It’s 01h00, and I have several thoughts…

Some of you (and in particular, those who follow me on other platforms) are probably wondering…

‘Say, Effie, you’ve been to quite a number of shows since you last posted. Why haven’t you written about any of them?’

Good question. In short, it largely has to do with two factors: the craze of my work schedule these past few weeks (because I still just can’t say no to things when there’s a payment involved, so guess who’s back to translating transcripts on top of a 22h/wk teaching schedule? Me), and the simple fact that I haven’t really seen anything to inspire the need to write about it yet. Given that I’m no longer in dissertation research mode, I’m giving myself a lot more leeway when it comes to putting more energy into critical engagements with pieces that either I didn’t like (though a strong dislike for something hasn’t really been a deterrent for me writing about it in the past) or worse, felt very ‘meh’ about. Yet, perhaps this also speaks to my larger frustrations with the state of theatre right now, something that has only gotten even more punctuated post-dissertation.

This in particular brings me to some things I have been (and am still somewhat) wrestling with regarding my manuscript revisions, specifically putting my own voice into things. Reading over my chapters again, I do wonder sometimes if the way I outline things truly speaks most accurately to my own views not just as a writer / researcher / scholar (etc.), but also in terms of where I align myself socially and politically. In other words, I personally value honesty and transparency in these things, yet I do wonder sometimes if I come off as disingenuous, if I read as though I speak in cliché. 

More precisely, recently I’ve been ruminating over these questions (and personal judgements over my own work…as usual) with regards to eventual revisions / rewrites I am going to have to do on my conclusion, which, along with my introduction, is very likely going to be the chapter that changes the most if (no…“when”) I successfully get this thing published. One of the biggest things that has been giving me quite a bit of grief lately is an argument that I introduced in the original text – and that I want to develop further – regarding the need for continued State funding of public theatres / the arts in general in France. For one thing, the very notion of having to in some way defend the presence of the State is something that runs counter to my own politics regarding the need (or, you know, not) of this particular type of power / organizational apparatus. Yet, at the same time, even if I were to advance a formulation such as “If the State had to continue to exist, it should do so on the basis that it actively distribute its financial assets towards assuring truly equitable access to a plurality of forms of creative expression” (and note that I insist on the “if” there), that still does not address the fundamental problems on which the relationship between the State and culture / the arts in France was built on. And this is arguably where a lot of my frustrations with much of what I see come from.

(As an aside: though I wish I had time to write a detailed take-down of the latest manifest posted by Mouawad regarding his decision not to suspend a performance of an upcoming show due to the histories of some of those involved with cases of assault and, yes, murder, and his labeling of the #metootheatre movement as a “witch hunt”, time and other commitments have had to take precedence. Needless to say, however, it is likely going to be a VERY long time before I set foot in La Colline again. I bring this up here mostly because situations like this – in which predators are being protected and those who speak out against them are attacked – also make up a large part of my frustrations. For this, however, I want to focus on something that runs more deeply, yet also very much intertwines with this.)

One thing I think it is high time to acknowledge is that the decentralization project – particularly in the early, “official” days under Malraux, was a kind of colonialist project. Implanting centers of cultural production / diffusion in various territories, each with a direct link back to a centralized power (an arm of the State, if you will) with the aim of crafting or cultivating the imagining of a “unified” nation both in terms of concrete territory and in the linking of this territory to an abstract sense of identity is, in a rudimentary sense, colonialism. Look, we’ve planted our flag here. Now this territory is linked with us, which means our identity is also tied to holding on to this territory, etc. (you’re going to have to cut me some slack here, as it’s close to 1am and I am in full ramble mode). While the ideal of financing the creation of any and all pieces, supposedly without prejudice, seems rather nice on paper, it rings somewhat differently when one starts to reckon with the colonialist touches that this attitude is, in a way, a product of. I mention this briefly in my dissertation, but though it was ambitious, Malraux’s decentralization project was not exactly universally welcome, territorially speaking. Indeed, there were several critiques being leveled at the time of the planning / building of the Maisons de la Culture that they were being more or less imposed on the towns they were built in, rather than rising up organically.

In other words, a project that states as its aim that it wants to foster more creativity eschews the kind of grassroots development that could not only have allowed for this creativity to blossom, but to do so on more localized – indeed pluralized – terms, does so first on establishing a certain perception of itself as dominant / the common reference point. That is, it’s not just theatre that’s being created here. It is theatre that is being created under the umbrella of a certain imagining of the role of the theatre in the greater social fabric, specifically, an imagining that is derived from Malraux’s own conceptualizing of the role of “Culture” in shaping both an individual as well as the community / territory to whom that individual belongs. While this imagining has evolved over the years – now we’re, of course, in the neo-liberal “what [monetary] value does or can theatre bring to our society” stage – the presence of any kind of central imagining at all is already rather limiting as far as creativity is concerned. The way a State – and consequently, any extension of the State – imagines itself can have a tremendous effect not only on what kinds of spaces it creates, but what conditions it puts in place in order to access these spaces. These conditions can range from economic barriers to educational and /or professional qualifications to questions of language and jargon (specifically, a not-quite-implicit preference for certain terminologies or phrases to describe particular situations or relational dynamics, especially when the use of alternative vocabularies could result in a) the exposure of the illusory nature of these relationships and b) the destabilizing of a sense of control those in power have over delimiting / determining access to space), but regardless of how they show up, the fact that they exist at all to me speaks to a certain impossibility for any kind of existence of a truly pluralized – hell a truly decolonized, since fully decolonizing all spaces is something I fundamentally believe needs to happen within and outside the arts – theatre space so long as the decentralization model, and the State’s role in the development and imagining of this model, remain critically unexamined. We cannot, in other words, take it as a “given” that the State has a certain benevolence regarding the funding of cultural projects. This kind of complacency is what leads to the kind of creative stasis and frustration seen now, at least in my opinion.

This is not, however, to say that there are not folks doing very interesting work here. There are. Creatively and thematically challenging works about, yet the way the funding schemes are set up mean that not only will these works be almost in a constant state of competition among each other for – essentially – scraps, but it also becomes far more likely that voices that are already either underrepresented or shut out will continue to be so. 

So with that, when I posit that “If the State had to continue to exist…” I truly mean “If” because as of right now, an alternative – and much more creatively open and autonomous and sustainable – model does not exist. That doesn’t mean that it can’t. But I think, and I’ll close on this, that part of the way we can get to a point where we can realize the possibility of creating such a new model is through both seeking out and seeing / reading works by artists whose voices are continually marginalized, yet who still speak out to pointedly critique this system, as well as embracing the notion of plurality (the politics of the ‘s’, as I call it) and – most importantly – not ignoring the tensions that arise when one confronts this notion directly with the State and the way it imagines itself through the avenue of cultural production / development.

Oh 2020….

You know, in retrospect, it’s kind of funny that I thought I would be back to semi-regular theatre reviews back when I wrote my last post.

Oh, optimistic Effie. Should have remembered what you’ve been repeating to your students ad nauseam this past trimester (and which basically underscores almost all of Greek mythology): man makes plans, and the gods laugh.

I should say, though, that it wasn’t just the reshutting of theatres at the tail end of October that put a dent in things. There’ve also been some developments at work (in short: I’ve been given more inter-department responsibilities for this year) that have made finding time to write between marking papers, squeezing in agree review (don’t even get me started on how my imposter syndrome has come roaring back with this), and lesson planning while keeping an eye out for any last-minute procedure changes by our *incredibly* competent (ha) Minister of Education incredibly tricky.

So with all that, here we are again, December 31, 2020, with another retrospective post.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this year. Pandemic situation aside, it’s hard for me to reconcile a year of isolation and intense waves of emotional mess with the fact that I accomplished a MAJOR milestone this April. And there were other good moments too – holidays in Marseille, Greece and the South of France ; picnics and terrace dining when we got a bit of respite in the summer ; rediscovering Paris again (without the throngs of tourists) ; walks with close friends when we could finally meet up again. All of those small things were absolutely fantastic, don’t get me wrong, and I am very thankful that I and those close to me have been able to stay safe and in relative good health these past several months.

But the amount of stress that has been piling up – especially from going into work to teach in person, wearing two masks – had started to take its toll on me before the holidays started. Other than losing my voice (speaking/projecting through a mask is tiring as all hell), the constant worry about being sick while trying to survey teenagers to a degree I’m still not entirely comfortable with to make sure their masks were always on properly (spoiler: there’s always two or three in each class who seem to have trouble with this), and then going straight home without having any form of outside social-based distraction has made me feel so much like a cog in a machine that I started feeling like I had lost that sense of drive that had always propelled me through past hurdles.

I’ve been spending the holidays down south with a few friends (4 of us in total), who’ve also basically been isolating prior to this. Can one make arguments about the ‘selfishness’ or not of this? Yes. But quite frankly, I’m tired of that. I’ve spent the better part of the last year in isolation, and these past few days out of my apartment have been the most restorative I’ve had in a while. If this is what I need to make it through the next few months of what is bound to be incredible shit, so be it.

With all that, what else is there to say about 2020 other than good riddance? Maybe that my friendships were strengthened, that I survived it, that I can now officially buy a plane ticket under the title of “Dr. Gonis”.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the theatres will be open again soon (side note / rant: I find it absolutely hilarious/hypocritical that France, a secular country, caved and allowed houses of worship to reopen under limited capacity, but would not consider the same for theatre houses/cinemas. The official justification was that the government wanted to limit instances of intermingling, but anyone who has ever witnessed a religious service will tell you that is absolute nonsense, as evidenced by the mingling that happens pre and post-service). I may even predict that they will reopen before bars/restaurants do (although, dear god, I want those back as well). And who knows, maybe we will start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

But for now, I, we, survived. And we keep on surviving.

So long, 2020. Here’s to an average 2021.

Hello again…

So. It’s been a while.




I honestly could count the number of times I found myself thinking ‘Hey, maybe I should sit down and write something today’ before once again putting it off. It’s not that nothing has happened (quite the contrary). It’s more that I’ve really just needed to take the time away to re-center myself, as well as think about what the immediate future of this blog is going to look like, particularly given the current state of the world (merci COVID-19).




In short: as of now, I have actually gone ahead and reserved tickets for the 2020/2021 season at one theatre (the Théâtre de la Bastille…which should come as no surprise to anyone who has either read this blog or had to hear me wax poetic about how much I love that space). I’ve done this in full acknowledgement of the likelihood of many of the performances I’ve reserved for the fall/winter being postponed (if not outright cancelled), the reason being that, given that this theatre is independent rather than public, they are in a much more precarious state than some of the other venues I have frequented over the past several years here. Furthermore, in keeping in line with sanitary recommendations, they are reducing their capacity by 50%, and given how small and intimate the space is already, reserving well in advance for certain productions (notably for anything Tiago Rodrigues or TgSTAN have coming up) has become more of a necessity than usual.




But in the event performances do get cancelled, I am also prepared to donate what would otherwise be my refund back to the theatre. I already budgeted out that money for this purpose anyway, and my determination for this space to not have to risk closing is much stronger than me getting 70eur back (yeah, that’s how much I paid, total, for like, 5 shows. Affordability is a thing).




Regarding other venues, I am a creature of habit, so I will likely be renewing my subscriptions to the theatres I frequented while I was still writing/researching my dissertation. Here, though, I am going to wait a bit and see how the sanitary situation unfolds before making any kind of commitment.




That being said, given that I am no longer in dissertation-writing mode, what does that mean about the future of this blog?



Before getting into that a quick note: while I am technically done with that now, I have moved on to another, potentially more daunting/intimidating phase of this whole writing thing: publishing. That’s right, everyone, I haven’t quite finished with that document yet. Likely starting at the end of this summer/beginning of fall, I’ll be heading back to it to start the editing process, in the hopes of having a few chapters ready to send out to potential publishers once I also finish writing out my book proposal.




(Side note: if anyone has any tips/advice on this, they would be greatly appreciated).




What this could mean for the blog is—COVID situation depending—that you will likely see more posts from me trying to work through certain larger ideas I brought up in my dissertation but want to revisit for this next phase of its transformation, along with (hopefully), my usual theatre reviews. These posts will be long. They will likely be somewhat rambling and confused. But that’s how ideas work, and I like presenting the raw-ness of the process here, on this very public forum.



Besides, using this blog as a space to type out my drafts before going back and revisiting them when writing my chapters actually worked out pretty well for me in the dissertation phase.




I’ll also likely periodically interject some thoughts here and there about my process prepping for the agrégation (a prestigious civil service exam / one that, should I pass it, will mean much better pay at my job as well as hopefully other academic/educational opportunities in the future). Right now, that prep consists of reading English lit, which, to the surprise of absolutely no one, according to France, stopped in the 19th century, and consisted mostly of white men (though they did through in George Eliot’s Middlemarch so….yay, I guess?). Once I start the prep courses in the fall (on top of teaching), said prep will also likely include some mock exams, which I will very likely have thoughts on.



But I’ve still got a bit of time before all that really gets going.



So, in the sake of brevity, I’m going to use the rest of this post to address two rather major things that happened since I last posted, then do a brief sum-up of everything else at the end (mostly for my sake because I like keeping a written record).




I’ll start with something more positive: this spring, my first class of 12th graders, the majority of whom I had taught through all three years of high school (yeah, it’s three years instead of four here) graduated.

I honestly think one of the reasons why it took me so long to get back to writing at first was because I knew I wanted to address this, but I didn’t quite know how. I imagine anyone who has taught secondary school (high school in particular) can relate. There’s just something about that first class that you’ve seen grow into young adults, ready to go out into the world on their own that really just…sticks with you. Yet, with me, this situation carries its own particular significance because this was the class that basically also followed me in my dissertation process from prospectus to manuscript to defense to, finally, my own graduation (or commencement…because Harvard). And I don’t think I ever quite expressed to them just how much not only were they (and always will be) tied to this very significant moment in my life, but also how much my teaching them (and here I will actually stress the fact that when I say ‘them’ I mean this group in particular) influenced certain directions I ended up going in in my own writing.




Would I have liked for our last class to have been in person? Of course. But given how much I experimented with them in terms of materials I’d bring in and teaching/project strategies I’d try out, it almost seemed fitting. It’s going to be so…so weird not having this class next year, this little ‘family’ as I used to refer to them (especially relevant on the difficult days).




I had some friends ask me if I think I managed to impart anything to the students I teach—I mean, anything other than writing, listening, speaking or reading comprehension skills. I honestly couldn’t tell you. But I hope I did. Even if some of them never speak or use English again in their lives (doubtful but still), hopefully a little something else that I tried to weave into my lessons will stick.





Also, I know (because they told me, ha!) that some of them have found this blog, so for those of you former students who may be reading this: you guys were a blast to teach. Thank you for those three years, and for making me a better teacher.





And now to some decidedly more difficult news




I’m not going to spend as much time on this because, first, of how destabilizing this news was, and second, how many others could probably speak more eloquently about this than I could. But on July 13, I received news that one of my committee members (basically my secondary advisor) passed away from an accident (non-COVID-related). The news was made even more shocking by the fact that just over a week prior, myself as well as several other colleagues and former/current doctoral students had met up at a restaurant to celebrate this professor’s retirement, as well as his long career (I’m not sure how much of his work has gotten translated in the States, but those in theatre studies, Christian Biet is someone whose work you should look up…like, now). During the farewells, he made a point to say he’d schedule a meeting at the rentrée to touch base on how my manuscript editing is going. I received an email with general notes to look over in the interim.




Yet, life is cruel sometimes.




It’s hard when someone like this, someone who represents an intellectual curiosity and thirst for the collaborative spirit, encounters and inclusivity that seem to be fading from some academic circles in favor of competition, profit, airs of ‘superiority’ and doubling-down on a gatekeeping that has always existed but must be eroded away rather than reinforced. I’ve been very fortunate in that my advising team was composed of professors who not only encouraged exploration and creative thinking, but also never made me feel as though I were less-than, despite the fact that—and this blog can attest to this—at times my ‘imposter syndrome’ made it so that I was very nervous before sending in any pages because I didn’t want to risk disappointing them. In any case, one thing I’ve tried to focus on these past few days is the fact that I was so lucky to have role models like this—people who I knew I wanted to be like as an educator at the university or secondary level. Prof. Biet is among these role models.



That’s part of what a legacy is, right? Knowing that something of yourself, tangible or otherwise, will go on ‘being in the world’ after you’re dead.





Anyway, I’ll round this out now on a more positive note. Tonight, I’m flying out to Greece for two weeks with some girlfriends. There will be plenty of mornings at the beach, island exploring (I’m going back to Sifnos, and yes, I am incredibly excited), and eating all the things. Of course, all of this will be done incredibly responsibly, in line with current public health measures/recommendations. Regardless, I will be glad to be out of the country for a bit, as well as glad that I am not breaking my streak of spending at least some time in Greece every summer.




Besides, I’ve already made some progress on my tan. I would like to thank a girls’ weekend in Marseille, a couple of visits down to Oppède (including a birthday surprise visit for a dear friend on July 14th), and many afternoons spent sunbathing with a book at Buttes Chaumont because it’s hot and as much as I like my fan, sometimes it just doesn’t cut it.




Until next time (hopefully sooner rather than later…)


The sea is calling me back (yeah, yeah I know this is from Marseille and not Greece, but whatever…the sentiment still holds).