Olivier Choinière graduated in Playwriting from the National Theatre School in 1996. He first made a name for himself with Le bain des raines (1998) followed by Autodafé, created by André Brassard in 1999. Félicité was created in 2007, and subsequently done in English at London’s Royal Court Theatre, under the title Bliss, in a translation by Caryl Churchill. It has since been performed in English Canada, Scotland, Australia and Switzerland. Venise-en-Québec (2006) and Nom de domaine (2013,) were both short-listed for the Governor General’s Award. Mommy (2013), won four awards at the Cochons d’or gala, in addition to being a finalist for the prix Michel-Tremblay. Olivier Choinière directed 50 actors in Chante avec moi (2010), a play that won a prize from the Association Québécoise des Critiques de Théâtre, before going on to play at the National Arts Centre, the Festival TransAmériques and the Théâtre du Trident. His latest play, Ennemi public, will be created in February at the Centre du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui. The Canada Council has recently awarded him the prix Victor-Martyn-Lynch-Staunton in theatre.
The honour bestowed on me allows me to speak to you tonight.
And this honour demands a certain honesty. So, I will be honest with you: very often, I detest theatre. I detest theatre, one could say, in order to love it more deeply. That which has driven me away from it, often wanting to abandon it, is also what draws me to it and allows me to make it my own. To be hard on theatre is, in my estimation, what makes it healthy. To become aware of the context in which this art form is practiced here, today, is to become aware of the way in which we live here, and today. What infuriates me about theatre is also what makes me furious with life.
Right now, in my corner of the country, theatre is thriving, it’s boiling over. New spaces open up, new companies are born and productions multiply. The theatre is exploding; one could even say it’s having “une crise de croissance.”
This growth crisis is happening at precisely the time when budgets shrink and government programmes disappear. It is accompanied by disengagement in politics which, if some fine but unlikely day, were to choose to defend things cultural, it would only be to repeat the argument for the all-triumphant economy.
In my corner of the country, it’s not only politicians but artists who engage in the merchant discourse, using vocabulary gleaned from marketing without an ounce of shame, which is frightening. Our large and small stages are monopolised by a way of doing business, clearly imposed by financial restrictions, but also by a product-driven
logic that has become ingrained in our minds as if it were evidence incarnate. The administration of our theatres takes precedence over the creative work we do in them, turning us into small, bustling entrepreneurs, smiling in defeat because “what can you do, we no longer have the luxury to dream.”
The dominion of the economy over our lives, especially in the discourse of power, seems nothing less than a tragic fatality. Despite all efforts, we cannot escape it. It would seem it’s a law of nature when in fact, it’s but an idea, a convention, imposed upon us like a truth.
When I write a play, it is these pre-determined conventions I want to illuminate. It’s the power structures, beginning with those I impose upon myself or to which I feel bound without even realising, that I hope to derail. And because theatre cannot escape these structures –after all, it’s the art of convention!—it is first and foremost with theatre that I take issue. For me, this duty is borne in the form. With each play, I strive to build a new way of reading the world, in the hopes that, if it’s new for me, it will also be new for others. My efforts, however, are not to make me look clever, or even to make my cultural product more appealing, but rather to address each audience member as directly as possible. If I try to make him or her active, an actor, and to assign them a role, sometimes even the lead, it is absolutely to recognise his or her presence and to declare loud and clear that without the audience, theatre cannot happen, and to allow each spectator to escape, however briefly, from the usual codes of entertainment that obliterate her or him, making them passive, even invisible. Because this escape, however small, tiny, is still one more step towards his or her own freedom.
I don’t want to preach to anyone. I seek, as honestly as possible, to share my fears. I find sense in theatre when it makes me free. I hope to write plays that will have an echo in the lives of others and which ultimately answer the questions that I ask myself when I take my seat: “Why am I here? What do these people want to tell me? And why now?”
Theatre is an art form from another era, which is why it reveals something unique about our own. As if we tried to bear witness to our modern reality by painting the walls of a cave with our fingers. It’s this time warp that allows it to be our contemporary: to rendezvous in a real place, to gather there for a given time, an hour, two hours, to
breathe the same air, to live the same “now.” To take all that keeps us from an awareness of our own power and to put that on stage; to try to see it, to understand it, and to go back home with a bit of freedom, perhaps minute, but which remains, and will endure.
Thank you to the Jury members and to all who work for this extraordinary prize. Thank you to Paul Lefebvre, Caryl Churchill, Maureen Labonté and André Brassard who have not only supported my nomination but have encouraged and inspired my work for almost 20 years. For over and above the money or the time and means it provides, the real significance of this prize is this: to encourage the pursuit of an ever greater freedom, among those few that last and endure.