henry IV. This practice was soon adopted by other groups. Works from other cultures, nationalities, and histories were made to fit, however imperfectly, into the mould of the Quebec experience, with Quebecois historical and social references embedded into Shakespeare, Ibsen, Wilder in an attempt to create a body of works whose culture could reflect or respond to the everyday lives of the French Canadian audience.

Equally important: the Compagnons offered dramas staged with little in the way of extensive staging or special effects, relying instead on a renewed theatricality and commitment to performance. Showcasing their skills as "serious" actors, they helped build up provincial pride in Quebec's ability to produce quality performances of its own.