I think one of the things I still struggle a bit with sometimes is the whole idea that no one (or, well, very few people) is every going to really read my dissertation…probably.

 

 

 

 

Because on the one hand, almost no one is going to read it (so that takes some of the pressure away…but only a fraction of it)…

 

 

 

 

…but on the other hand, if this thing is just going to collect dust somewhere, what am I doing it for?

 

 

 

I do wonder sometimes if the work I’m doing is “necessary”, if it can maybe help people in some way. Sometimes I find myself thinking that I’m not sure the world really needs another person yapping about theatre for 200+ pages right now, and other times I think that my loving the theatre so much to want to devote my time writing about it (all while still wondering if I am even contributing anything new to the conversation…but what arts/humanities PhD doesn’t constantly ask themselves this?) is enough. Who knows? I would like something else to come out of all this though…something beyond the final dissertation. I’m just not sure what that is yet.

 

 

 

Teaching high school has, I think, had a larger effect on the development of my state of mind and my relationship with my project than I had originally anticipated, I think. Maybe it’s because every time I leave the school for the day, I always ask myself if I have really given anything to my students, if I’ve managed to get them to think outside the confines of their own bubble at all. I have some doubts about this. But then again, I’m always thinking I should be giving more, that I can give more. I just want to be useful somehow, like I’m contributing something other than noise (or worse) a repetition of something someone else has already said.

 

 

 

 

For now, though, I’ll limit my usefulness to providing you lovely reader(s) with some comments on Angélica Liddell’s The Scarlet Letter at La Colline, a show that brought me back to some very familiar aesthetic territory, but also made me a bit angry.

 

 

 

To preface, despite the title, this play is not a direct adaptation of Hawthorne’s novel, but rather only inspired by it. Yes, Hester Prynn (played by Liddell) and Arthur Dimsdale are present as figures in the production. Yes, there is a scarlet letter A sewn onto Hester’s dress, and yes, female sexuality is thematically thrust front and center. Overall, however, the production was concerned more with sexuality, morality/moral hypocrisy and the act of transgression than it was with linear narrative.

 

 

It was the morality thing, above all else, that eventually irked me.

 

 

 

 

 

In her director’s note, Liddell begins by quoting the following from the opening of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter:

 

 

 

“The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.”

 

 

 

From here, she, I would say correctly, highlights a link between the sacred or the hallowed–can’t forget that even for the Puritans, cemeteries and proper burials were reserved for only certain members of the population–and the abject, or the rejected (that which has been deemed as going against the established order and must consequently be excluded). She links this back to art by proposing the hypothesis that art cannot exist without the act of moralizing, that, indeed, art is born from the disdain and rejection poured out by audiences/consumers toward the work in question for either its refusal to adhere to a certain moral code, or the lengths to which it pushes it. She continues by likening the process of art-making to taking a scalpel and draining a pus-filled plague sore, not necessarily to cleanse her body, but to drain and expose the toxicity of the bodies of her audience. It is, then, an exposure of that which many may well wish to keep hidden away. In order for this ‘drainage’ to work, however, she needs us–the audience–to be there, us with our potential for scorn and ridicule and disgust. I’ve copied the relevant excerpts from the text below for reference (and for anyone who can read French and is curious):

 

 

 

“En exposant sa propre pourriture, l’artiste, le fou, l’immoral agit tel un scalpel sur les bubons pestilentiels de ses maîtres : il les draine. Sans juges, la punition n’existerait pas. Et sans lettre écarlate, l’art n’existerait pas. Sans moralisme, l’art n’existerait pas. Sans hypocrisie, l’art n’existerait pas.”

 

 

As she says later…there could not have been a Mary without an Eve.

 

 

 

Honestly, if this show was in production back when I was writing my first Master’s thesis on masochistic theatricality in Genet, I would have been alllll over it because even this short excerpt by itself is so incredibly aligned with what I was writing on back then. Hell, the Genet parallels are even stronger earlier in the text when Liddell makes an open ‘confession’ to her criminality–something she later vocally repeats on the stage:

 

 

“Alors laissez-moi être une criminelle. Celle qui vous parle tue, vole, pervertit.” [“So let me be a criminal. She who now speaks to you kills, rapes, perverts.”]

 

 

 

 

 

This isn’t the only Genet parallel to be found here–a later bit sees the troupe of eight nude men clasping bouquet’s of flowers between their legs so that they seem to burst out of their behinds in an image recalling not just Genet’s Un Chant d’amour, but also one Pier Paolo Passolini–, but the criminal element did stick out to me precisely because of the allusion to a personal past. See, when Genet called himself a criminal in his works, there was a ring of truth to it precisely because before he became known as a writer he was a thief and a prostitute, two occupations that go against what may be described as ‘orderly’ or  ‘moral’ behavior by the dominant ‘powers that be’. Liddell, from what I can gather, is neither a murderer nor a rapist, but she does have quite the penchant for perversion, so I will give her that.

 

 

 

 

The majority of the close to two-hour performance is a mix of theatre, dance and performance art that sees Liddell–wearing a black silk dress and hoop skirt, with, as it is revealed later, nothing underneath–sharing the stage with the aforementioned troupe of eight nude men, as well as one figure in red cloak and matching face veil (Arthur Dimsdale), and a black dancer, dressed at first in a light blue tunic. In one of her first monologues (there are three), Liddell loudly proclaims that she hates living in a world where women hate men.

 

 

 

Yeah, that’s right…there is some anti #metoo stuff here, all in the name of speaking against what Liddell identifies as new forms of puritanism. Is it provocative? Yeah, I guess you could say it is, in a way, since it definitely provoked a somewhat visceral reaction in me. But, I would also argue that it comes from a misreading of the entire point of the #metoo movement, instead drawing on the hysteric comments from its detractors.

 

 

 

 

 

To illustrate my point, let me jump ahead a bit to the middle of the production, during which Liddell addresses her sexuality explicitly, not just as a woman, but as a woman over 50 (conveniently, this comes shortly after author Yann Moix offered his…opinions…on the sexual desirability of women over a certain age). She begins by commenting on the relationship between the attractiveness and ‘beauty’/ ‘purity’ of younger women and the male gaze/male consumption. Men desire this youth, this nubility, the unmarked skin that can be sullied when they touch it (or penetrate it…again and again). What remains hidden–the lines, wrinkles, sweat, cellulite, mucus, piss, etc–begins to appear as age takes hold, and now the woman, no longer conforming exactly to the desires of men becomes ‘ugly’. But she craves, she wants, this ‘ugliness’ that is projected out of her is a result of years of being gazed upon as a desired object, and now that that ‘status’ is forbidden, essentially, to her, she can free her lechery. Liddell, who is 52 herself, uses the stage to perform out her desire for men, for their bodies. At one point, the men of her entourage form two lines, facing inward. As she walks down the center of these two lines, she stops between each pair, briefly taking one penis in each hand before continuing down. At the final pair, she kneels down and very briefly takes one of them into her mouth.

 

 

 

Here’s the thing about that: on the whole, desiring somebody is normal. Women’s desire and sexuality has been repressed continuously in all manner of societies–this is true. At least as far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with fantasizing, and indeed, #metoo does not call for a blind stamping out of “impure thoughts” or desire in general–at least that’s not how I see it. I mean, really, anyone is pretty much free to have whatever dirty fantasies they like. The problem, however, is not just when that fantasy transcends into reality, but when that act of doing so involves the nonconsensual negation of another person’s (usually a woman’s) autonomy.

 

 

 

 

Really, though, it isn’t too much to ask to not be groped at work, or have a boss or coworker make suggestive comments (or worse bribe you into performing sexual favors for the sake of maintaining/advancing your career). The reason it probably feels to some people as though it is a ‘witch hunt’ is not because everyone is making all this up out of thin air–to do so would be a disservice for victims anyway–it’s because now we have the platforms to, loudly, say what maaaaaaany people have been saying for generations. Hell, #metoo was started by a woman of color in the 1990s. The internet just makes it easier to be more open about it now.

 

 

Anyway, all this is to say that I think Liddell may have contradicted herself in her own speech (though who knows, maybe I am entirely off base).

 

 

 

 

 

I was going to try and jot down some other reflections on the design of the show (so much red), but I’m feeling myself get a bit worked up, and I have to rush back to teach my final class of the day.

 

 

 

We’re reading Into the Wild in my 11th grade class. I never thought I’d be encountering that book in a classroom again after a writing class freshman year of college. At least this time it was my choice to include it in my curriculum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to be at the airport at 06h00 tomorrow…

Hello from the official start of my two weeks of vacation from teaching but not working! Not gonna lie, it’s pretty fantastic to be here.

 

 
First things first, I am in a much better place than I was when I last posted. I think all the stress was starting to get to me a lot more than I wanted to admit to myself, but writing it all out felt very cathartic.

 

 
And then, following my post, I ended up having a string of back-to-back hangout commitments, pushing me to get out of the house to do something other than go to the theatre on my own.

 

 

 
There was a raclette night (including an attempt to grill some sausages on the top of the raclette machine which…was not the greatest idea), which, since it fell just after the last day of Hanukkah, also included latkes and applesauce, and an absolutely decadent chocolate-caramel bûche de Noël from Blé Sucré. And then came the 100th edition of Saturday afternoon jazz at La Fontaine de Belleville, where I met up with an old friend and their parents (their mom even made friends with the gentleman at the table next to us, leading to said gentleman buying a bottle of wine and some charcuterie for the table…because why not).

 

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I saw a friend perform in a short play festival at Cité U, grabbed drinks (and stayed out far later than expected) with another, and had a very copious brunch at La Fontaine the next day with a third. And through all of this, I’ve been frantically trying to rid myself of my remaining tickets resto for the year (which, to be honest, I’m debating applying for next year, since I barely go out for lunch, and it’s never certain that an establishment will ‘bend the rules’ and accept these vouchers during dinner service), trying out different places, most of them old stand-bys, but I did get a couple of new ones in as well (the photo below is from my lunch at Bol Porridge Bar):

 

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FYI: I managed to get rid of all of them, save one. So close…

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, I’ve got an episode of my new obsession, 90 Day Fiancé (or actually, Before the 90 Days, season 2, episode 6) on in the corner of my screen and a list of show notes to get to so…let’s get right to it.

 

 

 
Show 1: Rêve et Folie, directed by Claude Régy, based on a poem by Georg Trakl, Nanterre-Amandiers

 

 

 

 

Before I get into this one, one thing I’ve started to realize is that I’m subconsciously making decisions about which shows I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up writing on, and which ones will be blips.

 

 

 
This one, I have a feeling, will be one of the latter.

 

 

 
It’s not due to anything personal; I’ve just come to the point where I know I’ll need to be more discerning about which pieces to devote my energy to. If I’m not still thinking on it the day after—and especially if my notes don’t really jog my memory—I’m probably just going to end up filing that particular show away into my memories. At least I’ll still have the program and my notes to look at, should I ever want to (attempt to) revisit the thing.

 

 

 

 

Also, not gonna lie, I was not in the most energetic mood when I saw this one, and, seeing as it was a deliberately quiet, very dark (think just enough light where it is almost dreamlike, where when the actor finally appears you’ve got to take a minute to assure yourself that he’s actually there), solo show, it took a bit of energy for me to keep my eyes open.

 

 

 

The set design, however, was pretty cool in its minimalism. Think a large conical structure, where the tip of the cone narrows upstage to a degree that it looks almost as though it could go on forever, into infinity. This is where the actor emerges from, eventually, moving and gesticulating about the space slowly, striking a certain set of poses, eyes shut the entire time. Yeah, that’s right. His eyes were shut right up until he came out for his bow.

 

 

 

If you want disconnect, you pretty much have it right here.

 

 

 

Show 2: Macadam Animal, created by Eryck Abecassis and Olivia Rosenthal, MC93

 

 

 

 
Here’s a question for you all: at what point do animals become pests? And to whom? And if/when they do become pests, what do we do with them? Do we leave them be? If so, there is a very high likelihood that some populations will be affected more than others.

 

 

 

 

This was a performance of sound and image/projection more than anything, with the artists in question taking, as their subjects, the animals that inhabit the city with us, yet who we’d prefer to ignore: pigeons, crows, rats, termites, bees, stray dogs…Each one had its own segment, complete with a little foley set-up that complemented the images projected onto the screen behind the two performers.

 

 

 

 

 
A couple segments stood out more than the others, the first of which I will mention is the one on stray dogs (which also flowed into a segment on bees). During this segment, a video was projected on the screen showing footage of residents of Bobigny first walking towards the MC93, and then filming an interview inside in which they discussed any encounters they had with the animal in question. Of course, when a group of kids came on the screen—local kids, made obvious by the fact that they at times referenced very specific areas of the neighborhood with a certain level of ease that comes with not having to think too much about pinpointing and claiming your surroundings—the audience visibly perked up a little. I mean, it’s almost a universal maxim: tiny children talking over each other because each one insists that they have the most important thing to say is pretty adorable.

 

 

 

 

But the localizing, the precise localizing of this production within the environs of the theatre (building) itself was pretty unique in its execution. And, given how the rest of the piece plays out following this moment, establishing a network of inter-connectivity that was easily comprehensible on a human scale (if that makes sense) acted as a rather effective gateway into understanding the thematics of urban networks (visible and invisible) that would be continued to be explored later.

 

 

 

 

This…very peripherally…brings me to a second segment: the one on the soft-shell crabs that, through no deliberate intention of their own, ended up making a transatlantic crossing into France. These are non-native crabs. They do not belong here, lest they disturb the local ecosystems.

 

 

 

 

 

Interesting, the show posits, that we think of this now when, during the period of colonization of North and South America (and let’s be honest, even beyond that), ships from the Atlantic were bringing incredibly invasive species into the ‘New World’ that all but destroyed several established ecosystems.

 

 

 

 
So, again, at what point, and for whom, does an animal become a pest?

 

 

 

Show 3: Saison 1, Florence Minder, Théâtre de la Bastille

 

 

 

Another show at the Théâtre de la Bastille that is about the theatricality of theatre.

 

 

 

I love this place so much.

 

 

 

 

And this one was not just a show—or rather, a storytelling session—on theatricality, but theatricality using the codes of television series. Hence the title.

 

 

 

 
There were three “episodes”. I think for the sake of clarity, I’m just going to give a detailed summary of what happened in this one because it was…something. In the best of ways.

 

 

 

 

 
Here we go…

 

 

 

When we enter the space, we see a woman (Florence Minder) sitting at a table, a laptop and a microphone in front of her. She bids us good evening. It’s as though we are here for a conference or a pitch meeting.

 

 

 
When everyone is sitting, she begins by welcoming us all to this reading of this ‘serialized’ play commissioned especially for the Avignon Theatre Festival, 2034 edition, through a generous donation by the theatre arts commission (this comment elicited quite a bit of giggles…because no such thing exists, and how silly to think that people would care enough to bring such an association into existence). She then explains that she will be presenting (reading) for us episode 1. The episode would end when she closed the laptop and stepped out from behind the table.

 

 

 
And of course, like in situations where you start watching an episode of a thing on Netflix and say to yourself you will just stick to one when you know perfectly well you will not, I did not want the ‘episodes’ to end (especially the last one because how it ended was both rude but also absolutely perfect).

 

 

 
Onto the episodes…(fyi it does get a bit graphic at parts). Also full disclosure, for the sake of time, I just copy/pasted everything below from a text conversation I had while I was walking home from the theatre (when everything was still very fresh in my mind).

 

 

 

Episode 1

 

 

 

 

Just her at a table, with a laptop and a mic reading the script (as a sort of omniscient narrator). The episode opens on a hostage situation. Our lead character, Irene (a dental hygienist) is on a trip in South America, but her tour bus got hijacked in the Amazon by a group of rebels

 

 

 
Irene gets taken into the back room by one of them and while the dude is raping her (in the ass…this bit was specific), she tricks him, grabs a bit of mirror, plunges it into his neck, grabs his ak-47 and goes on a shooting spree killing everyone (including the other hostages…oops)

 

 
The episode closes with her in the jungle, some bullet shells in her ass and a bad yeast infection

 

 

 

Then episode 2 starts

 

 

 
The table is moved offstage, she keeps the mic. Starts again as the narrator and gives us a quick recap (which also turns into a little flashback about Irene’s life). Then the actress ducks under a sheet, then uncovers it to reveal another table with a mic, and also the fact that she has changed costumes

 

 

 
She is now Irene in a bloody shirt and camo pants

 

 

 
Another actress enters…she is the wife of the homme de ménage at the hotel. She serves coffee and talks incredibly quickly

 

 

 
She is also a hallucination

 

 

 

 

Now we have Irene and her subconscious interacting with one another mostly about how Irene could survive in the jungle with bullets in her ass and a yeast infection and no survival skills (it’s graphic but also hilarious)

 

 

 

The question of survival comes down to how much calorie reserves she has stored in her which are later divided into how many more lines the two have left to speak before they ‘die’ (in the theatrical sense, as in, the character ceases to exist)

 

 

 

 

 

Irene ends up besting her hallucination, and the latter has a pretty epic death scene (as all actors like to have), before coming back on stage to bow and whatnot, taking a rather exaggerated time to do so (mostly to allow for some last adjustments before episode 3)

 

 

 

 
Episode 3

 

 

 

 

 
The lead actress as narrator informs us that Irene has escaped the narrative designed for her. She has instead inscribed herself in one in which she lives, in which life takes precedence, in which the unexpected happens

 

 

 

 
A man comes down center stage. She joins him. They have a moment where they stare at each other awkwardly. The man is a dancer…it’s a thing about human connection. It doesn’t really matter if we don’t comprehend exactly what his movements are supposed to mean because he has constructed something for himself based on his observations and perceptions of his own personal fiction he’s created called ‘reality’

 

 

 

 

They move together for a bit. Then he kind of breaks the vibe, the lights come on slightly. He asks her to tell a joke

 

 

 

 
To describe the feeling of this moment…imagine being at the point of climax and then your partner asks you if you wouldn’t mind grabbing some milk from the supermarket or something equally as banal/unexpected

 

 

 

 

So anyway…she’s like ok fine, comes downstage, peeps to tell her joke…the opening words come out and then

 

 

 

 
Blackout

 

 

 

 
End of show

 

 

 

 

It was strange, weird, and familiar at the same time. It was an evolution in the act of storytelling, blending the codes of two forms that, at times, people like to consider as incompatible, as polar opposites, as though one were in the process of devouring the other.

 

 

 

 
It helped too that it was a woman at the helm of it all.

 

 

 

 
Shows 4&5: Les Tourments (Au Desert and Construire un Feu, both preceded by Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le hasard), created by Sylvain Creuzevault, MC93

 

 

 

 

I’m putting these shows together because even though I saw Au Desert and Construire un Feu (this one, by the way, adapted from Jack London’s To Build a Fire), the two pieces are both part of the greater Les Tourments project, and both begin with a performance of Mallarme’s famous poem.

 

 

 

So let’s start with Un Coup de Dés… then.

 

 

 

 

I’d highly recommend, for those who are not familiar with the text, to look it up online just to get a sense of how the words flow on the page, and just the extent to which it is deconstructed. That will probably make the next bit make more sense…kind of.

 

 

 

 

The performance was basically a setting of the text to music, with a lone soprano taking on the task of vocalizing the text. As she sang, the words were projected on a series of scrims hanging down from the ceiling. The way the projections worked made it look as though the words were being projected onto a series of mirrors, the copies of the copies, images of the images, repeated in such a way that it extended the space backwards, once again into an (almost) infinity. As the projected text also mirrored the way the poem was originally transcribed, following the words along as the soprano sang them required a jumping back and forth of the gaze across the scrims, much like one would jump back and forth across the page while reading the text itself.

 

 

 

 
At times, there were a couple of other actors who joined the soprano on the stage, but they mostly remained silent, save one who broke the fourth wall to directly address the audience. He, as he explained to us, was Hamlet, or the figure of ‘Hamlet’.

 

 

 

 

Hamlet is, supposedly, ‘summoned’ by the writer situated stage left and engaged in the act of writing. A woman in white crosses the stage dragging along a clear container in which a feather is suspended. Hamlet—whose face is hidden under a few layers of a black mesh veil so that it cannot be seen—affixes the feather to his hat, then comes out to address the public.

 

 

 
‘We can all agree that we are experiencing a singular moment,’ he says. He then launches into the beginning of a discours on the critical implications of the poem—the rupture with the Alexendrin, the signaling of the arrival of free verse—emphasizing, among other things, the fact that it, like him, is stuck in a position in between the act of making a decision or not. It is at a point of suspension, the precarious position where anything can happen.

 

 

 

 

So the question now is, why put this piece as an opener to two small playlets, both of which are not only relatively silent in terms of vocalized speech, but also are primarily concerned with the natural world? I would argue it is the notion of chance, or rather, of omnipresent unpredictability that links them. Nature has no ‘structure’, as much as one has been attempted to be imposed upon it. Man in nature is, much like with a certain facet of Mallarmé’s poem, a clash between a being that functions within a system of some kind of order and an environment that is the antithesis to it. The result is messy, brutal, disordered, yet orderly, chaos. The setbacks faced and affronted are a surprise, yet at the same time not entirely unexpected if one were to make a list of potential difficulties one would expect to arrive at any point during a particular kind of excursion into the wild (or the desert).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The torments (Tourmentes) of the title comes from this idea of evoking not only the hardships a person may encounter or must traverse in life, but also the ones a person may inflict or burden upon themselves, willingly or otherwise. The choice to set the depiction of this struggle in nature (in a style the playwright calls a “peinture animée” or a “nature vive” as opposed to a “nature morte” or still-life) could arguably be said to reflect, in a way, the impression of the insurmountability of these struggles, the feeling that, even when one feels close to overcoming or mastering them, this moment of ‘hubris’ is violently squashed (like, say, with a load of snow being dumped on one’s head). The choice to eschew understandable dialogue for barely-discernable murmurs keeps the universality of the piece intact—the connection between the audience and the spectacle being made through recognition within the acts or gestures of those on stage, rather than through discourse. I might go so far to call it a post-linguistic kind of humanism, yet communicating or storytelling through bodily gesture predates language, so I’m not sure that term itself would be just.

 

 

 

 
Minimalism? Economizing energy to focus on exerting it only on functions essential for survival? Who knows.

Another personal post about grad school (oh, and some more plays, too)

I swear, I am trying my hardest to write posts with as little distance between updates as possible. It’s just that work—along with a general level of tiredness I’ve been fighting as of late—has made my procrastination even worse than it usually it.

 

 

 

Fortunately for me, I’m writing this with only two shows on the docket to talk about, instead of the usual 5-6 (or more). Also fortunately for those of you who still (?) read this, the play breakdowns are going to be much more manageable (aka, shorter) this time around.

 

 

 

First up is La Bible, vaste entreprise de colonisation d’une planète habitable, presented at the small, upstairs theatre at the Théâtre de la Bastille. As was the case with Points de Non-Retour at La Colline a couple months ago, this was the first time I had ever been in the smaller upstairs theatre at La Bastille, making this a moment of spatial discovery more than anything.

 

 

 

 

As one could probably guess, the theatre itself is rather small. Small…and deep. There aren’t many rows of seats, but the ones that are there are arranged on a rather steep (by comparison to other theatre spaces I frequent) incline, making it almost inevitable that one will be looking down at the actors rather than up or directly at them. The stage was set up to look like something resembling a giant playground, with climbable structures (one of which was basically a lifeguard chair) flanking either side. The cast—five women, playing the roles of five precocious adolescent boys—were dressed in scouting uniforms, knee-high socks and awkwardly long shorts and all. Some had a little emblem embroidered on their shirt pockets (I’m assuming this is a Catholic thing since it did have something of a crucifix design on it, but I don’t want to go making claims on how official it is…anyway).

 

 

 

The next hour was what could best be described as a frenzy of burlesque-level nonsense and buffoonery (in the best of ways, though…at least for the most part). Fed up with the fact that the earth—god’s own ‘creation’—has been brought to the brink of (environmental) destruction by mankind without punishment from the Great One in the sky, these five kids, fresh out of a catechism class, have decided that the best and only solution would be to build a rocket ship, launch into space, and start everything anew on a distance planet.

 

 

 

Because what better way to build a ‘civilization’ than by using one of the world’s oldest tools for colonial dominance and suppression, the Bible?

 

 

 

What followed was a series of rehashing/retellings of selected Biblical passages, with some cameo appearances by Richard the Lionhearted (decked in a white tunic with a red cross, as is tradition), a robot, Dolly the Sheep, and Philip K. Dick. All of these roles were, of course, played by each of the individual children, who were switching up costumes at the pace of a seven year old who’s just been let loose on the costume box after downing a Red Bull. As a final image, a large ball and white sheet were attached onto a large crucifix-like structure hanging from the center of the ceiling. As this DIY-Jesus was hoisted up into the air, the children gathered round it dressed in either red, green or white capirotes (those pointed hoods that some Catholic brotherhoods wear during Holy Week processions, particularly in Spain…also, yes, the white ones do look a bit like KKK hoods, but this is only a coincidence), singing and dancing in a final ritualistic number.

 

 

 

Honestly, by the time this thing was over—what with all the singing, the costume changes, the running around, and the energy level that started at an 11 and pretty much stayed there—I almost felt I could empathize with the positively worn-out actresses, drenched in about a gallon of sweat. Criticism as to the efficacy of this type of performance aside—there were times when the frenzy became a bit much, and I found myself having to tune out for a minute to take a breather—, I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that these performers managed to give it their all 100% for the entire hour.

 

 

 

And the intensity only continued last Sunday with a performance of 4.48 Psychosis (in a French-Canadian translation) at La Villette.

 

 

 

 

This was one of those rare times when I went to see a show because I genuinely wanted to, and not just to fulfill work/research obligations. I couldn’t, in good conscience, pass this one up though. I love Sarah Kane. Even before I spent the better part of a year working on my Master 2 thesis on some of her plays, I was always fascinated by her. It wasn’t until I started said thesis, however, that I began to gain a greater appreciation for her non-explicitly corporeally-violent works, in particular this one, the last play she wrote before committing suicide at age 28.

 

 

 

Some critics—and I think fellow playwright Edward Bond was one of the first to make this statement, though I could be wrong—consequently think of 4.48 Psychosis as a kind of suicide note. I’m hesitant about that interpretation—would not the performance, the constant bringing to life and reinterpretation of this text be the antithesis of a suicide note?—but I would agree that this is probably still one of the better plays around mental health that I’ve ever read or seen in recent memory. Opting to keep it as a solo performance, the actress first starts out behind a microphone on stage, looking something like a stand-up comic. This is our ‘in’: it’s a familiar set-up, never mind that we’re not getting jokes but an insight into the workings of a particular mind, and the people who dismiss it. Eventually, the curtains open, revealing a stage bathed in red light, with movable walls curving back on themselves to create two circular spaces on the stage—though only one of them was actually penetrated into. Whether or not at this point we were meant to be inside the actress’s head was unclear—and I’d argue deliberately—, and really to question that kind of misses the point. Because this shit doesn’t just mess with the inside of a person’s head; it screws with their whole perception of reality.

 

 

 

I think this second piece ended up resonating with me more than the first for several reasons, beyond the personal-academic connection to Sarah Kane. I’m not in a low a place as I was for a large part of summer/fall 2017, but I have been feeling not quite like myself these past several weeks. Maybe it’s the weather—hell, that probably has a little something to do with it—, but in any case, I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve gotten brutally honest and raw about things.

 

 

So here goes:

 

 

 

Going to shows by myself—constantly—is incredibly isolating. As much as I want to keep hyping myself up for getting out there and going to see things (yeah, yeah, it’s for the dissertation, but still), constantly being surrounded by people in pairs or groups really drives the point home that I am here in this purportedly social space by myself. Honestly, this feeling is the reason why I’ve tried to stop going to things on Saturday nights because who, on one of the more social nights of the week, wants to really be reminded of the fact that they have no one to talk to but their own thoughts…again?

 

 

 

I don’t want pity for this. I have people here. I don’t see them as often as I would like (I won’t make any comments on their end), and it’s not for lack of trying. But there are certain things about being a grad student in the humanities that no one really talks about, and this is one of them.

 

 

 

To really drive it home: some days, other than a brief exchange of words with a shopkeeper or person at a ticket counter (which last a total of about 5 seconds), my only in-person interactions are with my high-schoolers. Hell, sometimes, I can go a few stretches without even the latter. But, this is what happens when you have a deadline looming over your head that could spell the difference between a final dissertation-writing year in (relative) financial security, or a fucked up tuition bill and maybe more sleep sacrificed for the sake of editing a paper to earn a bit more cash. Because maybe someone will call, or maybe someone will pick up the phone…and you want to go out, see people, do things with them…you deserve that, right?

 

 

 

 

I take the time that I see people that I like very seriously, maybe more seriously now than I used to. That’s a thing that comes with time and experience, right? Learning how to value other people?

 

 

 

So yeah, sometimes when I leave a theatre late at night after a show, I get a bit sad because I want to talk about it and share my thoughts with someone. But then I go home and write a little bit, and remind myself that all of this will be worth it. Don’t ask me for an unbiased opinion on my thesis—those who know me well know the one thing I am incredibly self-critical about is my writing—, but I am getting closer to something. Slowly. And it’s my thing.

 

 

 

 

With that being said, this past week I did end up getting a chance to reconnect with perhaps one of my oldest friends (as in, we’ve been friends since kindergarten and now our parents hang out) who was visiting the city for the first time with her mom. Another opportunity for me to play tour guide—and to expand my repertoire of restaurant recs to now include more vegan-friendly options for her and her mom—, and a chance to show off a place that, despite this new bout of personal nonsense, I am so incredibly happy to live in.

 

EDIT: I forgot to mention this one thing…

So, living in a slightly older apartment has many charms, but one of them is definitely not impeccably insulated windows. Translation: things were getting a bit drafty.

 

 

Not anymore though! Why? Because I was gifted insulating curtains for my birthday.

 

 

Black, light-blocking, insulating curtains.

 

 

My excitement over these should not be taken as an exaggeration. These are literally saving my mornings/evenings (and my wallet). Yay!

5 play post? 5 play post

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately on the nature of theatre in general—what it is, why it’s still around, what the point of it is—and particularly in conjunction with the kind of theater I’ve been finding myself more and more drawn to as of late.
Not surprisingly, the more one goes to the theatre—the more variety of shows one sees—the more one gets a sense of what one likes, and even more so, what one does not like.

I’m not entirely sure if this general feeling of jadedness I’ve been immersed in as of late has more to do with what I’ve been seeing or with the slight floundering feeling that comes from sending off one chapter draft—oh yes, I did that last week—and knowing full well that another one needs to be started (like…now) even though exactly how that one is going to look like remains more or less a mystery. In any case, with the exception of a very bright spot courtesy of what is still my favorite theatre in the city as well as someone who I can confirm to be one of my favorite playwrights in general, the last couple of weeks have been very…meh…theatre wise.

This isn’t for lack of variety, though. What I can definitively say is that no show that I saw has been quite like any of the others, itself a testament as to the variety of things (easily) available and accessible to see in this city. On the other hand, what this also means is that not everything is going to be supremely excellent, but then again…at least the trap of monotony is avoided.
Anyway, enough of the rambling…on to more important things. Namely, the shows I’ve seen since my last post (and prepare yourselves…there are several of them).
1. Dans le pays d’hiver at the MC93 Bobigny

 

I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of a show being called “geometric”, but given the aesthetic of this piece—which recalls, among other things, classical aestheticism and imagery—could stand in as the poster child for it. To be quite honest, given that I saw this piece the same day that I returned from Budapest, I wasn’t in the most active state of mind to be able to sit through a highly stylized/ritualized performance done entirely in Italian, meaning I’d have to read subtitles if I ever had any hope of understanding what was going on. So, yes, I nodded off a bit.

In short, the piece is an adaptation of certain segments of Dialogues with Leuco, written by Cesare Pavese between 1945 and 1947. The dialogues address different topics, all with a decidedly existential tint (the nature of mankind, man in relation to animal, the gods, the flood, etc), that are here undertaken by two actresses—one of whom being the playwright, Silvia Costa, herself—of similar appearance. A third actress—this one blonde in contrast to the other two brunettes—supplements the text with choreography.
As one could probably imagine, the whole thing was incredibly stylized to the point that almost rather than give pause for reflection as to the nature of humanity—or rather the humanity of those on the stage at that time—, it essentially stripped away the human element to favor instead a representation of the ‘sur’-human. Or of the god(s). And so, given that, what is it that we in the audience who are sitting there facing this, are meant to do with it all, other than take in and process the philosophy lesson that was just given to us?
Aesthetically-speaking, however, given my penchant for all things symmetrical, I will say I did quite like the geometry of the space, the clean lines that characterized the set pieces that, even when moved, at times gave the impression of looking into a prism.

 

2. Sopro at the Théâtre de la Bastille

 

I’m going to go ahead and say this now: this was my favorite play of the past few weeks.

 

Tiago Rodrigues is also quite possibly one of my favorite playwrights working now.

 

Pity he writes in Portuguese, otherwise I would just study him.
Anyway, Sopro, the title of the piece, is a reference to what used to be known as “prompters” (though the original Portuguese, as well as the French “souffleur” are, in my opinion, a bit more metaphorically fitting as titles). Somewhat of an ‘endangered’ role at this point, prompters used to have a steady—if not entirely visible—presence in the theatre, whether it was hiding in the prompter’s box downstage, or tucked away in the wings or behind a set piece, following along with the script, there to save the day should an actor drop a line.

 

Rodrigues, in his director notes, likened them to the lifeline of a play, that which saves the whole thing from drowning in the weight of an imposing reality that starts to flood in the moment a line is dropped and the already-precarious fiction in the process of construction on stage is thrown even further off balance. They, to paraphrase his words, occupy a space that is neither in the fiction of that being crafted on the stage itself, nor entirely outside it. They are the go-between and the barrier that keeps an already porous spatiotemporal dynamic from completely ripping apart.

 

And, as of now, they are in danger of being forgotten.

 

So when Rodrigues announced to the prompter of the National Theater of Lisbon—where he currently has artistic residency—that he wanted to write a play about her, her reaction was, unsurprisingly, a bit incredulous. A prompter, she states—and just a quick note, a lot of this is gleaned from the performance itself—, does their job well precisely by staying invisible. If people recognize or see their presence, they have undoubtedly failed. Besides, she loved the theatre, but she had no intention of ever performing in a play about herself.

 

The solution, then? She was onstage—yes, this is the actual prompter from the National Theatre in Lisbon—, script in hand. One by one, on a stage that looked more like a site of a theatre in decay with plants bursting through the floor boards than an active, working theatre, the actors would file in, and be directed to their positions. And then, standing behind them, the prompter, Cristina Vidal, spectacles on and index finger following along in the text, would whisper their lines to them, her voice barely audible. Some of the lines were recreations of her words, her conversations with Rodrigues or her memories of starting out in the theatre; others were those of her former theatre director, actors she worked with, roles she had to prompt for (I’m pretty sure some Shakespeare showed up in there, but…French translations of the Bard are not exactly recognizable to me…yet). She, however, remained quiet, yet present in her silence. She was the originator of the words, but the actors were the ones who gave them life.

 

Yet, as much as I love plays that are about the theatre as a whole—kind of like how Hollywood loves movies about themselves, except for me, the more clichéd versions of this have tended to make me cringe—what drew me into this one in particular was its honesty, and in particular, how it depicted the familial relationship that develops between not just actors but the entire theatre team. It’s hard to show the kind of support and love that comes from that without succumbing to the usual “oh my god we’re just like a big family, let’s hold hands and sing around a campfire I love all of you I found myself, etc etc etc etc”.
Yeah…anyway.

 

One thing I remember really responding well to when I saw Rodrigues’s production of Bovary at Bastille last year was the clever mastery of subtlety in his writing (and by extension, his direction) to communicate with his audience. A similar case of subtle yet effective communication occurred in this piece as well, only this time it rested more on communication through silence than spoken word. Towards the end of the play, the actors—still being prompted by Cristina—comment on how difficult a time the playwright (Rodrigues…yes, we can forgive the meta-ness here I think) has with finishing his works. After musing over, and acting out, a couple different possible endings, they settle on the one that finally, fittingly works, one that at last sees Cristina at the center of her own story.

 

For a large portion of the narrative preceding this, Cristina talked at length about the woman who directed the National Theatre of Lisbon when she first started on as a prompter there. This woman had, coincidentally, also been working as an actress/director there the first time Cristina attended a show there as a child, and Cristina even credits her with igniting her love of theatre. Over the years, the two worked very closely together and struck up a deep friendship that went beyond the mentor-mentee relationship they started with. Unfortunately, some years later, the director fell ill and, against the wishes of her doctor who counseled her on undergoing surgery (to remove a tumor, I believe), decides to continue on with her performance schedule, just until the end of the season. It was during one of these performances that she collapsed in the middle of the final monologue, never getting to finish her lines and close out the show properly.

 
So, when asked what she would do if she ever found herself alone on a stage in front of an audience, Cristina (or ‘Cristina’, as it is an actress speaking for her) responds that she would finish that unfinished monologue.

 

And so, one by one, the actors started to leave the stage, all save Cristina who instead slowly made her way towards center. But before they left, they all shot a quick glance back at her, and if you have ever worked in theatre, you might know the kind of glance I mean. It’s the one that, without the need for words, sends out support, encouragement, love, whatever you want to call it. It’s that thing that is difficult to pin down, but it’s also the thing that has kept me coming back to theatre because I cannot find it anywhere else. And normally it’s a hidden thing, a backstage thing. We—the audience—cannot be exposed to it, lest it expose us to the fact that these people have a history that extends beyond the bounds of the theatre space, one that requires a bit more reality—‘our’ spatiotemporal reality—to seep in than is maybe ideal. But it was there, and then Cristina finally spoke and the lights went out. How fitting.
3. The Veldt (La Savane) at Nanterre-Amandiers
Right…sometimes the best thing to say about something is nothing at all.

 

I mean, look, if you want to go and play loud, not that excellent, techno music while projecting surtitles on a screen that talk about how some neglectful parents gave their kids a VR room and are now surprised that the kids have just full-on escaped into that room, fine. Go ahead. Honestly though, I’m not really sure I saw the point of all this other than, yeah, maybe don’t just buy your kids’ happiness and also, I don’t really care that you got eaten by a virtual lion (or was it a real lion…who knows).

 
This one was done in the salle transformable at Nanterre. The whole floor was covered in thin foil. Gives it that whole futuristic look. The titular ‘savana’ was suggested through the use of installation pieces that evoked natural objects—namely, a tree…or rather, a dead tree—, as well as a robot…thing.

 

Ok I’m going to stop this now before I really start to hate myself.
Moving on!
4. L’inflammation du verbe vivre at La Colline

 

I feel as though my relationship with Mouawad’s work has become rather…unsteady as of late. On the one hand, his early plays along with his novels (here’s another shout-out to Anima, for its poetic, cathartic violence) are rather brilliant in their reworking (and at times subverting) of classical dramatic tropes. On the other hand, where, for instance, Rodrigues is light and subtle, Mouawad is almost unnervingly heavy-handed. This could partially be attributed to the fact that a lot of his theatre deals with trauma—in particular his own, what with growing up in Lebanon during the Civil War and having to flee the country as a young child—but sometimes I wonder if the weight of his poetics has more to do with the dramaturgical history he has tied himself to, the writers whose recorded adaptations of even older orally-passed stories he both sends up and pays homage to. I had a slight inkling of this last year when I saw Tous des oiseaux (which, coincidentally, is being revived at La Colline in December, though I don’t think I’m in the mood for another four hour session of that right now). That feeling grew stronger with Notre Innocence. I can pretty much cement it now with this piece.

 

The production is billed as a sort of cinematographic theatre, and given how much time was spent staring at a screen—probably the most frontal position an audience can find itself in—I’d be more inclined to describe it as a film during which sometimes the main character pops out of the screen to talk to us.

 

The main storyline: Wahid, a playwright of Lebanese origin played by Mouawad himself, is suffering from a combination of writer’s block and lack of inspiration (a little on the nose, right…just wait), following the death of his friend and colleague Robert Davreu. Said friend also happened to be in the middle of translating a complete volume of the works of Sophocles, including one of his least well-known plays, Philoctetes, that Wahid’s company was set to mount in a few months. Unfortunately, given the writer’s temperament towards himself as well as towards the work, things are pretty much at a stand-still.

 
And so Wahid does what everyone else does when they need to find themselves: he embarks on a solo trip to Greece, whereupon, after unsuccessfully trying to visit Philoctetes’s cave (access closed due to rough waves), he decides to throw himself into the sea in an attempt to reach Hades. Because, as we all know, when one truly needs answers to the seemingly unanswerable questions life throws at us, one must seek the counsel of the dead. Hey, if it was good enough for Odysseus (and yes, we are treated to a reading of the passage in the Odyssey that talks of the moment leading to Odysseus’s decision to visit the Underworld), it’s good enough for everyone else.

 

Since our hero is in the Underworld, and has successfully crossed the Styx thanks to a couple of friendly fishermen, he needs a guide. Since we are in Greece—as an aside, a genuinely silly moment was when Wahid stands on a hill looking out at the expanse around him before realizing that, yes, Hades is Athens—, his guide is, what else, a taxi driver. Named Leftheris. (In Greek = freedom). Wahid’s journey takes him to a city dump (where the souls of all those who died, forgotten, at Salamis take on the form of seagulls), then to the home of a pack of stray dogs where he finally comes in contact with his soul (a dog, but not just any dog, a dog that speaks Arabic…the others all speak Greek…there’s actually quite a bit of Greek in this play, surprisingly), followed by an abandoned building where he discusses the bleak state of the world with three Greek teenagers, and finally to a sort of abandoned retirement home, the last residency of poets.

 

All of this, mind you, takes place mostly on screen. Occasionally, Mouawad, as Wahid, slips in and out of slats in between the screen, sometimes to signal a transition from his physical body into the virtual, pre-recorded one, others to disappear completely and thereby let the story move on to whoever, or whatever, was being shown on screen. All the footage was taken from a trip Mouawad took to Greece back in 2013, at the height of the economic crisis.

 

I’m not sure if I’ve talked much on here at all about certain gripes I have with classicists, or lovers of Greek classical theatre in general, but one of them is a certain dismissive attitude I’ve encountered in conversations with some of these people (mostly men, go figure) towards not necessarily modern Greece, but the history of the country following the classical era. On that note, I will say to this that at least for once we don’t have any lengthy poetic lamenting over what happened to get Greece into the state it (still) is in. There is some of that, but during the aforementioned filmed segment with the teens, they are at least given a chance to say their piece, calling out the inherent hypocrisies in the sacrificing of their generation by those that came before.

 

Here’s my problem with the filmed segments though: at one point, Wahid makes a side comment about how a screen is a sort of symbol of enduring presence (as in, being of the present moment). Given how the screen is interacted with in this production, I would be inclined to disagree. Instead of presence, what the constant moving back and forth inside and outside the screen did—especially as doing so, one could see the variations and changes in Mouawad’s appearance more clearly—was act as a constant, heavy reminder of the past, of a thing that was done once and that belongs to that particular moment. Conversely, if there was any presence in this, it was only in the moments when Mouawad himself was physically on stage, interacting with the flat image on screen and physically “being” in real time. But he was on stage so little compared with the amount of time spent watching the previously-recorded film (which, let’s be honest, tried a bit too hard to be deep at times) that his presence almost seemed like a gimmick in the end.

 

Oh and speaking of the end, he ends up getting a hold of a box in which is hidden the key to his happiness, the solution to all of his woes.
It’s a pencil.

 

Of course it’s a fucking pencil.

 

 

5. Crash Park, l’histoire d’une île at Nanterre-Amandiers.
We’re going to end on a slightly lighter note—thank god—with the piece I saw last night at Nanterre, this one created and directed by Philippe Quesne, the current artistic director at Nanterre-Amandiers.

 

I’m going to call this an anthropological/diorama study with a good dose of vaudeville and a dash of cinematic epic-ness à la Spielberg. Part of Quesne’s M.O. is creating works around micro communities, and this one is no different. The basic premise: survivors of an airplane crash find themselves stranded near a mysterious tropical island. The difference, however, between this and other stranded-on-an-island tales is that this group decides, instead of leaving (and, as the program notes suggest, going back to their commercial, monotonous, stressful, lives), to stay and make a home there.

 

There was very little talking in this play. If any talking did happen, it was usually small chit-chat instead of dialogue deliberately written to advance the plot. No, in this case the stage was a microscope and we were peering in to watch the little “ants” try and figure out their lives.

 

There was a funny little dance number involving leaves, a makeshift bar set-up inside a volcano that later turned into a club (oh, and a silly cabaret-style song about the mysteries lying inside a volcano that was made all the more ridiculous by the fact that the man singing it was doing so while wearing a Hawaiian shirt, silly sunglasses, and an airline pilot’s headset), and a ferocious octopus that threatened at the eleventh hour to destroy everything, but thankfully our little community of characters vanquished him easily.

 

The various costumes worn by the characters evoked time periods and settings of other ‘deserted island’ tales from the Hawaiian shirts to the 18th century pirate garb worn during the fight with the octopus. At one point, a character picked up a megaphone to announce that the ‘duty free’ cart was open, offering a selection of books including Robinson Crusoe, The Tempest, Utopia, Lord of the Flies (yes, there is a theme). In the end, the characters went to sleep inside the plastic volcano—whose plasticity and artificiality was increasingly emphasized throughout the production, particularly through the demonstration that it was easy to take apart and ‘convert’ into a new space—to the tune of Sinatra’s “Fly Me To the Moon”. What a quaint way for us researchers in the audience to leave our subjects on.

 
And that’s it for the plays of the past couple of weeks. Other than that, the one other significant event was my hosting of a small Friendsgiving the day after the actual holiday. I grabbed one and a half roast chickens, and whipped up some stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Other friends provided veg, cheese, dessert, the much-needed cranberries for the sauce, and wine (of course). It was, perhaps, one of the more cozy of Thanksgivings I’ve had in recent memory (I think crowding around a tiny table to eat helped with this a bit).

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Until the next (massive) theatre post, my readers!

A post while on holiday…

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Right, I know what you all must be thinking.
“Effie, that is clearly not Paris in that photo.”
Correct. In fact, I am currently writing this post from inside the main reading room at the New York Public Library.
Why am I here? Well, a family member is getting married this coming weekend, and since the wedding coincided with the Toussaint holidays, I figured I’d come out early and spend a couple days in one of my other favorite cities.

(And yes, it goes without saying that, other than seeing friends, a big motivation for spending a decent amount of time here was motivated by food. Especially pizza. And bagels. Seriously, Paris really needs to up their game when it comes to the latter. The pizza offerings are pretty good—especially if, like me, you really like Neapolitan-style pies—, but sometimes you just really want a bagel with cream cheese and lox and tomato and onion…)

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Thankfully, Russ & Daughters was there to meet my bagel-craving needs. (Instagram @effie143)

As to the rest of my life, I’m not entirely sure why I let things (aka grading) pile up as much as they did, but between that and hacking through more chapter writing (albeit rather slowly…writing longhand first before typing everything up tends to do that), I haven’t really found a moment’s peace to commit to writing on the last five shows I saw since my previous post.
Given that, the write-ups are going to be a bit more brief than usual, as there is quite a bit of ground to cover and not a whole lot of time to cover it in. Besides, I’m not entirely sure that a multi-page treatise on each of the shows would be particularly attention-grabbing.

Anyway, let’s start with the first : Richard Maxwell’s Paradiso at Nanterre
First things first, despite the name, this play has nothing to do with Dante’s Divine Comedy (even though, as with Dante, this is the third part of a trilogy of works). What is presented here, rather, is an exploration of the post-human, that is, what remains in terms of form of expression after an eventual apocalypse. For this production, the playing area (I’m not entirely sure one could call it a ‘stage’ for reasons I’ll explain in a bit) of the salle transformable was covered with a white flooring, on the edge of which were arranged three rows of simple wooden benches. There were no raked seats, no ‘gap’ between the playing space and the first row of seats. We were all blended, or gathered, into the same delimited area.

Other than the benches, the space was relatively bare, save for a screen onto which subtitles were projected (the performance was in English). Oh, and a pickup truck. Yes, at the start of the show, the large factory doors were opened, and a silver pickup drove in to music that could best be described as at once ethereal and futuristic. The truck took a few turns about the open space before the driver engaged in the always frustrating endeavor of parallel parking upstage left.
And yes, before any of you ask, he did do that thing where you just keep backing in and out and slightly readjust the wheel so you turn like a quarter-inch, but even that isn’t enough so you pull out and readjust again by about a hair and…god it almost makes one want to yell enough already (if said person wasn’t also giggling at the sheer banality of this gesture).

Anyway, once the car finally stops, one of the back doors opens and out comes—or more precisely “rolls”—not one of the actors but a little robot. A little robot on a rudimentary four-wheeled apparatus, whose “eye” was what looked to be a web camera (but one from about five or six years ago). This is our first introduction to the piece: a machine who speaks in a cadence familiar to those who have ever played around with the read-aloud function on a word processor. Artificial, cold, precise, devoid of subtext even when the words actually being said could—assuming the “human” was not removed—have been spoken in such a way so as to convey some “deeper meaning about life”.

I put this last bit in quotes because one of the things the piece concerns itself with is precisely this question of “profound meaning”, especially once the human characters—four of them, an older woman, an older man, and two girls around my age—come in and start speaking in platitudes themselves, but in such a way that evoked the kind of stereotypical community theatre performance style parodied in Waiting for Guffman than anything that was supposed to convey something beyond “these are phrases that sound important but in the grand scheme of things really don’t mean much.” It is the human transitioning into its own obscurity through speech. Hell, the ending—if one could call it that—involved the “family” getting back into the car and driving back out into the street, leaving the little lonely robot in their wake. Said robot then began printing a very long receipt of text, though not the text of the script itself.
There was no curtain call, no bows, no moment of congratulations for the cast. Eventually, as the robot kept printing, some audience members tentatively got up to inspect the writing, constituting an “end” if there ever was one.
I mean, if the concept of storytelling is a human construct, do its conventions still hold once humans disappear?

While you all ponder that…let’s move on to Mama by Egyptian playwright Ahmed El Attar, performed on the main stage of the MC93.

Ooooh boy where to start with this one…
On the one hand, the exploration of the dynamic between mother and son in Arab/Mediterranean/Levantine (or even former Ottoman) cultures is one that resonates rather well with me (Greek and Middle Eastern/Arab cultures have quite a few similarities as far as this is concerned), and deserves to be told.
On the other hand, is it really necessary to, again, place the onus of change onto the backs of women? One of the things El Attar discusses in the show program is the manner in which he feels women in his country are still subject to certain levels of oppression brought on in large part by the distinctly patriarchal/machismo culture in which the society in which they live is structured. Women counteract this, he states, by forming close, influential bonds with their sons, especially the eldest, as it is through the eventual installation of the son as the head of the family that the mother can hope to gain some level of power or control. The problem, however, is that this keeps perpetuating cycles of oppression, as though the mother has an illusion of power through the level of control she exercises over her son, she still does not have access or opportunity to gain equal footing with him, or other men, in general.
What I have an issue with, however, is not necessarily the fact that El Attar pinpoints a certain kind of internalized misogyny that manifests itself in this, but rather his insistence that the responsibility for change is found solely in the mother, as men, he states, will never change and we cannot hope for them too.
Look, whether or not a mother realizes that what she does could perpetuate cycles of sexism/patriarchy/oppression does not change the fact that her efforts will amount to very little if there is not a general overhaul of the sociocultural structure in which she lives by those who actually have power, aka men.
Also, I mean if we want to talk about giving women more of a voice and influence, perhaps we could start with the fact that this play presented a story centered on Egyptian women, but that was written not by a woman but by a man. Give women a seat at the table, let them speak of their experiences themselves, of how they see their place in the world, and then we can talk.

Anyway…

I was not really a fan of this production, but I don’t attribute this entirely to the fact that reading the program notes before the show started left a bad taste in my mouth. For one thing, the show was in Arabic, but the screen on which the subtitles were projected was placed so high up—the stage is rather tall at the MC93—, that unfortunately reading the subtitles to understand context sometimes meant missing some of the subtle body language cues on stage (and thus subtle evolutions in different characters’ relationships to one another). Second, apparently El Attari is a fan of a collage-style of playwriting (this is the first of his plays I’ve had the chance to see, so I can’t speak to how it did/did not work in other cases), which did not quite work for me. I have a feeling this may have something to do with the fact that the sound cues—our signal as to when a transition was happening—were incredibly off, but the pacing seemed very inconsistent from one vignette to the next, resulting in a piece that was more incoherent than I think it had the intention of being. If we are meant to view in the course of this production a shift in family dynamics as one generation yields to the next, there was a distinct lack of urgency in which every action was carried out that it almost made one want to ask what the point of all this was.

Oh, and then at one point a woman came out and sang an Arabic rendition of R Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”. Yeah.
Right…show number 3: Maeterlinck’s La Princesse Maleine, this time in the smaller theatre of the MC93.

I’m going to be really brief on this one: melodrama is not my thing. Neither, apparently, is symbolism. I don’t care that there was ice all over the stage, meaning that every time someone had to move at anything faster than a careful walk it became an exciting game of “Try not to slip and break yourself”. I don’t care that there was some rather interesting projection work being done. Having to listen to someone slowly moan out variations of “Oooooooooh nnoooooo” or “Ooooooooh deeeeaaaaarrrr” is not my idea of a fun two hours.
Yeah…we’re just going to chalk this one up to “sometimes we really just don’t end up liking things, and maybe this will just be a play that we will forget about when it comes time to writing the chapter on the MC93 for the eventual dissertation…”
Onto number 4: Affordable Solution for Better Living, at Nanterre (in the design workshop)
Less a theatre piece than a dance/performance art piece with text, this production centered around a single performer (dressed in not one but two of those sheer looking body suits) who spends the first half of the hourlong production building an IKEA bookshelf.
I mean, you really cannot get more banal, sterile or supremely ordinary than a white IKEA bookshelf, or more precisely than the assembly of a white IKEA bookshelf. The thing is designed to be so impersonal so as to fit within nearly any lifestyle. It is a thing without much substance. A pure object. And this man—or rather humanoid creature, as the first of the two body suits has the actor’s face printed on the bit that zips over the head, bringing the whole thing crashing smack-dab into the uncanny valley—places it together with an intricate precision of gesture, any deviation from which results in an error message from a disembodied, robotic, female voice that also at times offers reassuring messages such as “You are a responsible citizen.” “You are doing well.” “Only those who sleep don’t make mistakes.”
After the bookshelf is complete, stagehands unload a few other pieces of white/beige IKEA furniture, and the stage space is thus transformed into the approximation of a “living room” (I’d say the Platonic ideal of a living room, but I don’t quite feel much like discussing Plato’s cave allegory at the moment). The “human” then slowly sheds his first “skin” revealing a second body suit with muscle fibers printed on it underneath. His body as a whole remains recognizable as that of a “Human”, but only a close approximation of one. As he interacts with/climbs on and over his furnishings, he only moves closer to becoming a non-human figure than a fully realized person.
He does, however, have a voice, though it, like the female voice earlier in the piece, is disembodied, emanating from a mic hanging over the stage. His body reacts to his words, but the absence of a moving mouth to bridge the final connection between the voice and its source renders his particular “human-ness” divided.
And finally show number 5: Winter Family’s H-2 Hebron, again at Nanterre, and, as with the previous show, in the design workshop

Here is a quick sum-up of this show: a documentary theatre piece in which one woman speaks the words of four different individuals. It’s polyphony and contradiction, battles for control of a narrative, in the site of a singular body.

Given that the show centers around the conflict surrounding the increased Israeli colonization of the city of Hebron (which both Israelis and Palestinians claim ancestral ties to), the choice to structure the show this way actually makes quite a bit of sense. To be honest, it took me a minute to realize what was going on, as hearing contradictory statements coming out of the actress’s mouth without visible change in inflection to signal a change of character almost made me think my comprehension skills had become inexplicably rusty. Thankfully, I caught on as to what she was doing after a bit.
The space was set in a bi-frontal structure, with the middle being occupied by a long table, covered in a black cloth. This, we would discover, was where the city of Hebron would be built in miniature over the course of our “tour” there. Indeed, one of the inspirations for the writing of this play came from the artists’ experiences encountering various tour groups (oh yeah, war/conflict tourism is a thing) while on a visit to the city, as well as noting the differences not only in information but rather in the way certain information or history was framed. We then, as an audience, were transformed into tourists, though given that we were presented with multiple, often incredibly contradictory narratives, at once, the responsibility in the end was put on us to determine what “truth”, if any, there was to be gained about the situation. There is, in this, an assumption that we who are seated there before our singular yet multiplicitous/fractured “guide” are smart enough to think critically enough in order to unravel the complexities of the situation, which to a certain degree, I find to be a bit more effective than some of the more straightforward didactic theatrical presentations I have seen over the past year. Given the situation at the center of the play, however, I question the limits as to how far such an approach can go. There is a question of active colonialism at hand, after all.

Right, with that, we come to a close on another round of “Effie hurriedly writes things down before she procrastinates even more and the task becomes almost insurmountable”. If you need me, I’ll be downing another coffee…and staring at a small pile of papers that need grading. Work never ceases, even on holiday.

 

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Where I’m writing from…

Parallels

I’ve been thinking a lot since my last post about when to update again. At first, I thought I’d write something during my vacation in Greece this August, but internet connectivity being almost non-existant where I was, I put that off.

 

Besides, disconnecting for a while felt pretty nice.

 

Then I came back and what with la rentrée/back to school in full swing, and the general hectic nature of September, I almost felt as though I had no time to myself to think of anything but what was happening the next day — hell, the next few hours.

 

And so I figured the best way to come back would be to write a post after seeing my first play of the season, Infidèles by tgStan at the Théâtre de la Bastille.

 

The play happened.

 

Then this past weekend, the rug was pulled out from under me once again.

 

I couldn’t help but think of parallels today while I was teaching, how similar certain events in my life have been, how I’m in a somewhat similar place now that I was a year ago. Somewhat. The difference is in the details, and the circumstances being what they are, I feel a slight tinge of hope this time around. Not necessarily  for any particular outcome, but hope in the unknown, in the not closing of a link, a connection. Hope in realizing that there are wonderful people who we want in our lives, who we choose to want in our lives. And who, sometimes for reasons we can barely comprehend, choose to want us around as well, even and especially in the shit times.

 

And I feel lucky this time around that, when loneliness almost snuck on and grabbed hold of me, I knew exactly who I could contact. That’s a pretty wonderful thing to be confident about, isn’t it?

 

I’m going to be wading through some heavy things these next few days, so you all might have to bear with me. For now though, I can say that I feel okay. Someone dear to me told me I was strong this morning, and I believed them. So there must be some truth to that.

 

I am a lion. I can still roar.

 

With that, the plays I saw this week.

 

 

The first, as I mentioned, was Infidèles at Bastille. I figured going there for my first show of the year was a good choice, given that it is still my favorite theatre in the city. And this show did not disappoint. It’s based off a script of a similar name by Ingmar Bergman, and I’m just going to take this moment right now to say I have never seen anything by Bergman. So, we can all just get that little bit of nonsense out of the way.

 

The play centers around the retelling of a woman’s infidelity, her journey from faithful wife and mother to woman who sleeps with her husband’s best friend (and the fallout that follows, especially for her 9-year-old daughter, here played by an actress in her forties. Trust me, it actually really works). The opening sees the four actors – two men, two women – standing downstage, and instead of launching straight into the narrative, begin by performing a sort of character creation exercise. Essentially, one of the male actors turns to one of the women, and asks her to describe the woman at the center of the story – who she, it becomes abundantly clear, will eventually be playing. She in turn gives a bit of information about her – her name, age, career, a bit of her personality – before, in the course of describing her family, designating the principle roles the other  actors will play (her husband, her daughter, the husband’s friend who she eventually sleeps with). From there, the play moves into the narrative, but not before some comments are made over whether or not this retelling will ‘work’ (sly glance at audience who they know are there to see a play).

 

In some ways, this sort of putting into performance of the process of ‘becoming’ that often defines a large part of an actor’s work seemed very similar to what I saw in Bovary last year. Exposing the invisible processes of the actor’s craft to draw attention to the theatricality, the fictionality of what was about to happen. It renders the whole thing less illusory but also more honest…? As in, there is no question here of anyone trying to get  anyone else to believe, truly believe anything. And it works rather well in cases like this because when small flubs happen, there is already an understanding in place about the possibility of imperfection. Imperfection, in fact, becomes part and parcel of the whole experience. And in the end, when the actors reconvene back downstage and – while sometimes quickly glancing back out at the audience – ask if what they did worked, if it ended up being a show after all, there was in that question a recognition that, despite anything that did/did not go as planned, it was still theatre. Theatre in its (almost) entirety, creation to presentation. The moment before to the moment after. Yes, none of it is « real », but does that really matter?

 

 

And the second show was one I saw yesterday, Sunday, at Nanterre. How appropriate, to find a temporary moment of solace in something I love.

 

Hilariously, the play was called Hate, but that didn’t really have much to do with my current state of mind. Just a weird coincidence.

 

The subtitle of this play (and I’m going to translate from the French), is « an attempted dialogue with a horse », and yes, before any of you ask, there was an actual horse on stage.

 

A horse, and a naked woman. Well, almost naked. She wore a belt with a fanny pack full of carrots (for the horse), and a small holster where she placed a plastic sword.

 

It goes without saying that this whole thing was really more of a monologue than a true dialogue, although about a third of the way through, the actress, Laëtitia Dosch, who also wrote the piece, also started speaking as the horse. That choice itself speaks to the overall question of power that underlines the production as a whole. As Laëtitia slowly begins to develop a more and more intimate relationship with the horse – don’t worry though, no actual sex happens, though the possibility of it is very explicitly alluded to – the question arises as not really the ‘authenticity’ of this relationship (again, horse), but the agency of one of the two parties involved. The horse’s voice can be provided artificially, but this nevertheless still anchors him as an object, as a piece of whatever narrative his human counterpart is in the process of creating. He has no true agency, at least not enough to make him a subject. The relationship, in other words, exists within the context of only one of their points of view.

 

 

It’s a rather interesting way of exploring this kind of relationship, these imbalances of power.

 

Anyway, I should perhaps write more on this, but I’ve got dinner to make. And to be honest, my brain is a bit exhausted.

 

 

But if anyone wants to reach me, you know where I am. I may be a bit under water right now, but I’ll be ok. I’ve got good people in my life, people who choose me to be in their lives in various capacities. And something else I’ve started to realize over this past year is the value of that. Fine comes with time. Besides, the sun was out today. How wonderful that life can still have such beauty in it like that.

259 – 286

A few things to update on this go-around, one of which will probably explain more than others why I’ve been even more silent than usual…again.

 

I’ve moved apartments.

 

Other than my prospectus, apartment hunting has been one of my biggest sources of stress for the past month and a half or so. For those unfamiliar with the way it works here, renting an apartment in Paris is, for lack of a better word, a bitch, even more so when you’re a foreign national. Chalk it up to the fact that demand far exceeds supply – which is the case in pretty much all major cities in the world –, itself exacerbated by services like AirBnb, but trying to find a new place here, or a place at all, demands a lot of patience.

Basically, what it almost comes down to is apply for literally everything in your budget range, put together an impeccable dossier (which includes documents such as a cover letter, CV/resumé, last three pay slips or a school acceptance letter if you’re a student, bank statements, bank statements from your guarantor, passport copies…you get the idea), and then hope that your application gets chosen out of the…several…other applicants.

What makes it more difficult if you’re a foreign national is the question of the guarantor. The majority of property owners will, in fact, not even consider your application if you don’t have a guarantor who lives in France (not necessarily a French citizen, but someone who lives in the country, and more importantly, has a French bank account). The general course of action at this point is to go through an agency, but that always involves added (and many times overinflated) fees, which are not accessible to everyone.

 

The rise of the start-up industry in Paris, however, has provided something of a solution to this problem. Now there are several agencies that offer up their services to stand in as guarantors for foreign students or young professionals. Usually there is a fee of some sort involved with this, but more often than not it is nowhere near what an agency might charge.

 

This is the route I ended up going, and good thing too because it allowed me to avoid an agency all-together.

 

The apartment I have now is actually one formerly occupied by a friend of mine who was going to be moving out and getting a place with his girlfriend at the beginning of summer. As things move very quickly in this city, apartment-wise, I made it very known several months ago that I wanted to take over the lease on his place, hoping that the owner would take my offer instead of putting the apartment up on the market. Clearly she did – and quite frankly, signing up with a guarantor service helped – and now here I am.

 

I’m actually not that far from my old place – just a couple stops on the metro. What’s honestly the weirdest bit to me in all this is that I’ve actually changed arrondissements from the 20th to the 19th (though the edge of the 20th is like…a block away).

 

Moving was…not as annoying as it could have been to be honest. To save money, and also because I had a lot of time on my hands, I decided to do it all myself instead of hiring a service. Major, MAJOR thanks have to go to the boyfriend however, who sacrificed sleeping in on a Saturday to help me lug three giant suitcases to the new place (on the top floor, no elevator, again…though it is one floor less than my old place).

Also thanks to him for attempting to fix my IKEA bookcase that I…hastily…put together, but let’s be honest, putting those things together can be such a pain in the ass that at some point you just want it to be done and over with rather than impeccable. Or you know, actually stable…oops.

And of course, this past Friday, July 6th, the official day that I both turned in my keys and became a full-time occupant of the new place, I celebrated with a housewarming. I am now the proud owner of an exorbitant amount of chips and bottles of wine. Seriously though, if anyone here wants any chips, please come take them. Seriously.

 

On to another update : my prospectus. It has been accepted. It is officially filed in the system. I am officially ABD (all but dissertation). Now I just have to write the thing.

 

A propos of all this : if anyone wants to read the prospectus, I will gladly send it to you. I get asked about what I work on all the time. What better way to explain what it is I do than to read this thing.

 

In the meantime, some other things I’ve been up to.

 

I went down to Marseille for a weekend at the end of June, for one thing. Due to a bit of a mix-up in terms of scheduling (namely the friend I was meeting forgot to use 24hr time when telling me what time his train/his girlfriend’s flight were arriving so I could check out tickets, meaning I would be arriving a good twelve hours before they did) I ended up having a bit of a solo adventure around the city.

 

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I have been to Marseille before, but last time I was there it was with the NYU Paris program back in 2011, so my memories of the city were pretty vague. And even though the weather was hot as only the Mediterranean sun can make things, I ended up spending the majority of the day walking.

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Inside Épicerie l’Idéal

I started off the day with a quick stop at Épicerie L’Ideal to grab a quick lunch (potato and green bean salad with ham, all drizzled in a very nice olive oil) before making the trek up to the cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde. This is actually the one thing I do remember doing the last time I visited, and it was nice to be able to marvel at the place again…especially the little boats hanging from the ceiling.

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Oh and also all the German tourists. Literally. There were so many of them there that day.

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After sitting and enjoying my lunch in a patch of shade, I made my way down the hill, around the port of Marseille – which, what with all the boats docked there, made me even more impatient for my upcoming return to the homeland that is Greece next month – and over to MuCEM, or the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations. This space is absolutely gorgeous, especially the exterior architecture. I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.

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To be honest, at this point in the day I was getting a bit tired, especially considering that I had not gotten very much sleep the night before as my train left ridiculously early in the morning, so I didn’t quite register too much with regards to the exhibits currently on display. I will say that the one focused on the history of agriculture in the Mediterranean was rather interesting, especially the display of different artifacts from various Mediterranean cultural traditions, along with excerpts of traditional folk songs being played in different parts of the room. One of the first ones played was a Greek folk song about gathering water from a well. Not going to lie, my ears perked up hearing it.

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This is actually from another expo currently on, focusing on the gold trade/industry.

In any case, by the end of the day I wanted nothing more than to sit and do nothing, so I ended up killing time at the train station until my friend arrived. Then it was off to the airport to pick up his girlfriend, and then off to his family’s house where we would be spending the weekend. Doing nothing. Well, doing nothing and going swimming. And eating. It was wonderful.

 

Another highlight : going to an all-night event at the Musée du Quai Branly in conjunction with their expo on nightmare and monster imagery in East Asian cultures (though the focus was more concentrated on China, Japan and Thailand). As the event was free, there was quite a crowd at the beginning of the night, but one of the perks of choosing to arrive later was that the crowds – many of them families with small children which…why – started to dissipate very quickly.

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There were some cool light and sound installations in the gardens to set the mood (and also made me wonder why they didn’t wait until October to do this because what better time for a haunted garden than Halloween). There was also a silent disco which, to put it lightly, could have been better organized. I mean, is it really that hard to put up signs indicating which line is to pick up and which one is to turn in headphones? No. Thankfully the disco was a blemish on the beginning of the night rather than the end because the expo itself was excellent. And at times even a bit frightening (looking at you small room in the J-horror part of the exhibit that was projecting images of the girl from The Grudge just standing there…also a wall of tiny baby doll heads). Totally worth the walk to catch the night bus at 4am.

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Oh hi there…

I’ve also got a new restaurant to add to my list of places : Les Niçois. As the name suggests, this place specializes in food from the south of France, and also offers a pretty good lunch deal of a starter + main or a main + dessert for around 16euros. I ended up going there to meet a friend/fellow Harvard French PhD candidate, my suggestion to grab lunch there being primarily motivated by the fact that it was hot and I wanted fish.

 

And fish I got.

I started, however, with a gazpacho, while my friend ordered the grab salad with grilled prawns.

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We both ended up going for the grilled salmon with summer vegetables and pistou (kind of like a pesto) for our main course, and I think the fact that we devoured both our portions rather quickly pretty much confirmed that we made the right choice.

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We did, however, decide to forego dessert there, instead opting to head down rue du Temple to Pastelli Mary Gelateria, a small shop owned by a Milanese transplant (Mary) who not only makes all her gelato in-house, but also uses only seasonal, organic ingredients.

 

I thought deciding on a couple of flavors would be a challenge. Then I saw that black sesame was on offer. I also asked for pistachio to keep within the nutty flavor profile. Best decision ever. This gelato was wonderful.

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And that pretty much catches us up to now.

 

A final highlight : yesterday I headed back to Cité U for another reunion with the old gang, which also included a surprise birthday celebration for one of them. A few rounds of Molkky helped us work off a bit of the delicious apple tart that stood in for a cake.

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And then I took a long walk home. A nice thing about that now: I no longer have to climb up the monster of a hill that is rue de Belleville (or rue de Ménilmontant for that matter) to do it. Thank goodness.

 

 

231 – 258

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Every year, around spring, there comes a point where things both start to pile up and converge into a sort of machinal monotony, during which nothing terrrrrribly exciting happens. A large part of this – at least in my case – has to do with the fact that the school year is winding down, and going into the home stretch means paper grading, exam proctoring, teacher meetings, etc., etc., etc.

Oh, and also writing and sending off what I hope to be my final prospectus draft (just need to wait for email responses…any day now…hopefully).

Needless to say, I haven’t really felt the impulse to write much, first because not a ton of things were happening, but then mostly because the prospect of trying to condense the increasing number of days between my last post and this one into a reasonably long text seemed more and more daunting as the days missed racked up.

But there were some wonderful things I would have liked to mention. Like how my theatre students gave their final performance and blew me (and our audience…yes we had an audience, including the principal and vice principal of the school) away with their energy, dedication, and commitment. To say I’m a bit sad that some of them will be graduating and off to new projects next year is somewhat of a given, but on the bright side, my eleventh graders will be back next year (and we had some students in the audience express enthousiastic interest in joining next year). This is probably one of my biggest regrets about leaving when I did the last time I taught this course: I wasn’t able to start a legacy, to establish a sort of permanence. Hopefully, since I’m not planning on leaving any time soon, this thing will grow into a slightly larger group of misfits instead of a relatively small one (though there’s nothing wrong with either).

Then of course there were reunions with friends from Boston (including one that involved a visit to some galeries in the Upper Marais that I had never visited before, but will probably try to more often when I have the time for it, mostly because…they’re freeeeee), discovering a potentially new favorite restaurant with the boyfriend (Buffet…you are wonderful, I love you and your delicious food and incredibly affordable prices), picnics, impressionist art expos, starting up round two of the physical theatre workshop I joined about a month or so ago…

And best of all, securing an apartment for next year. Other than waiting for feedback on my prospectus, this was probably my biggest source of stress for the past month.

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Could probably also call this the month of avocado toasts…

One thing that sort of got pushed to the side more than it should have though was my theatre attendance. I missed…probably more shows than I should have. I can tell myself that I let the hectic-ness of my schedule get the best of me, but I think a bit of show fatigue had started to set in as well.

Not for too long though because now I’m back with another mini review of a show that I have already seen…well kind of.

Back in the fall, I saw a production of Je suis un pays at the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre. As part of this production, there was also a companion piece programmed on the same evenings – Voilà ce que jamais je ne te dirai – that spectators were meant to see before seeing the longer main show (but the two could not be seen on the same night). Now, last fall, I kind of dropped the ball on seeing the companion piece (the first one – which, need I remind everyone, had a running time of about 4 hours – was more than enough for me at the time), but I figured that since both plays were coming through La Colline this month, and since a) spatial dynamics are my focus and b) La Colline is one of the theatres I’m focusing on, why not go and see both again…and in the right order this time.

I should point out right away, that I wasn’t exactly the ideal spectator for Voilà… considering I had seen the longer show already, and a large part of the aesthetic of the smaller piece plays with the confusion of walking into a space that has been from all appearances largely destroyed, and trying to piece together what the hell just happened. I will say though, that enough time had passed between the first time I saw the show that I didn’t remember every detail of what transpired before, but I was able to recall enough of the ‘plot’ details that I didn’t remain confused/perplexed for long.

The experience of this show starts with arriving at the theatre about two hours after the initial start time of Je suis un pays. After checking your ticket, the ushers hand you a wristband, and instruct you to go to the coat check downstairs to drop off your bag, and pick up your white hazmat suit and small headlamp. You had twenty minutes to get dressed before meeting back upstairs with the other suited-up spectators. While this was happening, Je suis… had in the meantime entered the second of its intermissions, meaning that for a good fifteen minutes, the spectators of both shows were mingling together in the entryway/bar area, with those who had already gone through our ‘experience’ looking on knowingly, while others remained more or less confused as to what in the world these people were doing.

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At the appointed time, after the spectators for Je suis… had been called back into the theatre, we were lead down into a small room located somewhere in the backstage area. There, a video was playing showing an interview between a journalist and a ‘Finnish’ expert on the artist that features prominently in the larger work (but who I don’t think ever actually appears). The conversation quickly descends into absurdity – notably: removal of all artistic works from museums and privatizing them is a way to fight against elitism because all museums really do, instead of being democratic, accessible spaces, is cultivate an even stronger level of elitism and exclusivity…and then everyone must sing the chicken dance – before two of the principle actors from the show come in. One is wearing nothing but briefs and bleeding from the head; the other has just been doused in tar. After a long discourse by the former, we are told that there has just been an explosion, the population has been decimated, and it is up to us to repopulate the planet.

Oh, and there would be beer.

At this point, we were lead out of the small room and into the main theatre – walking through the audience space – in a cloud of fog. We were then lead onto a bank of seats on the stage itself, an act that transformed the formerly primarily frontal dynamic in a bifrontal one, and as the fog cleared, we slowly discovered the mess on stage before us. Almost total destruction. I emphasize the almost because, once again, the audience space remains untouched. Untouched by dirt, by fake blood, by tar. Even though the stage itself  was relatively level with the start of the audience space – in contrast, the stage at Amandiers is raised up, creating a notable gap between itself and the audience – there was still a noticeable division between the two.

Anyway, what to say about the rest? We watched the last fifteen minutes of the show, it ended, we were all given free Heinekens, and then the techno music started. Fun.

Yeah, I’m not entirely sure what else to say about this that I hadn’t already said when I wrote about the longer show a few months ago. In any case, I am actually seeing Je suis un pays (or, well, the first part of it) again this week so…there’s that.

I’m just going to end this here with an image from this sort of immersive, light show expo, thing that the boyfriend and I checked out last Saturday. On the downside, it being a Saturday, it was pretty crowded. On the bright side, these flowers…

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197 – 212

 

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Spring!

 

 

 

 

The usual two+ week not writing gap continues, only this time I can definitely say it has more than a little to do with the fact that I’ve spent the last two weeks doing a whole lot of nothing (other than reading + workshop rehearsals + occasionally going outside…last week was insanely gorgeous). We’re coming up to the end of spring break here though, meaning that come Monday it’s back to teaching, only this time with heightened levels of senioritis to tackle from my Terminales (can’t say that I blame them though).

I will say though, being outside as much as I have, not just with all the walking I’m doing again, but simple things like reading my books in the park instead of at the library, has been positively magnificent for all the recharging I wanted to do.

 

 

 

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A café en terrasse at La Fontaine also helps…

For the most part, though, I think the word I’d use to really describe what the past couple weeks have been like is patience. To be more precise: relearning patience. I had spent the better part of a good number of days constantly refreshing my email, waiting for responses/feedback on the new version of my prospectus (yeah, I know, I’m a bit behind…technically…in getting this approved, but that’s what happens when your project gets a much-needed giant overhaul). Thankfully some incredibly constructive feedback came (and honestly, given how I wrote the thing when I was feeling pretty blocked and just sort of hammered things out, I’m surprised that there wasn’t more noticed paid as to how very obviously rushed it was haha), but there was a point where I just had to mentally take a step back and remind myself that I could (I should) just keep pushing on as though getting feedback was a non-issue. We can call this an attempt to regain control over how my life goes.

 

Thinking back, I’ve also realized I haven’t really been writing too much about my dissertation specifically, which is funny, considering that it’s such a big part of my life right now. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, other than going to see shows (more on a recent one I saw in a minute), the majority of the work takes place sitting in the reading room at the BNF. Not exactly the most exciting of times.

 

Really though, it also has to somewhat do with the fact that I’ve always felt a bit nervous about publicly sharing my intellectual/academic work. Call it another manifestation of imposter syndrome, but I’ve always been someone who likes to get this kind of work out little by little to people I trust to give me feedback instead of just shoving it out there like a baby bird out of a nest. This is also a bit funny to think about because when it comes to performing, I literally have no issues putting myself out there, or being vulnerable in front of an audience. Might have something to do with the sense of power that I have doing that. Or if not, then with the fact that oftentimes I still don’t trust words completely to get across what I’m thinking/feeling. I find abstract (or not so abstract) gesture to be more conducive to that, as far as my own means of expression are concerned.

 

 

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This has nothing to do with the above…just some chickens I met on the way to rehearsal a couple weeks ago

 

Anyway, on to the show I saw.

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Jusque dans vos bras is a satire on the notion of identity, and French identity in particular. Taking a humorous look back at the history of France and some of its major players, the play puts front and center a question that pretty much characterized the tone of the last presidential elections : what does it mean to be French?

 

As someone who is definitely not French, I will say it was interesting being in the audience as a sort of outsider, especially given the fact that a good portion of the beginning of the show involved a direct address wherein the audience was (unless I’m misremembering) addressed not only as being of French origin, but also of a certain socioeconomic demographic that is characterized by the fact that they all (myself included here) took the metro from Paris to get to the theatre that evening (the MC93 in Bobigny). Generally though, a good satire should be able to transcend these sociocultural/-ethnic bounds – and I will commend the piece for starting off almost immediately with a sketch that put front and center questions of Frenchness with regards to ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, etc. -, but I’m not entirely sure this one quite got there, given how specific some of its jokes and references were to a certain cultural understanding. Honestly though, I did feel pretty proud of myself for being able to pick up some of the more subtle digs at the current president.

 

A high point: during one of the sketches (there wasn’t really a through-line in this piece), the actors are wheeled out on a raft, which is then parked up center stage. A rope is thrown out. The actors are tired, weary. One of them stands and stretches out their hand asking for help being pulled to shore (downstage). This, of course, is an explicit reference to the current refugee crisis, but at the same time it also interrogated the relationship and ‘gap’ between the fiction being played out on stage and the audience. After the initial request was made, no one moved. The actor pleaded again for help, and then when no one in the audience still climbed up on stage to grab the rope, said actor, plus a few others, started making cheeky remarks about how heartless everyone was, and really they were sure that being in Bobigny (which is a historically left-leaning area) would mean that people would be scrambling to do something. It was at this point that the audience understood that yes, they were meant to take that step and cross the gap between themselves and the stage, inserting themselves into the fiction being played out before them. And yeah, this is going to be a bit silly, but almost immediately after people scrambled up to help – it never ceases to amaze me how eager people get to participate only the minute they are assured that it’s ok and no, they won’t be breaking any rules -, two other actors wearing silly shark costumes came up to attack. I died.

 

Oh and at one point there was also an inflatable dancing bull.

 

 

Low point: the blackface.

 

Oh yes. That happened.

 

 

« But, Effie, » you might be asking, « they painted their faces/hands red, not black, and besides isn’t there a completely different cultural context here that you have to take into account? »

 

No, there isn’t. I don’t care if the whole point of the sketch was for skewering white families for taking in immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa (a good chunk of which was, let us remember, colonized by France), and then making backhanded comments to try and demonstrate a level of cultural superiority, thereby in a sense reconstructing the colonizer/colonized dynamic. There are ways to do that without painting white actors’ faces. End of story.

 

I’m going to end this post with just a short note that on the evening of April 26, I officially added a new restaurant to my list of ones I readily recommend to people who come visit. Unlike the other restaurants on my list, however, this one happens to also be vegan. Given that I always like to be aware of friends’ diet concerns/preferences, I’m more than happy to say that Le Potager de Charlotte is a restaurant that anyone can enjoy!

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The only time I will eat a deviled egg…when it’s an avocado and there are no eggs involved.

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I’m off to London now to meet a friend for a last weekend of adventure (and rain), which also includes seeing a show I’ve been waiting to see for years. Three guesses as to which one…

 

183 – 196

 

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All that matters is this tarte tatin…

 

 

To say it’s been a while would be an understatement.

 

 

It’s not that I’ve lost the inspiration to write, it’s more that things just started piling on one right after the other, and I kept just pushing all of this back further and further, saying I’d get to it. Eventually.

 

Eventually is almost 20 days later, apparently.

 

The one good thing about this though is that other than a few shows to write on/other significant events, the past few days weren’t incredibly overloaded with things to the point where writing about them would be impossible. For the sake of time, however, I’m going to keep things brief again.

 

Let’s start with the first of the two shows I saw over the course of the past few days, Le Récit d’un homme inconnu at the MC93.

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Those familiar with Checkhov (and who also know French) might recognize the title, as the play is an adaptation of one of his stories. The plot can basically be summed up as follows:

  • Young woman in an unfulfilling marriage leaves her husband to seek refuge at the house of her lover – a young, rich playboy type – who really had no idea she was serious when she said she was going to leave her husband for him and is thus rather surprised to find her at his door.

 

  • Said young man has in his employ a valet – the titular unknown man – who is not quite what he seems. You see, he is not merely a valet. No. He is a revolutionary, one who has taken up the position as valet in order to obtain information on the young man’s father : a prominent political figure and, I should note, someone who never appears on stage. He quickly realizes the futility of this, as his employer only seems interested in half-reading books while laughing to himself like someone on the verge of transforming into a Bond villain. However, the valet also develops a liking for the young woman.

 

  • As these things usually go, the young woman falls pregnant. The young man casts her out – not knowing that she was pregnant – , and the valet, because he just really likes her, whisks her away to Italy where they live blissfully in Venice for a few months before the young woman goes into labor. She has the baby – a girl – and then dies immediately after, likely by suicide. The play ends some years later with the now disillusioned valet returning to his former employer to deliver him his daughter, who he is now responsible for.

Unlike the dance piece I saw at this theatre a few months ago, this piece was staged in their smaller salle transformable or transformable space (think a large black box). Upstage was a long white partition divided by three white doors. A row of empty wine and champagne lined the front of said partition. Hanging from the ceiling was what looked like a closed blue umbrella (this was, of course, opened later when the young woman and the valet flee to Venice). Given the smaller size of the space, most of the seats were raked, but there were a few placed on the ground, on the same level as the playing space, shaped in a sort of proscenium arch.

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Manage to snap this on my way out…

The staging remained more or less frontal, with a few exceptions. First, at the start of the second act, the valet began by reciting a long monologue about how he came to work in the house, culminating with the reading of a rather bellicose letter he wrote to his former employer. At one point during the reading, the actor pulled out actual copies of the letter and began distributing them amongst various audience members. Think of it as a way of bringing us partially into his world – the monologue was addressed to the audience as well -, thus a first sort of spatial-temporal blending that would occur in this production.

 

The second involved the use of a video projector onto which was shown a pre-recorded video of the valet and the young woman in Venice. At first corresponding somewhat in ‘real time’ to the events being narrated by the valet (yeah…it was a long monologue), the temporality of the video soon began to distance itself from the narrative being crafted on stage, creating a second fictional space within the framework of the principle one.

 

Though not even this twisting and folding of spatial-temporality could distract from the fact that this was a four hour play that could have easily been condensed down to two – at most three. Not really helping was the fact that the actors spoke in an affective manner that over-emphasized the passage and rhythm of time.

 

 

The second show I saw though was more like a homecoming than anything.

 

 

Let me preface: when I was a freshman in high school, I was cast in a workshop production of Complicité’s Mnemonic. To say this show changed my life might sound a bit cliché, but it’s true. This was the first time I fully immersed myself in something truly experimental and ensemble-based (because listen, when you live in the suburbs, it can sometimes feel like it’s musical theatre or nothing which…merits a post of its own because I have so many thoughts, too many, to fit here), and I can say that my fervor for all things theatrically strange and daring could find their roots here.

 

Anyway, on Friday, March 30, I saw Simon McBurney’s The Encounter at Odéon.

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This was pretty much a one man show – or well, one man plus an absolutely intense team of sound designers and engineers that he actually took the time to acknowledge, something not many do, at least not in speech – but the premise was more about a crossing of narratives. During a talkback the seminar I’m taking had with McBurney the afternoon before the show, one of the things he emphasized was how we are all storytellers. That storytelling was at the heart of his theatre practice. This play had at its center the recounting of photographer Loren McIntyre’s 1969 expedition into the Amazon and subsequent contact with the Mayoruna tribe. What starts as an attempt to document them through photographs to later be sold to National Geographic later turns into an exploration on the very notion of time, and the nature of those moments that photography seeks to suspend, to pull from a timeline (or time-wheel) to remain in stillness.

 

Rather than telling McIntyre’s story in one go, McBurney punctuated it with moments of interruption by his daughter, who – via a pre-recorded voice-over – kept entering her father’s workspace, asking him why he was still up working so late, and whether he could tell her another story to help her fall asleep. And really, in the end, this little girl who both was and was not there becomes the most important thing, this potential future that has the potential to respond to the mistakes of those that came before her. Though, unlike the most recent of Mouawad’s plays, this almost ecological message was not hammered into our faces.

 

I should go back to the presence/non-presence thing because the most fantastic thing about this show was without a doubt the way it played with sound. Upon taking their seat, each member of the audience found a pair of headphones attached to the back of their chairs. Oh yes, we wore headphones throughout the entire show – and this was almost mandatory, as taking them off would have plunged you into almost complete silence and torn you out of what was in the process of being crafted on stage. And really, I don’t think I could say enough about the sound design because there were moments when I honestly could not tell if what I was hearing was happening on stage or if it was something/one in the house. Granted, having this kind of experience means in part giving yourself over entirely to what is happening, and opening yourself up to be affected, but really, it is incredibly difficult not to. Hell, I was sitting in the second row of the first mezzanine, and I found myself leaning over, wanting more than anything to dive in even further.

 

Anyway, enough of the theatrics. On to other things!

 

Namely, food-related things.

 

I’m happy to say I have two new restaurants to add to my ever-growing list of places I like going out to eat here. Coincidentally, both of these places involve small-plates dining.

 

First, L’Arbre Jaune, or, what happens when you and your dining companion (but really, mostly you because your hunger makes you indecisive) can’t decide on where to go for dinner, and end up making a last-minute reservation on the one place you’ve managed to find that lets you do that online.

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We started with an order of chicken liver pâté and saucisson, then moved on to a cauliflower velouté, clams, beef cheeks, pig’s trotters in filo, and finally concluded with cheese (yeah…the problem with this having been two or so weeks ago, I cannot remember what cheese we had). All of it washed down with a nice half bottle of red that I also can’t remember the name of because I don’t take notes on this thing, and there is obviously a reason why I don’t blog about food.

 

As someone who usually does quite a bit of reasearch before going out to eat, I was slightly apprehensive about coming here at first. Thankfully, my fears were assuaged with a more than pleasant meal (holy shit those beef cheeks were amazing), that came out to a more than reasonable price (less than 40eu per person for all we had).

 

The second food adventure though was one that was a very long time coming – and one that I got to share with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while.

 

This past week, one of my very good friends from high school came to visit me (!), and other than the usual pastry/coffee/cheese/charcuterie stops I usually take visitors on, we decided to treat ourselves to one night of indulgence. So I made reservations this past Tuesday at Au Passage.

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Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to schedule this meal on a Tuesday, as it sort of set the precedent rather high for the rest of the week, but when eating here has been something of a goal for the past few years, all of that nonsense pretty much gets thrown out the window. We had a bit of trouble deciding what to order at first – everything looked so good, and I don’t doubt that any choice we made would’ve been a good one -, but then our waitress mentioned that they only had two portions of the scallops left for the night. Thus our choices were made: terrine, radishes and butter to start, followed by roasted carrots and chèvre, then asparagus, ramps, and lardon, then the famous scallops with celery, celeriac purée and saffron, and finally papardelle with lamb ragout. As to the wine, the thing I do remember is that it was a red from the southwest and that it, like all their wines, was biodynamic. I never claimed to be an expert on these things, so I’m going to chalk up remembering this much for a win. Maybe next time I’ll remember the cépage…

 

And so began a week filled with insanely long walks (of course), consumption of viennoiseries, and picnicking during the first legitimately nice day of spring (yeah it started to sprinkle on us – and just us – a bit towards the end of our picnic lunch on Saturday, but that’s what umbrellas are for).

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Of course we stopped at La Fontaine de Belleville for some wine
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Also, special shout-out to this IPA from Paname Brewing Co.

And since I started this post by speaking about theatre, I’m going to end it with theatre as well, but this time on something that directly involves me.

 

A few weeks ago, I put out word on Facebook that I really missed performing (which…yeah the back and forth I do with myself sometimes over whether or not I should have tried balancing performing more with my research is still a thing that happens relatively often). One of my facebook friends (whose show I had seen in the beginning of the fall) here reached out and mentioned they had a friend coming into the city soon who would be starting up a workshop, and would I be interested in learning more/possibly be involved? I said yes, connected with the workshop director via sending in an intro video , and things jived well enough to the point that last night I was back in a studio playing with a group of other performers, something I haven’t done in far too long. Really, I felt like I was coming home again in a room of (mostly) strangers. Sometimes I get a bit of anxiety when meeting new people. Theatre – and actually rehearsal spaces more specifically – is the only place where that does not happen.

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And it’s getting a bit late now, so I’ll close with a quick note on a discussion I attended this evening on architecture and the banlieues that also incorporated the question of theatre (in part because it was held in a theatre, but also because one of the panelists was theatre director Karim Bel Kacem). I’m still sort of processing this one, since it literally just happened, but I’ll just give a little shout-out here to a boyfriend who was very on-point with this recommendation.