THE WOMAN WHO STAGES PLAYS IN 5 LANGUAGES... ...IN A POWDER KEG

BARBARA MOON June 16 1962

THE WOMAN WHO STAGES PLAYS IN 5 LANGUAGES... ...IN A POWDER KEG

BARBARA MOON June 16 1962

THE WOMAN WHO STAGES PLAYS IN 5 LANGUAGES... ...IN A POWDER KEG

MME. CLAUDE BEAUBIEN (née Jeannine Charbonneau) is an elegant Montreal socialite with the Latin temperament of a diva and the delicate civic drive of a congresswoman. She is, for example, a woman who showed no hesitation in loaning $25 to a seedy actor though she was convinced he'd already stolen $1,500 from her. She might resent him, but the instinct for useful salvage was stronger: “He was really a very talented boy and he needed the money to do something that would give him a fresh start.”

Mme. Beaubien, married to an Alcan executive and the mother of four, also has many influential friends and no noticeable reluctance to take advantage of this fact. She has a conspicuous history of personal enthusiasms ranging from pottery to The Dance, and she has, too, that peculiarly feminine vision of the “possibilities” in discarded objects that is a mainstay of the antique business, the rural real estate trade and the Big Sister Movement.

One of her continuing enthusiasms is little theatre. So it is less than surprising that, strongly seized with the '’possibilities” in an abandoned

arsenal on St. Helen’s Island, under the Jacques Cartier bridge, she should have turned it into a playhouse. Furthermore, combining highmindedness with cultural worth, she is regularly using it to treat new Canadians in Montreal to plays in their very own language.

In the lour years since La Poudrière (The Powderhouse) opened its doors, Mme. Beaubien has presented forty-four different productions in five languages, including French and English, to a total of 60,000 paying customers. The assorted German, Italian and Spanish audiences seem properly grateful — though not always completely docile. On at least one occasion, a production in Italian became the vehicle for an Italian vendetta, with a rival group spiting the sponsoring group by taking a large block of tickets to sell and blandly not selling them. Mme. Beaubien herself had to intervene.

It is perhaps worth noting that, in spite of La Poudrière's polyglot pretensions, the only real runaway successes have been those sure-fire stand-bys, Broadway comedy and naughty French Luce.

PICTURES AND WORDS CONTINUED OVERLEAF’

The powerhouse at The Powderhouse: what a housew

In 1956 La Poudrière was a squat, abandoned nineteenth-century powderhouse with dirt floors, ten-foot-thick walls and two narrow vaults. It had no furnace, no plumbing and no electricity. The Montreal Parks Department used it for storing park benches.

To turn this unlikely hulk into a 180-seat theatre took only two years, $60.000 — and Mme. Beaubien, operating in the most charming possible way. as a one-woman press gang.

She talked money out of her husband’s friends, materiel out of construction firms, fixtures out of showbusiness acquaintances and free labor out of plumbers, painters and electricians — notoriously shrewd, union-minded men. On one occasion, when a workman with a strong herd instinct followed along unbidden with his colleagues from a previous job. Mme. Beaubien even got the contracting carpenter to donate the $185 in wages the stray demanded for three days of uncontracted labor.

She acted as her own job foreman, with true Gallic thrift, and solved any problems that arose with authentic Gallic practicality. When the plumber asked how far apart to space the two toilets in the men s room, for example, she suggested he stand beside his helper and figure it out for himself.

BARBARA MOON

'd to become first lady of Montreal’s theatre in an arsenal

And when the last-minute cleaning crew failed her on opening night she simply commandeered a paying customer, come to pick up her ticket in advance, and together they swabbed down the whole place in the remaining two hours before curtain time.

Perhaps her finest stroke, though, has been her insurance scheme for box-office loyalty. For she has enlisted exactly enough proud Patrons-of-Honor, Governors, Subscribers, Benefactors and Ladies’ Committee members — 144 in all — neatly to pack La Poudrière any time the house looks thin.

But even without a captive audience, with Mme. Beaubien around, it seems safe to say that no theatre-lover in Montreal could now make the mistake a dinner hostess made four years ago when La Poudrière was first started. A guest with an opening-night ticket excused himself from table early with this apology: “I'm sorry. I have to go to La Poudrière."