French Theatre in Toronto kept alive by Guy Mignault
Guy Mignault – a Beacher, a Francophone and an artist.
Mignault was born in Hull, Quebec, and it didn’t take long for him to discover the power of theatrical performance, perhaps in an unconventional way.
At the age of seven or eight, his parents caught him jumping on his bed. Demanding an explanation for such behaviour, his parents listened as Mignault explained to them the different ways death would occur if shot with a golden, silver or blank bullet.
“The golden bullet, of course, would be a quick death,” recalls Mignault with a smile. “This earned the permission of my parents to jump on the bed. It was at that time I realized the power of making people laugh.”
At age 19, he moved to Montreal to study at the Conservatoire d'art dramatique. Upon graduation, Mignault moved back to Hull and soon took the position of Cultural Coordinator – at the age of 22.
“There was a 500-seat theatre that I had to manage, and at 22 I wasn’t ready for it,” he laughed.
He moved back to Montreal after three years in Hull, and began his acting career. That was around the same time that he acquired a private summer stock theatre in the Appalachian Mountains village of Saint-Fortunat which he owned for 15 years.
During that time, Mignault focused on theatrical performance and television. He was chosen to be the spokesperson of Rona, a popular hardware and home improvement chain. He explained how an agent called him to audition for the role, but since Mignault was at the time acting in another series that required him to have a thick mustache, he refused. The agent persisted and he finally auditioned. Many questions were asked about the mustache, and Mignault said there was nothing he could do because of his other series.
Rona decided to hire Mignault, regardless of the mustache, and he eventually recorded a commercial.
“I thought I would go in and do one commercial, but no, they had eight for me that [first] time,” explained Mignault. “The next year they had 18, and after that they had 26, and then we did mini-movies. It sort of helped my bank account,” he joked.
Mignault became such a recognizable person that people would stop him on the streets of Montreal to give him tips on how to clean or build things.
In 1996, he received a phone call from Le Théâtre Français de Toronto (TfT) asking if he would like to be their Artistic Director.
“I said ‘No, but thank you very much for thinking of me. Thanks, but no thanks’,” said Mignault, who had at that time decided to take a break from acting. He subsequently drove to Toronto to personally thank the TfT for the offer. As he called to announce his visit, TfT told him it was great he was dropping by because the selection committee was meeting that same day.
Mignault ended up talking to the committee for over an hour and his decision to turn down the position was reversed.
“I was asking myself, ‘what do you do when you’re 49? Buy a bigger TV set and a more comfortable reclining chair or do you pick up the things that could be challenging?’” said Mignault of his decision. His first contract was for two years, but after 16 years he remains their Creative Director.
One of his biggest challenges when he started at TfT was managing their deficit, but within a year and a half they had managed to eliminate it.
Mignault explained that at the time TfT only had three performances for adults. It has now grown to five performances for adults, two for youth, and two for children. In 2006, TfT started offering performances with English surtitles, which attracted a wider audience.
“We were stuck. There aren’t that many French people in Toronto,” said Mignault. A French CBC program accused TfT of “selling its soul to the devil” for adding the English surtitles. Mignault was quick to defend the decision on air, as he explained that “instead of ghettoizing TfT, all we did was invite everyone to come and see how we work. Come and see how it’s done in French. And it’s working very, very well.”
“Many of our members’ spouses are English-speaking and can now come with their spouses,” said Mignault, adding that people with hearing impairment can also watch the shows. “It’s absolutely fabulous.”
Mignault ended up in the Beach area after some less-than-pleasant stays at a few apartments throughout the downtown core.
“I love taking walks by the beach on the boardwalk. It’s so great,” he said of living in the neighbourhood. “Shopping on Queen Street reminds me of Montreal with its little boutiques.”
He is now working on next year’s performances at the TfT and is excited to continue as Creative Director.
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