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O douce Providence – Première performance, "Deux" / 2nd movement | for demonstration purposes only
O douce Providence features the live French-language first-person account (with English surtitles) of Hervé Bertrand, one of the surviving “Duplessis Orphans.” Performed as six connected movements, this innovative 40-minute new work by composer Alyssa Ryvers is scored for witness (Hervé Bertrand – testimony, harmonica, foot music), piano quintet and claquette,* with video and electroacoustics. The piece integrates video, theatre and oral history with classical music composition.
Duplessis Orphans were not orphans in the truest sense. Rather, these were children born to young, single mothers in Quebec during Maurice Duplessis’ premiership (1936–59), an era that has come to be known as “La Grande Noirceur” (“The Great Darkness”). Under the pressure of social mores espoused by Quebec's Catholic Church, young women were compelled to relinquish their children to Church-run orphanages. This social pressure, combined with Duplessis’ policies, created circumstances in which some 20,000 children were made vulnerable to conditions of extreme neglect, physical and / or sexual abuse, medical malpractice, as well as being subject to forced labour.
“Hymne à la Providence,” from which the title of O douce Providence is derived and which features prominently in the work, was sung by the children at the Mount Providence orphanage every morning before classes.
As part of a larger program that would institutionalize orphans in psychiatric hospitals across Quebec, the province signed a contract with the federal government in 1954 to reclassify the orphanage as a psychiatric institution:
By declaring the orphans mentally deficient, Quebec and the church had found a way to line their coffers: the province obtained big subsidies from Ottawa for building hospitals and it in turn paid the church more than twice as much for caring for psychiatric patients as it did for orphans.‡
Schooling at Mount Providence ceased. The children worked long days, and the singing of “Hymne à la Providence” was forbidden.
O douce Providence pays tribute to the lived experience and life-long activism of the Duplessis Orphans, while challenging the traditional roles of performer and audience through staged action that removes theatre’s fourth wall.
The work is available for performances in Quebec, across Canada and internationally, with surtitles or closed captions available in several different languages. Its presentation is appropriate for high school audiences, and can be scaled to fit venues of various sizes and stage configurations.
Video still image: Alyssa Ryvers and Hervé Bertrand at Karisma Studios, 2014. (photo: Van Royko)
Background image 1: Duplessis Orphans in front of Mount Providence, 1953(?). (photo: Unknown) [Mr. Bertrand is the second child from the right in the front row, to the left of the child holding his hands together]
Background image 2: Duplessis Orphans protesting in front of the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, 2011. (photo: Unknown)