Life and Writing Career
Tremblay was born on the Rue Fabre in Montreal, in the working class neighbourhood of the Plateau Mont-Royal. He was the youngest son of Armand Tremblay, a printer, and Rhéauna Rathier, who stayed at home raising Tremblay and brothers Jacques and Bernard. Tremblay had a happy childhood, surrounded by women: his family shared a house with two others, thirteen people inhabiting seven rooms. This upbringing would have a formative influence on his work, which is largely populated by women and the domestic spaces they inhabit.
Tremblay trained to be a linotypist, like his father, a career that he pursued from 1963-1966. He was also briefly employed in the costume department of Radio-Canada before leaving to write full time. In 1964, he won first prize in a Radio-Canada contest for young authors for a play called Le train. which was written several years earlier. It was in this same year that he met André Brassard, who would become his lifetime collaborator and the director of virtually all of his plays.
Tremblay’s breakout success was Les Belles Soeurs. a tragicomedy about the lives of working class women. The play, which was written in 1965 and premiered at Montreal’s Théâtre du Rideau Vert on August 28, 1968, shocked audiences with its unflinching portrayal of a hitherto unrepresented segment of the population, and also with its scandalous use of the much-denigrated sociolect of joual. The play was panned by theatre critic Martial Dassylva in La Presse the day after it opened. He wrote:
“I can’t help but think that the Théâtre du Rideau Vert might have done the playwright a disservice in accepting to produce his play… I’m not by nature a bigot but it’s the first time in my life I’ve heard, in one night, so many curses, swear words, and trashy language.
This coarseness and this vulgarity stem from the arch-realist theory that joual is the natural and national language of the Quebecois… to the great surprise of the snobs for whom this “joual” has become not only a curiosity, but a party game.” (qtd in Usmiani 31 [translated from the French])
24 hours after Dassylva’s scathing review, Jean Basile, theatre critic for Le Devoir, published a glowing review of the play, launching one of the most heated cultural debates in the history of Quebec. According to Tremblay, it was this controversy that made him famous: he stated, “I became a public personality overnight, because people were attacking me” (Boulanger 18).
To date, Les Belles Soeurs has been translated into 27 languages worldwide, including Yiddish and the Scots dialect. In 2014 it was adapted into a musical with versions in both English and French.
Les Belles Soeurs is the first instalment in a cycle of eight plays that includes critical successes such as A toi pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou (1971, winner of the Chalmers award) and Hosanna (1973), which was hugely popular when it opened in English Translation in Toronto in 1974. Over the course of his career, Tremblay has written twenty plays, three musicals, nine novels, three collections of short stories, seven film scripts, an opera libretto, and fourteen translations and adaptations.
- 2000: Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award – For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again
- 1991: Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award – La maison suspendue
- 1989: Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award – The Real World?/Le vrai monde?
- 1986: Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award – Albertine, in Five Times