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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 17, No. 4 December 2011

Raymond Cloutier: One passion, Many Domains

by Roxana Pasca / December 1, 2011

Flash version here.

A theatre and cinema giant, Raymond Cloutier has worn many hats over the course of his career: actor, director, writer, teacher, and radio personality. Since 2007, he has been the head of the Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Montréal. It’s a role tailor-made for this enthusiast.

Fiction and Reality
Born into a family of hoteliers, Raymond Cloutier attended boarding school from a young age. It was there that he discovered theatre.

“From the age of five or six, I was on stage all the time,” he recalls. At first, theatre was merely a way to relieve boredom at school, but it soon became a refuge. “Thanks to theatre, my life at boarding school became more comfortable,” he says. “It made life a little more meaningful.”

His youth was spent, as he puts it, “not in the reality of a family, but in the reality of fiction and theatre.” When he was offered a place at the Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Montréal, Cloutier thought he had found his happy ending.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” he says. “I was stuck in this fictional universe.” At the Conservatoire with teachers such as François Cartier and Georges Groux, he learned the art of performance and how to push the limits of his gift as an actor. “Everything was interesting to me,” he says of his four years at the Conservatoire, one of which was spent in Quebec City with Jean Valcourt and Marc Doré studying creative theatre, improv, and experimental theatre.

Cloutier graduated from the Conservatoire in 1968 with great distinction and a wealth of knowledge. The wait for success was short. Noticed at an improv night, he was offered a series of unexpected contracts: a role in Le Drap, a play staged in Strasbourg, and another in Les quinze rouleaux d’argent presented in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. “I had one contract from October to late November in Strasbourg, and another one from January to May in La Chaux-de-Fonds in addition to a tour in Switzerland, eastern France, and a few performances in Paris. It was a dream year.”

Anything but Ordinary
In addition to being an enriching experience, Raymond Cloutier’s year in Europe introduced him to the secret life of a theatre troupe. This “communal and bohemian” lifestyle was based on a cooperative and egalitarian model in which everyone—the director, the technicians, and all the actors in between—earned the same salary. The experience sparked the Grande Cirque Ordinaire, an extraordinary adventure for the emerging actor. With collectively created shows, the troupe wanted to make theatre that was “absolutely not alienating,” he says.

Supported by Albert Millaire and the Théâtre Populaire du Québec, the Grande Cirque Ordinaire staged nine productions between 1969 and 1978, including T’es pas tannée, Jeanne d’Arc ? (1969), La famille transparente (1970) and T’en rappelles-tu Pibrac ? (1971). The latter tells the true story of a small village near Jonquière that was to be flooded. However, in the shadow of the recent October Crisis, it was judged too outrageous and political. Raymond Cloutier and his friends were therefore dismissed from the Grand Cirque Ordinaire. The setback didn’t discourage the young actor, so full of ideas and ambition; a few years later he would produce two solo shows, Mandrake chez lui in 1976 and Le Rendez-vous d’août in 1977.

From the Stage to the Screen
Alongside his fledgling theatre career, Cloutier also pursued a career in cinema. He started big with a role in Gilles Carle’s Red (1970), followed by another in La tête de Normande Saint-Onge (1975). Working with Carle was not at all easy for the actor, as the director’s methods were not always compatible with his own. Gilles Carle, influenced by the documentary school of the NFB, was an adept at cinema vérité. “He thought that by putting me in real situations, I would become a better actor.” As a result, Cloutier often found himself in unexpected situations, such as the time Carle had him attacked by fifteen men during shooting in order to capture the most authentic fear possible. “For an actor who had been on stage since the age of five, who did four years at the Conservatoire followed by a European tour, it was an absolute insult.”

Following this somewhat disconcerting collaboration with Gilles Carle, Cloutier continued his cinema career with, among others, Jean-Claude Labrecque’s les Vautours (1975) and l’Affaire Coffin (1980), Lionel Chetwynd’s Two Solitudes (1978), Jean Beaudin’s Cordélia (1980), Brigitte Sauriol’s Rien qu’un jeu (1983), Jean-Marc Vallée’s Liste Noire (1995) and more recently, Simon Lavoie’s Le déserteur (2008), Michel Monty’s Une vie qui commence (2010) and Sylvain Archambault’s French Kiss (2011). It’s also worth noting that he has also portrayed a number of prestigious figures on television, including Louis Riel in the Georges Bloomfield series Riel (1979) and Jean Drapeau in Alain Chartrand’s series Montréal ville ouverte (1992).

A Passion for Writing
“I always told myself that I should write a couple of novels in my lifetime,” Raymond Cloutier confesses. The dream became a reality in 1998 with the publication of Un retour simple, an improvised novel written in the same manner as the shows of the Grand Cirque Ordinaire. One year later, it was followed by Le beau milieu, an essay on the structure of the diffusion of Montreal theatre. In 2000, he published his second novel, Le Maître d’hôtel. “It’s the divine side of writing that interests me, that pure and unlimited freedom,” he says.

This passion for writing and literature led him to host literary shows on Radio-Canada’s Première chaîne from 2004 to 2008. During this period, he had to read five novels per week. From this experience, he concluded that “too many people write too many novels.”

“It was a bit inhibiting,” he says. “I thought, if I want to write, I’d better write something really good, or else it won’t be worth the trouble.” Nevertheless, his desire to write remains and he has not ruled out the possibility of publishing another novel.

On top of his creative pursuits, Raymond Cloutier has a long history of teaching. He has taught the art of improvisation—“spontaneous creation”—to generations of actors. “It’s quite moving to see these young people who couldn’t get up and improvise a few months ago becme masters of substance, balls of invention,” he remarks.

A passion for youth and the dissemination of knowledge persuaded Cloutier to resume his post as the director of the Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Montréal in 2007, a prestigious position that he had held from 1987 to 1995. While he recognizes the talents and aptitudes of Conservatoire graduates, he confesses that he has little confidence in their futures. “We need a network of companies, especially permanent theatres, throughout Quebec,” he says. That way, young actors, at least the best among them, would have the chance to be on stage and live their art. “I’m hoping to get the Minister of Culture to help create stepping stones for these young actors,” Cloutier says. “We’ve focused so much on the survival of [the French language], but a language doesn’t survive all on its own. It survives thanks to literature and theatre.”

Translation: Rebecca Anne Clark

(c) La Scena Musicale