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French theatre celebrates 45 years


Artistic team at TNO.

Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario (TNO) produces daring and original plays. Its programming addresses social issues and the human condition and offers sometimes sensitive and sometimes critical – but always deeply human – perspectives on our world and times.

“Many go to the theatre to relax and be entertained,” says artistic director Genevieve Pineault. “They are seeking escape and rightly so. After all, theatre is a source of pleasure. But it is also made up of emotions and feelings. Theatre allows us to learn, to grow, to live and to be moved.”

Rather than importing plays from Broadway or the West End, TNO tells our stories. It has produced more than 60 original new works  which have found audiences and earned acclaim across Canada. As well, the theatre hosts shows for adults, children and teens produced by visiting francophone companies.

Last fall, TNO produced Un neurinome sur une balançoire, a one-man play written and performed by Alain Doom based on his experiences following the diagnosis of a brain tumor. This month, it will present Un vent se lève qui éparpille (Scattered in a Rising Wind) which tells the story of a small town in Northern Ontario. Pineault, with collaboration by Alice Ronfard and Johanne Malançon, has adapted this novel by Jean Marc Dalpé, one of the most important voices in Franco-Ontarian and Canadian literature.

TNO’s “made-in-Sudbury” plays speak to local audiences whether they understand French or not. In recent years, TNO has offered English surtitles which offer translation of plays so they can be enjoyed by a wider audience. Attendance has grown to almost 96 percent over the last four seasons and the number of subscribers has doubled over the last eight years.

TNO is “an essential part of Sudbury’s identity. Its role in preserving the French language in that particular region of Canada and of Franco-Ontario culture in general is immeasurable,” says playwright Tomson Highway. (TNO co-produced his musical play, Zesty Gopher s’est fait écraser par un frigo/The (Post) Mistress with the National Arts Centre’s French Theatre.

TNO started in 1971 as a university-based theatre group at Laurentian University led by a young student and playwright André Paiement. Plays were produced at Fraser Auditorium. In the 1990s TNO’s home was in a former bakery in the Flour Mill before moving into a new versatile black-box theatre at Collège Boréal in 1997. TNO was the first francophone theatre company outside of Québec to build its own theatre.

The  presence of this French-language professional theatre company might be one of the factors which inspired Laurentian University to establish a French theatre arts program and Collège Boréal to establish theatre technical programs.

TNO has a long list of impressive accomplishments and awards since it was founded 45 years ago during French Ontario’s cultural revolution in northeastern Ontario. These include winning the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2014. But a mere listing of awards does not convey the passion it holds for contributors and its audience like this closing quote from Stephane Gauthier, artistic director of the Carrefour francophone de Sudbury.

“In our city of 300 lakes, which would very much like to be known for something other than its mining history, Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario is a big island…(It is theatre) that speaks for me and one that, through art, enables me today to live better and to grasp hold of my space and my time without being confined by them.”

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