Cercle Molière is the oldest continuously running theatre company in Canada, and it shows no sign of breaking its stride. Fresh programming and accessibility initiatives are making the company look anything but old.
“The theatre for a long time was very much community-based, and it was created at a time when French was not allowed at school. It was very Franco-Manitoban,” communications and marketing manager Erwan Bouchard says.
“But now our society has evolved. More and more francophones are coming from different countries, from different continents. And so (Cercle Molière) is just following the train.”
The first production of Cercle Molière’s 2018-19 season, L’Armoire, features an international cast from Morocco, France and Canada performing a science fiction-influenced exploration of cultural identity, precarity and immigration.
Local musician Andrina Turenne, of Chic Gamine fame, says much of the play revolves around a huge cabinet that can be pushed around the stage.
“It is the story of five very different characters that are displaced and travelling together in a large dresser that is getting pushed by one character. ... She’s hiding people inside of the dresser, and they’re living in there kind of on the run. All are seeking a different thing, whether it be a homeland or peace of mind.”
Turenne says that multicultural and multi-talented cast (the performance features circus, music and theatre) learned to live with and through their difference along with the characters.
“The play is a coming together of all these different experiences and specialties. The exploration of getting to know each other did help in doing this play, because it’s almost like a real-life context where we didn’t know each other, and we had to be in very close quarters for a long time to get
to know each other.”
Moroccan performer Amal Ayouch says that as the actors became more familiar with their characters, their own cultural backgrounds began to appear in their performances.
“At the beginning, we just played the story, and afterward each (actor) found his own character with his own culture. ... At one point, I speak in Arabic, for example, and in my behaviour, I sometimes have the gestures I have in my own country.”
Although the play is mostly in French, Cercle Molière has adopted an innovative approach to subtitling over the last several years. During select performances, audience members can book tablets that display English text.
“People who don’t speak French, or people who speak French but don’t feel they’re good enough or comfortable enough to go to the theatre without the subtitles, we offer them the possibility to read the play as it’s performed thanks to tablets,
“Because (they are) tablets, you can move them and adapt them and put them exactly where you want them to be.”
The theatre is also wheelchair-accessible and has matineee performances with babysitting services.
For Bouchard, employing these changes and programming shows like L’Armoire are ways to honour the theatre’s legacy of serving community.
“We are not trying to get a new public here,” he says. “We keep this idea of being very community-based. It’s just that our community is now larger and has evolved.”
L’Armoire runs until Nov. 3. Regular tickets are $40, and matinee and student tickets are $20. English subtitles are available on Oct. 27 and 31 and Nov. 1.