In October, the Jardin botanique de Montréal offers educational activities about Cucurbitaceae, the pumpkin family. Before 1994, programs took place in a hall adjacent to the greenhouses. But before long the venue was overflowing with enthusiastic kids, and the decision was made to create a stage work that would be both enjoyable and educational – and featuring Pépo-citrouille, a character who looked a lot like a pumpkin. I talked to actors who left their mark on three periods of this fabulous fun-filled adventure designed for children between four and eight.
Simple, but promising, beginnings
During the early stages of creation, what the Jardin botanique team wanted was for kids to be able to learn a host of things about plants and members of the pumpkin family. And enjoy themselves while learning, like kids at large-group activities. In 1994, the first year, the play Pépo-citrouille was performed by both animators and actors. Dominique Proulx, who was then an animator at the Jardin botanique, remembers being onstage alongside Pépo. “It’s a character who brings people together,” she explains. “Children quickly became fans. The energy, the music and the song ‘C’est moi Pépo’ will stay in my head for as long as I live.”
Creative inspiration and tremendous popularity
In the years that followed, four other plays were created by the team that included author-director Raynald Michaud and the scientific-activity coordinator at the Jardin botanique, Diane Turcotte. The actor Marc St-Martin says he loved the artist teams assembled for the creations of Un cadeau pour Pépo “L’histoire de l’Halloween” in 2000 and Pépo-enquête! in 2002. He adds: “We performed a lot, sometimes five shows a day, and I fed on that experience later on when I acted for kids. I felt it especially in Toc toc toc, a very popular young-audience TV show.”
Pépo becomes a wonderful tradition
After 2002, the five plays were staged in rotation. Alexandre Gagné, who’s handled the role of Pépo for 15 years, still enjoys performing it as much as ever. He’s got a lot of wonderful memories of the orange and round experience: “The kids know Pépo’s song by heart, they dance and enjoy themselves with him. They’re full of energy, and to them Pépo-citrouille’s a Halloween rock star!” This autumn Halloween tradition has become a lot like the Nutcracker during the holiday season.
But what would Alexandre want for Pépo in the years ahead? “That he continue being moved by little things, because that’s where the most beautiful sense of wonder about life lies.”