November 2020 update on live performances and events at the NAC.

A conversation with Brigitte Haentjens about Pour en finir avec Octobre?

October 2020. On the stage of Le Diamant in Quebec City, it’s a rare day of activity in this fall of cultural scarcity. For the past week, the set has felt like a radio studio, with 20-odd microphones set up to capture the epilogue of Pour en finir avec Octobre?, an eight-episode podcast written by Brigitte Haentjens and Sébastien Ricard.

It’s also the end of the production marathon that allowed us to create this poetical-political sound epic, which I co-directed at the Scène nationale du son. The day after the eighth episode went online and a few hours before the live presentation of the epilogue, I sat down with Brigitte Haentjens backstage at Le Diamant to round out this artistic adventure.

JULIEN: Brigitte, for the past six months you’ve been working intensely on Pour en finir avec Octobre?. What was the creative impetus behind this project?

BRIGITTE: The impulse is linked to the past and to my long association with Sébastien Ricard, which began almost 18 years ago. Political subjects are always at the heart of our ideas and discussions. Together, we came up with the Moulin à paroles1 (2009) and Nous? (2012), which were key moments; and every time, we questioned ourselves because we were always a little disappointed when the project ended!
 
And so now, in the year of the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis, we were looking for an original way to commemorate that event. At the same time, we didn’t want to make a historical, journalistic and pseudo-objective documentary. Because it’s clear that some journalists claim an objectivity that’s completely hypocritical.

JULIEN: The subjectivity of history and the way it’s written are also very interesting.

BRIGITTE: Exactly! As if there were only one way to look at it. In our discussions, what excited us the most was saying, “Okay, this is a bright time, because it’s always shown as a dark time.” So that was the challenge.

JULIEN: The Moulin à paroles was in 2009. Episode 4 of Pour en finir avec Octobre? looks back at the context, the significance and the impact of the October Crisis. The approach to both is similar in some ways. In terms of the creative process, what has changed between 2009 and 2020?
 
BRIGITTE: I find it’s getting worse. I feel like I have an increasingly heavy lead cloak on my shoulders. That’s the notion of venturing into new territory. I, of course, always have a kind of reference because I arrived in Quebec—in Ontario, rather—in 1977. I find that between the time I arrived and now, things have changed considerably. Maybe because I’ve achieved some kind of distance.
 
JULIEN: How have things changed?

BRIGITTE: I would qualify it this way: with the disappearance of joie de vivre. It’s purely instinctive. When I lived in France, my image of Quebec was a place of joy and excitement. It was a form of innocence, a form of pleasure, of openness, without it being in any way derogatory. That, I think, has disappeared. Then—as Sébastien says in the epilogue—with October 1970, Quebec lost its innocence. I think that’s true, and that something vanished. There are discussions that are no longer possible, there are terms that can no longer be used. Well, obviously, we’re not in the same situation now as in the years leading up to the 1970s. Things aren’t the same; basically, oppression has changed its form, but it’s still there.
 
JULIEN: Brigitte, over the past few weeks we’ve worked closely together on this podcast. Was it very different from your usual work in the performing arts? How did you find the digital experience?

BRIGITTE: Yes and no, basically, because for me it’s not that different! Well, it’s another form, but for me, there is no definite form! Basically, each time I try to renew the form of the show I’m creating. For me, things always have to have depth and meaning, they always have to revolve around meaning, whether it’s a podcast or a live performance. I haven’t felt and I don’t perceive any difference! Fundamentally, it’s always the same thing: it’s creating a work that is coherent, that has depth, that is not superficial.
 
JULIEN: And I have to say you have an ear for radio: you listen to the radio a lot, and to a lot of podcasts!

BRIGITTE: I’m a big fan of radio, I listen to podcasts, so this project really interested me. The only difference is, for example, when we were recording in the studio, you were the boss! And that was just fine with me. Usually, I’m the one giving the instructions, but in this case I enjoyed getting involved, being directed. You know, our field—the performing arts—is a collaborative one. Unlike, say, a painter who is all alone in the studio looking for the diamond, we work together: in theatre, that’s how it is. So we’re always sensitive to the input of others, always trying to make sure their contribution is a good fit with the work. That’s it! This experience has made me want to do more podcasts!

(In French only)

This interview is a also a podcast. Find it here (In French only)

Listen to Pour en finir avec octobre? here (In French only)

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[1]. Le Moulin à paroles est un projet artistique qui visait à retracer l’histoire du Québec pour commémorer autrement la bataille des Plaines d’Abraham. L’événement, qui a pris la forme d’une suite de lectures publiques, s’est déroulé sur les Plaines d’Abraham, à Québec, les 12 et 13 septembre 2009.


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