Halifax now has its first bilingual theatre production company, Théâtre DesAssimilés.
Founder Zac Comeau, a graduate of Dalhousie University’s Fountain School of Performing Arts, noticed a gap in the industry. Comeau is from a bilingual family with one English-speaking parent and one French-speaking parent.
“We all know Shakespeare,” said Comeau.“We don’t know many French theatre writers.”
He decided it was time to change this and he launched Théâtre DesAssimilés.
“Zac came up to my friend Olivier and I and proposed this idea, this crazy idea, of putting on a French play in Halifax, and it all evolved into having a company together,” said Marianne Labrie, co-artist, co-organizer and actor.
“We want to make our pieces bilingual,” said Comeau. “We want to find a way to bring French and English to life at the same time,” he said.
Comeau has been following the work of playwrights who write bilingual plays, like Overlap by Celeste Godin, which was performed in Moncton, N.B. The play “merged both French and English and made a truly Acadian piece,” said Comeau.
He was also inspired by British Columbia’s Théâtre La Seizième, which puts on French plays with English surtitles.
Similar to subtitles in a movie, surtitles are translated words projected on a screen next to the stage. Comeau will be using this method during his next play for audience members who only speak English.
The company’s first production, The Chairs by Eugène Ionesco, was performed entirely in French to a sold-out audience at The Bus Stop Theatre in December. Currently, they’re only performing classic French works but hope to also feature original productions by Nova Scotian playwrights.
“Part of the goal is to give a new life to the French community here,” said Comeau.“We want to make it a platform for French-language artists.”
Comeau also wants to foster a community through shared language, while still being inclusive of those who don’t speak the language.
“Our community involves people who are learning French, people who are from all different kinds of French-speaking areas of the world, and also … English-speaking Acadians who have been forgotten because they haven’t learned the language,” he said.
Within the company it’s a requirement for cast members to speak French, but not for crew members. Their costume designer only speaks English.
Théâtre DesAssimilés’ upcoming bilingual comedy fundraiser will be held Feb. 2 at Café Lara on Agricola Street.