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Michel Tremblay defends joual

Michel Tremblay exploded on to the stage in 1968 with his highly acclaimed and controversial play Les Belles-soeurs. His brutally honest portrayal of the Montreal working class revolutionized Quebec theatre. Writing in a street dialect called joual, Tremblay's beautifully flawed characters resonated beyond borders and languages. His works have been translated and performed in more than 20 countries, making him one of Canada's most prolific writers.

Les Belles-soeurs is a runaway success. Audiences embrace Michel Tremblay's play and the 26-year-old playwright becomes the darling of Quebec theatre. But not everyone is thrilled with the play's popularity. Ashamed of the Quebec portrayed in Les Belles-soeurs, Quebec's Ministry of Cultural Affairs refuses the $20,000 grant needed to take the play to Paris. Officially, Cultural Affairs Minister Claire Kirkland-Casgrain says the decision was due to budgetary restraints.

But everyone speculates that the ministry is embarrassed of the low-class society portrayed in the play. Tremblay defends his play and his use of joual in this CBC Radio clip. While the playwright admits joual may not be the most beautiful sounding French, it's the language of his people and possesses beautiful raw elements. He says it's stupid to be ashamed of joual and Quebec must grow out of its inferiority complex.
. Joual refers to the street French spoken in Quebec. It's a mispronunciation of the word "cheval," which means horse.
. Two years after being refused the $20,000 grant to take Les Belles-soeurs to Paris, Tremblay finally saw his play premiere at that city's Espace Cardin to an appreciative audience. Paris declared the play "the best foreign production of the year."

. The Parisian production of Les Belles-soeurs came with a two-page glossary of terms which included explanation of words such as bingo, tuque and quetaine (kitsch).
. Tremblay was named Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France in 1984 by the French government. He was promoted to "Officier" in 1991. Later that same year Tremblay was named Chevalier de l'Ordre National de Québec.
Medium: Radio
Program: Five Nights
Broadcast Date: July 5, 1972
Guest(s): Michel Tremblay
Reporter: Judith Walle
Duration: 2:21

Last updated: March 8, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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