L'Affaire Kafka, starring Remy Girard, Gildor Roy, and Paul Hébert, in 1996. Montreal Gazette
Theatre icon Paul Hébert, best known as Siméon Desrosiers in Le Temps d’une paix, and founder of six Quebec theatres, has died. He was 92.
Family friend Gisèle Gallichan said Hébert had been hospitalized since a fall in early April. He died at a hospital in Quebec City. Trident Theatre, which he founded, announced the news on its Facebook page.
Hébert spent his life on stage, collaborating on a large number of theatrical productions as director, actor, or artistic director, and left an indelible mark on the history of television. He tiptoed off-stage in 2005.
Quebec has lost a larger-than-life actor, Trident Theatre artistic director Anne-Marie Olivier said. “To play with Paul was complete happiness. It is rare in the life of an actor to work with talent like that. Everything he did was extraordinary.”
On the small screen, Hébert participated in several projects that marked the cultural history of the province. As early as 1953, just a year after the advent of television in Canada, he was on the soap opera 14 rue des Galais, and appeared on several children’s programs, including La Boîte à surprises. In the 1980s, he played the role of Siméon Desrosiers, a political rival of Joseph-Arthur in Le Temps d’une paix, by Pierre Gauvreau. In 2005, he was seen in the TVA drama Nos étés.
Gallichan remembers him as a humble man who was passionate about his work. “He could not do anything but draw in the people around him.”
He founded with his buddy Albert Millaire the first summer theatre in Quebec. The Chantecler opened in Sainte-Adèle in 1955.
He last appeared on stage in 2002, when he played the role of Dr. Tchéboutykine in Anton Checkhov’s Three Sisters, directed by Wajdi Mouawad. Three years earlier, he had played Prospero in The Tempest at the Trident Theatre.
Hébert was a descendant of Louis Hébert, known as the first French settler in New France. He was born in 1924 in Thetford Mine and was raised by his mother and aunts. After studying at the Collège de Lévis and Université Laval, the young actor was nominated by the director of the company Les Comédiens de Québec to stage Mariveaux’s The Game of Love and Chance. He played Harlequin in the performance, and went on to manage the Quebec City company for two years.
He left Quebec in 1949 to perfect his acting skills at the prestigious Old Vic Theatre in London, with the help of a scholarship from the Arts Council of Great Britain.
Paul Hébert in 1977. Montreal Gazette
“Pierre Boucher said to me: ‘In Paris, the theatre is taught; in London, we train. And theatre is not taught’,” Hébert recounted to Le Soleil in 2009. “We had extraordinary professors.”
On returning home in 1952, he immediately launched himself into the creation of theatre houses: Anjou in 1954, Esterel in 1961, L’Atelier in 1964 — devoted to the training of actors — and, of course, Théâtre Paul-Hébert in l’île d’Orléans en 1982 (moved in 1998 to the top of Montmorency Falls and renamed Théâtre de la Dame blanche).
His attachment to Quebec never waned. He was Trident’s artistic director for six years in the 1970s, presenting socially charged works like Charbonneau et le Chef, on the archbishop of Montreal and Maurice Duplessis, and American classics like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. For Hébert, the theatre was “above all a social gesture that becomes artistic and cultural,” he told Le Devoir in 2007. He told Le Devoir he considered his role as director the most important: “To give concrete life to the imagination of an author and his characters from the first contact with the text is pure happiness.”
“The dean of theatre in Quebec” also appeared on film. He is remembered best of all for La Vie heureuse de Léopold Z by Gilles Carles in 1965, where he played the supervisor of Guy L’Écuyer, a snowman.
Hébert taught at the National Theatre School in 1965 and directed the Montreal and Quebec City theatre conservatories in 1969 and 1970. Active in his community, he volunteered for the Petits Frères des pauvres. The organization’s headquarters carries his name.
He was awarded the Denise-Pelletier Award for Performing Arts in 2007, as well as a Governor General’s Award, the Academy of Quebec Theatre’s Hommage Award and the Victor-Morin Theatre Award. He was given the Order of Canada in 1987, was made a Knight of the Ordre national du Québec in 1994, and received an honorary doctorate from Université du Québec and l’Université Laval in 1984 and 2000.
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