Crow’s Theatre and Théâtre français de Toronto/Singulières, written by Maxime Beauregard-Martin, directed by Alexandre Fecteau, Guloien Theatre, Streetcar Crowsnest, June 2 to 10 (live), June 11 to 26 (digital streaming). Tickets available here.
It seems that every documentary theatre I’ve ever seen comes with a huge and complicated set, and Singulières is no different. In fact, the stage looks like a dog’s breakfast of randomly scattered technical equipment and set pieces when you enter the theatre. Nonetheless, everything makes sense once the play begins, coupled, as it is, with a fascinating examination of Québecois single women in their 30s and 40s.
Director Alexandre Fecteau is becoming something of a king of Quebec documentary theatre. It was his idea initially to make singulières a subject for a play, and he brought in writer Maxime Beauregard-Martin. The result is a compendium of the interviews the men did with single women over a two-year period.
And here is something I didn’t know, which explains Fecteau’s interest in singulières.
The immigrants who originally settled in New France brought with them the traditions and rituals surrounding the vielle fille or old maid. On St. Catherine’s Day/Old Maid’s Day, November 25th, unmarried women 25 years old and over were honoured. These Catherinettes, as they were called, asked the saint for help in finding husbands, because if they waited too long, like over 30, they would have to don the “St. Catherine’s bonnet” and officially become spinsters or old maids.
While the ritual has become a fun day in France and Quebec, there is still a stigma surrounding those women who are in a celibate state. (In French, celibacy seems to refer to a life without men, not a life without sex.) In some quarters, these women who are not wives and/or mothers are regarded as lesser vessels, so Fecteau wanted to dig down into the lives of these singulières who are defying existing and deep-rooted Catholic and Québecois conventions.
There are five main characters, although we also meet other singles. Joèlle (Frédérique Bradet) wants to adopt a child from Haiti. Rose (Savina Figueras) is a feminist student who was sexually abused in her past. Jordan (Danielle LeSaux-Farmer), who is Jewish, works for her family’s commercial interests. Zaya (Eva Saïda) is a Muslim woman negotiating the slippery slope of dating Québcois men, while Nathalie (Sophie Thibeault) is an artist and writer.
The format of the play is mind-blowing, as it is built around interviews with these women, with all the actors taking turns performing the role of the male interviewer. The actors also man the cameras and microphones, and position the maquettes which provide scenography. There is a tiny carousel which contains slices of rooms where interviews take place. Green-screen technology is used to provide background. Above the stage is an ongoing video of what is being recorded. As a very humorous side-note, Fecteau refers to these extra demands on the actors as “related tasks”.
A brilliant conceit is including old documentary footage from the 50s (or so it looks) where people are asked whether the concept of the old maid still exists. Some of the answers are downright hilarious.
While there are surtitles on a screen, patrons can also opt for 3D Smart Glasses which contain the text. In other words, you can read them in front of your eyes while you watch the video or the action on stage. The words of the surtitles are brought to you, as it were, and I loved them.
While I agree, to a certain extent, with the director and writer, that these women are pursuing their lives by defying the female stereotypes of traditional Québec values, and yes, that they are also redefining what it means to be a single woman in Québec today, I’m not sure that the five woman (and the others) are living the single life with “joy and purpose” and finding “fulfillment”. Some of them are definitely on the melancholy side of things, but admittedly, none of them seem to be ladies-in-waiting for a man.
Kudos to Fecteau’s talented creative team (who seem to be mostly women) — Ariane Sauvé (set), Jeanne Lapierre (costumes), Stéphane Caron (music), Chantal Labonté (lighting) and David B. Ricard (video projections). We also have to give a shout-out to the men who actually make the show run in all its complexities — stage managers Keven Dubois and Fabien Locas, sound manager Nicolas Désy, and finally, Billy Bergeron who is both technical director and production manager.
What director Fecteau and writer Beauregard-Martin, the talented actors, and their behind-the-scenes colleagues have achieved is a live-documentary happening before our eyes. It is well and truly a technical tour de force and a coup de théâtre.
(Singulières was originally produced by le collectif — Nous sommes ici and Théâtre La Bordée, both of Québec City, and Théâtre Catapulte, Ottawa-Gatineau.)
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