Brigitte Haentjens

Brigitte Haentjens, stage director (born 29 July 1951 in Versailles, France). Haentjens is known for daring, dramatic and passionate stagings of contemporary works, both from Canada and abroad.

Brigitte Haentjens

Brigitte Haentjens, stage director (born 29 July 1951 in Versailles, France). Haentjens is known for daring, dramatic and passionate stagings of contemporary works, both from Canada and abroad. In 2012, Haentjens became the first woman artistic director at the National Arts Centre French Theatre, joining Canadian luminaries such as Wajdi Mouawad, Robert Lepage and André Brassard.

Studies and Early Success

Haentjens originally studied in Paris with Jacques Lecoq, best known for his emphasis on physical theatre. She arrived in Canada in 1977. In 1979, she coauthored the seminal Franco-Ontarian play La parole et la loi (The word and the law), about Regulation 17, which banned the use of French in Ontario until 1927. The play was staged by the Théâtre d'la Corvée in Ottawa. For the Théâtre d’la Vieille 17, based in the same region, she cowrote the worker-themed play Hawkesbury Blues with Dalpé. The director also worked on productions in Sudbury with the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario (TNO), where she again collaborated with Dalpé on the plays Nickel, as a coauthor and director, and Le Chien, as director.

Move to Montréal

In 1991, Jacques Vézina, director general of the Montréal-based Nouvelle compagnie théâtrale (now the Théâtre Denise-Pelletier), noticed Haentjens’ skills in nurturing the TNO back to life and persuaded her to revitalize the Nouvelle compagnie théâtrale. Her subsequent direction of Caligula gained praise from the Globe and Mail, and she succeeded in attracting Robert Lepage as a collaborator.

Elsewhere in Montréal, she directed Jeanne-Mance Delisle's Un oiseau vivant dans la gueule at Théâtre de Quat'Sous and Oh! les beaux jours/Happy Days at Théâtre Espace Go. Her 2004 work La Cloche de verre, adaptated from Plath's The Bell Jar, was successful enough for a tour in France.

From 1996 to 2006, Haentjens was also co-director, along with Marie Gignac, of the Carrefour international de théâtre à Québec, a major international theatre festival which took over from the Quinzaine internationale de théâtre in 1992.

She further distinguished herself with work such as Malina in 2000, Hamlet-machine in 2001 and Eden Cinéma in 2006.

The Founding of Sibyllines

In 2007, she went on to form her own company, Sibyllines Sybillines, to allow her greater freedom in experimental productions. The same year, the Siminovitch Prize committee members singled out her stage writing (écriture scénique) as the reason for granting her the award. In 2008, she joined forces, once again successfully, with the star of Le Chien, Roy Dupuis, for Blasté, a translation by Jean Marc Dalpé of the Bosnian war-themed play Blasted by Sarah Kane. Haentjens' production of La nuit juste avant les forêts (Night just before the forests), by Bernard-Marie Koltès, played to full houses for a month after its opening in 2010. The company produced the play at the Carrefour international de théâtre de Québec in May 2011, and in Montreal and Ottawa in 2013.

Among her 2012 offerings at the NAC, Haentjens premiered the French version of Songs from the (Post) Mistress by Cree playwright Tomson Highway, Zesty Gopher s’est fait écraser par un frigo, in co-production with the TNO.

Cultural Activism

In 1984, Haentjens became founding president of the l’Association nationale des théâtres francophones hors Québec, now the l’Association nationale des théâtres francophones du Canada (ANTC, or National association of French-language theatres in Canada). The association served as a lobbying, gathering and networking group for smaller theatres far from the Montréal and Quéebec-centred theatrel scene. Companies from Saskatoon to Caraquet exchanged views and experiences to state their case for survival. Haentjens stayed on until 1990, fighting constantly for the development of French-language theatre in minority settings.

Awards and Accomplishments

Haentjens is known for daring, dramatic and passionate stagings of contemporary works, both from Canada and abroad. She gained recognition for staging productions such as Le Chien (The Dog), which garnered author and long-time collaborator Jean Marc Dalpé a Governor General's award in 1988; Albert Camus' Caligula; and Samuel Beckett's Oh! les beaux jours; as well as for adaptations of works by Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf.

Her appointment to the NAC followed the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize and the Gascon-Thomas Award from the National Theatre School of Canada, both of which she received in 2007 for her body of work.