Le Cercle Molière
The Cercle Molière is an entertainment destination of choice for Francophones and Francophiles offering an enjoyable theatrical experience that reflects the breadth of human experience in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Through a commitment to high-quality and diverse theatrical programming, Le Cercle Molière will build loyalty with audiences, supporters and a locally-trained pool of artists.
Manitoba’s Cercle Molière is the oldest permanent theatre company with uninterrupted programming in Canada. It was founded in 1925 by a group of drama enthusiasts who wanted to promote and develop the cultural activities of the thriving francophone community of St-Boniface, situated across from Winnipeg on the Red River. The principal founding members were Louis-Philippe Gagnon (president 1925-27), André Castelein de la Lande (artistic director 1925-27) and Raymond Bernier (secretary and treasurer). The first play produced by the Cercle Molière was Edouard Pailleron’s Le Monde où l’on s’ennuie, presented at the Dominion Theatre on 25 April 1925.
The company’s original objective was to produce excellent theatre reflecting French metropolitan culture and ideas to both French- and English-speaking audiences. The company’s founders wanted Cercle Molière to create ties between the French and English communities in Manitoba. To this end, an advisory committee composed of six members – three francophone and three anglophone – was established, a mechanism that helped to bridge the gap between the two languages and cultures.
Bringing together francophones of different origins – Belgian, Swiss, French, French Canadian, to name some – the Cercle Molière flourished, although its financial situation was often precarious. Rehearsals were held in private homes, in classrooms or in borrowed halls until, in the late 1950s, the company was offered a more permanent home by Mgr Léo Blais in the basement of St-Boniface Cathedral. In 1967 the Cercle Molière moved to the Centre culturel de Saint-Boniface, located in the Académie Saint-Joseph, before moving in 1974 to its current home in the then newly constructed Centre culturel franco-manitobain.
The Cercle Molière’s plays have been staged at the Walker Theatre, the Pantages Playhouse and the Civic Auditorium as well as at the auditoriums of the École Provencher, the Collège de Saint-Boniface, the Académie Saint-Joseph, the Salle Pauline-Boutal in the Centre culturel franco-manitobain, and most recently at the Théâtre de la Chapelle. The Salle Pauline-Boutal, inaugurated in 1975, was named in honour of Pauline Boutal, artistic director of the Cercle Molière from 1941 to 1968 as well as comedienne and producer from 1928 to 1964.
Over the years the Cercle Molière has received many honours and awards. The French government has recognized the services rendered by the company in promoting French culture and, through its embassy, has given several awards to members of the troupe: the Palmes académiques to Arthur and Pauline Boutal (1939); the Médaille de la Reconnaissance to Pauline Boutal (1950); and the Médaille du Ministère des affaires étrangères to Norbert Trudel, Christiane LeGoff and Suzanne Tremblay.
The artistic directors of the Cercle Molière, with their dreams and visions, all influenced the evolution of the company. Among these, three are particularly important because of the length of their respective mandates: Arthur Boutal, artistic director from 1926 to 1940; Pauline Boutal, artistic director from 1941 to 1968; Roland Mahé, artistic director from 1968 to June 2012 ; and the newest artistic director since 2012, Geneviève Pelletier.
In 1985, the Cercle Molière created the Théâtre du Grand Cercle, whose goal is to develop and encourage a deeper knowledge and appreciation of theatre in younger audiences. The company founded the Festival Théâtre Jeunesse in 1970, a festival where francophone youth, including immersion students from Manitoba and all the western Canadian provinces, are invited to perform original plays in French. In 2002, more than 600 students attended this event, presenting 26 plays, many of which were original creations.