Diane Brown, artistic director of Ruby Slippers Theatre, has been producing French Canadian plays in English translation for Vancouver audiences for over 25 years. Making these plays accessible to English-speaking audiences allows them to learn from these stories and from the Quebecois way of creating theatre. Brown explained that French Canadians place great value in the arts, and theatre is a large part of their culture. “English Canadians don’t have the same relationship to art,” she said.
Presenting new voices in Quebecois theatre, Ruby Slippers has commissioned English translations of Christian Bégin’s Après Moi and Jennifer Tremblay’s The List, and both plays will premiere later this month.
Translation is not a simple task, and it can be difficult to make sure the original meaning and subtlety of the writing is not lost, but Brown is confident in these adaptations. “The translator and playwright worked very hard to get the right nuances,” she said.
According to Brown, the way French Canadian plays are written and performed is very different from the way they’re done in English speaking Canada. “How things evolve is much different than here,” she said. “Rehearsals can go on for months and there can be new versions of the play and lots of changes. We rehearse for three weeks.”
While Vancouverites can see French Canadian theatre at Théâtre la Seizième, sometimes the subtitles above the stage are not enough to give Anglophones the full experience of the play. Théâtre la Seizième hosted a production of Après Moi last year, but this new iteration of the play will arguably be more accessible to English speaking audiences.
The two plays are very personal and emotionally engaging. Brown described them as “a spectacle of intimacy,” explaining that French Canadian plays are generally more character than plot driven. “They’re very emotionally evolved in their work, in their writing — they’re not beating you over the head,” she said.
French Canadian playwrights tend to take a more poetic, circuitous route through a narrative and their treatment of personal stories is more sophisticated and nuanced. While there is less action in the traditional sense, things are unfolding and evolving as the characters grow during the play.
“Both of these plays examine isolation and people disconnected from their community — they’re about connecting with ‘the other’ in a world that is increasingly alienating,” said Brown, referencing to the isolating effects of our increasingly digital world.
The plays have dark humour, concise dialogue, compassion, and offer a perspective into the rich personal lives of their characters. “We take these things for granted and we think the larger world is more important,” Brown said. “They deal with more personal issues.”
An alumna of the SFU Theatre program, Brown began Ruby Slippers soon after graduation. Her goal was to present a diversity of voices in the works that she put on stage, and the company continues to produce plays that allow different, often unheard, perspectives to be shared.
She emphasized the fact that less than 30 per cent of the artistic directors and less than 20 per cent of the playwrights in Canada are women. Brown is proud to note that the majority of the playwrights in Ruby Slippers’ season are women, and that they are playing complex roles instead of those typically assigned to them.
Brown also thinks it’s incredibly important to share French Canadian stories with Vancouver. “They [Vancouverites] get enough English Canadian plays,” she said. “We really need a revolution. We need to start telling different stories.” Vive la revolution.
Ruby Slippers Theatre presents Après Moi and The List at Studio 16 from January 27 to February 1. For more information, visit rubyslippers.ca.