Success Stories

Alex Fancy's "Tintamarre" dramatizes linguistic harmony in New Brunswick

Alex Fancy has spent more than half of his adult life teaching French to Anglophones, a fact that, among other things, appeals to his rich sense of irony. “I grew up speaking English in Nova Scotia,” says the former Head of Romance Languages at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick.

“I had only high school French when I came to college, and I had every intention of studying chemistry. But after six weeks, I realized that it wasn’t for me. So, one day, I sat in on a French class. I fell in love with the sound of it, the rhythm of it. That was the moment I knew there was no going back for me.”

Today, despite a 40-year career and recent retirement from active teaching, Fancy remains as passionate as ever about the power and beauty of his adopted language. These days, he channels most of his energy through Tintamarre, a bilingual theatre company he formed in 1982 and is still going strong with unique, home-spun performances for audiences throughout New Brunswick.

“I started this troupe, after some experimentations with drama in the 1970s, because I recognized that strict classroom circumstances are not the best for learning a second language,” he explains. “Language is word, tone and gesture. It’s not just one, or the other. It’s expression as much as it is strict communication. You could say that Tintamarre is a bit of a trail-blazer.”

In fact, Fancy has made a habit of blazing trails over the years. As a young man, he learned his lessons well and, after matriculating from Mount A, he travelled to Paris on a scholarship. Upon returning to Canada, he did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario, and then more at his beloved Sackville-based alma mater where he stayed on to become a much-admired figure in the academic community.

In the years that followed, he accumulated a remarkable record of accomplishment: Professor of French and Drama at Mount A; Dean of both Arts and Faculty at that institution; member of the faculty at Middlebury College French Summer School in Vermont, where he still teaches; first recipient of the Herbert and Leota Tucker Teaching Award in 1984; recipient of a 3M National Teaching Fellowship in 1988; first recipient of the Association of Atlantic Universities Distinguished Teacher Award in 1991; Founding Chairman of the National Council of 3M Teaching Fellows in 2003, a position he continues to hold; and recipient of the Lieutenant-Governor’s Dialogue Award in 2005.

But Tintamarre is still his proudest achievement. Over the years, the company – which involves, at any given time, 20 or more amateur actors from all walks of life and with all levels of linguistic attainment – has toured the province, Canada and the United States. What began as a teaching tool has become a cause célèbre. Fancy, himself, has delivered workshops on its activities and linguistic approaches in six countries. “We write our own plays together, and we operate in both French and English, regardless of the skill level,” he says. “This encourages people to be courageous, to start communicating in a language with which they are uncomfortable or unfamiliar. Very quickly, they become more courageous and more comfortable. And that’s what

it’s all about. It reminds people that French, and English, are languages people actually use, and not just read in books.”

Though formally retired, he has no intention of slowing down. Tintamarre’s show must go on, and several new productions are on the drawing board. Beyond this, he’s not finished learning languages. “I’m studying German,” he laughs. “It’s something I’ve always been interested in. Did you know that the jokes in this language are really quite funny? Now, how’s that for irony?”

This feature is a copyright (2007) of Dialogue New/Nouveau-Brunswick, which promotes understanding, respect and appreciation between English-speaking and French-speaking New Brunswickers.