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Thursday, February 14, 2019

La Troupe du Jour

Arts Work

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SAA's Arts Work series highlights an arts organization making a positive impact in its community: Saskatoon’s La Troupe du Jour is “the city’s francophone theatre – the only one in the province and one of barely a dozen outside of Quebec..." This article was written by Dave Margoshes. 

In Saskatoon, with its large aboriginal and increasingly diverse immigrant populations, it’s easy to forget the “French fact” with deep roots in the province.

La Troupe du Jour, the city’s francophone theatre – the only one in the province and one of barely a dozen outside of Quebec – is a hub for the French-speaking community, and that “French fact” made concrete.

In the theatre’s 33 years, actors in about a hundred plays, many of them by Fransaskois playwrights such as Saskatoon’s David Baudemont and Madeleine Blais-Dahlem, have trod its stage – La Troupe has an active program for the development of new plays. Of course, there have also been many plays from Quebec and even a sprinkling of classics by playwrights from France like Moliere.

Many of these plays have been directed by Denis Rouleau, La Troupe’s artistic and executive director. Rouleau, a Quebecker, cut his teeth at an Edmonton francophone theatre before moving to Saskatoon to take charge of La Troupe in 1988. The theatre and the man at its helm have grown up together.

The theatre company typically produces or presents a touring production of five plays a season – highlights this year will be a Christmas-themed puppet show and a dramatization of Antoine de Saint-Exupé ry’s clssic The Little Prince. In addition to plays at their cozy Studio 914 theatre, La Troupe often hits the road, taking plays to Regina, Prince Albert, Gravelbourg and elsewhere in Saskatchewan, and further afield – last year they were in Montreal and Ottawa.

But in a city of almost a quarter of a million, with an ever-increasingly diverse population – South Asians, Africans, Syrians, and Filipinos among other immigrants, not to mention many aboriginals, but only five or six thousand people whose mother tongue is French – how relevant is a francophone theatre?

“Very,” insists Rouleau. “Now more than ever because of that diversity.” After a pause, and with a Gallic shrug, he adds: “We live in Canada.”

He notes that the theatre’s audience base is bolstered by the city’s fifteen thousand or so residents who speak and understand French well enough to enjoy a play. “The francophone community is small but vibrant.”

And La Troupe, through its new facility – a modern theatre on bustling 20th Street in Saskatoon’s now trendy Riversdale district – has become a centre for that community. The $2.2-million building, completed a few years ago after an extensive fund-raising campaign, has become more than just a facility to perform plays but “serves as a place to meet, a rendezvous,” Rouleau says. “It’s made a huge difference to the company, gave us the opportunity to expand our activities and be more visible. Attending a play here is a social event as well as cultural, it’s another occasion to see friends and speak your language. This

According to an article on the Foundation for the Advancement of francophone Theatre website, the facility “defines the impact of Denis Rouleau, not only on Saskatchewan’s Francophonie but on Saskatoon’s theatrical community across all languages. The Production Centre not only meets the needs of the company he directs but also those of other theatre and dance groups.”

The importance of having their own facility can’t be underestimated, Rouleau says. The theatre school for kids is a prime example. For the last six years, a dozen or more kids aged 7 and up have spent Saturday mornings at La Troupe learning the ways of the theatre and honing their acting chops, culminating in a production for parents and friends. “It’s had a really big impact in the community and allowed us to engage youth in the arts in French. We couldn’t have done the school without our building.”