McGill’s francophone theatre company, Franc-Jeu, has come into its own since its creation two-and-a-half years ago. Its latest production, Alter-Ego, was a testament to the progress that it has achieved over time.
Dramatic, emotional, and humorous all at once, Alter-Ego reflected on themes relevant to students. The play explored subjects including modern love and relationships, self-discovery, greed, and the quest for power. It gave spectators the opportunity to question each of these topics as they related to their own personal lives. The troupe achieved this by weaving together three different contemporary plays, making a unique plot with storylines playing off of one another. The plays’ focus on relatable themes were chosen intentionally, in line with the vision that Franc-Jeu has had from its outset.
“At Franc-Jeu, what we’ve always wanted to do is appeal to students, in the sense that it speaks to them in some way or another,” said Max Bouchaud, the director of Alter-Ego.
The various scenes were tied together by the character of the presentator, played by Yoav Hougui, who came on stage periodically with witty quips and musings. Hougui performed with incredible dynamism, providing comic relief in between poignant scenes while also prompting the audience to question the events that were unfolding throughout the play in each of the parallel stories. Six members of the troupe worked together, writing and rewriting dialogue for this role in an attempt to tie the various themes together, while still leaving the interpretation up to the audience.
The entire cast brought energy and passion to their roles, often fueling dramatic exchanges. In one scene, the character of Leah, played by Clarisse Artoré, wielded a knife at her boyfriend Mark, played by Pierre Gugenheim, as strobelights flashed, making the whole theatre feel as though it was trembling along with the glinting dagger.
Creative use of lighting and music, and the addition of videos projected onto the wall of the theatre complemented the scenes well, while the minimalistic set design fit the mood of the play and kept the focus on the actors. These aspects, in addition to the contemporary nature of the play’s subject matter, provided a fresh take on student theatre.
“The role of the company is to rejuvenate the image of theatre on campus, and to open theatre to the largest portion of students possible,” Victor Gassman, founder of Franc-Jeu, said. “We’re obsessed with people who see theatre as boring or would never go see a play. We want to break down these stereotypes.”
This focus on changing outdated perceptions of theatre has been another aim of Franc-Jeu. While trying to come up with a logo for the company, Gassmann realized that many of his peers held antiquated ideas about acting and theatre. Alter-Ego seeks to inject innovation and enthusiasm into each of their plays. A key part of doing so is promoting collaboration among all participants.
“What I like about Franc-Jeu and Alter-Ego, especially, […] is there is complete freedom [to do] whatever you want […], but also [being asked] what are your ideas about the show and to discuss about it,” said Enzo Constantin who played the role of Theo Jansen, an exuberant businessman and career coach. “Everyone was able to say something and really participate in it.”
Franc-Jeu also seeks to engage as many students as possible through bi-weekly workshops that are catered towards beginners.
“A lot of times people say, ‘I love theatre but I’m a beginner, so I wouldn’t do an audition,’” Gassman said. “Workshops are kind of the passage between the two. We give them confidence to do a real play.”
While attracting student interest is not an issue for Franc-Jeu, the group does struggle with certain logistical aspects of running a large-scale theatre company on campus—namely, securing a space to rehearse.
“There’s a lot of people that want to do theatre,” Bouchaud said. “If we could have access [to a room] for only one week a year, I’m sure so many francophones could enjoy this opportunity to express themselves.”
Currently, Franc-Jeu rehearses for their plays in rooms that they book in the SSMU Building, often at inconvenient hours.
“We can organize a play like this, but it’s not sustainable,” said Gassmann. “The idea for next year is, now that the company has [grown] since two and a half years, it’s to implant it in the university, keeping in mind our focus and desires.”