Espace Libre. A space for creation and dissemination dedicated to experimental theatre and research, Espace Libre marked the 30th anniversary of its founding in 2009. Today considered one of Montreal's leading theatres, it encourages audiences to attend with an open mind, ready to experience bold expression, fantastic ideas and leading-edge experimentation along with innovative artistic productions. Its resident companies and artistic direction work diligently to preserve the theatre's primary mandate by producing and hosting unusual, amusing and thought-provoking projects.
In 1979, three emerging companies - Nouveau Théâtre Expérimental (NTE), spun off that year from the Théâtre Expérimental de Montréal; Omnibus, a corporal mime company; and Les Enfants du Paradis, soon rebaptized CARBONE 14 - came together in pursuit of a common objective: to live and create in a single space. All three being associated with experimental theatre and yet distinct in their respective approaches to production and style, the troupes embarked on a renewal of theatrical form and discourse, acknowledging the artistic kinship bringing them together in such a way. After acquiring the former Fire Hall 19 on Fullum Street near Ontario in Montreal, they transformed the building into the theatre hall that came to be known as Espace Libre.
From the three associated companies, the project had a total of eight founders: Jean Asselin, Denise Boulanger, Robert Claing, Danielle de Fontenay, Robert GRAVEL, Gilles Maheu, Anne-Marie Provencher and Jean-Pierre RONFARD. In November 1981, after completing renovations, Espace Libre celebrated its grand opening with the public creation of plays IV and V from the cycle Vie et mort du Roi Boiteux, a work written and directed by Ronfard and running 15 hours onstage that is viewed today as a theatrical milestone. An impressive number of avant-garde creations and other artistic events made Espace Libre into a crossroads for experimentation without limits.
Memorable productions from Espace Libre's first years include l'Homme rouge (1982), le Rail (1983), Hamlet-machine (1987), le Dortoir (1988), Peau, chair et os (1991) and la Forêt (1993) for Carbone 14; Alice (1982), La dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil (1984), le Jeu de Robin et Marion (1985) and le Cycle des rois, or Shakespeare's "Age of Kings" for Omnibus; and, in addition to Roi Boiteux, for NTE: les Mille et Une Nuits (1984), Autour de Phèdre (1988) and le Grand Théâtre du monde (1989) followed by Durocher le milliardaire (1990), L'homme qui n'avait plus d'amis (1991) and Il n'y a plus rien (1992), a trilogy by Robert Gravel, one of the pillars of Espace Libre, with Jean-Pierre Ronfard.
In 1994, Carbone 14 left Espace Libre and founded Usine C, where that company established a well-known presence. The two remaining companies went on to launch a hosting initiative to maximize use of the Espace Libre facilities on a year-round basis. Companies and artists working in creative theatre were invited to submit projects in this regard with a focus on radical artistic proposals and long-term collaboration. An artistic director position was established in the late 1990s and occupied successively by Diane Dubeau through 2002, Anne-Marie Provencher from 2002 to 2006 and then Olivier Kemeid. Highlights among the productions during this period include Matroni et moi (1994), Thérèse, Tom et Simon (1995), Matines : Sade au petit déjeuner (1996), la Baronne et la Truie (1998) and les Mots (1998).
At the turn of the millennium, Espace Libre closed temporarily for further renovations. Transformed completely and modernized, it reopened its doors in September 2002 with a work from Alexis Martin and Jean-Pierre Ronfard titled Parade du temps qui passe. The space became imbued with new energy, bringing to life creations by authors such as Evelyne de la Chenelière, several of whose works were presented by NTE and companies, and hosting companies including Le Théâtre Il va sans dire, Trois Tristes Tigres and Théâtre Complice among others. The space also accommodated events such as Festival les 20 jours du théâtre à risque, Festival de courtes pièces and Les Voies du mime as well as productions from the Festival de théâtre des Amériques (FTA) program. The space is known today for its inviting ambience and fabulous onstage offerings.