Maison Théâtre celebrates its 40th anniversary

April 25, 2024

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Over the last four decades, Maison Théâtre has established itself as Montreal’s top youth theatre. More than just a performance venue, it’s an association that unites more than 30 companies from all over Quebec, contributing to the local and international growth and success of youth theatre. We spoke with director Isabelle Boisclair, who discussed the past, present and future of this venerable Montreal institution.

Interview by Sébastien Tétrault

What is Maison-Théâtre’s primary mission?

Maison-Théâtre is the product of a desire to present theatrical works to young audiences in a suitable setting, as opposed to being relegated to school gyms and cafeterias, as was still the case in the early 1980s. Our association, which includes 33 Quebec-based theatre companies, has a two-fold mission. First, we want to offer a high-profile platform to creators, where they can present fully realized works to children and young audiences through their discovery of the wonderful art that is theatre. Maison-Théâtre uses a variety of strategies to achieve its aims, particularly cultural mediation. It is an intergenerational space – because children are often accompanied by teachers, parents or grandparents – where we encourage artistic and human encounters. Second, our association is dedicated to promoting youth theatre both locally and internationally.

How has Maison-Théâtre evolved over the years?

Maison-Théâtre has never stopped evolving symbiotically with the artists, with the aim of bringing audiences and artists together in the best possible conditions. Our target audience is from 2 to 17 years of age, but it’s segmented because theatre for teens is different from theatre for toddlers. Our main space has 400 seats but performances for small children require a more intimate space, and we can reconfigure the room to hold fewer than 60 people. We welcome a lot of school groups whose students don’t have French as their first language, and we’re able to provide them adapted guidance. Over the years, these cultural mediation activities – which usually precede and sometimes follow the performance – have become an integral part of our work.

What does this 40th anniversary mean to you?

In a sense it marks the arrival of a utopia, a lasting utopia… We have to remember that back in the 1970s there were no institutions like Maison-Théâtre. What we have now was just a dream. It took visionaries to put their faith in the great potential of an art that was still in its infancy. Thanks to our members’ solidarity, we succeeded in fostering the development of a discipline and an audience. Studies have shown that people who have contact with theatre as children tend to return to the theatre throughout their lives. Will every member of our audience will grow up to become a theatre lover? No, but they will at least have a good idea of the role that art can play in life. We know that art contributes to personal growth and fosters the development of critical thinking abilities. Theatre is special because it’s a group experience, and we feel powerful emotions together. Lastly, I have to say that children are a wonderful audience. They’re open, curious and don’t have preconceptions. By performing for them, artists can give themselves a lot of freedom!

How do you plan to celebrate this important milestone?

In addition to honouring our founding members, we will present a more extensive program than usual. Typically, we stage 14 to 16 different shows, but this year we’ll have 19 productions. And on June 7 we’ll have a big celebration as part of the Grande Sortie – a benefit cocktail party held at Maison Alcan. This festive gourmet event, emceed by Ève Landry and Sophie Labelle, is for both kids and adults.

What does the future hold for Maison-Théâtre?

Putting aside the challenges that face any cultural company, I think Maison-Théâtre has a brilliant future. It has a solid board of directors, a fantastic team and loyal donors. It’s committed to an important and powerful mission, and it trains the theatre audiences and artists of tomorrow. I am convinced that we are helping to make the world a better place, and our next major step will be to equip ourselves with a second theatre so that we can welcome even bigger audiences.

Would you say that there are “before and after Maison-Théâtre” eras?

Yes, I would! Maison-Théâtre has helped provide a showcase for creators, and it has stimulated creativity and the theatre community as a whole. When you look at the most prominent members of today’s theatre community, instead of asking who came up through youth theatre, it makes more sense to ask who didn’t. Maison-Théâtre is an extraordinary school for both artists and audiences. We welcome families that have been attending our shows for three generations. I hope it’s just the start!