Frédéric Barry

Frédéric Ulric Barry, actor, singer, company director (b at Montréal 28 Oct 1887; d there 17 Aug 1964).

Barry, Frédéric

Frédéric Ulric Barry, actor, singer, company director (b at Montréal 28 Oct 1887; d there 17 Aug 1964). Fred Barry, the son of modest innkeepers in Montréal's Saint-Jean-Baptiste district, was initiated into theatre as a child, performing his first role at the age of 10 in a production by LE CERCLE MOLIÈRE, one of the many amateur groups of the period. He continued his on-the-job training until his professional debut in 1914, at the age of 26, with the Théâtre Canadien-Français company, then directed by Fernand Dhavrol.

From 1916 on, Fred Barry was director of the Imperial Theatre Company in Québec City and was also seen at the Family Theatre in Montréal. He performed in widely diverse dramatic and comic roles drawn from the repertoire in vogue - for the most part made up of French melodramas and light comedies dating from the 19th century.

Barry was a born actor with a winning nature and sound instinct. He got through the difficult years of the 1920s by taking refuge in the burgeoning field of radio, and took part in numerous reviews and operettas, as he was also a good singer. In 1929, with actor Albert Duquesne, he set up the troupe Barry-Duquesne, housed from 1930 at the Cinéma Chanteclerc (renamed Theatre Stella), a hall with 443 seats situated on rue Saint-Denis, north of Mont-Royal (now the THÉÂTRE DU RIDEAU VERT). The company combined the best elements of Montréal theatre: director Antoine Godeau; reputable actors such as Pierre Durand, Bella Ouellette, Gaston Dauriac, Jeanne Demons, Antoinette Giroux, Jacques Auger; and actors from France added periodically for reinforcement. With new productions at the rate of one per week, performed some dozen times at evenings and matinees during a 36-week season, the quality was uneven. In spite of repertoire updated to suit the Parisian taste of the day, and changes in artistic direction in an attempt to attract upper-class patrons, the Stella had to shut down after its fifth season. This was certainly due to the Depression, but also to strong competition from movies, a risky choice of plays, and assembly-line production.

After this unsuccessful attempt to establish a permanent theatre in Montréal, Fred Barry reached a major turning point in his career when 2 freelancers approached him to support their theatrical ventures. Gratien GÉLINAS engaged him as assistant director and to perform in les Fridolinades (1938-46), an annual review that was a long-term hit and led to the creation of the acclaimed play Tit-Coq in 1948. Barry was also cast in the film version that Gélinas drew from it in 1952. Then the very young Pierre Dagenais reserved a place for Barry in his productions of L'Équipe (1943-48), recognizing in him a living symbol of Canadian theatre at its best. In this way, Fred Barry practised his profession as an actor for 40 years in material conditions that were often less than favourable. This situation would not change until public authorities began to understand that theatre should not be subject to the laws of the market in order to blossom as an artistic language.

Fred Barry was justly credited with the title of acting pioneer "Canadian style" and was the subject of a documentary by Claude JUTRA (National Film Board, 1959). In 1976, the city of Montréal named a square behind the Place des Arts "Place Fred-Barry," and the following year the Nouvelle Compagnie théâtrale similarly named the small hall adjoining Théâtre Denise-Pelletier. Fred Barry et la petite histoire du théâtre au Québec by journalist Philippe Laframboise, was published by Editions Logiques in 1996.