L'Osstidcho | The Canadian Encyclopedia

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L'Osstidcho

In May 1968, artists of the new generation ― Robert Charlebois, Yvon Deschamps, Louise Forestier, Mouffe (Claudine Monfette), le Quatuor de Jazz libre du Québec and organist Jacques Perron ― joined forces to present the multidisciplinary show L’Osstidcho at the Théâtre de Quat’Sous in Montreal.

This piece featured several innovative approaches that were unheard of at the time. It was a mixture of psychedelic cabaret, theatre, song and humorous monologues. History will remember this cultural work for its uniqueness, its audacity and its use of joual, which was rarely used on stage at the time. This show captured the spirit of the time, echoing the aspirations of baby-boomers for a definitive break with the conservatism of the pre-Quiet Revolution era. (See also Grande Noirceur.)

Historical Context

By the early 1960s, a progressive movement was already impacting society. Jean Lesage’s Quebec Liberal Party under the slogan Maîtres chez nous (“Masters of our own house”), was elected on 14 November 1962. The nationalization of private electricity companies gave rise to Hydro-Québec, which became a new economic driver for the province. Expo 67 introduced Quebec to the world. The vibrant counterculture already underway in San Francisco reached Quebec when Robert Charlebois returned to Quebec from a discovery trip to the Haight/Ashbury district of San Francisco, California.

Over the course of a few months, a convergence of local and international events influenced Quebec society: the French student revolt in May 1968, the assassination of Martin Luther King, a riot on St-Jean-Baptiste day, Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles Sœurs, Michèle Lalonde’s Speak White and the founding of René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois. It was against the backdrop of the Quiet Revolution that L’Osstidcho was created in 1968–1969.

Design of the Show

In 1968, Yvon Deschamps, a restaurant owner, was forced into bankruptcy. The end of Expo 67, on 29 October 1967, had created an economic vacuum. There were no more tourists and Quebec’s population was spending less. The week before closing his business, Deschamps had visited artists Mouffe, Jean-Guy Moreau and Robert Charlebois every evening. They were performing a musical and humorous revue (Terre des bums) at the Boîte à Clémence in Old Montreal, near his restaurant. They got to know each other and quickly became friends.

Without work, Deschamps returned to the Théâtre de Quat’Sous which he had cofounded with Paul Buissonneau, a theatre man, in 1965. Buissonneau offered him work and suggested that he create a piece to close out the theater season. That was when Deschamps had the idea of creating a new show in the form of a revue. He asked his friend Mouffe to participate in the project and she brought all of the others that would go on to form the group of performers.

The show started to take shape with Buissonneau as director. Quickly, everyone realized that the desired artistic approach of the young artists and that of the director were irreconcilable. It was in a moment of anger that Buissonneau left a rehearsal and chastised the group saying: “If that’s how it’s going to be, then you can shove your d—- show up your a―!” It was during this sudden change of mood that the group found the title of their upcoming revue: L’Osstidcho.

Since the artists were now left to their own devices and had little time, ideas flowed freely.

The show had the appearance of a psychedelic and humorous cabaret to bring the Quebec people out of their chronic apathy, the status quo, and their pessimism. We wanted to disprove the expression “We were born for a bun,” which expresses the fatalism and lack of hope of the Quebec community.

The company set an example by pushing the codes of theatre. They broke the fourth wall: the convention that actors and actresses cannot interact with the public. Musical innovations, like the electric guitar, surprised spectators. A new feature taken up by Charlebois was inspired by the “narrated” style of Alice’s Restaurant Massacre by Arlo Guthrie, which is about the Vietnam War. In this approach, music accompanied the first humorous monologue that Deschamps had written, Les unions, qu’ossa donne?

Despite its innovative approach, the different components of L’Osstidcho are not original when analyzed separately. It was how the various components were interwoven that was innovative and made it a source of inspiration. Humorous monologue, singing and music had never been combined with such freedom in Quebec.

In the scenography, painter Germain Perron imagined metal scaffolding attached to factory pipes as stage design. Several musicians were at the top and the drum box was placed in the centre, it represented the host and was lit in different ways. It turned blood red after the audience heard an excerpt from Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, followed by a noise reminiscent of gunshots. The assassination of the pastor committed in the month preceding the premiere of the show had shaken the performers.

Criticism and Consequences

There are very few archives of L’Osstidcho and only a few thousand spectators saw it.

Three shows took place. The first was from 28 May to 20 June 1968 at the Théâtre de Quat’sous. It starred Louise Forestier, Mouffe, Robert Charlebois, all three from the National Theatre School of Canada, as well as Yvon Deschamps. The Quatuor du Nouveau Jazz libre du Québec and organist Jacques Perron were also part of the show. Later, the company presented L’Osstidcho King Size at the Comédie-Canadienne hall (now known as the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde) from the 3–8 September 1968. Finally from 24–26 January 1967, L’Osstidcho meurt was presented at the Wilfrid-Pelletier hall of the Place des Arts. (See also Wilfrid Pelletier.)

Reacting to the show, Jean-Marc Desgent wrote in his preface to Bruno Roy’s essay L’osstidcho ou le désordre libérateur, “I was overwhelmed. I remember my uncontrollable tremors during the show, as if too many emotions were trying to get out of me by all means; the body, my body grasped what was happening and manifested itself furiously. I had a bomb in front of me and inside me. I remember that, returning to my father’s house, I had the impression of knowing something that the others, all the others, didn’t know; the Charlebois show stood out to me...".

This multidisciplinary show was a milestone in the affirmation of the Quebec people who, in the 1960s were socio-economically disadvantaged compared to the anglophone bourgeoisie. Several events shaped the Quiet Revolution and shook up the cultural and political history of Quebec. L’Osstidcho is one of them.