Robert Gravel

Robert Gravel, actor, author and theatre director (born 14 September 1945 in Montréal; died 12 August 1996 in Montréal). A free and unusual spirit, and a debonair yet sardonic actor, Gravel was endowed with enormous physical and emotional scope.

Robert Gravel
\u00a9 Marie-Josée Hudon. All portraits reproduced are the property of the artist. Courtesy: Musée des Grands Québecois.

Robert Gravel, actor, author and theatre director (born 14 September 1945 in Montréal; died 12 August 1996 in Montréal). A free and unusual spirit, and a debonair yet sardonic actor, Gravel was endowed with enormous physical and emotional scope. Passionate about humour, a social critic, a company organizer and a whiz for crazy ideas, he influenced Québec theatre, both experimental and institutional, for three decades.

The Actor

An actor of extraordinary charisma, Gravel premiered in many major classics of Québécois theatre: Claude Gauvreau's Les oranges sont vertes (Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, 1972), Ha! ha!... by Réjean Ducharme (TNM, 1978 version) and particularly the six plays in the complete cycle of Vie et mort du roi boiteux (Nouveau Théâtre expérimental, 1982), the grotesque epic by his long-time associate Jean-Pierre Ronfard. Gravel also garnered a broad following from appearing in popular TV dramas including Victor-Lévy Beaulieu's L'Héritage and Guy Fournier's Les Héritiers Duval.

Théâtre expérimental de Montréal

In 1975, with Pol Pelletier and Ronfard, Gravel founded the Théâtre expérimental de Montréal, based on a self-management model. After a rift four years later, he founded the Nouveau Théâtre expérimental (NTE) with Ronfard, Robert Claing and Anne-Marie Provencher, in a former fire station in a working-class district of east-end Montréal. The NTE proved both a playground and a place for sharing and exchange, and was also a veritable laboratory for exploring and questioning the parameters of staging and performance mechanics. La Ligue nationale d'improvisation (another company founded by Gravel) remains one of the most dynamic initiatives of the NTE.

The Writer

Gravel's last years reveal a serious author, viewing a contemporary society dominated by materialism, human contempt and existential angst, without illusions. The NTE mounted his trilogy La tragédie de l'homme, performing Durocher le milliardaire and L'Homme qui n'avait plus d'amis in 1991, and Il n'y a plus rien in 1992.

Film and Television

Gravel also acted regularly in front of the camera, appearing in more than two dozen films and television series and working with some of the biggest names in Québec cinema. He made his film debut in Jean-Claude Labrecque’s Les Vautours (1975) and had a small role in Gilles Carle’s La tête de Normande St-Onge (1975). He starred in Roger Frappier and Jacques Leduc’s Le dernier glacier (1984) and Yves Simoneau’s popular heist movie Pouvoir intime (1986), and appeared in the box office hit Liste noire (1995) and the award-winning short film Les Mots magiques (1998), both directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.


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