Last week I went to the theater. It hadn’t happened to me in moons, necessarily. It was at La Licorne in front Underground summer by Steve Gagnon, Guylaine Tremblay’s first solo, directed by Édith Patenaude. We were not very many in the room, the gauge being limited as it should be. No need to put on your 31 for the firsts in the time of COVID, with surgical masks in hoes. But the excitement of returning to the theater was palpable.
Going to the theater seemed like a precious moment torn from time, a volatile and restless pleasure. The performances will hold up, but for how long? Seeing a show between two waves gives the impression of handling a fragile vase in constant threat of falling …
The character of Guylaine Tremblay was initially delighted to find his friends after a year spent away from them. The action took place in Provence, in the country house of this Quebecer on summer vacation alongside invisible French friends. So this monologue seemed to be addressed to us.
The actress was a formidable independent teacher, ardent and talkative who tells her story and pins her friends without tact, with affection nevertheless. This text raised all kinds of questions through its voice: machismo, the inferiority complex of so many Quebecers vis-à-vis the French, the joys and sufferings of motherhood, the love-hate relationship with one’s own society, sexuality. feminine, decline and fear of death. The shadow of Peter Mayle, the British author ofA year in Provence, floated in the background. Marcel Pagnol received winks of connivance, like the noisy cicadas outside.
The sequence of different summers without time marks led to certain confusion and repetitions, but Guylaine Tremblay’s appearance on screen often took over from her performance in person. So her heroine gained depth and the show drew its strength from this double bottom. Underground summer left us with all kinds of imprints of meaning, but after the play, the cold and the approaching fall of the curfew scattered the spectators presto. The theatrical experience is different in such a context.
A half reprieve for culture
When Francois Legault and her team came to announce last Tuesday a more severe reconfinement of the metropolis, I thought with anxious relief of Guylaine Tremblay and the team of La Licorne, as well as of all the theaters, cinemas, performance halls. They will have to further limit their spaces between the offices (a real disaster for small surfaces), but without closing off as in Quebec, Ottawa and elsewhere in the region.
“April is the month of all dangers,” said the Prime Minister. What will happen to these Montreal brands in the coming weeks? Extracurricular activities are suspended, affecting the environment. François Legault had not addressed the reduced size of rooms at a press conference, without questions from journalists on the subject elsewhere. It shows the interest that culture arouses … A possible return to curfew at 8 pm would upset many schedules. We will see what hangs at the end of our noses.
The Montreal arts community will not put the lock on its doors on Thursday, against the gyms. The fact remains that with all this, in addition to the surge in cases in Quebec and the Easter releases that sent all the variants to the community ball waltzing, part of the public is withdrawing. The theaters and cinemas may well respect all health measures without causing outbreaks, the virus with wild mutations makes many shudder, waiting for better days before moving there.
We are betting on vaccines, but question marks are everywhere. People will continue to eat and dress when immunity to the vaccine really sticks their heads above water. There remains this fragile cultural universe which vacillates with its theaters, cinemas, concert halls and performance halls, suspended for the time being, but under essential constraints that affect the very spirit of their vocation and their capacity to welcome them.
Voices of optimism assure that everything will soon resume as before, with even more enthusiasm, since the public will measure the value of this culture long in trembling, but the doubt has distilled in others. So many artists are looking for work elsewhere. So many people have taken a liking to seeing productions on the home screen.
It is this floating uncertainty that hurts the middle the most. Art is a therapist. May he tomorrow vaccinate everyone against the disaster that has splashed so many people in these pandemic waves.