An astounding urban walkabout at the corner of Bélanger Street and 2nd Avenue. A blistering attack on the empty talk and pious hopes of living together in harmony.
Like many, Jean-François would like to believe in living together in harmony. Through an alter ego moulded by the everyday cowardly acts of the middle class, the actor and writer J-F Nadeau, accompanied by a hideous doll and swept along by the ferociously mocking funk music of Stéfan Boucher, takes the audience on an astounding urban walkabout. On a street corner near his home he learns the hard way that racism is quite insignificant compared to the indifference that is the first rule of social peace.
Inspired by psycho-geography, which questions the effect of the geographical environment on the individual, Nadeau and Boucher wildly and playfully dissect the commercial section of Bélanger Street at the corner of 2nd Avenue, where businesses from diverse cultures stand side by each in unwavering mutual ignorance. Expressed in spectacularly rhythmic language, it is a blistering attack on our empty talk and pious hopes.
Produced by La Tourbière
Written by J-F Nadeau
Directed by J-F Nadeau + Stéfan Boucher
Performed by J-F Nadeau + Stéfan Boucher + Olivier Landry-Gagnon
Music flone: Stéfan Boucher + Olivier Landry-Gagnon
Voice Gisèle Kayembe
Set Design Jonas V. Bouchard
Costume and Props Design Elen Ewing
Lighting Design, Assistant Director and Stage Manager Jeanne Fortin-L.
Video Geneviève Albert
Outside Eyes Madeleine Péloquin
Advisors Jean-Philippe Pleau + Marie-Sophie Banville
Technical Director Martin Mantha
Production Director Rachel Gamache
Diction Training Marie-Eve Pelletier
Co-produced by Festival TransAmériques
Presented in association with Centre du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui
Written by Paul Lefebvre
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Premiered at Festival TransAmériques, Montreal, June 2, 2018
J-F Nadeau (Montreal) La Tourbière
An actor and atypical artist, creator of shows that are well-considered, playful and always unsettling, J-F Nadeau is a cinema and communications graduate of UQAM (1998) who also studied at the Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Montréal (2002).
His works incIude P.R.O.U.N. (2004), Sac à sacs (2009), Le chaperon est-il si rouge que ça ? with David-Alexandre Després (2012) and AVALe (in collaboration with the collective Joe Jack et John, 2013). He has written scripts for television shows aimed at young audiences (Tactik) as well as a philosophy game for mobile apps, Le cancer du temps (NFB, 2014). Since 2011 he has been a member of the political humour group Les Zapartistes. In 2015 he created with Stéfan Boucher Tungstène de bile (based on his poetry anthology, Éditions de L’Écrou), an entertaining and alarming exploration of ordinary alienation and everyday violence.
Stéfan Boucher (Montreal) La Tourbière
The very versatile Stéfan Boucher has a B.A. in musical performance from McGill University (1991).
He composes music for theatre, dance and circus shows, and also for cinema and television. His music plays with electronic experimentation and song and is muscular and pulsating, with rousing leitmotifs.
He has often worked with choreographers, including Frédérick Gravel (Ainsi parlait…, FTA, 2013, and Tout se pète la gueule, chérie, FTA, 2010), and Dave St-Pierre (Foudres, Fake, Bastard-Macbeth and Parachute), as well as the theatre directors Jean-Frédéric Messier, Angela Konrad, Stéphane Crête, Marie Charlebois, Brigitte Poupart and Marc Beaupré, for whom he recently created the soundtrack for L’iliade at Théâtre Denise-Pelletier.
With Tungstène de bile, your first joint venture in 2015, you presented a devastating philosophical-political-social cabaret. Where do you hope to go this time with Nos ghettos?
J-F Nadeau: We want to talk about living together in harmony and its underlying hypocrisy. We hear the fine talk and agree with it, but what we see in fact is that we arrange our lives to limit any contact with those whose language, skin colour or cultural origins are not the same as ours. Initially we see ourselves as acting in good faith, and I wrote a first version of the text where I showed the duplicity of leftists, denouncing the deception of right-thinking people.
In short, I placed others on trial. That approach had an unexpected result, in that it forced me to face my own cowardice. I realized that I am not a passive victim of incommunicability, but on the contrary I exude it. In my day-to-day relations with others, I avoid encounters. And that cowardice is shameful because it is a matter of choice.
When we discovered the work of the psycho-geographer Guy Debord, who studied the specific effects of the geographic environment on the emotions and behaviour of individuals, our work began to take shape, in particular the idea of idle strolling or drifting. We were also inspired by psycho-geographers like Ian Sinclair, and by James Joyce’s Dubliners and the little-known Rue des maléfices by Jacques Yonnet.
Stéfan Boucher: Attacking our duplicity is not as easy as all that; you plunge into a parallel world where everything is coated in Vaseline, a bit like Dostoyevsky’s The Double. And in that parallel doppelgänger world, we invented a walkabout — an aimless urban stroll — for the main character.
Why Nos ghettos?
J-F N.: Because we spend more time remaining isolated than we do encountering the other. We live in isolation, cut off from others, firmly entrenched in the couple, the home, our business, our neighbourhood, our country. Even in art, in theatre, poetry and dance. A ghetto is a space where people — generally ethnic or religious minorities — live in isolation, and either they are forced to do so or they elect to do so. To my mind it is the incarnation of a desire not to encounter the other, whether that desire comes from the individual, the majority or from minorities.
One day I realized that my immediate neighbourhood — the corner of Bélanger Street and 2nd Avenue, a city planning disaster — was full of ghettos. That realization occurred when I went into a Guatemalan grocery store on the corner and I was made to feel that I didn’t belong there. Each local business is a little ghetto. For example, there is a barber shop frequented only by Haitians and Dominicans, a Congolese grocery store where the only customers are Congolese and Cameroonians, a hairdressing salon whose only clients are Haitian women, next door to another hairdresser’s whose only clients are retired white women.
The show documents with precision that geography, which serves as an anchor. In the beginning I provoked encounters, but they ended up being non-encounters. I realized that all these worlds co-exist, each unconcerned about the others, an indifference encouraged by the majority and by minorities.
S. B.: Insisting on an encounter is a sort of violence. This show takes on the classical form of Homer’s The Odyssey. It is the story of the travels of a man who encounters obstacles on his way back home. Such tales are quests. Obstructed by a dreadfully ugly doll given to him by his neighbour, his task is to bring home a loaf of sliced white bread, a can of pea soup and some sliced cheese.
It is a ludicrous quest told in an intrinsically musical, rather funky style where the music reveals metaphorical, symbolic and primitive dimensions. But it’s also the whining white man’s blues, the complaint of the pampered. From the psychoanalytical perspective, the music is a bit of the superego in an epic where a doll day plays a key role.
Where does this odyssey lead?
J-F N.: I didn’t want a fiction that ends up with a “We are the World” sort of song. It’s absurd to claim that we’re all part of the same pizza, and in no way am I speaking in favour of a homogenization of society. I’m talking about encounters. It’s important to determine whether we wish to encounter each other or to unite as one. I know that by playing the other, whether he or she be Chinese, Congolese or Guatemalan, I risk being accused of cultural appropriation. But since I’m doing it from my own coward’s point of view, and my representations of those others is based on respect and observation, I’m assuming the risk.
S. B. To observe is to disturb.
« Tungstène de bile […] est entre autres cela : une cour de récréation pour adultes où fusionnent poésie, théâtre et musique. Une hybridité embrassée, revendiquée. »
François Lévesque, Le Devoir, 2015-03-14, à propos de Tungstène de bile
« C’est un spectacle complet, sensible, drôle et dynamique que livrent ici Nadeau et Boucher avec une interaction intelligente autant entre l’auteur et le musicien qu’entre les mots du bouquin et la scène. »
Fabien Deglise, Le Devoir, 2015-03-19, à propos de Tungstène de bile