A tribute to...
Sunday, April 14th, 2013
Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly. That is one of my favourite lines from a play. Zoo Story. Edward Albee. So, allow me, if I may, to go a very long distance out of my way. I promise to come back. Correctly, I hope.
I arrived here, at this University, in 1989. 18 years old. Barely. Straight from high school. Small town Ontario. Hockey hair. I was going to be a criminal lawyer. Ever since I was 5 years old, that had been the plan. I would take a theatre credit here and there. Just to fill out my criminology schedule.
You were on sabbatical. Fresh off directing The Seagull. Some guy named Chekhov wrote it, I had been told.
18 year old me wonders why you would perform some play by a dead Russian guy. You probably had your reasons.
I sluff my way through first year. Criminology, Sociology, a few other gees. My parents say that I am going to have to pick it up if I want to get into law school. I agree. I am going to do better in second year. To get into law school.
Second year. First semester starts to look a lot like first year. Maybe that’s not true. It’s over 20 years ago.
Second year, second semester. I am not sure why I signed up for this theatre history course. Sounds hard. Not good for my grades. The Seagull guy is coming to teach. I know he likes baseball. Maybe he is an Expos fan.
I will try and talk him up about that. Maybe see if it can help my grades.
First day. The Seagull guy has a well-worn baseball hat on. He has a stack of recipe cards in his hands. Wears a flannel shirt. Probably did something weird with his glasses.
A quick side note, I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I know that now. I am sure, 100% sure, that I knew that then. I just couldn’t say it out loud because I didn’t think that I could be good at making theatre, make a living at it, whatever that means. But that is what I wanted to do. More than anything. I just needed a push in the right direction. I ended up getting way more than that.
Baseball hat. Recipe cards. Flannel shirt.
Over the next four years, I learned from you that creating art is as much about commitment, rigour, respect, hard work and vision as imagination, creativity and a love of story-telling. In each class you taught, you challenged and inspired my classmates and I every step of the way. We had to defend our choices. Think them through. Go a bit further every time. Our rehearsals as actors, directors and designers were saturated with the lessons we were learning. We were, every wonderful step of the way, getting better at what we really wanted to do: make theatre and that, in large part, due to what we were learning from you. The month or so we spent in that post-apocalyptic basement, eating turkey, cleaning fish, breaking chairs and musing about the poet and the president was where I became convinced on what I needed to do with my career.
After four years, for many students, their journey ended there, degree in hand, with a shift of a tassel. But I got lucky. See, I found out, you can’t just push people in the right direction. You travel with. You never promised it was the right path but, no matter whether it was or not, you were not going to let myself (and others, because I know there are many others) go it alone. You let me know that I should be scared going down this path and that that was OK. You were one of the first to see me as young professional and for that, I will always be thankful.
You go beyond being a mentor. Beyond letters of references, beyond coming to see the productions outside these walls when almost no one else came and then coercing your current students to attend, a support for which I will never forget, beyond inviting me back within these walls trusting I would have something to say as an artist when I was not sure I would, beyond opening the doors to your home, to your office to listen, to advise, beyond not so chance meetings in Toronto or Vancouver or Ottawa, beyond lunches, dinners, the occasional glass of wine, beyond always making time, beyond friendship. Beyond all these things and yet all of these things at once.
I am so fortunate that you did not consider the act of teaching as having a finite time limit.
Now, 2013. 41 years old. Better hair, I like to think. A BC city is now home. I am not a partner in a law firm but my partner is a lawyer. Close enough I guess. But most importantly, I became who I wanted to be. And I cannot thank you enough for the part you played in helping me achieve that.
I can’t wait to see what is next for you my dear friend. I am sure that, whatever it is, it will inspire me. Even if it is a play by some dead Russian guy.
Artistic Director, Théâtre la Seizième, Vancouver (BC)
Sunday, April 14th, 2013
How the hell are you? I miss you on the 2nd floor.
Hey, I was in a 3rd year directing class the other day and your name came up. We were casting 40 actors for our final scenes in 3111 and I was having a terrible time remembering an actor’s name. On about a dozen occasions I said the name Ashley instead of the name Andrea, or something like that. My memory lapse occurred so many times it became a running gag in the class and one of the student’s remarked:
“Hey maybe you’re becoming the new P. Fro.”
First I was jealous that you had a cool nickname then flattered even by the awkward comparison. SO, fishing for the extra compliment I said: “what do you mean?”
The student replied:
“Well sometimes there were those moments in his lecture when mid-sentence, he would pause just long enough that we would think: “this is it, this is the moment that P-Fro has a stroke and we need to jump over the desk to help him”
That quote comes from Carleigh Clancy by the way. She’s graduating this year. Great kid.
Carleigh went on to explain that you and I often wear the same clothes: jeans, plaid shirt and black fleece vest. I don’t know what she’s talking about, but a tear came to my eye taking the comparison as a huge compliment. I think I will lobby for K. Fro to become my new moniker.
But seriously, truth be told Peter, I have spent many discussions with you also concerned that you were having a stroke. You know when someone is looking for a word and you jump into help. I do that with you only to be constantly delighted that my word choice is just wrong enough to be surprised by what you’re actually saying. And that is why I love you so damn much. You always surprise me. Just when I think I have your politics worked out; I discover that you hate them all. Just when your taste in theatre seems clear to me – you have enjoyed some dumb piece of junk because of some special moment, or wicked scene or silly song. Just when I think your pauses can’t go on for a full 90 seconds – bam - I have had time to finish my glass of Cabernet, and the oracle like predictions of a stroke once again has been averted.
Dear Peter: I love you so much. Remember our first date together way back in August 2002? I do. You told me that you were tired, stressed, nervous and uncomfortable about the future. I liked you right away. You welcomed me into the Department of Theatre saying, “we want you to question everything, we want your ideas, we want your energy, and we have been doing this so long we need a kick in the ass.” You were both vulnerable and full of vinegar at the same time. Peter, since that first coffee I have enjoyed countless planned and unplanned dates with you, each one special. You may not know it, but to me, our unplanned dates go something like this…
Setting: the second floor of academic hall
Time: 536pm. The office is closed; the hall lights are out, the floor seemingly abandoned. We’re alone at last. I am just finishing up one last email before heading home for 6pm dinner, when I see your shadow cross in front of my door. You are either heading to the bathroom or can’t find your office and I’m not sure. 5:38pm and you have gotten your bearings and are making your way back to your office. You pause in my doorway and say:
Can I ask you a quick question?
I arrive home at 737pm to a chorus of:
Why are you so late? What the hell Dad? Dinner is cold honey.
Peter stopped by for a chat, I say
“Ohh, right okay” My family nods knowingly.
Peter I love that a quick chat with your takes 90 minutes and each and every minute – brings pleasure to my life.
But, I have learned to grudgingly accept that I am not your only love, and that you have also shared your special brand of quixotic pleasure with thousands of students – or should I say; fans. The other day, I asked some of your fans to complete the following sentence: “When I think of Peter Froehlich I think (dot, dot, dot)”
Here’s what a few had to say:
Froehlich is a fuckin genius… I learned an enormous amount from him about theatre, life, art, – hell even being sexy. Not in a weird way. But seriously – genius
When I think of Peter Froehlich I think of the tedious assembly of fake cakes…icing and all
Mike MacAlister (props head for Three Sisters)
When I think of Peter I think of sweater vests, and cue cards, of a time in class when a phone went off and he paused pondering - then said: “do you hear that?” All of the class mutters yes. “Oh Good, then I’m not losing my mind.”
Dear Peter; you are not losing your mind, you lost it a long time ago. And I love what you have found in its place.
Listen, P. Fro I gotta go. I miss you so much. Don’t be a stranger. The students miss you too.
Are you free for a glass of wine next week?
I love you. Your friend,
PS: I would have killed to be in the class when you taught being sexy.
Hedwige Herbiet and Jean Herbiet
Presented in Academic Hall for the event organised by Tibor Egervari for the Department of Theatre on February 12th 2009.
(Co-initiator of the teaching of theatre at Ottawa University, friend and colleague of Hedwige and Jean Herbiet.)
Jean and Hedwige Herbiet arrived in Ottawa on April 2nd 1957 (according to documents kept by their daughter Isabelle Herbiet). Hedwige was 23 years old. In her suitcase, she carried a first prize in diction and dramatic arts from Brussels' Académie de musique et d'art dramatique. Jean was 27 and he had a certificate in administration from Brussels' Institut polytechnique, and training in diction and dramatic arts from the Institut belge du théâtre. He was also the founder of a company which functioned as a research and training studio where he worked on Molière's Le Malade imaginaire in a way that allowed each of the participants to explore many of the characters and to study different possible interpretations. This was where Hedwige and Jean met, and decided to marry and emigrate to Canada.
Settling in Ottawa, they quickly start gathering information on the local theatre scene. They quickly realize that the fabulous theatre years of Hull and Ottawa had ended with the Second World War, and the local artists were finding it very difficult to take the art of theatre to new heights. The Ottawa Little Theatre, on King Edward Avenue, did its best to present amateur productions in both French and English and to accommodate the first editions of the Dominion Drama Festival. The National Gallery was then located in the Victoria Building (now housing the Canadian Museum of Nature). There were no concert halls in Ottawa except for the Capitol cinema on Bank Street and high school auditoriums of 700 and more seats which were not necessarily fit for theatre presentations.
But Jean and Hedwige had come here to do theatre. They therefore decide to explore the region further. Jean writes: “Having rapidly, and by chance, solved our problems of domestic organisation and alimentary survival, I set out, with my wife Hedwige, to do the inventory of existing possibilities. At that time, five companies served the art of theatre: the Pont-Neuf with Jean Belleau, recently established in Le Grenier in Hull; the Dévots de la Rampe, directed by Pierre Patry; the École d'art dramatique de Hull, founded and directed by René Provost; the University of Ottawa's Société dramatique; and the student company at Collège Saint-Alexandre in Limbour” (bibliographical references are at the end of the text).
Jean and Hedwige quickly understood that it was the University of Ottawa that could provide them with the means necessary to do the theatre they aspired to. This institution had housed the Société des débats since its inception, directed until 1945 by Léonard Beaulne, actor and director extraordinaire, and then by Laurette Larocque-Auger (Jean Despréz), Hull born author and director, and by Florence Castonguay, a great pedagogue and teacher of diction. This Société, having changed its name to Société dramatique, then presented its annual productions in Academic Hall / Salle Académique, a venue of very interesting dimensions. But Jean and Hedwige had first of all to give proof of their talent, by presenting themselves “theatrically” to their new community. “We contacted Jean Belleau, who immediately accepted our offer to work with the Pont-Neuf…,” writes Jean. The repertoire of Québécois and international plays explored by this company interested them, as well as its artistic choices. And it was within this company that they would meet Jean-Louis Fujs, Gérard Gravelle, Aldo Marleau, Gilles Provost, and Jeanne Sabourin, their first and very faithful collaborators and allies.
Belleau also proposed that Hedwige and Jean give theatre classes. They gladly accepted and their success was such that the news of the quality of their work spread rapidly. In a few weeks, the number of their students grew from six to fifty-two. They gave classes in phonetics, diction, dialogue improvisation and mime.
Jean and Hedwige then set about to found the Théâtre de la Colline with Gilles Provost and to produce and present Le Mariage forcé by Molière and Mademoiselle Julie by Strindberg. These productions were seen by Father Bernard Julien, OMI, then chair of the University of Ottawa's Département de Français and an extraordinary champion of university theatre. He was quite impressed by the artistic quality of the work, and offered Jean the position of professor of phonetics and artistic director of the Société dramatique as of September 1958. From this date on, Jean and Hedwige would bring to Ottawa a new sense of excitement, innovation and quality that theatre lovers discussed with excitement.
Les Fourberies de Scapin by Molière
"Herbiet drew frequent applause for his histrionics, which included at one point the simulation of six different voices." The Ottawa Journal
"A great actor and a most competent director." Le Droit
Les précieuses ridicules by Molière
"The two précieuses, Hedwige Herbiet and Claire Major, and the two servants of the lovers, Jean Herbiet and Jean-Louis Fujs have kept their spectators in a gay and youthful atmosphere, each according to their talent, their personality, but with a homogeneity no doubt due to the director." Le Droit
Antigone by Jean Anouilh
"A thousand bravos to all the artisans of what was given for us to see, the most beautiful in the last few years on the stage of Salle Académique of Ottawa University. A tour de force. An action sustained until the end." Le Droit
Le Légataire universel by Regnard
"A show not to be missed." Le Droit
Tueur sans gages by Eugène Ionesco
"Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the University of Ottawa's Société dramatique has given a brilliant interpretation of Tueurs sans gages. This play is not easy. It is mainly composed of long scenes, dialogues and monologues, held together not by action but by verbal content."
Le Malade imaginaire by Molière
With sets, costumes and wigs, the production is presented to full houses and offered again the following week because too many spectators had been turned back at the doors.
In an interview given in 1972 and published in 1976 in Le Théâtre canadien-français, Jean retrospectively analysed his journey from the moment of his arrival in Ottawa. “It is useless to say that I have known collaborators, companies, failures, successes, comings and goings, conflicts, folklore, camaraderie, enmities. (…). We were not gentle with one another, but it was rarely nasty or malicious, and our small trifles and doings were recounted daily in Le Droit and brought about endless commentaries in our local theatre circles.”
As for Hedwige, she was now writing scripts for radio and television, acting in Strindberg's Mademoiselle Julie for the Théâtre du Pont-Neuf and La Maison de Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca for the Théâtre de la Colline. In 1959, she was hired by Radio-Canada-Ottawa for the television programmes “À vue d'oeil” and “À la carte”. She acted as researcher, animator, commentator and author of sketches. She also taught diction and initiation to dramatic arts at Pensionnat Notre-Dame de Lourdes and at the University of Ottawa. In 1960, she directed La Belle au bois by Jules Supervielle. Jean directed dramas for CKCH radio. He also wrote four television dramas for CBOFT, two of which were aired nationally. He interpreted eleven characters on stage while continuing to teach French phonetics, diction and dramatic arts at the University. From 1960 on, he would specialise in directorial work.
One has to remember that there were no direct links at that time between the training given at the university and the work required for the production of plays by the Société dramatique. The actors were referred to as “semi-professionals”, coming from the Ottawa-Hull community and from different university programs. The Société dramatique then functioned as do today's non-profit companies. Jean directed and designed the sets; Hedwige acted in all the productions with the intensity and the quality that always characterised her work. She also designed makeup and costumes, and supervised their realisation. She administered the very small budgets then available with an exemplary transparency, and publicized the productions. She established all the necessary links with journalists, guests, professors and high school teachers. She was responsible for the printing and selling of tickets, and most importantly, she coordinated the writing and illustration of the very elaborate programmes published for every major production. Professors from different disciplines contributed to these Cahiers, which gave the productions their visual signature and their theoretical frame.
But Jean and Hedwige nourished a very legitimate ambition. They wanted to show their productions on national and international tours. But at that time, only the most important productions from France and Montreal would take that kind of risk. Nevertheless, their dream would come true in 1963.They had in hand a production which had received excellent reviews: La Cantatrice chauve by Eugène Ionesco. In order to leave on a tour from the Atlantic to the Pacific, they co-founded the Théâtre des Deux Rives, a company with a constitution signed by its twelve members. The objectives were to “present good theatre, in French, in many cities from Ottawa to Vancouver”. Its members agreed to pay their share of expenses and, if the situation should arise, to benefit from the profits. I was then a member of the company and of the cast of this Ionesco production.
The company did leave on tour, first to Anglophone Ontario. We performed at the University of Toronto's Hart House Theatre where we were awarded the Special Honorary Award of the 13th National Festival of Interuniversity Theatre. We went on to McMaster University in Hamilton where “An enthusiastic full house of about 300 spectators received the play warmly. Several times they interrupted the Ionesco production with applause and at the end gave the French Canadian performers five curtain calls. […] The actors were so much of a team that it is difficult to single any one of them out,” wrote Rex Deverell in a local newspaper.
But instead of continuing on to Vancouver, the company did a complete turn east, all the way to Nancy (France), where they had been invited by Jack Lang for the second edition of his Festival mondial de théâtre universitaire. Our participation at this festival would confirm the talent of Jean Herbiet as director, and the professional scope of the company's work.
Six curtain calls for this show that will remain for us and for the public one of the most attractive moments, the most joyfull, of the festival, writes the journalist of Le Républicain Lorrain. And it is not the sets, nor the costumes nor the special effects that have contributed to our admiration. The merit of the company is therefore greater as it has manifested itself solely through its mise en scène, the intelligent understanding of the text and a very sure interpretation, percussive even.
We bring back to Ottawa the Festival's second prize, together with the gold medal of the Fédération des Sociétés françaises du théâtre amateur and the memory of a private meeting with Eugène Ionesco. In the above mentioned 1972 interview, Jean remembers:
I am happy with quite a few things, unhappy with many others. It is said that the best I have done is La Cantatrice chauve, presented in Nancy, and Le Roi se meurt. But one has to beware of theatre memories, as much as of childhood memories. It was never as beautiful as we remember and never as ugly… Great moments of theatre always occur in the encounters between a play, the way it is directed and a given public…
And he adds :”For La Cantatrice chauve, we had gone to the end of something, to the limit of the participants' possibilities, of the material means of the University of Ottawa”. To go “to the end of something”…”to the limit of possibilities”… was then and would remain the only way for Jean and Hedwige to engage in their work. It was their way of naming the prodigious creative energy and intelligence with which they always served theatre.
In 1965, they assessed their artistic work of the previous seven years: 21 productions, 18 plays, 1 recital, 2 conference presentations; 141 characters, 68 actors; 111 performances 95 of which were given in Ottawa and 16 in international venues; 30 000 seats sold, therefore 4,285 spectators a year, 2,142 per production and 270 per performance. Very rare were those who could say as much then. They nevertheless decided to:
- augment the quality of their productions;
- have a rigorous work discipline; and
- participate in festivals and conferences.
From 1965 to 1971, productions happened at a very impressive rate: Les Justes by Albert Camus, Comédie by Samuel Beckett, the world premiere of Jet de pierre by Paul Claudel, an Ontario and Québec tour with Georges Dandin by Molière, the television presentation of Pique-nique en campagneby Fernando Arrabal, the Canadian premiere of En regardant tomber les murs by Guy Foisy, Les Troyennes by Euripides for the Festival de théâtre expérimental organised during Expo 67, and alsoDis Joe by Samuel Beckett, Terre des hommes by Jean Herbiet, La Soif et la faim by Eugène Ionesco, Monsieur Fugue ou Le Mal de terre by Liliane Atlan and Victor ou Les Enfants au pouvoir by Roger Vitrac.
This artistic work, done without respite, accompanied the building of a solidly structured university programme in theatre, and of a reputation of quality which would extend to the artistic community, the theatre profession itself and the whole region.
In March 1970, Jean and Hedwige staged another grand premiere: the Comédie des Deux Rives was invited to the Studio of the National Arts Centre for the creation of Elkerlouille, a play written by Jean inspired by Elkerlick, a Flemish morality play of the XVth Century. He made of it an ironic comedy in four parts, performed like a series of circus acts, and set around the character of Pidouille, a man-clown distressed by the idea of death. According to Jean-Guy Sabourin, first director of Théâtre français at the National Arts Center,
There are few examples in the history of Canadian theatre where a professional company has invited a young company to take part in its season. We are doing it for many reasons. We want to pay homage to those who have prepared, maintained and developed the public before the opening of the National Arts Center. And the Comédie des Deux Rives is presently the oldest company active in the region […] Moreover, I sincerely believe in the work accomplished by the Comédie des Deux Rives directed with tenacity and intelligence by Jean Herbiet.
And what is theatre for Jean Herbiet? In a 1969 interview, given as he was directing Monsieur Fugue ou Le Mal de terre by Liliane Atlan, he explained the fundamentals of his choices.
I like plays that say things in a succinct fashion, very concisely, fast, without superfluous sentimentalism, but with strength, where essential questions are asked over and over. Plays which ask “why ?”. Why man ? Why suffering ? Why love ? When man is naked before heaven, raises his fist or lowers his head … the rest is not important.
And again: “It seems to me that I premeditated all that I was to do at the university. We had to establish theatre as I conceived it. See if it was possible. Make it happen with the means I had access to and which were extremely limited. […] We had to establish a theatrical tradition, start with the classics… Start with productions that were sure to please. It took some time for people here to accept… the kind of theatre that a University must do. Go right to the end… it is also an academic characteristic to go to the end of things… and I don't know if—for me—this is perfectionism… I have to find the essential… go right to the very end…”
In 1971, Jean became director of Théâtre français at the National Arts Centre, a position that he would hold until 1981. He would continue to do his creative work through his fundamental search for new languages for the theatre. His dramaturgical readings would each time go to the essential. With the puppet master Félix Mirbt, he created Woyzeck by Büchner (1974) and Le Songe by Strindberg (1977), productions which were to establish the NAC on the international scene. Afterwards, and for the next four years, he was general director of the Centre culturel canadien in Paris. When he returned to Ottawa, he reintegrated his favourite fields of mise en scène and teaching. For her part, Hedwige continued her work as actress, director, teacher, and author, maintaining a very close relationship to her artist friends in Ottawa and Gatineau.
Both of them, in different and complementary ways, were successful in having the University of Ottawa create and continuously improve programs for the training of theatre artists. It all started with the foundation of a department of Fine Arts of which Jean was interim director, and of an autonomous Theatre department (1979). Links were established and maintained with the professional practise of theatre, thus asserting the necessary relationship between university research and artistic creation.
Hedwige Herbiet and Jean Herbiet were full-fledged artists. They stand amongst the founders of theatre in the Ottawa valley. Their achievements are inscribed in the history of our local theatre which goes back to 1886. They have worked artistically to ensure the resurgence and survival of theatre in French in the Federal capital and to assert its place at the University of Ottawa.
Jean and Hedwige died in 2008: Jean in the evening of the 31st of March, Hedwige during the night of November 25th. They were our colleagues, and most of all, our friends.
Hedwige Herbiet February 28th 1934 – November 25th 2008
Jean Herbiet December 16th 1930 – March 31st 2008
Information and quotations are taken from articles and interviews published in Le Théâtre canadien-français, Archives des lettres canadiennes V, Fides, 1976; from the thesis written by Marcel Fortin, Le théâtre d'expression française dans l'Outaouais des origines à 1967, Université d'Ottawa, École des Études supérieures, 1985; and from programmes and other documents of the Comédie des Deux Rives kept in the Archives of the University of Ottawa and in the Centre de recherche en civilisation canadienne-française (Fonds Jean-Herbiet).
Publications by Jean Herbiet: Job's Kit (Leméac, 1967); Terre des hommes, (Leméac, 1967); La Rose rôtie (Leméac, 1972)
Tribute to Dominique Lafon and presentation of her writings
In one of the most beautiful essays in Roland Barthes’ The Rustle of Language, he writes that “one always fails in speaking of what one loves [emphasis added].”
But maybe, at root, speaking of those one loves, is essentially allowing oneself to scatter some words on the page, a sort of lexical sharing to avoid emotional illiteracy.
So I have written, even before telling you straightaway that on June 4, 2004, Dr. Lafon — who has always let me call her Madame Lafon — did me the exceptional honour of agreeing to supervise my PhD thesis, which she did brilliantly until I received my degree.
Her generous supervision, marked by sensitivity, intelligence, creativity and humour, made her not only a mentor but a model of excellence to me — inimitable, I know, for she seemed to me to be at the level of what Germaine de Staël calls la femme supérieure.
As well, I can’t hide from you how the pride and joy I feel have increased exponentially since I I’ve been able to consider this great “theatrical code” expert as one of my friends. A great expert, but also a great intellectual, and an outstanding reader to boot, because Madame Lafon has always been able to read me, to truly read the closed book that I thought I was.
Now it’s my turn to invite you to read and reread the works she has published over her career, which I’ve gathered in this display.
You can see just by looking the extent of her output, rich and abundant, but feel free to come and browse through the work again, for the pleasure of her delightful pen.
Some of these writings are from theatre studies, some from literature. They include:
- collections of works like the Archives des lettres canadiennes (published by Fides), or journals like L’Annuaire théâtral, which Dr. Lafon edited
- monographs she is sole author of, like Le Chiffre scénique dans la dramaturgie moliéresque), or is a lead author of, like Dramaturgies québécoises des années quatre-vingt
- articles published as forewords or chapters in collections or conference proceedings
- articles published in scholarly journals, such as L’Annuaire théâtral, Canadian Literature, Études littéraires, Protée, Voix et Images and Theatre Research International, and cultural journals like Jeu or Liaison
- contributions such as entries in the Dictionnaire des artistes du théâtre québécois or the Dictionnaire des œuvres littéraires du Québec (to name just two), forewords, reviews and theatre criticism
In closing, I have to tell you, dearest Madame Lafon, that my PhD years were the best years of my life — by far.
And if, through this short speech, I’ve vindicated Roland Barthes despite myself, please allow me to try again and explain that your unconditional support and infectious energy have often been a consolation to me through existential setbacks that I didn’t necessarily speak about openly.
Ottawa, Sunday, September 23, 2012
 This text is taken from a short speech that accompanied a display of writings, delivered during a tribute to Dominique Lafon at the Department of Theatre of the University of Ottawa September 22, 2012.
 Translated from Roland Barthes. Le Bruissement de la langue. Essais critiques, No. 4. Paris: Seuil, 1984, p. 333.
 de Staël-Holstein, Germaine (Madame de Staël). De la littératureconsidérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales. Eds. Gérard Gengembre and Jean Goldzink. Garnier Flammarion Texte intégral, no. 629. Paris: Flammarion, 1991 , p. 339.
 Dominique Lafon. Le Chiffre scénique dans la dramaturgie moliéresque. Paris/Ottawa: Klincksieck/University of Ottawa Press, 1990.
 Godin, Jean Cléo and Dominique Lafon. Dramaturgies québécoises des années quatre-vingt : Michel Marc Bouchard, Normand Chaurette, René-Daniel Dubois, Marie Laberge. Montreal: Leméac, 1999.
What do potato salad, baklava, and calamari have in common?
These are but a few of the food items which have, over the years, been served to audience members during intermissions of plays directed by Tibor Egervari. Why is this serving of food important? For Tibor, theatre is above all else an occasion for social interaction. And what better way to get audience members to interact socially than to have them break bread together? Sharing food and conversation along with the sharing of the performance.
Tibor Egervari was born in Hungary, and is a Holocaust survivor. His interest in theatre began at a very early age and has not diminished during the over six decades since. Tibor graduated from the Strasbourg École supérieure d’art dramatique, and it was in France that Tibor began his career as a director/metteur en scène. He came to Canada in 1965 and spent his first few years in Montreal as the assistant Artistic Director of the French acting program of the National Theatre School of Canada.
Tibor joined the Department of Theatre of the University of Ottawa in 1971, when the Department was in fact not yet even an official sector of Theatre, that step occurred in 1974, the first step for becoming a full-fledged Department in 1979, due in great part to the efforts of Tibor. It should be noted that Tibor was not only a Professor in the Department for over 30 years, he was also its chairperson for twelve years and served on many University committees where he was valued for both his dry wit and sage advice.
Shortly after his official retirement from the Department, Tibor was designated as Acting-Dean for the Faculty of Arts for a period of one year. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone who knows Tibor that his retirement would be a “retirement in name only”. He only retired “officially” at all because retirement at the age of 65 was still mandatory at the time.
Over the years Tibor has received much deserved recognition for his achievements and dedication to theatre and to education, among which are the distinction of being designated by the Ambassador to France as a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1990 and Officier des Palmes Académique in 1993. He also received the Professor of the Year award for the Faculty of Arts, in the year 2000.
While primarily a Metteur en scène, with the direction of countless plays to his credit, Tibor has also published articles in prestigious journals, contributed chapters to books, co-edited a book entitled 1956 – The Hungarian Revolution 50 Years Later, Canadian and International Perspectives which was the culmination of a symposium which he helped to organize in 2006. He wrote, directed and produced the play The Merchant of Venice in Auschwitz and, late in his career, undertook to direct the opera The Emperor of Atlantis by Viktor Ullmann, with book by Petr Kien.
Last, but not least, Tibor has been artistic director of three theatre companies including the Théâtre du Peuple de Bussang in France, and Théâtre Distinct/Distinct Theatre and Histrions both companies which were established in Ottawa by Tibor.
In closing, I would like to mention that if you were to google the name Tibor Egervari, as I did, 45,800 hits would appear in 0.33 seconds. I confess that I did not read every one of them. But I did read several and I would like to mention one in particular: Tibor was interviewed when he was producing his play “The Merchant of Venice in Auschwitz”….and when asked to speak a little about his artistic choices he stated quite simply “I am Jewish and I am a man of the theatre.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you my colleague, my mentor, my friend, your much deserving recipient of an Honorary Membership and “a man of the theatre” Tibor Egervari.
Margaret Coderre-Williams, Professor, Department of Theatre, University of Ottawa
Présentation de Tibor Egervari par Margaret Coderre-Williams
Joël Beddows' Tribute to Tibor Egervari Recognizing his Appointment as an Honorary Member of the Société québécoise d’études théâtrales
Dear friends, colleagues and Mr. Egervari,
I remember very clearly my first day as a professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Ottawa, and I especially remember the moment I was handed the keys to my new office: number 306.
It had once been the office where Mr. Egervari would welcome us, his students, to discuss and debate things like the role of the artist in society, the history of the theatre and aesthetics or—his first love—directing. It was the office where he used to “gently” admonish us and remind us of some of the University's rules: that we were not allowed to stay up all night in Academic Hall finishing the sets for one of our productions; that staging a play with a cast of 40 may not be very realistic; that we had to hand in our assignments on time, even during rehearsal and production time.
And yet, at the same time, his smile and his caring, fatherly countenance reminded us that we should always give in to our creative impulses. Like his students before and after us, we all understood at the time that, with his smile, he was giving us permission to explore our boldest, most daring ideas, because we knew that he was keeping a close, watchful eye on us, so we felt supported, and yes, loved. Like any good father, Tibor Egervari has always been extremely generous, a good listener and faithful to a pedagogical vision that has made him a mentor to multiple generations of creative souls. In fact, he has mentored many generations of teachers and instructors who are currently teaching in secondary schools, cégeps, community colleges and even universities all across Canada. His rich legacy goes far beyond that, since he also contributed to the development of a theatre community that was practically non-existent when he first arrived in his adopted country.
A Holocaust survivor originally from Hungary, Tibor Egervari earned a degree from the École supérieure d’art dramatique de Strasbourg and began his career in France. He served as Assistant Director at the École supérieure d’art dramatique de Strasbourg and as Director at the Centre dramatique de l’Est from 1960 until 1965. It was, in fact, in 1965 that he crossed the Atlantic and settled first in Montreal, where he joined the National Theatre School of Canada as Assistant Artistic Director of the French Section. A few years later, in 1971, he joined the faculty of the University of Ottawa, where he first taught in the “theatre section” before contributing to the creation of the Department of Theatre as an independent teaching unit in 1978.
With colleagues like Jean Herbiet, Hélène Beauchamp and Peter Froehlich, he developed one of the first study programs to focus on the importance of studying the history of theatre and directing as a practice at the very heart of theatre activities. In fact, thanks to Mr. Egervari, the Department of Theatre at the University of Ottawa was the first place in Canada where students could study directing. It is no coincidence that he was one of the main architects of the first graduate-level program created by the Department of Theatre in 2006, an MFA in Directing.
It is hard to dissociate him from his role as Chair of the Department, which he occupied for over 12 years. It was during his time as Chair that he diplomatically managed the situation when the very existence of this department was called into question by certain authorities within our institution. He has a tremendous ability to lead and bring people together, which has served not only our Department, but also the Department of Visual Arts during a major restructuring period from 2001 to 2003, as well as the Faculty of Arts in 2003-2004, once again during a period of transition.
Needless to say, his career as an artist has been every bit as rich as his career as an administrator and educator. A year after joining the University of Ottawa, he accepted the position of Artistic Director at the Théâtre du Peuple in Bussang, France, a theatre he led from 1972 to 1985, where he put his signature on many productions. Later, on Canadian soil, he founded Théâtre Distinct in Ottawa, which he led from 1988 to 1995 before founding another company, Les Histrions, which he led until it ceased operations in 2007.
Audiences here have enjoyed some memorable theatre moments courtesy of those last two theatre companies. In addition to his readings of classical plays staged by multiple generations of Franco-Ontarian and Quebecois performers at the National Arts Centre and many Ottawa museums, who could forget a radiant Terry Tweed playing the role of Winnie in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days in 2004 at Arts Court. Who could also forget the various productions of Merchant of Venice in Auschwitz presented in both Ottawa and Montreal, the play that has been such an integral part of his artistic journey. Many will also recall his staging of the opera The Emperor of Atlantis by Viktor Ullmann with a libretto by Petr Kien at TSP Halifax. Additionally, his productions for the Comédie des deux rives and the Drama Guild, the two official theatre companies of the Department of Theatre, have amazed audiences time and time again. Two in particular that come to mind are Racine's Iphigenia, which he staged in 1992, and more recently, his production of Woyzeck in 2009, which he staged as a tribute to his colleague Jean Herbiet, who had passed away the year before.
On the technical side, he has published articles and reviews in L’Annuaire théâtral, Theatre Research in Canada and Studying Theatre. He has also written chapters for books, such as Building History: The Shoah in Art, Memory, and Myth (2001) and Shakespeare and the Second World War (2012), to name just a couple. It would also be safe to say that he generally encourages the study of Hungarian theatre in Canada. He has presented many papers on the subject over the years, and he edited a series of three articles in the “Work and Practice” section of L’Annuaire théâtral 47. He was also a member of the organizing committee of the colloquium entitled 1956 – The Hungarian Revolution 50 Years Later, Canadian and International Perspectives in 2006. He co-edited a collection of articles based on the colloquium published by the University of Ottawa Press in 2010.
It is hardly surprising that his many accomplishments have been recognized by others before us. Among the honours and awards he has received over the years, I should mention that he was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1990, an Officier des Palmes Académiques in 1993, and he won Professor of the Year Award in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ottawa in 2000.
These days, I am no longer in office 306. I am now in office 208, the Department Chair's office—the other place I became acquainted with Mr. Egervari. Which is probably why, every morning, I think I still detect the faintest whiff of pipe tobacco. Perhaps I'm only imagining it, but I'm not about to complain or confirm either way. Unlike many people, I actually like the smell. It's reassuring. It's warm. It's generous. Just like Tibor Egervari.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the newest honorary member of the Société québécoise des études théâtrales—director, professor and researcher Tibor Egervari.
Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre,
University of Ottawa