Théâtre Denise-Pelletier

  The Montréal theatre company Théâtre Denise-Pelletier, under its former name La Nouvelle Compagnie Théâtrale (NCT), was almost singlehandedly responsible for the development of an entire generation of Québec theatre-goers.

In 1964, actors Françoise Graton, Gilles Pelletier and director Georges Groulx convinced the Jesuit school responsible for Le Théâtre du Gesù (a congenial amphitheatre) to finance their production of Racine's Iphigénie. Their idea was to produce a play that was part of the school curriculum. The response to the play's 15 performances was so enthusiastic that the school approached the 3 to establish a permanent company at the Gesù that would present professional productions of the world's classical repertoire at times amenable to school audiences. Because Montréal's other professional theatre companies (such as THÉÂTRE DU NOUVEAU MONDE and THÉÂTRE DU RIDEAU VERT) mostly shunned weekday matinees, Québec's Ministry of Culture saw the need for a "new theatrical company" and the name stuck.

The NCT's golden years were 1964 to 1969. The highly subsidized company was given free rein by educators and school boards to develop its 3-play seasons as it saw fit and it produced plays by Marivaux, Corneille, Goldoni, Molière, Shakespeare, Musset, Sophocles, Jonson and Chekhov with some of Québec's best actors and directors. To assist teachers in preparing students for these theatrical outings, the company published, beginning in 1966, Cahiers (notebooks) which provide extensive background materials for each production.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Québec's educational system was criticized for being exclusive and elitist and was radically transformed in the hopes of making it more democratic. The NCT, which had been addressing a young audience versed in the classics, now faced one that was not only more diversified but largely unacquainted with dramatic literature. Though the company had its detractors in those who felt that the classics were part of the past and not the future, through various initiatives, such as its interactive Op-Théâtre series (1969-89), the NCT saw its attendance grow from 32 000 to 90 000 spectators.

In 1969 the NCT produced its first Canadian play, Un Simple Soldat, by Québec's foremost playwright Marcel DUBÉ. And from 1974 on, beginning with Michel TREMBLAY's À toi pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou, it would present one Québec play per season. From 1969 to 1972 the company held student playwrighting competitions. And from 1971 to 1977 it rented an alternative workshop space, L'Atelier, dedicated to dramaturgical development. Though the NCT continued to present at least one play from the classical repertoire per season, it would also produce works by Eugene Ionesco, John Steinbeck, Samuel Beckett, Pavel Kohout, Tennessee Williams, Fernando Arrabal and Bertolt Brecht, among others, as examples of modern or contemporary theatre literature.

In 1975 the Jesuit Fathers informed the NCT that they would reclaim the Gesù for pastoral works. Gilles Pelletier and Françoise Graton, who had remained at the helm of the company, felt that the NCT - no longer sole provider for the well-established school matinee audience - could close down. The Québec government felt otherwise. In 1977 the company was relocated to Montréal's east-end, state-of-the-art Théâtre Denise-Pelletier, where the NCT also maintains a small flexible space, La Salle Fred-Barry, dedicated to experimental theatre ventures. Artistic directors have been Jean-Luc Bastien, Guy Nadon, Brigitte Haentjens and Pierre Rousseau.

In 1997, the not-so-new Nouvelle Compagnie Théâtrale was renamed Théâtre Denise-Pelletier. The company, while still favouring students, also draws a percentage of adults (15%) whose first theatrical experience had probably been at the NCT.