'I've got to do something': Quebec City artists mull career change as show venues shut down again

·3 min read
The pandemic is dragging on, and show venues have been shut down for the most part. Many stage actors and other artists have had to consider a career change. (Joel Côté/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The pandemic is dragging on, and show venues have been shut down for the most part. Many stage actors and other artists have had to consider a career change. (Joel Côté/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Réjean Vallée's career as a stage actor goes back 30 years, but now he works at a long-term care home in Quebec City as a patient attendant.

With show venues shuttered for much of the last year, Vallée signed up for the province's condensed training program for orderlies. He's discovered a new passion, even if his new line of work has exposed him to the horrors of the pandemic.

"I've never seen so many people dying during this year. I saw many people dying in front of me. Just that, brings another colour to life," Vallée said. "It's a human experience."

After 30 years as a stage actor, Réjean Vallée started working as a patient attendant in a long-term care home in Quebec City last year.
After 30 years as a stage actor, Réjean Vallée started working as a patient attendant in a long-term care home in Quebec City last year. (SophieGrenierPhotographe)

But saying goodbye to his first career after decades as a stage performer isn't easy. He still has that itch.

"I love the job very much," Vallée said, referring to his work in long-term care. "But I love acting very much [also]. It's in my blood."

It's a dilemma facing artists across the province, including in Quebec City.

Last month, show venues there were allowed to reopen when the region was downgraded from a red to orange zone. A major surge in cases followed however, prompting the Quebec government to implement special lockdown measures in Quebec City as well as cities such as Lévis and Gatineau.

The last year has been fraught with waiting, uncertainty and disappointment. Artists who want nothing more than to hit the stage and perform are starting to seriously think about moving on, at least temporarily.

The Fédération Nationale des communications et de la culture (FNCC) brings together several unions that represents Quebec artists. It recently released a report on the future of the industry, and found that more than 40 per cent of its members have considered or are considering leaving their field.

"I've got to do something," said Simon Lepage, who lives in Quebec City and has been a stage actor over the last 10 years. "This [is] like [a] lingering depression, you know. I had to do something with my time. I have a lot of time. I've never had time."

Lepage is back in school studying computer programming.

Maureen Roberge, left, graduated from theatre school two years ago, but says she's not giving up just yet on her career.
Maureen Roberge, left, graduated from theatre school two years ago, but says she's not giving up just yet on her career. (Vincent Champoux)

'I'm not giving up'

For Maureen Roberge, who also lives in Quebec City, the COVID-19 pandemic came just two years after she graduated from theatre school. Now, she's studying translation.

She still wants to pursue theatre, but she's worried about the industry's future.

"No, I'm not giving up." she said. "[But] I do believe that younger generations are are being told that's not really something to pursue because of all the unknown in the industry."

Lepage says he's not yet ready to make a decision about his career. But he does wonder if he'll be able to juggle work in his new field with theatre.

"At one point the time that I have will be more and more scarce because jobs will start going on again," Lepage said. "I will have to make choices."