French-Language Radio Drama | The Canadian Encyclopedia


French-Language Radio Drama

Radio drama in Québec is of 2 kinds, radioromans (serials or "soap operas") and radiothéâtre (radio plays). The radio serial took its form from the theatre and its structure and length from the novel.

Radio Drama, French-Language

Radio drama in Québec is of 2 kinds, radioromans (serials or "soap operas") and radiothéâtre (radio plays). The radio serial took its form from the theatre and its structure and length from the novel. When radio came to Québec, THEATRE was still considered somewhat heretical and novels frivolous if not outrightly immoral. Moreover, the French-Canadian press had not published many indigenous serialized novels. The immediate success of the first broadcast serial, Alfred Rousseau's "L'Auberge des chercheurs d'or" (CKAC, January 1935-June 1938), inspired other writers and commissions. In 1937 Edouard Baudry launched "Rue principale" on CKAC, which ran for 22 years. Fall 1938, when 4 series went simultaneously on air, marked the beginning of the golden age, which lasted more than 20 years and created in Québec a phenomenon that was as much sociocultural as literary.

Between 1939 and 1960 there were 10-15 serials a day on Québec airwaves, averaging 3 hours daily, excluding comedy skits (more than 100) and episodic and historical dramas (120 and over 90, respectively). The accumulated repertoire of 71 radio serials equalled 260 000 typed pages, or several hundred printed volumes and almost 13 000 hours of programming. Some 30 Québec writers were involved in varying degrees with this radio genre from 1935 to 1965, including Paul Gury, responsible for 15 years of "Rue principale" and all 14 years of "Vies de femmes"; Aliette Brisset-Thibaudet, who for 11 years wrote the weekly half-hour "Ceux qu'on aime"; and Claude-Henri GRIGNON, who for 23 years supplied the daily half hour of "Un Homme et son péché." Though there were some translations or adaptations of American soap operas, more than 75% of the serials were original Québec works, most of them by young authors. Some, such as Roger LEMELIN's "La Famille Plouffe" or Grignon's "Un Homme et son péché," had been preceded by published novels, which had been used as springboards for entirely new situations.

Three stations in particular, CKAC, CBF and CKVL, broadcast radio serials at prime time to hundreds of thousands of listeners. The daily scheduling of these serials, usually 15 minutes long, created a ritual of tuning in. The serial genre is limited in scope and remained stable over the years, a mixture of popular novels and romances. The tone was usually melodramatic, sometimes comic, occasionally light-hearted. The topics were rooted in the realist tradition and reflected Québec family mores. Jeered at by intellectuals, the genre was exploited until it was threadbare. Some serials, however, deserve inclusion in literary history, especially those of Robert CHOQUETTE ("Le Curé de village," "La Pension Velder," "Métropole") and of Henri Deyglun ("Les Secrets du docteur Morhange"). Television killed radio serials (see TELEVISION DRAMA). Their numbers began to decline in the late 1950s, and gradually they disappeared from Québec airwaves. There was a fleeting revival on CKVL in 1974, and in 1984 CHRC attempted to revive the genre again with "La Minute de vérité." It lasted a few months, Sept to Dec, but was not renewed.

Radio plays were not as popular in Québec as radio serials, but they played an important role in Québec cultural life. Chronologically, plays preceded the serials, since CKAC created the first program, "Le Théâtre de J.O. Lambert," in Nov 1933. Radio plays took over from stage theatre, which had been hard hit by the Depression. In 35 years, 80 anthology series were broadcast on Québec AM stations and provided a living for writers and actors. The genre increasingly detached itself from written theatrical tradition to exploit the different possibilities of the microphone. At first, authors adapted novels, short stories and works from repertory theatre ("Le Thé L'Atelier"), a custom used throughout the history of radio plays, especially on CBF. Public radio broadcast 26 foreign-play series, including "Radio-Théâtre" (1939-40), "Le Théâtre classique français" (1940), "Théâtre" by Radio-Collège (1941-50), "Sur toutes les scènes du monde" (1953-70), "Théâtre populaire" (1950) and "Petit Théâtre" (1966-67). In addition, there were 10 programs, such as "Le Radiothéâtre de Radio-Canada," which presented both adaptations and original Québec plays. Many great works of international theatre, from the classics to the avant-garde, were mounted by talented producers. These adaptations were the first efforts of young authors such as Marcel DUBÉ, Louis Pelland, Hubert AQUIN and Yves THÉRIAULT.

These original Québec radio dramas were a small part of the total amount of material broadcast, but they played an essential cultural role. They were a training ground for many young French-Canadian playwrights and helped form a body of Québec theatrical works. More than 1500 radio plays may be listed, the work of more than 200 authors. Each week, for 20 years, at least one original Québec play was broadcast. In the 1950s up to 4 new works were aired each week. From 1930 to 1970, 44 original Québec series were presented on the province's AM stations. CKAC's first series was "Le Théâtre de chez nous," which was broadcast 1938-47 and in which Henri Letondal played a major part. Robert Choquette was the first important author to present a series of theatrical radio works (CRCM, 1934). CBF put its first Québec theatrical series on the air in 1944 ("Entrée des artistes"), followed by such programs as "L'Équipe aux quatre vents," "Les Voix du pays" and "Le Théâtre des nouveautés." The most important program, because of its experimental nature, was "Les Nouveautés dramatiques," produced by Guy BEAULNE (1950-62), which launched many authors. Among the 58 who worked on it were Yves Thériault, Marcel Dubé, Louis-Georges Carrier, Marcel Cabay, François Moreau, Jacques GODBOUT, Jacques LANGUIRAND, Félix LECLERC and Robert Gadouas. More than 320 plays were presented in this series.

A wide variety of Québec plays were produced for radio, ranging from psychological to street theatre, via character comedies, social satire, melodrama and surrealism. Different types were given priority, depending on the era and the station, but they were almost always indigenous plays, raising Québec problems, using Québec language and destined for a Québec audience. It was definitely popular theatre, as the names of some of the series clearly show.

During the 1960s, plays like serials deserted the AM airwaves. Since then drama has been found almost exclusively on television. The only remaining bastion of radio drama was the FM network of Radio-Canada, with its "Théâtre de lundi."

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