Balconville Playbill and Program, Centaur Theatre
Organization: Quebec Drama Federation
Address: 460 Sainte-Catherine W., Montreal, QC H3B 1A7
Contact: Jane Needles, qdf(a)quebecdrama.org
Description: Playbill from the Centaur Theatre Company's performance of “Balconville” by David Fenarrio.
Year made: 1978-1979
Made by: Unknown
Colours: Black and white
Size: 35.5 cm x 21.5 cm
Photos: (1) Courtesy Centaur Theatre. (2-4) Rachel Garber. Courtesy Centaur Theatre
Balconville, by David Fennario
Performed at Centaur Theatre to sell-out crowds in 1979, Balconville, an award-winning play by David Fennario, marked a turning point in Montreal theatre. Maurice Podbrey, the Artistic Director of Centaur at the time, remarked recently that “… his mission as Artistic Director, was to find a way to create works that would contribute to the Anglophone situation in Quebec,” and felt that David was a perfect person to exemplify this through his insight into the real life community of “the Point.”
Balconville brought this reality to the audiences of Montreal, both English and French, and became a classical original, which toured extensively throughout Canada, Ireland and England. Mr. Podbrey went on to say: “This production became an example of something that was meaningful to our community, and also to our Francophone colleagues. It illustrated clearly that we, as Anglophones, had a great deal to contribute to the theatre life of Quebec, and at the time, this was a very strong statement to make.”
The theme of the play depicts a summer in “the Point” focusing on eight neighbourhood families, both French and English and how they deal with their living styles through sharing stories, arguments, philosophies, opinions and such on their cramped balconies, always dreaming about things becoming better. The characters were raw and straightforward, unflinching in their opinions and observations of life surrounding them, and the destiny they had been dealt. The term “balconville” is still used to describe how many people spend their summers in Quebec.
In an interview some years after the original production, Terry Tweed, who created the role of Muriel, stated: “We didn't realise what we were doing was important. It was like we woke up one day and found ourselves with this great production. We weren't setting out to do a great play. We were working hard to get a good play off the ground. We had no idea that it would end up being what it ended up becoming.”
In another interview with Peter McNeil, who played Johnny Reagan, Peter observed that “Theatre always aims to reach the people. The audiences tend to be made up of more educated people, who may be working class, but as a whole their incomes tend to be a little higher. David wanted to shame people, to hit people over the head with his message. Theatre should be by the people, for the people.”
In a recent conversation with Guy Sprung, the director of the original Centaur production, he noted that probably the most telling story of how important the play became to the community was when it played at Place des Arts and the entire Canadiens Hockey Team showed up to see a matinee, dressed in suits and ties! He also shared an article he wrote on the production published on March 1, 2003, and in it the following statement appears: “Quite ironic that David’s most successful work should have originated in the former Montreal Stock Exchange building, built in the days when the scions of Westmount—David’s sworn enemies—were the centre of wealth and power in Canada. A socialist message in a bourgeois theatre?” Sprung also refers to Fennario as the Bard from Balconville, a reference to Fennario’s irreverent treatment of the upper class, and his passion for life in “the Point” and its residents and all the challenges they face.
Overall, Balconville went down in the history of English language theatre in Quebec as a ground-breaking work, which later gave rise to a sequel – Condoville, also produced by Centaur and written by Fennario, that opened to rave reviews on September 7, 2005. Directed by Gord McCall, the production features many of the characters that were the same as those in the original (and some were even played by their original creators) with new ones added and a new “take” on the life on summer in “the Point” 26 years later.
Note: Centaur Theatre is located at 453, Saint-François-Xavier Street, in Old Montreal, in the former Stock Exchange Building. 514-288-1229, http://www.centaurtheatre.com/
Maisonneuve Magazine, March 2, 2003.
Jane Needles is the Executive Director of the Quebec Drama Federation.