Originally from Charlevoix, director Yves Desgagnés is working to realize an old dream: the construction of a theater in the heart of his native village. If the Théâtre des Éboulements project materializes, it will be the first professional theater company in the region.
“There is no theater in Charlevoix. There are none in Baie-Saint-Paul, La Malbaie or Tadoussac. To see theater, you have to go to Quebec,” notes the actor, met by La Presse in April, to reveal all the details of his project. A state of affairs that is likely to change soon.
For more than a year, with his partner and co-CEO, Isabelle Ouellet, Mr. Desgagnés has been fine-tuning the business model for the future Théâtre des Éboulements and seeking financing. In addition to opening a performance hall, the actor wants to make the Théâtre des Éboulements a creative center for the living arts; a place where we will offer workshops, in-game internships, seminars and artist residencies.
Yves Desgagnés turned 65 last January. “I am, as they say, ‘in my last stretch. I am old enough to pass on a legacy to younger generations. However, what I want to leave to my village, to my region, is my inexhaustible love of the theatre. »
As for many artists, the pandemic has turned the career of the director, who was also a consultant for the former Prime Minister Pauline Marois, from 2012 to 2014 upside down. During the confinement, the Théâtre du Rideau Vert canceled, at three revivals, the creation of his staging of The Long Journey into Night. At the beginning of the year, he decided to sell his condo in downtown Montreal, in order to move permanently to Les Éboulements, where he owns a house and a paint studio.
As a result, he bought an English-style ancestral home, with round skylights, on the route du Fleuve, where he plans to open his theater. Built in 1860, this house has over time housed a fashion boutique, a general store, a funeral home, a confectionery… It has been unoccupied since 2020.
The cost of the project is estimated at approximately $2 million. The house would be completely restored and would retain its original character. The work includes adding an extension to erect the stage cage and constructing a 110-seat walk-in hall. The scenographers Roxanne Gariépy and Xavier Mary drew up the plans for the hall and its outbuildings.
“I’ve always loved the mystery of Italian-style theaters,” says Desgagnés. I like these old rooms more than the open, modern studios that have become the norm. »
Yves Desgagnés sees the Théâtre des Éboulements as an “actors’ house”: “Like [all things considered] the Actors Studio in New York. A place where the best actors in Quebec can give workshops on the alexandrines of Racine, for example. In addition, the programming will be decided by (and for) performers. If Maude Guérin or Sandrine Bisson dream of playing Phèdre, they can do so at Les Éboulements. »
The Théâtre des Éboulements would be open year-round. It would also offer a youth component, with school mornings for students from schools in the region. Desgagnés entrusted the supervision to the actress Valérie Blais.
Desgagnés’ partner in the project, Isabelle Ouellet, lives in Les Éboulements and is on its board of directors. “Isabelle [Ouellet] is a lawyer and she has a master’s degree in cultural enterprise management,” says Desgagnés. We toured the organizations for grant applications. It’s a very long time to get answers. »
According to the man of the theater, patronage is not in the mentality in Quebec. “Recently, we have seen new donors sensitive to this reality. However, in the past, Francophones had no money. As they get rich, they tend to look at their bank account, marveling at a big amount with lots of zeros! In Jewish or Anglo-Saxon communities in Canada and the United States, wealthy people redistribute more of their wealth and make bequests for culture and the arts! »
Desgagnés’ dream is also to celebrate the arrival of a new generation of major donors who would support drama companies in Quebec…outside the major centres.