Roxane Loumède noticed a yawning gap between French and English theatre in Montreal. With a desire to build bridges, she created Third Space Theatre as a “space” where people from both sides of the linguistic divide could become aware of each other by working together. Loumède functions as the artistic director and founder of the company, and was joined by Oliver Price and Genevieve Ganger. Now in its third year, Third Space is again back with a translation of Jean Genet’s The Maids.
Loumède explains that she wanted to tinker with Genet’s 1940s play because it fit well with Montreal. She changed the setting to Montreal and rewrote it as if some characters were English and some were French.
In Loumede’s version, the show is set in the Montreal of the ’40s and focuses on three women, two servants and a rich Westmount lady. “The maids are French and they are from the lower class,” Loumède explains. “When speaking with the madame, they speak English, but when together they speak French. They play games of imitating her and enacting some of what happens in the house.”
She adds that a situation in which lower class people work in the homes of the very wealthy is still very much a part of the world today. “We’re doing research into the people who work in private homes today in rich neighbourhoods and looking at the issues and what can arise. Living with your boss can mean many barriers are broken and relationships are ambiguous. The people who do these jobs are mostly immigrants from south America and Philippines. It’s a big, big subject and it’s happening right now.”
Third Space received funding for a year of research, which allows the company to “push the creation deeper as to how we can make it relate to Montreal today.”
In conjunction with the company’s mission, the goal is to present the show bilingually. “We’re trying to see if audience can follow and enjoy this game of switching language,” she says. “It’ll be good to have a first audience response and go back to the studio after that.”
Loumède says the show should make sense even if one is not fully bilingual. “I want the audience to understand the dialogue through body language and aesthetics. It’s a physical piece, and I’m hoping everyone can understand even if they don’t know both languages.”
Loumède notes that the actresses have truly exceeded her expectations. “There are two French actresses who graduated from a French acting school in Montreal. It’ll be their first time acting in English ever, but they were ready for the challenge.”She says with pride that even though she was a little scared to make them learn a lot of English text, they were a perfect fit. “They were so open and they worked so hard on it. They succeeded in what I expected and exceeded it.”
Not only are the actresses crossing the language divide, but the team working on the show is a mix of bilingual, French, and English artists. She names her dramaturge, Genevieve Ganger and Sophie El-Assaad as examples. “It’s still a goal to make sure every project, even if it is all English or all French, has a team of people who come from both communities.”
Loumède concludes by saying that though the company is composed of young artists, they are glad to be part of a tradition of bilingual theatre. “I’m not the only one or the first one to do this in Montreal. It’s been here for a long time. I say, ‘Let’s do that even more.’ If other companies want to come in and propose projects that’s even better. We don’t want to work as our little team alone. We’d like to see if other French and english companies are willing to co-create with us.”
Jean Genet’s The Maids will be performed at Studio Multimedia on February 21, 22, and 23 at 8 p.m.