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"I had a terrible time in class, and when I got home at night I was completely free. I thought only of my puppets, my marionettes, which I dressed up in imitation of the plays I had seen."

Yves Saint Laurent, Fashion Designer

FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, BABEL IS BACK HOME AT THE MAISON THÉÂTRE! Premiered in 1999, Marie-Louise Gay’s play Le jardin de Babel is back in town and is taking the stage at Montréal’s Maison Théâtre from Sept 24 to October 12, 2014. After a journey full of twists and turns, coming back to the Maison Théâtre is like finding your pillow after being away a long time: it’s comfortable, pleasant, and feels sooo good!

For the past 40 years, Théâtre de l’Œil has focused on building a puppet theatre repertoire in which Le jardin de Babel figures prominently. As André Laliberté says, “Its lively and surprising writing style and its carefully crafted visual appeal make it a work that has stood the test of time, able to entertain many generations of children... and their parents.”  This is why the company is pleased to announce that it will be offering the show for the 2015-2016 touring season. Attention all presenters: don’t miss your chance to (re) discover the show during its stay at the Maison Théâtre.

Babel could very well be Sacha’s and Stella’s little brother. Sacha and Stella are Marie-Louise Gay’s most famous characters (so famous that they’ve been “postmarked” by Canada Post!). With his curly lock in the wind and never short for words, this funny little fellow truly gets an eyeful in his extraordinary garden where sheep graze on clouds and rabbits sprout like carrots. Even a fishing hole can hold its lot of surprises: when Signor Rapini catches not a fish, but a mythical, blue-bearded dwarf that turns out to be the king and father of a princess tormented by an evil spell, well, Babel and a sheep named Marcelle muster up their courage and rush headlong into a fantastic adventure where princesses are not always charming.

The show’s puppet and set designer as well as playwright, Marie-Louise Gay, has penned a poetic and playful story that takes the viewer into a world where the marvellous rubs shoulders with the silly and where rhymes and wordplay are punctuated by a musical score by Libert Subirana that toys with some of the best-known children’s songs.

Le jardin de Babel’s stage director, André Laliberté, chose to work with rod puppets. The puppets are built around a central rod, while other smaller rods are used to manipulate various parts of the body or connected stage props. Hidden behind an ingeniously designed three-level set, one and sometimes several manipulators bring the puppets to life. My! My! Did we just call them Manipulators? They’re much more than that. They are true puppeteers since they are also offering a live performance of the script!


“This topsy-turvy world gets a smile out of everyone and the sense of wonder is at its peak when the characters dive to reach the king’s palace, and their underwater travels are presented with the help of a skillful shadow theatre presentation. Entering the king’s palace through the bathtub drain is also quite a clever choice.”

Frédérique Doyon, Le Devoir, Montréal, Octobre 2, 2014

 “As with almost every children’s play, Le jardin de Babel seems to have found the secret to eternal youth. Fifteen years after its creation, Théâtre de l’Œil’s 20th production hasn’t aged a bit and is still as delightful as always. ”

Daphné Bathalon, Mon(Theatre) Montréal, September 29, 2014.

Children’s book author and illustrator, Marie-Louise Gay has published over 60 works and has received every major children’s literature prize, including the Governor General’s Award (3 times!), the Mr. Christie’s Book Award, and the Vicky Metcalf Award for her body of work.

Le jardin de Babel is her third collaboration with Théâtre de l’Œil, after Qui a peur de Loulou? in 1993 and Bonne fête Willy in 1988. We asked Marie-Louise how she felt as she watched us bring her play back to life one hot August afternoon during a rehearsal at the Théâtre de l’Œil studio. 

Babel and Marcelle – Making sense of absurdity

“Babel, the little gardener, and Marcelle, the sheep, come from vastly different worlds,’’ says Marie-Louise Gay, with obvious glee. “Even though they may be strangers, they recognize and accept their differences as they get to know each other. Babel has to deal with absurd and whimsical events. At first, he’s suspicious with his preconceived notions. However, when he spots a sheep grazing on clouds, he decides to accept what’s going on: it MUST be true, since it’s happening right before his eyes! He has this beautiful child-like ability to accept that the rules have changed, and to ignore his previous reasoning. I believe this is how children embrace life, by looking at things and not really understanding them. We adults are more rational, and have a hard time setting aside what we know in order to discover and understand new concepts.

Marcelle asks simple and direct questions, just like a child would, because she wants to better understand the world around her: What is Earth?, she asks. And Babel answers: It’s round just like an orange. – Ok, but what’s an orange?... Such dialogue shows children how things can be very different, depending on our point of view and what we already know. It also shows them how to articulate an idea. But I’m not thinking about all this when I’m writing. It isn’t intentional. I simply dive into a world where I can avoid all the obstacles adults impose on themselves. Where everything is possible, even invisible elephants! I can tell any story I like... but it has to be a good story! And there must be some reason in an absurd setting; otherwise no one would believe any of it. We have to make sense out of absurdity.’’

The scary scene

“I wrote the scene during which Babel and Marcelle confess their fears without truly understanding its potential impact,’’ says Marie-Louise Gay. “When I first saw it on stage, I was flabbergasted by what was going on! Babel was afraid of the dark and Marcelle was afraid of red wool socks. We can all find other people’s fears ridiculous, but every fear is valid. At that very moment during the performance, the theatre is absolutely quiet...”

A finely crafted and challenging story

Le jardin de Babel is a treasure trove of amusing and poetic wordplay, rhymes, alliterations, and other expressions of the joy of writing. Marie-Louise Gay explains: “I’m going against the current trend that says we should only give children “age-appropriate” books. Authors are asked to write short sentences, with only a few, simple words. I believe that even if children don’t understand a pun or an expression, it doesn’t matter; it stays with them. And the day they see or hear this expression again, it already has a familiar feel. They can also figure out the meaning of words from the context, or discover it on their own. I prefer to offer them more, not less.
I know that some teachers rack their brains, and think that they must explain everything. I don’t agree. That’s the difference between the pedagogue and the poet...’’

(Interview by Michelle Chanonat)


Sur 3 pattes / 3-Legged Tale in Asia

Sur 3 pattes/3-Legged Tale’s visit to China and Taiwan was peppered with ups and downs of all sorts. Even the weather did its best to create lasting memories for the merry band from Montréal: a typhoon warning disrupted the set’s delivery schedule and forced the cancellation of a visit to the Lin Liu-Hsin Puppet Theatre Museum. Boohoo! Further collateral damage: the Canadian Trade Office’s reception, where many theatre professionals were expected to attend, also had to be cancelled.

Everywhere, from Guangzhou to Chiayi, the show was very well received. The young ones really appreciated the story of a curious and somewhat egocentric squirrel and an ant that flies away on a bubble gum balloon. As they walked out of the theatre, you could hear them giggle as they mimicked the squirrel’s “sta moé, sta moé’’ and the ant’s “Oh noooon!’’, just like Québec children... The numerous adults having attended the shows especially appreciated the staged poetic imagination.

Creative and professional get-togethers were held in every city on the tour. They offered puppeteers a chance discuss their art with other professionals and compare work, tour, and production methods. The Taipei Children’s Arts Festival organized a trip to Yilan, on the Pacific coast, to visit the Taiwan Theatre Museum (this visit wasn’t cancelled!).  The festival also organized a meeting with Madam Chia-yin Cheng, artistic director of the Taiwanese company The Puppet & Its Double Theater, and a visiting professor, Alice Therese Gottschalk, a string marionette specialist from Germany. Needless to say, the conversation was fascinating!

And much to Jocelyne’s surprise, she found herself in familiar territory as she met with presenters who had seen Le Porteur/The Star Keeper at puppet festivals in Germany (2000), the Netherlands (2009), Spain (2011), and Denmark (2013). And finally, our many meetings with theatre and festival directors bode well for happy developments in the coming seasons.

If you haven’t had a chance to see 3-Legged Tale, it will be performed again on April 14th and 15th at the Maison culturelle et communautaire de Montréal-Nord.

Le Porteur / The Star Keeper, 17 years old already!

Tireless Le Porteur / The Star Keeper continues its travels, quite proud of its worldwide reputation. The show will enjoy a six-town tour of the Maritimes in March 2015. It will travel to Sudbury in April and then take to the stage in May at the PlayhouseSquare International Children’s Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. All in all, 26 performances. They say that travel broadens the mind, The Star Keeper can attest to that!

Two awards for Corbeau/Raven

Corbeau/Raven, Théâtre de l’Œil’s latest production, will make its way to Shawinigan and Sainte-Julie for a few school and family audience performances. Back home in December, the show will be presented at the Maison de la culture Villeray –St-Michel–Parc Extension, with a quick stopover in Valleyfield.

On October 5th, Corbeau/Raven received two awards from L’Arrière Scène, Centre dramatique pour l’enfance et la jeunesse de Belœil: the Audience Award, based on the number of votes each show receives from the public, and a special mention for its props, this one given by the Jeunes critiques de L'Arrière Scène (Young critics). Needless to say, André Laliberté and Jean-Frédéric Messier were very touched to receive these awards.


Babel’s Jardin de la culture

On September 28th, the public was invited to meet the artists and the puppeteers behind Le jardin de Babel, following a performance at Montréal’s Maison Théâtre. The children chatted with the puppeteers, playwright and stage director, and took a few keepsake pictures with the puppets. Théâtre de l’Œil is thrilled at the thought that Babel and Marcelle are now part of so many family photo albums! This activity was part of the Maison Théâtre’s regular programming, but also part of the Les Journées de la culture activities.

Jocelyne doesn’t miss a market

Barely back from her trip to Asia, Jocelyne Losier is getting her things together to leave for Rimouski in October to join her friends at ROSEQ (Booth 42), the Réseau des organisateurs de spectacles de l'Est du Québec. Never one to miss a market, she will also be at Montréal’s CINARS (Booth 328) in November and will then head off in January to New York for APAP (Booth 718) and Philadelphia for IPAY. She’ll be back home in February for the Bourse RIDEAU held in Québec City. For the sake of convenience, Théâtre de l’Œil snuck a microchip into the back wheel of Jocelyne’s suitcase. You can now follow her on Google Maps. You can’t stop progress!

Théâtre de l'Œil acknowledges the financial support of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, The Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts de Montréal.

Text Michelle Chanonat
English translation Denise Babin
Page layout Julie Laviolette
Template Julien Berthier


Touring Creative Puppet Theatre Company
Montreal (Quebec) Canada

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