6 May 2021

Returning meaning to the theater

By Julie Fournier

Have you ever wondered about what you are doing, and why you are doing what you’re doing; what your purpose is? I have, a little too often … I spent most of my studies wondering about it and looking for a deep motivation.

Growing up, I had an unquestionable fondness for the arts: I wanted to be a painter, writer, pianist, philosopher and so on. So I enrolled in visual arts at Cégep, because it was obvious to me that I could only do that. But over time, I became bored. I was missing an intention. Doing art just to make art didn’t satisfy me. I needed a bigger goal.

At university, I turned to scenography where I specialized in costumes. I told myself that my creativity would serve something bigger: a collaborative work, a story in several dimensions. Designing for a play gave me a reason to create, and I was passionate about it. Now I had a goal.

During this same period, I also became more and more eco-conscious. I started to buy in bulk, to ride my bike to work 15km from home, to go to thrift stores, and to take many small steps on a daily basis. I ended up wondering what the ecological impact of clothing was. I suspected it wasn’t pretty but it still came as a big slap in the face when I learned how … fashion is “just” the second most polluting industry in the world.

And I questioned everything. I wondered how I was going to be able to create costumes when I didn’t even want to buy a single item of clothing for myself anymore. I found it all the more absurd since everything we create in the theater is used for a few weeks and then thrown away or stored. I felt like everything I was doing no longer made sense.

For and through art

Then I thought about what a Cégep professor told us when she started her art history class: “Art is useless.” I remember it felt disconcerting to be told this while we were all studying art. The teacher then explained that in a practical sense, art has no real functionality when compared, for example, to the nourishment of agriculture or the healing touch of medicine.

But that’s what makes art unique. Art moves and touches people. Thanks to this, art has always had an important social function. Artists revolt, question, contradict, and interrogate. They have always known how to denounce the inequalities and the problems of our societies. This is why I think that, as artists, we can be the first to question the environmental impact of the cultural and artistic milieu. And that’s where I found my goal: to give meaning to art.

So I learned as much as possible about ecodesign. I went to conferences on sustainable design, I did an internship with Écoscéno, and I tried to make my university productions as environmentally friendly as possible. At the 2019 Prague Scenography Quadrennial, I conducted university research on the textures of eco-responsible textiles and listened to all the One O’clock Talk from the Quebec exhibition. I realized that I was not the only one interested in the subject, and I began to imagine a thousand and one ways to enable costume designers to be more eco-responsible.

LesEnfants Duceppe PierreDesjardins 1536x864 1

Les enfants, Théâtre Jean-Duceppe, 2020. Photo: Pierre Desjardins


In an interview with Tanja Beer, Marie-Renée Bourget Harvey says this quote, which has become very inspiring for me: “ Ecoscenography is a process of creation that adds meaning to our artistic voice. We have to take the time to think about our community and inject meaning into our decisions.

She has demonstrated this beautifully in her work on the play Les Enfants at Duceppe. The play chronicles the sacrifice of a generation of retired people to protect a future generation in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster. In the context of our current climate crisis, ecodesign powerfully supported the intention of the play by making the words all the more relevant.

New mission

For me, creativity comes from a sincere and genuine desire for beauty and emotion. I find it so crazy and sad to think that a work that at its core has such a beautiful intention will ultimately only contribute to pollution. Ecodesign allows me to find a purpose in what I do and I want to be able to help artists who, like me, want to give meaning to their art.

I have therefore been working with Écoscéno since January 2021. I am a passionate eco-design artist and my goal is to provide support and advice to designers. I have the time and the motivation to do the research that we never seem to have the time for in the heat of the moment. I will therefore be able to support you in finding alternatives that may be hard to see at first. If we can come together to change the system as a whole, we might be able to change the way we do art!

Let’s rethink our way of creating and building. Let’s rethink our system and our production steps. Let’s rethink the theater. And let’s give meaning to our art!