Lyrical Conferences: Adventures in International Academia

by Simone Lomartire
(Simone, a CCS PhD student, gave a paper « Déjà l’agonie de Marco Micone: représentation dialectique de l’intégration et de la ségrégation au sein de la communauté italo-québécoise » at the international conference L’Amérique francophone pièce sur pièce. Dramaturgies des espaces francophones en Amérique depuis 1968 in Montréal in October, 2009. His reflection on this experience is so lyrical that we feel it is an excellent stand-in for our ‘Monday Poem’ feature.)

I presented my paper on the Italo-québécois playwright Marco Micone hoping to contribute to the topic of the conference which was aiming to discuss the presence of Francophone theatre in America since 1968. Concurrently I was also longing for a chance to show the invaluable work that members of my university, notably the CCS and the School of English, are doing to support my research. Finally, I was looking forward to telling the inquisitive Canadians (more precisely, Quebecers) that the other side of the pond is interested in studying about/them!

The conference was held under the patronage of the CRILCQ (Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur la littérature et la culture québécoises), the BanQ (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec) and the CEAD (Centre des auteurs dramatiques), with sponsorship from the SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) and the Faculty of Arts of the University of Montréal. It was co-ordinated by Professor Gilbert David, who is Professor of Francophone studies at the University of Montréal – to whom my gratitude for having organised such an electrifying venue extends beyond the imaginable.
Now, the experience… I did not want to leave Montréal. I now believe that I had found my primal space in there. Could this be the case? Is it enough to spend a week somewhere to reconsider your own existence? My Italian parents would probably disagree with me considering the tear they shed and the scenes they made when they first found out that my paper had been accepted . . . now, that’s what I would call encouragement . . . Luckily enough, Graham Huggan, my supervisor, and Rachel Killick, my former supervisor, did their best to infuse me with the necessary calm to face an unknown Francophone audience of my first conference in French, during my first time ever in Canada.

I am not going to lie, the stress deriving from delving into something that you do not know and the fears that you might not fit in had been travelling with me since my paper had been accepted. I had many an ‘overwhelming question’, questions which followed me in Montréal. However, as soon as I passed the not-so-daunting customs, fears and doubts started to fade. Between a “hey” and a “tabernacle”, I made my way through the city and I found myself completely at ease crossing the line of my comfort zone from Anglophone Montreal to Francophone Montréal.

Montréal is my city. I woke up in the morning and talked with my parents. It wasn’t only a fight between asserting the power of my breakfast over their Italian dinner; it was mostly me juggling with a jetlagged Anglo-Italian-French code switch…. and I adored that. Those three languages are part of me. Although English and French are the “foreign me”, I felt at home where I least expected to find a home. In Montréal you can be English, you can be French and you can be Italian . . . you can be what you want, when you want, where you want . . . and how you feel . . .

The conference was a goldmine of information to further my knowledge of Canadian theatre and to meet my myths “in the flesh”: playwrights I literally worship like Larry Tremblay and Carole Fréchette were there; literary critics like Jane Moss, Louise Forsyth and Jean-Cléo Godin, who took the academic establishment hand in hand through the world surrounding Québec theatre and French-Ontarian theatre, were there. I will never forget how I struggled to get through the very first minute of my paper with Jane Moss next to me, in my same panel. My mouth was talking, but the rest of me was doing his best not to faint – but I survived the worst twenty-five minutes of my university life up to then. The scholars at the conference were happy to talk to me after I presented my paper and were eager to give me precious pieces of advice. They were very supportive and keen on my research. They made me feel welcome over the four days, which made me hope “I was liked”.

The days I spent at the conference started very early in the morning and finished quite late in the evening. We barely saw the lights of Montréal outside. However, it did not matter to me. The panels addressed issues of strong contemporary relevance for Francophone Canada, especially in Québec: both the legacy of theatre production in 1960s, and the present-day prospects for the Francophone minority (and the ethnic minorities within the minority) at a time of broader uncertainty because of the scarcity of funds and the effects of globalisation on the literary / theatrical production of Québec. The stimulating and agenda-setting keynotes made a pertinently timed event of this conference. Speakers comprised leading figures across Francophone Theatre Studies: a mixed audience of up 35 academics, and playwrights, actors and set designers. Although only three PhD students presented their work at the conference, I particularly enjoyed meeting a student from Edmonton who is doing her research on the cultural dynamics of English subtitles for French Canadian plays destined to an English Canadian audience. Likewise, I hope to have laid the foundations for a future collaborative bid with two French-Ontarians whom I simply adored – a scholar, Lucie Hottie and a scholar/playwright, Patrick Leroux. Their works are still unknown on this side of the pond and that’s a real loss as the originality of thought and insight of their work struck me to such an extent which I thought could never be reached.

As I mentioned earlier, the four-day conference did not leave me with a decent amount of time to visit the city. Yet I managed to watch an Italian Canadian play (that, alone, would have me go off many a tangent) and to spend a great night out with the editor of Guernica (as well as a very prolific trilingual writer from Montréal), Antonio D’Alfonso. During that magical night I had access to the two solitudes of the Montréal, the Anglophone and the Francophone one, and having no particular inclination to think that one solitude is better than the other helped me unlock the secrets of marvellous Montréal and those of its inhabitants in their entirety.
You see now why I said that it was difficult to be back . . .

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