|Manon Genier, her husband, Jean-Antoine, daughter, Genevieve, and son, Sebastien|
traveled the world entertaining people with pantomime. But Manon, the driving
force behind the troupe, did not start out as an artist. The native of St. Jean
sur Richelieu studied sciences in CEGEP, and was awarded a scholarship to study
biology at the University of Alberta. But she decided that wasn't what she
wanted to do and she returned to Montreal to study dance for two-and-a-half
years with Rona Nereida, a professional classical ballet dancer. Rona had her
own school where she taught students to develop their own form of dance and body
language. As there were not many students, Manon received a lot of individual
attention and learned quickly. She also took acrobatic and theater classes as
summer of 1980, Manon, while working for Canada Post, joined an exchange program
to France, which allowed her to visit Paris for three weeks. The trip was a
turning point in her life, because it was during the visit that she caught the
travel bug, and where she first saw street performers at work.
Soon after she returned to Canada, she met her partner, Jean-Antoine Demers, and the adventurer told her what it was like to live on a sailing boat and travel on the high seas. Manon was intrigued and told Jean-Antoine that if he ever set sail again; she would like to join him.
|Manon decided she wanted to return to France and do street performances and she hoped to bring some musicians with her. Unfortunately, that didn't pan out, but she did hook up with Jean-Antoine in Paris. They decided to go to sea, and he proceeded to look for a boat in northern France. He eventually had to go to Plymouth, England, to find the vessel he required, a nine-meter wooden boat called Trista.|
Jean-Antoine went in search of the boat, Manon got a temporary job as a
vegetarian cook on a boat waiting for him to cross the English Channel. They
eventually hooked up in Roscoff in Brittany in northern France and began their
journey, which would eventually last seven years and take them through France,
Spain, Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel before
returning the same way and ending up in the Canary Islands. Manon didn't even
have any sailing experience whatsoever before the couple started their sailing
So how about the performing itself, how did it come about? Manon's first street performance happened by accident in 1983, when the couple was trapped in Marmaris, Turkey, a small seaside town, without any money. Previously, they had been living off a small monthly allowance that Jean-Antoine received from a restaurant business he had sold, but for some reason their money had not arrived that month.
The couple went to a local tourist area where Manon performed two sketches. When she passed the hat after the show, the Turks didn't know what to do, until one spectator in the circle who had spent some time in Western Europe caught on, and told the crowd it was normal to give some money as a show of appreciation. At the end of the evening they returned to the boat to discover they had made enough money to survive for another day. So the next day, they repeated their efforts with Jean-Antoine acting as a bodyguard, and they made twice as much. But at night, the police came by and told them they must stop performing.
So they decided to move on and they ended up in Larnaca, Cyprus, where in 1985, Manon became pregnant and gave birth to the couple's first child, Genevieve. During that time, Manon worked as a weaver and Jean-Antoine painted names on boats harbored in the marina. It was the first time they had ever lived among a sailing community.
they had hoped to go through the Red Sea to India, but navigating the Red Sea is
far more difficult than navigating the Mediterranean, so they went to Israel for
awhile to decide what they would do. They needed to learn astronomic navigation
and how to use a sextant.
In 1986, while moored in Akko, Manon traveled to Haifa to start performing again as the cost of living was high in Israel and they needed money to paint the boat. The couple didn't have any problems with the police in Israel, but Manon was surprised by the reaction she received from the Israelis. They would put money in her hat as they walked by, but they wouldn't bother to watch her perform.
The couple eventually decided they did not have the sailing skills to continue on so they retraced their path and ended up in the Canary Islands in January of 1988 and this is where their son Sebastien was born. Manon took a crash course in Spanish and it was in Los Palmos where she started performing in schools, kindergartens and private parties.
Of course, the family eventually moved on and Manon performed in French schools and at birthday parties in Casablanca, Morocco, and then the family went on to Sevilla, Spain, where Manon did a few more shows in schools before the family finally terminated their voyage in July of 1989.
Manon took the kids and returned to Canada while Jean-Antoine kept traveling on the Trista to Portugal and then back to Spain before eventually selling the boat after it ran aground on a sandbar and became damaged. It was very difficult emotionally for him to sell the boat, but he didn't have the funds to fix it.
The couple was apart for fourteen months, and Manon had enormous trouble readjusting to life in Quebec. But she didn't want to go back on the boat, she was fed up and getting too nervous with sea travel. So she tried to establish contacts with schools in Europe, had some success in Spain and the family all met up in Madrid in September of 1990, where Manon started performing in a number of classical convents as well as some modern schools.
From Spain, they moved on to Prague the next year, where they stayed for three months and performed in the Old Town Square. Then it was time to return to Canada, were they stayed until 1996.
Though based in Quebec, Manon did travel to a number of festivals abroad. In 1992, she was a representative artist for a friendship association between St. Jean sur Richelieu and Huy in Belgium. Then in 1993, she took part in the "XI International Street Theatre of Jelenia Gora," a huge seven-day street theatre festival. And in 1994, she participated in the "1st International Mime Festival of Shanghai."
But all the time they were in Canada, they were looking for a way to go traveling again. Even though Manon had earlier had her fill of the high seas, she was now willing to try again, but only if the trip was confined to river travel. So the couple first thought of buying a junk and heading down the Yangtze, but that didn't work out, so Jean-Antoine bought a boat in St Jean sur Richelieu, spent two years refurbishing it, and the plan was for him to sail across the Atlantic and the rest of the family would join up with him in France. Jean-Antoine sailed through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but unfortunately the boat ran aground just before he was set out on the Atlantic, and the trip had to be aborted.
|But with their hearts set on Europe, they flew to Belgium and then to save money headed East into Hungary and then Romania, which is where they performed in all kinds of theatres and that is where Jean-Antoine developed his lighting techniques. It was also in Romania, that the show truly became a family affair as everyone was given a job to perform. Genevieve and Sebastien became comedians and musicians and became part of every show; Manon obviously maintained her role as the main comedian and the person responsible for the conception, production and costumes. And Jean-Antoine filled out the troupe as the director, lighting designer and counselor.|
But with their hearts set on Europe, they flew to Belgium and then to save money headed East into Hungary and then Romania, which is where they performed in all kinds of theatres and that is where Jean-Antoine developed his lighting techniques. It was also in Romania, that the show truly became a family affair as everyone was given a job to perform. Genevieve and Sebastien became comedians and musicians and became part of every show; Manon obviously maintained her role as the main comedian and the person responsible for the conception, production and costumes. And Jean-Antoine filled out the troupe as the director, lighting designer and counselor.
family then headed back to Turkey, where they performed in international schools
in Istanbul. Then they traveled onward through Jordan and Syria before flying to
Delhi, India, where they stayed for six months and Genevieve attended a local
Indian school. From there they went to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and
Malaysia again (where they performed in the Theatre Festival of the XVI
Commonwealth Games) before ending up here in Thailand.
her family have led a life that few us can imagine. But the truth is, it hasn't
always been a bed of roses. Many times, they do not know when their next
performance will be and therefore when they will receive their next paycheck.
Manon has done an admirable job of teaching the kids herself during their
travels, but despite all the exotic adventures, it has to be difficult
constantly uprooting and moving on to a new culture with a new language and new
customs. But this family just does not like to sit still, and they would
probably go crazy minding the lawn in suburbia.