Dagenais, Pierre

Pierre Dagenais, actor, director, producer, author (b at Montréal 29 May 1923; d at Montréal 24 Dec 1990). While pursuing studies at Montréal's Collège Sainte-Marie, then at College Stanislas, Pierre Dagenais took private lessons for more than 8 years with Madame Jean-Louis Audet and her son André, where he acquired the fundamentals of his theatre education. Primarily a radio actor, he collaborated briefly with the most important companies of the 1940s (Compagnons de Saint Laurent, Comédie de Montréal, Théâtre Arcade) before founding his own company, l'Équipe (1943-48), around a strong core of young actors including Janine SUTTO, Nini Durand, Yvette BRIND'AMOUR, Robert Gadouas and Jean-Pierre Masson. Stemming from a deep dissatisfaction towards the light comedy repertoire and working conditions in force at l'Arcade where the actors had to mount a new play every week, l'Équipe brought forward a series of reforms aimed at improving not only the quality of the shows, but also the respect and dignity of the performers.

Pierre Dagenais was an ardent defender of modern dramatists (Cocteau, Molnár, Pagnol, Sartre, Salacrou, Shaw), although this did not prevent him from making inroads into the classical repertoire. His production of Songe d'une nuit d'été/A Midsummer Night's Dream (1945) was lauded by critics, and went down in Québécois theatre history as the first professional production of Shakespeare in French translation. This artistic success earned him an invitation to the Shakespeare Society of Montreal, making Dagenais the first French Canadian to stage the English bard's play in its original language (King Lear, 1946).

Reforms undertaken by l'Équipe went well beyond a radically changed choice of repertoire. Breaking with the customs of the professional French-speaking theatre set, Pierre Dagenais appreciably increased the time allocated to rehearsals from, on average, 2 to 6 weeks. He condemned the use of prompters and avoided the "star" system for actors in favour of work by the ensemble. The first genuine director from Québec, he worked in accordance with the dramatic material and advocated an aesthetic that was realistic, though not without its poetry. After l'Équipe's dissolution, Pierre Dagenais only occasionally directed theatre productions, among them the premier of Paul TOUPIN'sBrutus in 1952. Working periodically as a television producer at Radio-Canada as well as on radio, he also wrote hundreds of works for TV and radio, and published pamphlets, narratives, memoirs and plays in addition to being a drama critic for the Journal des vedettes in the early 1960s.

Pierre Dagenais was a tireless polemicist and pioneer of Québec productions. His stand in favour of normative French and apolitical drama seemed reactionary in the 1970s, a time when Québécois theatre became overtly militant and its authors used JOUAL, a type of slang, to explore the dramatic resources of popular language.