2013 Lifetime Artistic Achievement (Theatre)
Viola Léger is one of the brightest stars in Canada’s artistic firmament. She is best known for her role of La Sagouine in the play of the same name by Acadian writer Antonine Maillet: she has performed it more than 2,500 times, winning rave reviews for her authentic and engaging portrayal. She has made an enduring creative contribution in both English and French, and is a passionate ambassador for Acadian culture in Canada and around the world.
Following her studies in Acadia, Ms. Léger taught high school literature and drama for 15 years. She later obtained a master’s degree in theatre education from Boston University and studied in Paris with renowned theatre artist Jacques Lecoq.
She became an actress almost by accident, when Antonine Maillet invited her to play the lead in La Sagouine. Thus was born this legendary character, a humble Acadian cleaning woman who tells her colourful life story with humour and dignity. Ms. Léger premiered the role in 1971 and has performed it (in English and French) in Canada, the USA and France, winning numerous accolades including a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Performance. Since 1993 she has spent her summers at Le Pays de la Sagouine in Bouctouche, NB, where she appears in character.
Ms. Léger has also appeared in plays by, among others, Michel Tremblay, Michel Garneau, Tennessee Williams, and Federico García Lorca, and her performance in Tom Ziegler’s Grace and Gloria earned her the 2001 “Masque” award (Quebec Theatre Critics’ Association) for Best Actress.
In 1985 she founded her own theatre company, La Compagnie Viola-Léger, which she directed until 2008, and in 1999 she established the Viola Léger Foundation to support theatre production and professional training for Acadian theatre artists.
Her remarkable talent has earned her many awards and honours, including Officer of the Order of Canada (1989); Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la France (1991); Government of New Brunswick Award for Excellence in Theatre (1995); Member of the Ordre des Francophones d’Amérique (1998); Officer of the Ordre de la Pléiade (2004); Order of New Brunswick (2007); and four honorary doctorates. From 2001 to 2006 Ms. Léger served in the Senate of Canada, where she passionately defended the importance of artists in our society.