Yes, I know. It’s kind of a lame excuse, but, hey, it’s better than the usual “oops, I just got so busy with things that I forgot to write.”
Though, that bit is true.
This last month has been rather hectic to say the least. Not just with the usual end of term grading binge and holiday prepping, or with the strikes, which somewhat altered my theatergoing plans.
And yes, as an aside, I didn’t go to the theatre as often as I had planned last month, but that’s not to say I have any feelings of resentment over what’s going on. On the contrary, I actually support what’s going on, in large part because it directly affects my line of work (because of course teachers and other public servants are so privileged that our pensions must be snipped away at. Unless, of course, we’re cops…obviously), but also because, to be quite frank, in this general environment of increased neoliberalization, seeing that mass worker mobilizations can still do…something…is slightly encouraging. Slightly, only because who knows if it will actually amount to anything significant. It’s hard to stay optimistic.
In any case, it is also quite hilarious (well, infuriating but also hilarious) to read the news about this and see mostly comments along the lines of “well, yes, we understand why people are striking, but why must it be so disruptive?”. I mean, I suppose that people could just go out into the streets one day for a couple hours, make some little signs, wave them around, say a couple of slogans that could later be printed onto t-shirts or pins to be sold for the low price of X euros and then go home—perform at protest, evoke the idea, the gestures of protest—, but what good would that do?
But this is part of what the general tide has turned towards, perhaps. Going through the motions for a moment of illusory subversion, a quick rush to think “yes, I feel good about myself right now” without daring to take that extra step into more difficult territory.
It’s somewhat similar to what I’ve seen in some pieces over the last few years. It’s what Olivier Neveux categorizes as theatre that is essentially “political” in name only, when in reality, it operates within—and even to some degree, reinforces—existing power structures and dynamics.
So, yes, I’m mentally (and physically) preparing myself for a lot of cold walks in the coming days. So be it.
But beyond that, I was also sent into something of a tailspin regarding my dissertation—well, more precisely, my dissertation defense date—that kind of cracked me in the last few days leading up to the break. Chalk it up to stress, or a general feeling of being so close only to potentially have things collapse from under you, but by the time I was ready to board my flight for San Francisco, the only thing on my mind was that I needed to get out of the city for a bit. Clear my head. Relax.
And I did, relax, actually. In fact, to really hammer that bit home, I did something I had never done before for a flight to California: I upgraded to business class.
To be honest, this was always one of those things I always told myself I would do one day, but never did. Mostly because I never thought I had enough money set aside to do it, as well as just generally feeling guilty about the thought of spending money on a one-time treat like this. Besides, once I saw the “other side”, could I ever go back?
Well, friends, let me tell you: I’ve crossed the Rubicon. Business class is very nice.
And it’s not just the fact that the seat turns into a full-on bed so that I could actually sleep (okay I slept for only two hours but, hey, that’s more than zero), or that I actually had enough personal space that I could get a good amount of work done (yes, I finished grading exams because I am also very responsible when I relax). It was getting a 15-minute facial (and mimosa because I get started on my relaxing early in the morning as well) in the Air France lounge. It was getting a complementary glass of champagne on arrival, a three-course dinner with actual silverware, and then a light lunch before landing, again with actual silverware. It was the amenities kit with a toothbrush/paste, eye mask, ear plugs, and hand creams that was offered after we were all seated. Hell, it was the fucking facial cleanser in the bathroom.
I mean, let’s be honest, in brief, it was just the general feeling of being treated like a human being instead of a mass in a seat.
Now, to be fair, I have had very good experiences on Air France in economy class, so this isn’t so much a dig at them, per-say. It’s more the same general comment about air travel that’s been repeated ad nauseum over the years.
In any case, it was a lovely experience, and a good way to get started on my holiday.
And it was a good holiday too, even if I did spend the majority of it working.
I did, at least, make it out for one solo adventure in San Francisco. My parents had gone down to Orange County to visit my sister, and I elected to stay behind to finish my dissertation draft (which I did…somehow). As a sort of reward to myself, I decided a walk and a visit to the SFMOMA was in order.
And eating, lots of eating.
I started with a croissant and café au lait at Tartine (because I can never leave France behind entirely) before venturing on a stroll around the Mission to kill some time before lunch (aka the reason I came out here in the first place).
I mean, I actually managed to visit the namesake Mission, for once.
But yes, lunch.
Lunch was tacos.
Now, yes, the taco scene in Paris is not too terrible (special shout-out to El Nopal), but let’s be honest, it cannot beat what I can find here. And hell, I’m not even remotely an expert. I just like a good lengua taco now and then to accompany my usual order of carnitas, and also a small salsa bar.
Well, anyway. Taqueria Vallarta more than satisfied all of that. And it filled me up for my trek to the SFMOMA as well.
The museum was lovely, as usual, but nothing stood out to me so much that it left an impression. I think it was more the general feeling of being surrounded by art that made me the most happy, or that just got me out of my head for a moment.
After that, I popped over to Good Mong Kok Bakeryto grab a red bean cake, and then it was off to City Lights Bookstore to see if I could find anything that struck my fancy. Unfortunately, I didn’t this time around, but, then again, I’ve got two rather large books on deck, and my bookshelf is pretty much full at this point. In any case, it was nevertheless a good way to end the adventure, as well as to mark the closing of the year and decade.
Yes, this is going to turn into a slight end of decade post. I say slight because I more or less did this in my birthday post (the perks of having a birthday so close to the end of the year, I guess). But I’ll add a little something here:
The 2010s for me have been, above all, the decade of Paris. Studying abroad in Paris, moving to Paris once and then back again, and spending all my time when not in Paris thinking about how I would get back. The Paris of my 2010s, and consequently my 20s, was a Paris of studying, of dealing with bureaucracy, of my first real job (which consequently, was also my first real teaching job). It was days spent at the BNF that turned into evenings. It was all-nighters (or close to them) being pulled at Reid Hall, seated behind a window in a little attic room, a pile of paper fortune-tellers acting as a testament as to how long I’d been there.
I’ve dealt with the dormitories, the landlord who got into a straight-up argument with me over giving me my security deposit back, the apartment that was too big (yep, figured out that was a thing), and then my spot now.
In short, over the past decade, as back and forth as my time here was, Paris became home.
And at the risk of getting overly sappy, I’ll end it at that. I’d say here’s to an excellent 2020, but the idiot-in-chief may or may not have just started WWIII so….eh?
Going to start things off with some more (very quick, I promise) musings on dissertation-writing today before moving on to other theatre-related things. Don’t worry though. This time I’m going to actually be positive(ish) about things…for once.
I had a meeting with my thesis director about a week ago, the first since our last extensive one-on-one in early July before the summer holidays officially kicked off. Was I freaking out that there would be a lot of skeptical, questioning remarks about what I’d hacked out? Yes. Did I end up having to worry about that? No…as these things usually go, apparently (convenient how the mind tends to forget this when one is ‘in the thick of it’…).
Other than planning out my next steps (which I am kind of excited about because they involve diving back into theory), one thing that was brought up was all the things I had apparently ‘done’ or illuminated in my drafts, things that, in part challenged some other established critiques of audience/spectacle relationships (and I won’t get into it here because it is a bit complicated, and this is not the space for that sort of thing…also I’m on a time crunch). These comments both come as a rather pleasant little surprise, as well as inspire some fear. Because, of course, I had no conscious intention of challenging anything when I was writing my stuff, but as those who write (dissertations or not) probably know, sometimes you just get in the zone and things come out and you don’t really stop to think about the implications of it all.
What I’m saying is, I think I might have to get into some critical analysis of my own work after this is all done, so I don’t look like a fish with its mouth gaping open during my dissertation defense a year (holy shit) from now. Writing is a funny thing sometimes.
At the end of the session, she also threw out, on a whim, a suggestion that I think I’m going to officially adopt as my title :
Contemporary French Theatre: Spatial Effects
I’m not one who easily comes up with short, not terribly wordy titles (or titles in general) for my writing projects anyway, so having this now is definitely something I don’t mind adding to my little list of ‘dissertation wins’. Also, I like puns.
Anyway, moving on to what else I’ve been up to…
I tried an egg-centric (hehe) dish a week ago at brunch with a friend at Salatim, an Isreali restaurant in the 2nd arrondissement. The set brunch menu is priced at 21eur (though some add-ons, such as challah bread, will bump the price up a tiny bit…though…you kind of need bread for this meal so…yeah), and includes
a hot drink (coffee/tea)
juice (orange or house lemonade)
a generous serving of various salads and mezze topped with a portion of the dish of the day (that day the specials were something with salmon and confit lamb. We went with the lamb…because of course)
Shakshouka to share (yep)
A selection of desserts to share (including a very yummy chocolate babka)
When the waiter was explaining the brunch menu, the issue of me hating eggs came up, but I decided–because I guess I was feeling adventurous that day or something–to say to hell with it and said to put two eggs in the pan because hey, who knows?
In the end, I am glad we made that choice because the sauce the shakshouka was served in was really incredible (adding some harissa on it wasn’t such a bad choice either hehe). I did end up mixing in some of the egg white in with the sauce as I scooped it up with the (not included but really should be) challah bread, but I ended up leaving the yolk to the side. Mixing the egg whites in with the sauce was pretty alright. There was definitely a limit to how far I could tilt the egg/sauce ratio to the former but, at least I tried.
This does not, however, change my opinion on other egg-related breakfast dishes, so don’t even think of suggesting I try an omelette or poached egg or a breakfast burrito anytime soon.
Speaking of other food-related things, the day before said brunch I also met up with a friend to check out what I think is going to be one of my new favorite semi-annual events: the Salon des vins des vignerons indépendants (The Independent winemakers expo).
This event takes place two times a year, once in the fall (around November, I believe), and once in early spring. While the fall expo is held at the much larger venue at Porte de Versailles, in the southern edge of the city, this one took place at the slightly smaller–but no less lively, according to my friend who has attended several of these–Porte de Champerret. Basically, how it works is after you buy your entry ticket (normally 6eur, but I managed to snag a free pass), you check in, receive your complementary wine glass, and then proceed to roam up and down the aisles stopping at any tables that seem interesting. Rather than organize the wines by region–that is, one section for Bordeaux, one for the Loire Valley, one for Provence, etc–all the regions are kind of mixed together, allowing for, at least I think, some more spontaneous exploring or venturing out to try something new. Thankfully, for those on the hunt for a particular region, the signage above each table was color-coded, something I at least found rather helpful as the afternoon went on and I became increasingly determined to get my hands on some nice Rhône reds.
I ended up with four bottles in my ‘haul’ (honestly, my little wine cabinet thing could not fit any more than that), including an interesting white wine from the Jura region I would probably have never tried otherwise. I’ll be excited to break that one out eventually (another reason I didn’t get more wines, I don’t actually drink that much wine at home, living alone and whatnot).
And finally, before the ‘fun’ theatre commentary starts, I’m going to toot my own horn for a second and mention that about two weeks ago, I popped back over to Reid Hall to be part of a panel of former MA students, now PhDs, on how to carry out a research project, as well as speak about our own work to the current MA students. Having a rather untraditional–by comparison, at least, considering that the other two panelists were PhD candidates in history–project and trajectory did get my nerves going a bit at the beginning, but I think my choice to sort of dispense with the fact that, given the ephemerality of my corpus, I had no archives/powerpoint to show right away and move on to general advice ended up paying off. There was a nice little discussion afterwards as well, and I think that, having been in the position those students are in now six(!) years ago, hopefully we were all able to give them at least some helpful direction as they navigate the nonsense of a giant research project for the first time.
One thing that really irked me though, there was a gentleman in the audience who, the minute I went up to the podium, got up and started rifling through his bags rather loudly, as well as walking back and forth between the refreshments table and his seat. A side note: I was the second of the three presenters. He didn’t do this for any of the other two. I know it shouldn’t have, but it definitely took me aback for a minute, especially considering that I was doing this presentation after finishing a day of teaching. Honestly, if there is one thing I absolutely cannot stand, it’s when I have the floor and people are disruptive or chatty or in general, taking away my time. There was plenty of time between myself and the person who spoke before me to get up, stretch a bit, and then sit back down. Did it have something to do with the fact that I was the only woman speaking? Who knows. I’m leaning towards no, and just chalking this up to general rudeness, but holy hell my dude.
Common courtesy is a thing. Anyway…
Qui a tué mon père, written by Édouard Louis, dir. Stanislas Nordey, La Colline, March 24.
I’ll get this out of the way now: the answer to the question posed in the title (‘Who killed my father’, in English) is several people, or ‘the system’ in general. But this didn’t get fully addressed until towards the end of the production. The rest of the time was devoted to the solo actor–an avatar of sorts for Louis, considering the very autobiographical nature of this piece–detailing the history of his relationship with his father, a working-class man from the (formerly industrialized, recently deindustrialized) north of France, whose previous conservative and far-right leanings clashed with his son’s own politics as well as his person (Louis, like the solo character in the show, is openly gay). The end of the piece suggests that the father, in his older age, and now out of work due to a back injury, has started to come back around to the left, not only in terms of social issues, but also as a worker in the sense that, until recently, the left had been the side pictured as fighting for workers’ rights. (Xenophobia, homophobia, racism, discrimination, etc. are just some of the divisions the far-right has stoked in order to falsely paint itself as the party for the working man…unfortunately with some success).
As mentioned before, this show–which runs just shy of two hours–is performed by a solo actor, though he is not necessarily alone on stage. When the curtain rises, for instance, it sees him seated at a table facing what one assumes to be his father. The figure seated across from him, however, is not another actor, but a very realistic model (not gonna lie, it took me a while to realize that, partially because I was seated a bit further back in the room). This model has his downstage arm propped up on the table, the hand cradling his face so that it is hidden from view, and presumably, to suggest a lack of ‘connected gaze’. This image of visual disconnect (perhaps reflective of the metaphorical disconnect between father and son) carries on through the production as, during the blackouts that punctuate moments of the long monologue, other models of the same figure appear on stage, all of home facing either upstage, or purposefully away from where the actor is standing.
It’s only towards the end of the piece that the actor actually begins interacting with the models on the stage. At this point, there is a light snowfall bathing the space–or at least the square playing space on the middle of the stage–in white. One by one, the actor picks up the models–by this point, he has recounted the story behind his father’s work-related injury, as well as the bureaucratic difficulties involved with worker’s comp and getting back into/finding work at all–and gently placing them off the playing space. Once said center square is free of all objects, he begins his last, very pointed and very specific series of accusations.
Starting with the presidency of Jacques Chirac and concluding with Macron, the actor one by one names first, the sitting president, and then his Minister of Health and/or of Work. He doesn’t just recite the names either, but rather tilts his head up and cries the name into the sky, into the falling snow, slowly, deliberately, slightly pausing just before his declamation to make sure the focus shifts onto the names themselves before he continues on to recount the misdeeds of the persons behind said names. In general, the discours concerns the gradual eroding of the French social net, especially as far as the working class is concerned. The goal, as the text itself states, in presenting these grievances in such a way is to immortalize, via theatre, the names of the persons responsible for the increasingly-precarious living situations of the working class in the same way that theatre has–again, the comparison is given in the text–immortalized Richard III. The text closes by evoking the fact that the political means something very different for those in a position like the narrator’s (and by extension Louis’s) father, who are more quickly and more directly impacted by even five-euro budget increases or decreases than those of us (and this definitely includes most everyone sitting in the theatre that afternoon, including myself) for whom such fluctuations do not cause as much of a disruption.
And at the end, the son recounts a final conversation he had with his father, one in which the father concluded by saying it was about time for another revolution, for something to happen. Given the ongoing Gilets Jaunes demonstrations (a movement that still, in my opinion, needs to contend with the far-right presence, however small or not, in its ranks, despite the left’s attempts to retake control of the narrative), the timing of this was rather perfect.
Those who know me, though, will probably not be surprised at the fact that, while I agreed with much of what was being said during that final discours, I remained skeptical as to its efficacy in theatrical form (especially how very close to didactic it became, what with the reminder to audience members of France’s recent past). This is, however, based on an assumption that said discours would at least inspire reflection, if nothing else, on the part of the audience members, but how far can reflection go if it cannot then be translated into action?
I mean, in the end, the show is being performed in a venu located in a neighborhood that was historically very working-class but has recently undergone several years of change and the beginnings of a gentrification that is seeing the former working-class residents at risk of being priced out. It’s also a National Theatre. Normal ticket prices are around 30eur. For my American readers, this might not seem like a lot, given the average theatre ticket prices in many major cities, but here, that is up there. (Thankfully, I am still under 30, and even if I wasn’t, the membership card I have for this season greatly reduces the price per ticket).
Speaking of more political theatre…
Gymnase Platon: Lakhès, dir. Grégoire Ingold, MC93, March 28
So, here’s a question: if someone proposed to you to go attend a performance the first part of which consisted of a staging of one of Plato’s dialogues, would you go? A conversation on the themes addressed in the dialogue would of course follow, this evening in the presence of a professor of Classical Philosophy. As to the dialogue, other than being performed in French, as opposed to recited in Ancient Greek (thank god), there would be little done in terms of taking it from its historical moment to ours, trusting at least that the themes themselves would carry over just fine.
The idea of this production (or series of productions. There were actually three stagings of three different dialogues proposed, the first of which I missed, the second being this one, and the third being Plato’s dialogue on justice which I supposed to attend this past Saturday but didn’t because of…well…this piece) was to recreate the environment of the ancient Agora, a space of interaction, of sharing ideas, of thinking and speaking liberally. The problem with this idea, before we get into anything else, is that it is almost doomed to fall short from the start. For one thing, the fact that this production is staged–that is, that there is a text that is meant to be followed–means that the room for improvisation, for tangents, for interruption and other twists and turns of spontaneous discours is gone. There is, rather, a single group in this case–the actors–who retains vocal and ‘narrative’ dominance. Though at one point early on in the dialogue the audience is asked to vote on which of the two sides they agree with (and this is before Socrates comes in and complicates things), other than that, our participation, our presence was regulated to that of what is ‘expected’ of a contemporary theatre audience.
Quiet, attentive, responding but silently until the signal is given that we may applaud.
Interestingly, the night I went there was also a group of high school students in attendance, one of whom was dealing with a rather nasty cough (yay changing of the seasons). At one point, his teacher asked him to step out so that his coughing wouldn’t be so distracting, but I honestly almost wished he hadn’t done that because this was supposed to be an Agora after all, right.
Also, again, a reminder, in Ancient Greece there was no rule about not talking at the theatre. People only shut up if they thought what was being performed was worth listening and paying attention to. So…yeah.
Second problem: this was something the philosophy professor in attendance pointed out, but there is the question of why stage Plato now while at the same time not try and shift the context of the dialogue, in some way, from his historical moment to ours. The question at the center of this one was that of the nature of ‘virtue’, but one thing that was not addressed in the written program (nor in the staging prior to the professor’s commentary) was the fact that the metrics by which this is measured by are incredibly different now from what they were in Plato’s day. Plato, in other words, would very likely not recognize virtue as we see it, least of which because, unlike in his day, we don’t necessarily measure worth by military victories/prowess anymore.
And quite frankly, I would have been very happy to just have a conversation/seminar session with that professor. He was an older gentleman, but he had a very pleasant voice and a very engaging manner, and he tried his best to make sure we were following his train of thought. In fact, one of the young high schoolers was particularly engaged with what this man was saying, and was very eager to pose him questions (unfortunately, he only had time to ask one of his questions before we all had to clear the space, but I saw him walk over to the professor as everyone was beginning to file out, no doubt ready to ask him the second question he had in mind right when the announcement that we had to clear out was made).
But, yeah, I’m not sure how productive as a work of theatre this was. The tri-frontal seating arrangement (later turned quadri-frontal after the actors ceded the right to speak to the professor) could, I imagine, have given an air of an environment set for exchange of ideas but…the stage/spectator power structures of who can and cannot speak and when were still there. Anyway, in brief, I wasn’t really keen on seeing this happen again on Saturday, hence why I decided to skip out on the next performance.
Evel Knievel contre Macbeth, dir. Rodrigo Garcia, Nanterre, March 29
Yeah, I honestly have no idea how to even begin with this.
Actually, no, here’s how: in Swiss Army Man, before the screen cuts to black, a character, taking in the bizarre nonsense of everything that has just happened in front of her, takes a minute and then clearly lets forth the final line of the film
“What the fuck?”
Some key words for this piece
Yep. I’m going to just…let this one marinate somewhere else for right now.
I will say though that the sound design was cool
Dying Together, dir. Lotte Van Den Berg, Nanterre, March 31
Participatory theatre. Creating community around death.
The one thing I will say about this is that they asked for audience members’ consent each and every time a new scenario or a new person to represent was proposed to them. That’s excellent. More people should do that.
Moving on though, the idea with this piece was, in brief, to approach the notion of death as a communal, constellation-creating (yes, constellations, as in stars, as in things that are connected not physically but by our perception of links or patterns in the spaces between them) phenomena rather than a solo one. To do this, three scenarios were proposed (the 2015 Germanwings crash, the 2013 sinking of a migrant caravan boat near Lampedusa and the 2015 attacks in Paris, specifically at the Bataclan) during which members of the audience were asked to represent, via their physical, not vocal, presence, various persons connected with said events. Said persons could have been victims, perpetrators of the attacks, relatives of victims/attackers, or people who may have been peripherally if not directly involved in the event itself. If, during each scenario, we agreed to represent the person (note: none of these people were named; for those whose identities were more or less known, all we were given was very basic information including sex, age, and perhaps an occupation or a tidbit of info on the person’s background), we were led to a part of the space and told to stand in a certain way and look in a particular direction. This would be our starting position, and from there, when the constellation would start shifting, we could move around a bit to explore the space, our connection to it/the person we were representing, and our inter-personal connections to each other.
Movements stayed relatively slow and consisted mostly of walking or variations of sitting/laying down and standing up. This one is still a bit fresh in my mind since I just came from seeing it, but it did make me think of some general thoughts I have about this kind of improvisational (ish) experimental theatre, especially as it relates to the question of audience integration. It is no secret that I myself love physical theatre. Viewpoints (of which this experience definitely reminded me, especially as we all started moving about the space) changed my life and appreciation for theatre when I was in college, but one thing I’ve found is that, in terms of actually doing it, the best results are produced in intimate, more private spaces, amongst a small group of people who have spent several weeks (or better, months) working together in order to be fully comfortable with the level of physical vulnerability and liberty in experimentation that is often asked of performers in these situations. In short, in my experience, integrating an audience, or transposing these experiences into a much larger–and much more temporary group–is always a risk, and never quite seems to go anywhere. I personally did not feel any connection to any of the persons I was asked to represent. What I did do, however, was spend the majority of my time watching how other people navigated around each other. Dynamic spatial relationships, yo.
Also it should probably not come as a surprise to anyone but when it came time to ask for representatives for the attacks at the Bataclan, it took a couple tries before they found the first person who consented to represent one of the three shooters. This production was first staged in Rotterdam, I believe with the same three scenarios, but there is something about bringing that particular one back to Paris (and only 3.5 years after the attacks) that made the initial refusals or hesitations of participating not terribly surprising.
Anyway, my skepticism towards the efficacy of participation/’immersion’ theatre still holds for now.
And now, I am going to take a lozenge and head to sleep. Stupid seasonal (and time) changes throwing off my immune system…
I honestly cannot remember the last time I managed to sit down and blog two days in a row.
Hell, other than the very first blog I started waaaaay back in January 2011 (which…holy shit was eight years ago) when I first moved out to Paris for a semester abroad, I cannot remember when was the last time I made a concerted effort to blog something, even a small thing, every single day for a duration of several months. Given how DAU-centric my last post was (and how much earlier I really should have published it…), I figured I’d give the show I saw yesterday afternoon its own space, if for no other reason that to give my thoughts some room to breathe.
Before that though, some updates:
1. I submitted my application for completion funding for the 2019/2020 academic year last Friday (Feb. 8). I honestly still cannot believe I managed to make it to that point–and let’s be real, if you had told me back in September that I would have been ready to submit this thing on time, I would have very likely thought you were crazy–, but, somehow the mess managed to pull itself together. At least now I can continue writing in (relative) tranquility without the whole ‘financial stability’ thing hanging over my head.
2. Somewhat related to the above, I’m going to be meeting with one of my committee members on Wednesday to finally get some feedback on the…gems…I submitted in the guise of chapter drafts. I’ve pretty much just accepted the fact that the whole ‘imposter syndrome’ thing is just going to keep following me around for as long as I’m doing this, so there really is no point in pretending that I am not internally kind of stressing about how that conversation is going to go. It’s not that I don’t like critiques of my work, I actually appreciate them a great deal. It’s more that there is always the risk of being told that I have no idea what I’m talking about/what I’m doing. I’ve learned to manage that kind of stress better as I’ve trudged along on this ‘journey of writing a thing that like…five people might read’, so at least there’s that :).
3. I took myself out on a solo movie date on Friday after the application had been officially submitted. I’ve been getting slightly more comfortable with doing some things on my own again and not feeling isolated about it (the joys of adulthood: scheduling time with other people is sometimes nowhere near as easy as it used to be in uni). Case in point: I’ve also signed up to this services that organizes live music events around the city, and uses a kind of lottery system to determine who gets one of the (somewhat limited) spots on a given night. I went to my first one of these at the end of last month; going to be heading to another in 2 weeks. Making efforts to get out of the house, even when I have to fight against myself a bit, have proven to be a good thing for my overall sanity (if anything, it’s a nice distraction from the constant thinking).
Anyway, enough of that. On to what I saw yesterday…
So those who read here somewhat regularly (hello all…five of you) might remember a couple of posts back I wrote about a show I had seen at the MC93, entitled Ils n’avaient pas prévu qu’on allait gagner. As a refresher, the show centered around a group of foster kids in a group home, and one of my main critiques concerned the fact that the text, rather than being composed of transcribed conversations the production team actually had during their respective times spent volunteering at one such location–or otherwise words that, even if fictional, came directly from the kids in such a way that it allowed them to carry some agency in the communicating of the particularities/nuances of their situation–was written by a someone who occupies a status of societal privilege. In addition, the staging, coupled with the manner in which the piece was composed, centered–purposefully or not–the privileged gaze in its narrative. It would be difficult to say, in other words, that given the aesthetics of the production, the goal was to question or destabilize that particular gaze, and not, as I would argue, leave it intact for the sake of ‘presenting’ a ‘problem’ to a supposedly somewhat ‘ignorant’ audience.
It would be perhaps good to keep the above in mind as I lay out my thoughts on the piece I saw last night, one that also centered a marginalized group, but in a way that I would say was ultimately more successful in destabilizing established structures (in particular, those revolving around the act of looking or gazing). This, I would argue, is in large part due to the fact that, in this instance, those marginalized were given greater autonomy with regards to their storytelling.
Didier Ruiz’s Trans (Més Enllà), as the title suggests, centers on the stories of transgender individuals–seven, in this case–, not only in terms of their personal histories, but how they themselves relate or interpret the question of ‘gender’ and the ‘gender binary’. The seven performers–four trans women and three trans men, ranging in age from 22 to early 60s–are not professionals. Instead, much like with a previous project centered on life while in prison, Ruiz set out to meet with different folks in the trans community in Spain (and more precisely Barcelona), ultimately forming a small troupe with the seven that ultimately appear in the show. The stories they tell are all theirs, though they are not necessarily chronological.
The stage itself–this, by the way, was at the Théâtre de la Bastille–was relatively bare, save for two gauzy screens that curved upstage where they somewhat overlapped to create a sort of hallway from which the performers would enter and exit (exceptions being a few instances where the performers entered/exited by coming around the side extremities of either one of said screens). While the performers were speaking, the screens remained bare, save for the French subtitles that were projected onto them (the piece was in both Spanish and Catalan, depending on what language the speaker was more comfortable with). The exceptions to this were a couple of transitional moments during which kaleidoscopic animations were projected onto them, a burst of color on an otherwise white stage.
The fact that there was no set script, and that the performers had a little bit of leeway in their storytelling meant that there was reasonable potential for the subtitles to not be word-for-word precise, or for things to get slightly deviated. This, however, was acknowledged in an opening subtitle text that was projected at the opening of the show, before the first performer began his speech, and, in a sense, it also acted as the first indication as to the degree of performative/speech agency that was granted to the speakers. Even while needing to maintain some sort of degree of precision or consistency, the words remained theirs.
Generally, the performance structure went as follows: one (or several) performer(s) would be on stage. They would look out at the audience for a beat before beginning their narration (one by one, in cases in which multiple performers were on stage at once). Everything was done in direct address, and though there were times in which, when multiple performers were on stage, the gazes of the non-speaking members would veer towards the person who ‘had the floor’ in that moment, the frontal, binary spectacle/spectator relationship remained relatively dominant. Whenever a performer would finish speaking, a few beats of silence would follow, during which the former speaker would fix their gaze outward, scanning the audience a bit before either they left the stage or another performer began speaking.
As I mentioned previously, one of the concepts interrogated in this production is that of the gender binary–and to go further, the notion of ‘transitioning’, of which surgeries, if any, one has done, whether one ‘passes’ or even, the inherent problems of continuing to adhere to this sort of idea, and finally, the degree, if any, to which an individual wants to distance themselves from their former identity–, and to that end, the decision to keep things starkly frontal, I would say, worked rather well in the destabilization of said binary, especially in the intimacy of the Théâtre de la Bastille.
Said destabilization mostly, I would argue, occurred in the silences. Now, I’m still kind of processing through my thoughts on how this worked, so you may all have to just bear with me for a minute as I try to organize things here. Anyway, as a prelude to this, one of the things Ruiz mentioned in his director’s note was the hope that eventually, the conversations around being trans would move beyond what does (or does not) exist between one’s legs. Namely, leaving the gender binary would involve moving past the assumption that there is a sort of endgame of ‘really’ or ‘fully’ transitioning, that one absolutely needs to have a certain set of ‘parts’ in order to be considered a ‘real’ man or woman. Never mind that this essentially erases the experiences of intersex or gender nonconforming folks, it also can pose problems to trans folks who maybe don’t want to undergo surgery, or who perhaps would like to someday but cannot afford it, or rather, cannot find a medical professional to perform it. There are several trans (and intersex and gender non-conforming) folks who have written or talked about their personal decisions to undergo or forego surgery, and if nothing else, it drives the point home (once again) that there is no one absolute way to ‘be’ a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’, that gender, much like sexuality, exists on a spectrum. Hell, the binary can be harmful to cis-folks too, but it has become so normalized, so ingrained in our society, that it is still, at least for me, somewhat difficult to imagine that we will ever fully divest ourselves from it (though I really hope I’m wrong on this).
I mean, even looking at some of the conversations surrounding legislation concerning transgender folks betrays the continued dominance of a rather invasive cis-centered discourse. I’m going to focus on how this applies in recent US legislation because that’s what I’m most familiar with but…the bathroom bills, the transgender military ban…to a certain extent those cases are based on a discourse that concerns itself primarily with what lies between an individual’s legs. And this carries forward into the way that individual may be perceived by others. This is the kind of perspective that fosters a gaze that looks for signs of ‘passing’–or inversely, signs that would ‘betray’ an individual’s ‘hidden’ gender identity (please note here, as above, the use of quotes). It retains the privilege of the cis gaze while also ensuring that the binary remains relatively untouched.
It is also precisely the kind of gaze that is called into question during the pauses in Trans….
When a performer appears on stage, even before they begin to speak, they take a moment to look out, to take in the spectators, and allow them to do the same. There is, in this, something of an acknowledgement of the fact that, at least for each performer’s first appearance, the audience’s gaze will very likely be, to a certain degree, that of a ‘sizing up’. We know that all seven of the performers are trans, but we do not know at what stage they are in their transitions, nor how they choose to identify themselves. The first silence, then, is that moment when those first gazes, those that conform to the notion of the ‘binary’ can happen. The fact that the pauses keep happening, however, especially as we learn more of each individual’s story–and though there are some common themes shared between a few, no two experiences are exactly alike–implies, in a sense, that the gaze has to change as well. That those looking must look differently, that repetitive pauses and moments of ‘looking’ bring attention to the act itself, and the positioning of those performing said act.
And this is all made even more present by the fact that those performing are speaking their own words, that they are given a voice and a platform from which to directly influence the shifts in perspective that ultimately lead to the aforementioned destabilization of the gender binary. They are granted autonomy, multiplicity; they are not reduced down to a ‘figure’ that has been filtered through a privileged gaze (though perhaps at another time, there could be a conversation as to Ruiz’s role in staging all this, in his choice of selecting the performers that he did, especially given that he is a cis-man).
Anyway, apologies again for any potential incoherence in everything I just hacked out, but I have quite a few thoughts to sort through, and I’m thinking that perhaps a few of them will have to wait to be hashed out in one of my dissertation chapters.
I had originally told myself that I would write about this immediately after attending, but since my procrastination streak shows no real sign of abetting any time soon (sigh), here I am about a week after the fact. Thankfully, however, I have talked about the experience with enough people that the thing hasn’t completely faded from my memory.
First things first, for those who want something of a primer as to what this was, here is a helpful article from The Guardian:
In short, this experience is the result of a years-long ‘workshop’ of sorts, which saw several people from varying walks of life–artists mostly, but also scientists, researchers, and workers–inhabit a block of Soviet-era warehouse style buildings in Ukraine in such a manner that not only did they willingly cut themselves off from the outside world, they also recreated in minute detail, a temporally accelerated version of life in the Soviet-era Eastern bloc from 1938 – 1968. All the while, the inhabitants were constantly being filmed (the article linked above goes into some detail regarding some of the ethical questions surrounding this, notably those involving some of the women who took part in the project), with the final footage edited down into just over a dozen 3-hour films. As individual works, the films are held together by thematic threads more so than a single, constructed narrative. They could, in fact, be said to resemble more ‘reality TV’ footage, as nothing is simulated (you can probably guess where some of the more problematic elements come from based on this), and inter-personal relationships are ostensibly said to have occurred more or less naturally. The DAU project, then, is a way to both show the films as well as recreate the experience of living under the intense surveillance of the Soviet era.
Or, well, at least that’s what it attempted to do.
To get this out of the way early: no, it was not a colossal failure. Though some have come out and made comparisons between this and the Fyre festival, I would be hesitant to do the same. Yes, there were problems (a number of which should have definitely been foreseen by someone on the production team, but I’ll get into that later), and yes the hype around this as being ‘revolutionary’ and ‘the thing that’s finally going to change the art world/art will never be the same after this/etc etc etc’ was premature and obviously overblown. At the same time, I would chalk those problems up to an overambitious (and self-centered) ego, rather than as the result of a blatant scam. Honestly, the reception around this probably would have been a lot better had they not tried to advertise it as an immersive experience.
Keeping all that in mind, let’s get into this.
When I initially came across the advert for the experience on Instagram, I was intrigued by the fact that not only would it be an immersive experience, but it would also be taking place in two theaters that are currently undergoing extensive construction and renovation work (the Théâtre de la Ville and the Théâtre du Châtelet). As I had yet to set foot in either of those theaters, I figured, why not do it now, when possibilities for spatial dynamics and exploration are so open?
Instead of tickets, those who wished to attend had to apply for a “visa”, of which there were three options: 6-hours, 24hrs, and unlimited access. For the first type, all one had to do was put in one’s payment info, submit a photo, and then select the date and hour they wished for their visa to ‘start’ (the expo is open non-stop throughout the duration of its run, so possibilities for entry times are…pretty much endless).
As to the 24hr and unlimited access visa, in order to acquire those, one had to agree to fill out a very personal questionnaire, the results of which would be used to generate a personal itinerary. Theoretically, those visa holders would also be granted access to an electronic device (yeah, in the spirit of the event, all phones had to be stored away in lockers before entering), that would orient them on where to go, as well as the next steps in their itinerary.
I, being a curious person (and admittedly a bit wine-happy that night), opted for the 24hr option. When I got to the questionnaire (this must be filled out before one can proceed to payment), and saw just how personal the things being asked were (think questions about your moral compass, but also, and more problematic, questions about your personal intimate relationships), I decided to lie a bit in my answers. I gave myself the profile of someone who may have possibly experienced some kind of past trauma, if only for the sake of (hopefully) testing the limits of this. Knowing what I had marked down, would that mean that the itinerary would orient me towards potentially triggering content? Would there be adequate staff or support on hand should a patron end up unexpectedly confronting a past trauma? Was I, in essence, consenting to potentially being rendered unsafe?
Unfortunately, I never got my answers to those questions because one of the things that ended up not happening was the whole ‘personal itinerary’ thing. Something about having access to our data, and how that’s a privacy issue….hmmmmmmmm…. Yeah.
Knowing that the personal itinerary thing was scrapped, I still decided to go anyway because maybe the rest of the ‘experience’ would still be worth it. Also, there were no refunds and I had already thrown down a LOT more money than I had ever thought I would for a performance in this city (thanks, wine).
Before I get into the nonsense, a couple of things I actually did like:
In the mezzanine hall of the Théâtre de la Ville, an area was set up with a series of small booths, covered in a heavy, metallic curtain. Inside these booths were ‘listeners’, people from different walks of life who had volunteered their time to the DAU project to sit in these booths as, one by one, visitors would come in and discuss whatever it was they wanted. I was curious about this, so I decided to put my name down at a moment when there seemed to be a lull in the wait time (oh yeah, it was pretty crowded the afternoon/evening I was there). I ended up in a booth with a nice older woman, and after the initial awkwardness was pushed out of the way–I have never put myself in a situation like this, so I literally had no idea what to say–, I, like any ‘good’ grad student, started talking about my dissertation. And the exchange was nice. Not the most incredibly, intimately personal of topics, but it was fun to flow back and forth with someone else for a bit…to bounce off my thoughts on them (because I still feel like I’m floundering and have no idea what I’m doing sometimes…figures). Originally, the idea was for all these sessions to be recorded, and, following their conclusion, for each visitor to be given the choice as to whether to erase or keep their video. Erase, and not only would that particular video be deleted from DAU’s recorded archives, but the visitor would be denied access from watching any other ‘confessions’. Keep, and the video would remain accessible to DAU and other visitors, and the individual in question would also be granted access to watch whatever other confessions they would have liked.
I think it’s pretty easy to understand why that would have caused problems, and why the whole recording thing ended up not happening (not sure if this was due more to technical issues, or to data and privacy protection laws in the EU…which, you know, someone should have looked into). For the record, just based on the nature of the conversation I happened to have, I would have probably been okay with its recording being stored in some kind of database, but I’m not sure how I would have felt about the whole ‘watch other people pour out their secrets’ thing. Besides, there would always have existed the possibility of someone consenting in error to having their data stored, but who knows how well DAU would have handled that scenario.
My absolute favorite thing though was getting to watch a piano concerto in the still-unfinished main theatre of the Théâtre de la Ville. Walking in and seeing nothing but concrete steps that mark out the rows of seats (and that are usually covered by carpeting) was enough to bring me back to when I saw a show at the Bouffes du Nord (a theatre that is purposefully kept more or less in the state it was reduced to following a fire), but what really sealed the deal for my love for this precise moment of the experience was what they did to the area where the stage would normally have been. As the space is still under heavy construction, the actual stage floor had not been laid yet, meaning that though the ‘skeleton’ of the proscenium was still there, there was a very large and deep pit that, in a ‘finished’ theatre would normally remain hidden. Those who have ever had the opportunity to poke around behind the scenes in large theatre houses are probably aware of the fact that below those stages–even further below any orchestra pits–is a network of scaffolding, hallways and nooks and crannies, sometimes used for storing props or equipment, other times used for facilitating anything involving trap doors. Here, though, the pit was bare, save for the pianist. So that those in the audience could watch, and not just listen, him play, a very large mirror was set up at an angle from the proscenium arch, reflecting the image of the pianist below, and giving the spectators a sort of bird’s-eye view. We, as the words painted on the walls in the pit suggested, were almost like gods by virtue of our positioning. All that aside, sitting in there, witnessing this exposure of a new kind of verticality, of a new potentiality for the use and design of the theatre space, was probably the only time I did not think about how much time was passing. I think just the simple fact of being in that space with it laid out in such a way that I knew would no longer be possible after the experienced closed and the theatre was ‘fixed up’ was enough. It was, in effect, a use of art as an opening of spatial/architectural possibilities; unfortunately, this was, as far as I could tell, the only instance where such a use occurred.
And now, on to the rest:
The spaces themselves were divided and organized thematically through the painting of words on the walls. At the Théâtre de la Ville, one could pass from ‘Motherhood’ to ‘Inheritance’, then ‘Brain’, ‘Futures’, or the aforementioned ‘Gods’. The thematic labels at the Théâtre du Châtelet were quite a bit more provocative–examples include ‘Sadism’, ‘Sex’, ‘War’, ‘Lust’, ‘Orgy’, etc–, but quite frankly did not really live up to any of the images they conjured, unless of course those images included the incredible banality of concrete. A bar in each of the two theaters served food and drink–which I did not partake in, even though a vodka or a whiskey would only have set me back 2eur, and who knows, maybe would have changed my perspective on this whole thing–and conveniently, there was also a gift shop front and center at the entrance of the Théâtre de la Ville. Yes, dear Patron Comrade, you too can complete your DAU experience with the purchase of an exhibition catalogue, a postcard, or even a delightful tin mug and/or bowl such as those that were used at the canteen.
Capitalism is fun.
By and large, the rest of the experience saw the majority of available spaces either outfitted as screening rooms to show the various films, or filled with even more of those metallic ‘confession booths’ described earlier (only this time, they were just…empty). An exception to this was the top floor of the Théâtre de la Ville–labeled ‘Communism’ on the handy maps that all visitors were given upon entry–which was transformed into a group of meticulously recreated Soviet-style apartments for the occasion. Think furnishings, knickknacks, photographs, clothes, basically anything to give the impression that the space had been and still was ‘lived in’. As the apartments were set up in what I am assuming normally function as administrative offices, one could peer into them from the windows that lined the hallway connecting all the apartments together. In other words, once again, any illusion of privacy, of a right to true personal space, was promptly done away with. Here one would also be very likely to encounter performers/artists who had either lived in the DAU complex in Ukraine and signed on to continue ‘playing’ their roles, or had been hired to play at being residents solely for the purpose of these exhibitions (after finishing here in Paris, DAU is set to move to London with the same concept). Visitors could engage these performers in conversation if they wished, though at times it was very possible that the latter would only speak Russian and have little to no knowledge of English or French. Verisimilitude and whatnot…or something.
One incident stood out from this portion of the experience: at the back of the hallway was a large apartment that seemed to belong to a group of traveling Romani shamans. It just so happened that when I and some other visitors wandered in, a few of them were preparing for a seance. The performers seemed to be ignoring us–though, when they spoke to one another, it was not in a language I understood, so I’m not entirely sure how our presence, or even the fact that we had the freedom to wander in and out as we pleased, factored in to their present routine–, and this sort of mutual lack of direct acknowledgement would have likely continued were it not for the fact that a fellow visitor at one point asked one of the performers if it would be alright if we stayed and watched.
It’s funny, I think in any other situation this would have been the correct way to go. We do not know if we are welcome, if we have been invited in, therefore it is only right that we ask. The tricky thing about this situation, however, is the fact that by virtue of the layout of the space, and the fact that our Visas grant us leave of exploration, this gesture of asking permission for access rings false. It doesn’t matter, really, if the performers answer that actually, yes, they’d prefer this to be a closed session. The window into the hallway ensures that there will always be eyes–the visitors’ eyes, our eyes, the eyes of the outsiders–looking in. We have the power of observation, of surveillance, of accessing almost whatever we want while in this area of the exhibit (though, at the same time, we watch knowing fully well that we are also under surveillance from those working the experience, for instance, ready to catch anyone who may have tried breaking the no-cell phone rule). Hell, those planning on trying to stick out the night could even theoretically sleep on one of the beds if they liked (though at that point, they themselves would also run the risk of being watched, of sacrificing their privacy and their power as an observer).
As to the films themselves, I managed to catch some snippets of some, but to be quite honest, I do not think I could sit through a full three hours of one. That takes a kind of willpower that I, quite frankly, have little time or patience for. Maybe it’s just me, but stark, loosely thematically connected, documentary/anthropological cinema isn’t something that can really hold my attention for that long. This becomes especially more evident when babies or small children are involved and you remember that there was no script writing or planning really involved in these, and you can’t help but think what kind of advocacy (if any) these kids had while essentially ‘working’ on this project. Nothing too egregious happened with the children on screen as far as I could tell–though there was one sequence involving babies being brought into a medical laboratory straight out of the late 40s/early 50s and being strapped to some equipment that made me uncomfortable, even though it didn’t appear as though any actual/permanent harm was done to them. The problem, though, is that all of that does raise questions about responsible artistic practices and the question of consent from minors or otherwise almost (if not entirely) voiceless persons.
In all though, even one week after the fact, I still cannot see the reason why all this had to happen in precisely those theaters, in those spaces ‘under construction’–spaces in transition, spaces that are not quite what they are supposedly labeled as–if the majority of the project consisted of screening films. Why call it an immersive experience? Yes, it was a bit odd having to surrender my phone, while at the same time seeing other workers/volunteers using their phones or other similar electronic devices (to do what…spy on us? Keep track of scheduled performances/screenings? Post updates on Instagram because yeah, you gotta keep the public interested after all?), and yes there were some flashes of realism/immersion with the apartment recreation, but overall, this could all have very well also taken place at a rented out movie theatre.
But who knows, maybe they’ll iron out the kinks by the time they get to London, at which point they may actually end up recreating a surveillance space as they had originally wanted.
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 BléSucré. And then came the 100th edition of Saturday afternoon jazz at LaFontainedeBelleville, 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).
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 LaFontaine 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):
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.
Show1: RêveetFolie, 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.
Show2: MacadamAnimal, 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?
Show3: Saison1, 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).
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)
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
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.
Shows4&5: LesTourments (AuDesert and ConstruireunFeu, both preceded by Mallarmé’s UnCoupdeDésjamaisn’aboliralehasard), created by Sylvain Creuzevault, MC93
I’m putting these shows together because even though I saw AuDesert and ConstruireunFeu (this one, by the way, adapted from Jack London’s ToBuildaFire), 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 UnCoupdeDés… 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.
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!
I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, how quickly it seems to have been passing these last few weeks, and consequently how very little time is left between me and a very important deadline in February.
Yes, it’s the dissertation thing again. I’ve managed to write quite a bit, but always with the feeling that I should be doing more. On the other hand, I have started to move away from the feeling that I need to hit a certain page number before I can turn in this chapter draft (mostly because I feel like since I haven’t really been consistently communicating with my advisor since the summer, I should have a good chunk of something to show for it. Is 25 pages enough for that?). Teaching hasn’t really put in as much of a dent on my work as much as getting around my own frustrations has. It’s still so much easier for me to write a post for this blog—arguably a far more personal form of writing—than it is to hack out this chapter draft. Maybe because I’m not exactly gushing over the topic of focus in it. Here’s hoping when I get to writing on my own theoretical ideas, the words will come out faster.
Time also figured pretty prominently in the show I saw on November 7th, Nachlass, piècessanspersonnes at the MC93, though I hesitate over whether or not it is even theatrical at all, rather than firmly anchored in performance art. The idea of this is that visitors are gathered into one of the venues smaller exhibition spaces which has been fitted out with a series of 8 rooms, each one dedicated to one (or in one case 2) individuals. For the most part, said individuals are all dead (and I leave the caveat in there because there were a couple who never explicitly mentioned that the existence of their presence in this exhibition space meant that they were no longer alive). Rather than let visitors enter and exit the rooms as they wished, a timer above each doorway indicated the time remaining for the current occupants to finish their visit, before the door would open, the previous visitors would file out, and new ones filed in. There was no particular order to follow. Other than one of the rooms that absolutely needed six people in it, if possible, thus causing the staff curating the event to herd people in its direction, so that everyone could experience the room as it was meant to be, visitors were free to wander as they wished. As I had set myself a deadline at which I had to leave in order to be able to make it to the high school in time for the start of theatre club (I attended on a Wednesday afternoon), I just made my decision based on which door had the shortest wait time listed over it after getting out of the previous room. I only ended up waiting longer than a minute (wait time could vary between 30 seconds and just over 5 minutes) a couple times, and at those moments, I would sit on one of the crates lining the walls next to the doors, looking up at the ceiling where a world map was projected, little pings of light marking another death somewhere in the world.
Yeah, not exactly the most sunshiny of performances.
What the pieces really rest on, though, is absence. Not total absence, at least not quite. Once the door begins to close on each of the rooms—decorated in a certain, incredibly meticulous way so as to reflect an aspect of the life of the deceased—, a recording would play in which the deceased would introduce themselves, and then address their audience directly as they began to talk about not just their lives, but their musings on death as well. Sometimes, we were invited to poke around a bit, other times to help ourselves to water or, in the case of one of the subjects who happened to be Turkish, loukoumia. But there’s an uneasy feeling that creeps inside you when you realize that not only does the person to whom that voice that is talking to you now originally belong is dead, they are aware of the fact that their existence would continue on for a while in this manner, in this ‘present-but-not-quite’ manner. It’s almost like a proto A.I., a thing that tries to sustain existence beyond the human.
But it can’t ever really reach a human presence because of this chasm that exists between us and it in terms of precisely this idea of interaction. It can influence us, make us perform certain actions by tapping into a desire to know more or to cultural notions of hospitality, but we cannot do the same with it. The recording still plays even when no one is in the room. Our physical presence is required for the story to become that, otherwise it’s just a series of vibrations in a contained space.
Maybe this “play with no actors” is more about drawing attention to the material presence of our—as in the audience’s—physical existence than it is about musings on death. Who knows?
Thankfully, though, my past two weekends have been decidedly more upbeat.
First up was a quick trip to Grenoble to visit a friend of mine who I met while we were both living at CitéU. She and I had been talking for a while about me coming down to visit, and thankfully our dates finally coordinated to make it happen.
And other than a bit of rain during the start of our little day trip to Lyon on the Saturday of my visit, the weather was basically perfect.
I opted to take the Ouibus down instead of a train, mostly due to the fact that the bus was significantly cheaper. Clocking in at 8.5hrs though—including mandatory stops—it was significantly longer as well, but thankfully the WiFi actually worked pretty decently, the seats were comfortable, and I had no one in the seat next to me (yay stretching out my legs).
I arrived late on a Friday night, and as Grenoble is a pretty small city, we opted to dedicate Saturday to exploring Lyon, another city I had not been to. Ticking off two new cities in one trip? I’d say that’s pretty good.
As usual, the visit mostly consisted of walking, with an incredibly filling lunch thrown in for good measure. I’m a bit suspicious that the slight cold I came home with originated at some point on this walk, what with the combination of light rain in the morning, and general windiness in the afternoon (though, thank goodness for sun). We had originally planned on visiting a museum, but as walking is free and the city rather large, we opted to stay outside and let our feet guide us. And good thing too because it was peak fall outside, and I was absolutely here for it.
Speaking of lunch, this meal marked the first of two weekends full of meals that were delicious, but otherwise all but void of any kind of veg. Don’t get me wrong; I like a good sausage or stew as much as anyone. But, not going to lie, I am very much looking forward to chomping down on a whole head of broccoli once I get back to Paris [side note: I’m writing this while sitting on a rather turbulent flight back to Paris from Budapest].
Lunch in Lyon was at a restaurant in the older part of the city, where they offered a set lunch menu for around 15eur. I started off with a rather sizable bowl of French onion soup (because something was needed to counteract the morning chill).
Then I moved on to a main course of boudin noir (blood sausage) with roast potato and apple. Now, I love a good boudin noir—it’s probably up there among my favorite sausages—, but to be quite frank, I do think there’s a limit as to how much of a good thing you can have, particularly when it comes to portion size.
Honestly, I could have done fine with just one of the sausages, about half the potatoes and the apple, especially considering the large soup I had just finished eating. Food waste is such a problem, that it’s almost unnerving to see this quantity of food served for one person as part of a multi-course menu in a country where getting a to-go bag isn’t really part of the culture. Hell, even if I had just had the dish on its own, I probably still would have only been able to down half of what was on the plate. Anyway, all that aside, the dish was pretty good (though, last little nit to pick, a salad or something green would have been nice).
For dessert I decided to keep it local with a slice of pink praline tart.
I’ve seen many pralined items on offer in bakeries in Paris, but I never knew that this thing originated in Lyon. Lyon, however, would like to make sure you never forget its history with all things “praliné-d”, as the amount of pink emanating from bakeries is enough to last a lifetime.
As to the tart, it was actually quite good. The filling is essentially a kind of almond paste, which I’m quite fond of, and it wasn’t as overly sweet as the bright pink would suggest.
Given how full we were, even after walking off the meal with a trek around pretty much all of Lyon, we had no intention of eating anything for the rest of the day. Well, we did end up grabbing some veggie tartines at a bar back in Grenoble that evening, but that was more to have something to nibble on than to fill a pressing need for sustenance.
And in spite of all the walking we had done, we opted to go out dancing in Grenoble when we got back. Well, attempted to go dancing would be more accurate. After we bar-hopped a bit, we finally reached the pub where the dancing was, only to find it absolutely packed-in-like-sardines full of people. So, less dancing, more bobbing around in a 2m radius. The cheesy French music the DJ kept playing did keep things incredibly entertaining though.
The next morning, the sun was out in all its glory, meaning a short hike was in order. Grenoble sits in a basin surrounded by the alps, so the views from high up on the Bastille fortress were pretty remarkable (a highlight: getting a glimpse of Mont Blanc in the distance).
Lunch was sausage again (though this time a local one called a diot), and this time there was a hint of veg too!
And then it was back on a bus for me for another longish ride back to Paris.
The week was mostly quiet, save for some parent-teacher conference meetings (oh it is odd being on the other side of these things…). More accurately, the week was pretty much a countdown to Thursday night, when I was scheduled to head off again for another weekend adventure, this time to Budapest.
A couple months ago when I was thinking about what I would like to do for my birthday—which was this past Friday, November 16—, I started to toy with the idea of taking a solo weekend somewhere. This was partly inspired by the fact that I didn’t really feel like doing a deep clean of my apartment (or amassing any more chip bags…), but also by where my mental state was at the time, which in brief, was not exactly in the best place. In the name of practicing self-care, I decided, almost on a whim, to book a solo weekend to Budapest, a city I had always wanted to visit. Flight prices were reasonable, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to bother waiting for anyone else to confirm whether or not they were available to take the plunge and go.
And so I went on my first solo trip.
I have travelled alone to places before, but never to a place I had never been, and never remaining solo for this long. To be honest, I felt a bit nervous that I’d start to feel isolated, but it turns out a weekend was just enough time to get back in touch with myself without wishing for other people’s company.
Besides, I was really only venturing solo for one of the days I was there.
Originally, I was due to arrive at around 23h on Thursday night, but due to some flight delays, did not get in until 02h30 on Friday. This means I turned 29 in the sky, while grading papers. Being a teacher is incredibly exciting.
Arriving so late also meant I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked in order to be nice and refreshed for the food tour I booked as a birthday gift to myself, but eating things shook me out of any residual tiredness rather quickly. My group consisted of me, an older British couple, and our guide, a middle-aged Hungarian named George who peppered his talk with comments about how, as we all know, none of this meat and cheese and potatoes and bread (and lard…so much lard) is particularly good for the health, but how wonderful that fresh veg is so widely available to us now. I guess these are things that of course come up amongst the middle-age crowd (I suppose this counts as relating to one another), but I did find it hilarious that we were all in a general consensus about the importance of eating a balanced diet, and then our lunch happened.
Here’s what we ate (and drank) :
The older woman of the couple on the tour with me even offered to take my photo when we were sat down for cake, so now I’ve got at least a bit of proof that I did, indeed, have a birthday cake of sorts on my birthday.
Our tour concluded with a bit of wine tasting, where I discovered a dessert wine that I actually quite liked.
After the tour concluded, we all headed our separate ways, with me deciding to cross the Danube over to the Buda side of Budapest and taking a little hike up to the castle. Given how early the sun sets out there (like 16h…moving eastward definitely makes a difference), most of my time up there was spent attempting to take good nighttime photos on my phone, and honestly, I think I did pretty ok!
Then it was off to a quick trip to the Christmas market for some hot wine and some browsing before heading back to the hostel for dinner.
Yes, one of the perks of staying here was the free communal “dinners” in the evening. That word is in quotes for a reason that will become clear in a bit.
But, Friday night at least was lentil stew night, and even though I was still pretty full from earlier in the day, I’m glad I at least got some sustenance in me before heading out that evening to celebrate turning 29 in a way that did not involve grading papers on an airplane.
Along with two other people from the hostel (who were totally down to go out on our own rather than to the hostel-organized boat party that cost like 20eur (yeah…no), my night was spent at Szimpla, probably the most well-known of Budapest’s ruin bars. This place is like no other bar I have ever been to, mostly due to how absolutely massive it is. Like, I don’t even think we made it into all the different rooms. I will say that I had a pretty legit IPA while there, with a very…special name.
The next day—my last full day—I woke up at 10h, and started my morning at Massolit, a café I am convinced was made for me (I mean books + cozy plush chairs + good coffee = happy Effie. The poppyseed strudel helped too).
Afterwards, I made my way over to the Terror House, a museum dedicated to exhibits documenting the fascist and communist regimes in Hungary. As most of the material was in Hungarian, I opted to rent an audio guide for my visit, which—though it was a bit long-winded at times—did give an incredibly thorough overview of everything on display and the history behind it. This was the only museum I visited (and given that it was free for teachers, my recently-acquired Pass éducation was actually put into good use), and for those who are planning a trip to Budapest, I would definitely recommend making some time for it. Note though, that many of the images and videos shown—as well as the interviews with past political prisoners—are rather graphic in nature, so this museum may not be for every traveler.
By the time I was finished in the museum, it was getting on 14h, and I was starting to get a bit hungry. Thankfully, a bistro I had pinned on my Mapstr—Két Szerecsen—was only a ten-minute walk away. I ordered the chicken paprikash and a glass of red wine (though I can’t remember the region of Hungary it is from, just that the waiter recommended it), and settled in to a very cozy and filling meal before setting out on another long walk.
I started my post-lunch hike with a visit to Heroes’ Square, on the northeastern side of the city.
Before making my way back down to the river to see the Hungarian Parliament by night (and by “night” I mean 17h30).
I then decided to head back to the Christmas market for a last bit of hot wine drinking and shopping (yay new pair of earrings for me), and also to grab a chimney cake as a sort of last-night treat.
It was actually a good thing I did the latter because even though it was absolutely massive, and I couldn’t manage to eat it all, it did keep me full throughout the night, especially since dinner at the hostel was a bit more…special…this evening.
Yep, little pizza toasts. Which essentially became an odd sort of pan con tomate once they ran out of cheese.
Why was there no actual food this time around, you ask? Good question. Basically it was because the crew spent the budget almost entirely on making this:
With that though, I decided to call it a night early in order to be able to get at least a little sleep before heading back out today. This is going to be my last traveling weekend for a while, and honestly, I’m not too mad about it. I want to be able to be settled at home again for a good while now.
Especially since I’ve still got that thesis chapter draft to finish.
I really should be in contact more with my advisors…
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…)
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.
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.
For reference, the title of this post is referring to my state of mind at this very moment as the latest nonsense out of the US with the Kavanaugh hearings pours in. Is it really all that unbelievable that, once again, a woman’s voice is essentially silenced, even though—and especially since—she had nothing personal to gain from speaking in the first place? First Anita Hill 27 years ago. Now this. I am aware that the official vote of confirmation still has to take place, but I am not optimistic. The cynicism is back in full force, friends. Long may it live.
Funnily enough, I think my general feeling of internalized rage and disgust with everything somewhat mirrors a show I saw on Tuesday evening at the MC93. Le Père is, as the title suggests, about a father. A father figure (a figured father?). There is only one actor on stage, and other than a large square of grass hidden under a panel that rose up halfway through the show and some well-placed fog machines (again with the fog machines), the stage (this was in their smaller upstairs theatre that sort of resembles the salle transformable in Nanterre in terms of size and design adaptability) was relatively bare.
Speaking of space, there is still a lot of talk around what exactly the theatre-going experience is, in terms of the level of connectivity between audience members (or audience members and actors/what is being performed on stage). One of the generally-accepted approaches towards this is to think of the theatre as a site of communion or better community creation. In other words, it is in this shared moment that all involved—audience predominantly, but actors as well—are brought together as one whole for a brief moment in time. How very special.
I snark on this mostly because I have encountered some interpretations of this idea that posit that the community created inside the theatre is capable of continuing to be nurtured outside of it. To be clear, I do not deny there is something that happens in that instance of a shared moment, but I don’t really think it has the capacity to last beyond the exiting of the theatre and the returning to one’s lives. This is not to say a true long-lasting community could never be created just from one night spent with a particular group of people at the theatre. It is possible that that could happen, but unlikely.
I tend to eschew the question of community and prefer to think of going to the theatre of a moment in which I and several other people will happen to be in the same room at the same time watching the same thing play out before us. Maybe this is a result of the fact that 99% of the time, I end up going to see things by myself (because I have work to do, and I can’t really afford to let my showgoing schedule depend on the decisions of others), but I will say that, even though I am by myself, even though I don’t usually have someone to turn to to make a quick comment at or share a knowing glance with, I don’t actually feel solitary at the theatre. I mean, half of watching a performance is watching other people watch it, and it’s kind of hard to separate yourself from the fact that you’re not the only person in the room.
Director Julien Gosselin takes a slightly different approach to the question, stating in the show program that he considers theatre to be a very solitary experience. Fine. I was kind of hesitant about how this was going to be communicated during the show, but honestly, I think he found a way to make that work.
Basically: if Wagner turned off the lights briefly to shut people up, Gosselin kept them off to remind people of how lonely, how solitary in our chairs we really were.
The performance was a good 90 minutes long, and I would say about half of that was in total darkness, the kind of darkness where its more comfortable to keep your eyes closed rather than strain them and risk a headache. And in that darkness, pierced only by the voice of the actor playing the father (I’ll get to him in a minute), unable to quickly gauge the reactions of those around me, those who I knew were still there, I shut my eyes and closed off the main portal to the world around me.
Eventually—from fear of falling asleep maybe, though the at times ground-shaking volume of the, for the moment, disembodied voice, made sleep impossible—I felt okay enough keeping my eyes open, and it was around then that faintly, a light far upstage slowly started to come on. Excruciatingly slowly. After a moment, it was clear that the light was backlighting something—a figure, the father—and this something started to also take on discernable movements, slowly coming closer out of the shadows.
Pure figure. This is a thing come from the abyss. From nothing. Suspended in an unmarked time and place.
The content of the piece surrounds the lament of the titular father over the state of his life. Growing up, he was told what he had to be, what he had to do in order to eventually become this figure, to fully realize it. But—as with several promises made by previous generations as to the general order of things in life—what he was promised never came to fruition. The farm he settled on and cultivated in order to provide for his family must be sold. He has no legacy to pass on to his children. He has failed, miserably, spectacularly at the role he was told he would take on if he followed certain steps. But if he cannot fulfill the supposed requirements for becoming said role, what is he then? He both is—by virtue of his producing children—and is not—by his lack and loss of anything to give them—the title which is conferred on him. Suspended.
It is weird though writing about this in the current context of life in general. I think the one thing that kind of pulled me from fully resisting to what was happening entirely was the fact that, at the end of the performance, he talks about how he burned all the bills and notices from the debt collectors. It’s not an ending that speaks to a revolution, but I think instead of the bleakness, I saw the potential for something different. Something that had to come from hitting absolute rock bottom.
The lights never fully came back on. In the end, the stage was more brightly illuminated, but by that point, at least for me, the cocoon effect of the first half of the performance had done its job. I didn’t particularly care about what other people were thinking. Maybe something like that was what I needed in this moment, to be really alone (or at least have the illusion of being really alone) again. To gather myself…
Sometimes it’s hard to fully get back into that mindset when all you want is to cocoon in a very large warm hug. Ah well. Life.
Anyway, moving on.
I closed out the month by seeing two shows at La Colline, both of which addressed questions of historical trauma, and more specifically, coming to terms with it.
The first, Révélations from the Red in Blue Trilogie by Cameroonian playwright Léonora Miano addressed the notion of trauma and loss in the context of the transatlantic slave trade, and more specifically, the questions of the nameless lives lost at sea during the voyage, whose souls err in the afterlife, unable to find the repose (and eventual reincarnation) of those buried with proper funeral rites. Interestingly, when she was asked about who she would like to stage her piece, she named Japanese director Satoshi Miyagi, whose troupe is known for their highly stylized, ritualized performances.
And holy shit before I say anything else, the costume design of this show was absolutely amazing. Like…go look at pictures of it. It is gorgeous.
The play was in Japanese with French subtitles, and the members of the company took turns alternating between performing on stage, and playing one (or many) of the several instruments in the pit. Stage design was geometrically minimalist, with two large circles—one black, one white—hanging down over the center of the stage, whose deliberate slight shifts were often used to cut the light in such a way so as to suggest pathways (to the world of the living) or isolated chambers for the realm of shadows. At the back of the stage, the limbs of several mannequins lay scattered, looking almost like drowned bodies. To be honest, this was the only element that felt slightly out of place to me, design-wise, as everything else seemed far more suggestive or abstract than literal.
The theatre itself had also undergone a bit of a facelift—well, at least the seats did—over the summer, and I have to say the new ones are pretty comfortable. Removing the last few rows of chairs in order to make room for the orchestra pit, further helped to cut back on what I think is one of my least favorite things about the space: its sharp depth. I don’t know if saying it’s too vertical would be exactly what I’m going for, but sometimes I feel as though, after a certain point, the distance of the seat to the stage coupled with the fact that the stage is not nearly as big as the main stage in Nanterre makes me feel as though I am in a different room entirely than what is being performed in front of me. Thankfully, going to see things alone can have certain advantages sometimes, such as the fact that I can literally pick almost any seat I want when selecting my ticket, meaning I was seated relatively close to the stage this time.
And it almost felt immersive. Almost. The fact that at the end, some of the actors came in the audience to shower us with pink confetti—as well as hand out little pink papers shaped like…something. I honestly have no idea what it is supposed to be other than maybe a cotton bud…maybe—kind of helped bring us in, so to speak, but still, it’s hard to feel completely wrapped up in something when you can see a very large pit, and a very grey platform separating you from this living painting being composed in front of you. Yeah, I still can’t get over the costume design.
The second play, Points de non-retour [Thiaroye], written and directed by Alexandra Badea, comes with a disclaimer [from me] to immediately go and look up the Thiaroye massacre of 1944. Needless to say, it is one of several “incredibly not bright, yet we’re still going to stubbornly deny the monstrosity of it” events of colonial France that the country needs to reckon with. In short, towards the end of the Second World War, around 1600 Senegalese soldiers—recently repatriated to Senegal, after having both voluntarily fought for France and being held as prisoners of war by Nazi Germany—were gathered at the military camp in Thiaroye, Senegal where, on the night of November 30, 1944, they were fired upon by their white superior officers. The reason? The soldiers had recently called a strike after finding out the pensions they were promised were both not equal to those of their white compatriots, as well as very likely not coming anyway. The government justified the massacre by saying the soldiers were prone to revolt, or had otherwise been corrupted by the Germans—claims that were of course, absolutely unfounded—and the official death toll only numbered 35. Those that were assassinated were buried in a mass grave. Furthermore, the distinction “mort pour la France” or “died for France”, a distinction that itself came with a sort of family pension, was denied them.
There has recently been some calls to reopen the investigation into this event to try to provide answers, if not closure. In the play, this is seen through one man—Senegalese, but adopted by a French family when he was very young—returning back to Senegal to find answers about his father who went off in the war and never came home, leaving his wife—a Romanian woman who was conceived during her mother’s brief affair with a German soldier following the disappearance of her Jewish fiancé to Palestine—and newborn son in Paris. The son, whose parents never told him the stories of the gaps and weights in his history, and who bears the name of his grandfather gunned down in Thiaroye, grows up without a means to grapple with the [to him] unknowable trauma passed down from previous generations. Meanwhile, the grandson of one of the French soldiers who carried out the order to shoot finds his grandfather’s old diaries, detailing not just what happened that day, but the haunting presence of the monstrosity of the act that never quite disappeared.
Tying this all together is a journalist who, after she gets a hold of the research of a recently-deceased [I think, that part was either unclear or I spaced out…] colleague, decides to try and finish the work he started, creating a radio broadcast about the event, and ultimately bringing the grandson of the soldier and the grandson of the officer who killed him together.
Yes, the stereotypical inter-generational moment of reckoning/reconciliation happens. So do some rather too on the nose speeches about how we have to change the system, it’s the system that allows for this thing to still be kept in the shadows, and we can change that even by just talking about this event.
Yeah, the writing got a tad clunky sometimes. Several story beats were easy to spot, as the narrative followed a pretty typical structure. But I am glad this play happened still because, yes, I did learn something.
Stage design consisted of two walls angled together to suggest the corner of an apartment, with large windows on which were projected videos of whatever outside setting we happened to be in. And yes, this did also mean that at times they did that thing where an actor leaves the stage and then appears on the video, suggesting a seamless transition into an invisible ‘beyond’ backstage. The front of the stage, meanwhile, was absolutely covered in red sand. Blood red sand. At times it was laid in, picked up, held and run through fingers, and then inevitably tracked along the platform of the stage, traces of blood red footprints on a steel-grey floor.
A final thing: there were times when the performance was intercut with the live typing out of notes being projected onto the wall right above the windows. I’m not entirely sure about that choice, but there you go.
Other than that, I still feel like I’m in a bit of a limbo state. I want to both curl up against something and stretch out and run headlong into something/-where unknown. It’s a strange feeling…
I really want to try and make more of a point to update this thing more frequently than I did this past year, hence why I’m writing now after scrambling to finish up some last-minute lesson planning.
To start, the question many (?) of you are wondering: how am I doing?
Raw but supported. Still hopeful, still feeling like I can give of myself, which I’m surprised by but in a pleasant way. Also feeling like I want to reach out to something but then having to contend with the fact that what’s in front of me is just air. Heavy air. Heavy, nostalgic air. Sometimes, I get a whiff of something in the air as I’m walking that sets off a chain of memories, and I feel a small pang in my heart because of the uncertainty of things, specifically, uncertainty as to the possibility of recurrence of things. And then the feeling passes, but its mark lingers on for a while. The weather’s also gotten crisper now, and I’ve begun to notice the exposed skin on my cheeks and my hands more acutely. The urge to be wrapped up in something is getting stronger, but I’ve found that sometimes confronting that urge doesn’t have to be as lonely as it first seems.
Besides, I was surrounded by friends this weekend: strong, wonderful, understanding supportive women. Oh, and chocolate. Like, literally a mountain’s worth of it.
Friday, I met with Isabella at Brasserie Barbès for a quick drink (okay two), during which time we discovered some croquettes that I would say almost rivalled the crack dumplings at Le Pacifique. We then moved on to grab dinner at Bouillon Pigalle, which was a bold choice since—considering how incredibly inexpensive it is—there is always a line to contend with. Thankfully, getting there close to 22h30 on a Friday proved to be an excellent idea, since whatever line there was moved very quickly, as most other patrons were finishing their dinners.
And really, for some steak-frites, red wine, and (first chocolate appearance) an absolutely massive profiterole filled with ice cream, I’d say the wait was worth it.
Side note though: strangely enough there were about three separate parties celebrating birthdays that evening, one of which was seated at the table next to ours. The birthday boy was gifted, among other things, one of those stereotypical, incredibly fake Native American headdresses (complete with plastic tomahawk axe and bow and arrow set). It’s times like this that I remember that a good majority of the world has an incredibly long way to go when it comes to reasons why nobody should be buying/gifting these things…ever.
Saturday was much more quiet during the day, but at least it involved some tarte au chocolat baking (yes, I’m baking again…that’s got to be a good thing…right?), and sitting on my floor consuming massive bowls of popcorn and cookies and said tarte with some other girlfriends. The original plan was to watch a film. As these things usually go, conversation kind of took over, which, honestly, is almost always the better outcome.
As to theatre-goings, there were two shows up this week, both at Nanterre, and one of which I…was not particularly fond of. Boundary Games sounded pretty up my alley on paper (I mean, an experimental piece with that title, and me working on questions of space…like…how could it not be perfect). Instead it was an hour of people pushing blankets around to ambient noise.
Ok, fine, perhaps there was more nuance than that. Perhaps one could say something about the fact that the sound effects played alternated between urban and rural/natural, or the fact that the manner in which the actors interacted/moved the heavy woolen blankets around suggested, at times, attempts to create or seek shelter, and other times literall world-building (what I called the ‘Pangea moment’ when, at a time when all the lights were almost off, leaving nothing illuminated save for the glow of the grid taped down on the floor under the black lights overhead, the blankets, now resembling small mountain ranges, were slowly pushed together into a sort of continental mass), but see the whole thing ended with some stage hands in the rafters throwing down large empty cardboard boxes. And really, all I can remember thinking at that moment was ‘dear god I hope we don’t have to watch them put the blankets in those boxes’.
Thankfully, we didn’t.
It’s a shame the show—silent, by the way, other than the aforementioned sound effects—didn’t take advantage of the stage setup to explore the notion of boundaries even further. The fact that the audience was seated tri-frontally could have provided, at least in my opinion, some opportunity to play with the stage/audience boundary that was never really tested. There were a couple moments where crossing that boundary came close to happening, but from what I saw, I think that was more due to a blanket that just so happened to fall a certain way rather than a deliberate choice to test a limit. Pity.
The second show was one I saw this afternoon, and honestly was almost coincidentally perfect in terms of its content, given that Saturday night’s conversation ended with me expressing an interest in possibly modifying my 1er (11th grade) lesson plan to focus on teaching The Laramie Project. Milo Rau’s La Reprise. Histoire(s) du théâtre (I) is only slightly connected to Laramie in that one of the central narratives deals with crafting a sort of documentary piece around the April 2012 murder of Ihsane Jarfi, a gay man, in Liège, Belgium. Like Matthew Shepard, Jarfi was getting a ride home from a bar when the men driving him started beating him senselessly, for no other reason other than he happened to be gay. Also like Shepard, Jarfi was left outside, in the cold, on the side of the road, the difference being that instead of being tied to a barbed wire fence, he was stripped of his clothing and laid face down on the street.
There was no mention in the program of any connection to Laramie or Matthew Shepard, and it’s a shame that the talkback with Milo Rau happened yesterday (Saturday) because I really wish I could have asked about this. I mean, really, how do you go about creating a piece of (somewhat…and we’ll get to that in a bit) documentary theatre about a homophobic hate crime and not think of Laramie? And yes, I am aware that Laramie was a piece of American theatre, but it made the rounds in Europe as well…so…
Anyway, the other big thing that separates the two is the fact that La Reprise is just as much about the process of creating the piece of documentary theatre about the event than it is about the final theatrical product. I mean, the first thing that happens is that one of the actors comes downstage to give a monologue on the difficulty of beginning, of starting the performance and at which point (and to what extent) does the actor become their character. Really, you’d almost think this was a play about the nature of acting, if what followed was not a recounting of the events that happened on that day in Liège. The piece then proceeded to show the ‘auditions’ of those who would be taking on the roles of several of the real-life figures, and at this was the point where, once again, a camera was introduced. Yes, everyone, once again we have a situation where a camera is simultaneously filming something while what is being projected on the screen above/behind the actors is at times a live transmission, and other times something previously recorded (though the transition between the two coupled with the fact that the actors’ movements on stage often closely matched/were only slightly out of sync with what was on screen definitely heightened the hyper-theatricality of the whole thing). To be honest, I’m still trying to grapple somewhat with the connection between the two threads—there were times where I felt as though the show was tackling two separate themes but, who knows—, but this is probably also due to the fact that I could not get the Laramie connection out of my head the entire 90 minutes of the show’s runtime.
And with that, another week gone. I’m feeling this sense of tiredness that’s been creeping up on me these past few nights come round again. That, and a general feeling of suspension.
Oh, but I did manage to write some thesis-related things this week, so there’s that at least. Yeah, I’ll try and hold on to that for now.