And the lights went out…and stayed out…

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.

 

 

Ahem…anyway.

 

 

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…

Finding my footing (again)

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

 

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.

Parallels

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

 

Besides, disconnecting for a while felt pretty nice.

 

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

 

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

 

The play happened.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I am a lion. I can still roar.

 

With that, the plays I saw this week.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Could probably also call this the month of avocado toasts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and there would be beer.

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

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

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

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

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223 – 230

Memory is an odd thing, especially when it comes to theatre.

 

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately for several reasons, chief of which is the fact that, as it is the 50th anniversary – to the month – of May 1968, several events and expositions have been popping up around the city commemorating this very pivotal moment in Parisian/French history.

 

But what does commemoration serve when an event of this kind is concerned? An event rooted primarily in anti-establishment rhetoric, crying for change in the way things are done, cries that – yes – turned violent, but when is that not the case when the people dare to speak out and law enforcement answers with guns and batons (we can add tear gas to this now, useless canisters of tear gas flung into otherwise peaceful clusters of protesters who dare to sit down in the shade for a minute). I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to say that, ultimately, the wished-for upending of the status-quo was never truly realized. Not really. Instead what we get now is neat repackaging of slogans and posters at 5eu a pop, and perhaps a fleeting moment in front of an image of a student alone in a deserted street throwing a paving stone at a cloud of smoke and the mechanized enemy behind it, imagining that we too could imbibe some of his Force™, his Fervor™, his Revolutionary Spirit™.

 

Last Monday, May 8th, the Odéon theatre held a ‘restaging’ (link to an article, in French, for those who want to know more) of sorts of its occupation by students and artists in May of 1968. The idea was to re-evoke the spirit of the event – a giant happening of sorts – while paying tribute both to the event that was, and arts (especially theatre’s) central role in it. The audience gathered, pleasantly, tickets in hand, for what promised to be an otherwise non-eventful evening of nostalgia and ‘playing-at’ revolutionary occupation.

 

And then, when the spirit of 1968 came to them in a form of a group of current university students – many of whom are still on strike protesting against proposed reforms in university admissions, among other things – who attempted to pass the metal barriers surrounding the theatre in order to enter into the space, but ultimately resigned themselves to remaining outside (security guards were rather on point that night), the tone shifted. Several speakers and invitees began to question whether or not it was not a bit obscene to be celebrating this way when, in a weird twist of fate, 1968 came to find them again. Would it not be best to invite the students in, let the new generation speak on its desire, its attempts to create, as the event organizers evoked of the protesters of 1968, a new sort of utopia?

 

No. It would be too risky for the theatre, at least according to management.

 

I wanted to start off by evoking this event before getting into the show I saw this week at Nanterre. As part of their spring festival (this one titled Mondes Possibles, or Possible Worlds), the theatre programmed a reprisal/adaptation of a rather legendary 1968 production : Paradise Now, staged by the Living Theatre in Avignon, and rendered rather infamous at the time for the scandal it provoked.

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Rather than go into a plot breakdown – because really, there isn’t one – I’ll just briefly sum up the general gist of it as being a sort of giant happening. The idea is to eventually bring the audience in through several ritualistic, trance-like ‘movements’. Late-60s spiritualism (rife with cultural appropriation and all) is very much present here.

 

This production was originally programmed to be staged outdoors, but given the rather unpredictable weather (last weekends sunny skies quickly gave way to clouds and rain again this week), was instead staged inside the rest design shop. As we all filed in and took our places around a makeshift stage (a large, white, painted floor flanked at the back by a large black curtain acting as a sort of flimsy wall between this space and the space of the shop), the actors began to move about us, then began speaking, repeating phrases such as “I do not have the right to travel without a passport”, “I do not need money” and “I am forbidden from taking off my clothes”, first calmly, neutrally, then with increasing fervor and anger.

 

As you can probably imagine, eventually the point came when the actors stripped down to their underwear (or entirely), and it was at this point that the following phrase “Théâtre Libre! Faites ce que vous voulez!” (“A free theatre! Do whatever you want!”) was pronounced for the first of what turned out to be many times. Each time the phrase was chanted throughout the 1h50min production, the actors all stopped, looking around at us, as though waiting for someone to answer the call.

 

And though there was a part of me that did feel a bit of a tug to react, I also couldn’t help but wonder whether they actually meant what they were saying, in the literal sense (my friend that accompanied me confessed to feeling similarly). The idea behind the phrase was, of course, to divest oneself of cultural norms and obligations, to throw aside established order and convention in the embracing of spontaneity, of creation, of a return to something more utopian, more human. But was the intention behind the phrase really to spur this into action? If this was an actual happening, with no time limit to adhere to – and if it was not weighted down by the memory, history, the rhythms of what came before it – I would say that maybe, yes, yes it was. Give people enough time, and maybe the change will happen. But see, there was a wall clock directly across from me, a wall clock that I glanced at from time to time, and that served as a reminder of the fact that this little ‘revolution’ was only temporary.

 

So, what was this then? A return of sorts, yes, but, at least for me, a somewhat hollow one. 1968 repackaged again. Perhaps some of this had to do with the fact that I was familiar enough with the original production to know what ‘beats’ to look out for in this revival, and therefore couldn’t get into the spirit of things. I would contest though that the format of a 1960s ‘happening’ itself no longer corresponds to the way we interact anymore, how we form connections with one another. It’s not inconceivable to imagine a similar kind of event that corresponds better to life as we live it now in 2018, but this was not necessarily it.

 

And anyway, there was actually a moment where it could have been done, a definitive break with convention, a step towards the ‘revolution anarchiste’ the piece also called for. Upon the performance’s conclusion, we were all lead outside by the actors into the parking lot that is itself adjacent to a very large – and at the time rather empty – park. The spirit of the crowd and the actors had turned jovial again, everyone was dancing together, clapping and humming along to a rhythm that had been established an hour beforehand. If only, at that moment, instead of heading back inside and signaling that the time for theatre was over, they had all lead us into the park and let whatever wanted to happen, happen. But this time sincerely letting it.

 

To be clear, I am very glad I attended this show. Honestly, even though I saw it on Friday, I’m still trying to think it over in my head a bit (which is to say…apologies in advance for the rambling haha).

Anyway, other than that, the week was rather quiet, with the exception of an unexpected but very pleasant reunion with a former supervisor of mine from the theatre camp I used to work at over drinks on Thursday, pie-baking on Saturday, and generally doing a lot of nothing, something I haven’t done in a rather long time.

 

 

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197 – 212

 

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Spring!

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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A café en terrasse at La Fontaine also helps…

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Anyway, on to the show I saw.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Low point: the blackface.

 

Oh yes. That happened.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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All that matters is this tarte tatin…

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

Eventually is almost 20 days later, apparently.

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Manage to snap this on my way out…

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Namely, food-related things.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

169 – 174

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On tonight’s edition of ‘How to Deal with Snow’…

 

We all thought it was over, that winter would finally give way to (a rather grey but still sometimes sunny) spring. We were wrong.

 

Today, Saturday March 17, 2018, it snowed. Big, fluffy snowflakes. Just plopping down from the sky in little ploofs. Silly mocking ploofs. Thankfully, I didn’t really have anywhere to be until later this evening when I met up with friends for dinner at Ahssi (see photo of sizzling pork bibimbap above), so I got to glare at the fluffy white puffs from the inside of my warm apartment. With tea. A big mug of it.

 

Enough of that though. On to this week’s theatre recap.

 

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Never thought anything would ever get me to like Madame Bovary. Then this happened.

 

I honestly feel like I’m just going to go ahead and add the Théâtre de la Bastille to my list of theatres I’ll be focusing on for my thesis just based on the mere fact that I really like going to shows there. Yes, the set-up is essentially frontal and whatever, but the sheer immensity of the stage and its almost lack of separation from the (at least to me) smaller audience space lends the whole room a sort of intimacy and coziness that I haven’t really seen replicated in other theatres here yet. Really, it’s almost as if the actors are standing right on top of you, as if at any moment any semblance of a line between their space and ours as audience members is blurred, prodded, torn, and just generally fucked with. I love that.

 

And to tell the truth, I wasn’t expecting to like this show. Actually, I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect, as the only thing I knew going in was that the director (who is Portuguese, I believe) had quite a good reputation. Judging from the very packed house on Monday evening, I’d say I’d agree with that assessment.

 

Instead of being a direct adaptation of Madame Bovary (a novel that, I will confess, I am not a fan of), this play takes as its starting point the trial over the book’s publication. As we filed in and took our seats, the actors were already on the stage, scattering about pages of Flaubert’s manuscript, the words that soon were to be put on trial for their potential to incite immoral thoughts and disturb the public order.

 

Funny how some things never change.

 

 

Anyway, the actor playing Flaubert eventually spoke, reciting a letter sent to a friend that at the same time acted as a direct address to the audience. It was here that he specified that during his own trial, he would not be allowed to speak to defend himself (only his lawyer could do that). Instead, his words, the text, the words that came from his mind onto the page would speak for him – the novel as both direct descendant and link to the author (Barthes would have a fucking field day with this one). And this is how the story of Madame Bovary was woven in. Quite frankly, the retelling here was much more raunchy, dark, disturbing, sad and exciting than what I remember reading in class. Then again, as Flaubert remarked in another letter to his friend towards the last third of the play, the prosecution was right: this book is full of quite a bit of naughty things. Maybe our focus – in the act of ignoring the naughtiness to try and ‘rise above’ it or prove a ‘moral high ground’ – has just been slightly off.

 

I don’t know if I can put into words completely what it was that made me really like this, so I’m just going to copy (and translate because this conversation was happening in French) below what I sent to my boyfriend when he asked me why I liked it so much:

 

“The energy, the humor [and oh yes, this play was indeed very funny]…there was just this ludicness about it all that I really appreciated [side note: at one point, someone’s cell phone started ringing. Instead of carrying on and trying to ignore it, the actors started rifling through their pockets, as if to check and see if it wasn’t one of theirs that had gone off. Result: not only have they now officially brought forward the very plural nature of their position on stage – existing, as they do, in between our present and the fiction in the process of being constructed, one foot in each but never completely one nor the other – , they have also enveloped us as audience in it. Yes, the relationship remains essentially frontal between ‘us’ in the house and ‘them’ on stage, but our worlds converged in that moment. That’s one of the things I mean when I reference the possibility for intimacy in this space.]

 

“Indeed the whole thing basically played with a certain kind of plurality that is very specific to the world of theatre – that makes theatre what it is. Actors are on stage in the process of becoming their characters (Madame Bovary et al are called up and (re)created in the course of the trial), but at no point is there any attempt at temporal ‘vraisemblance’ or cohesion. That is to say, there is a constant back and forth between the narrative in the novel, and the trial itself. The actress who played Madame Bovary, for instance, at times would directly call out Flaubert for what he wrote about her, for how he – her ‘creator’ – crafted her story. And then Flaubert, who was denied the right to speak during his own trial, could only ‘speak’ through his novel, itself the product of his ‘act’ of writing. And of course, throughout all this, they are very aware that there is an audience in front of them, watching.”

 

Audience awareness took on another meaning on Friday night with Wajdi Mouawad’s newest creation, Notre Innocence at La Colline.

 

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This was the night I also found out I could sprint from my apartment to the theatre in under 7 minutes

 

The premise here: a group of about 20 actors – all between the ages of 20 and 30, so…millenials – gather together the morning following the suicide (through jumping out of a window) of one of their classmates at their acting conservatory. Questions abound: what was her motivation? Did anyone know she was thinking about this? Did anyone provoke her? What was to be done about her 9 year old daughter? Etc. Tensions are high. The group begins to tear at the seams, ripping apart over accusations not just of who – if anyone – could be held responsible, but over everyone’s individual attitudes, and how the girl, Victoire, should be mourned (or maybe she was too flawed to be mourned right away and thus had to be torn up again, verbally, first…grief does interesting things to people).

 

This, however, wasn’t the most interesting part of the show. No, the most interesting came at the very beginning when all the actors were on stage speaking in unison for about a half hour. Imagine 20 voices chanting at you in perfect synchronization, the closest thing to a classical chorus I have seen in recent memory. And just like a chorus, they are a reflection of the polis, or at least a part of it. Namely, people my age…those of us who sometimes think we are a new lost generation thanks to the actions of the generations before us. We, as the chorus chanted, have to deal with the possibility of never being extraordinary, the impossibility of reaching mythological, legendary status, of becoming something beyond ourselves. We were robbed of that, in a way.

 

And this bit might make more sense in the French context because while in the States, whenever the question of millenials gets brought up, it’s almost always done in comparison/contrast with the Baby Boomer Generation – the generation that made the mess we have to deal with. The generation that left their mark so brutally in both extraordinarily good and extraordinarily bad ways that to surmount it is unthinkable. And yet, we are often asked why we cannot be like them, why we cannot reproduce the same gestures they did, knowing full well that the world can no longer sustain those gestures. That we need something different.

 

In France, the generation that was taken to task that night was that of May 1968. The former revolutionaries…actors of a movement that some say succeeded in some ways, but that many also say ultimately failed, becoming a shadow, a myth of what it really was. Imagine being in this room, this room filled not just with other 20/30-somethings, but with those who were definitely part of that movement 50 years ago and hearing this wall of words, of criticisms come at you. Talk of the ‘revolution’ is sick if you use it to refuse to acknowledge the complete bullshit engrained in the whole act of reminiscing over how ‘wonderful’ and promising everything was then, how wonderful you all are in your political acts compared with this new generation who is seemingly so ‘unaware’ about everything. This generation is not unaware. This generation has been betrayed. The wall of twenty voices pushed outwards into the house, and for a moment, in sensing the energy around me as the barrage of insults (that were quite frankly, not that far off) kept coming, I thought that, should this keep going, and going further, it might end up inciting something.

 

It didn’t though, and then after a bit, the narrative described above took over. To be honest, as much as I found moments of the main narrative interesting, I feel as thought the thing could’ve just stopped right after the insults were done and just left us with that. That’s it. No lesson to ponder, no possible solutions to put forth. No moral to think on. I mean, the play itself closes with Victoire’s daughter, Alabama – who may or may not actually be real, and instead be a sort of allegorical stand-in for all children, that is, the future generation waiting in the wings to see what ours is doing – claiming her ascendance to the rise of ‘mythical’ figure, reminding the group of friends around her that she and those of her generation were watching them, that we have, in a way a responsibility to them.

 

And I really wish this bit was ironic – hell, maybe it was and I just missed the point – because for one thing, if anyone wants to talk about theatre and ascendance to figuration, Genet has probably some of the best examples of this, and another, why does this moralizing need to happen when the whole first third of the piece (rightly) called out the very dangers of this sort of intergenerational relationship and behavior?

 

 

So anyway, yeah I guess you could say I liked the first half better than the second.

165 – 168

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The Hurricane at Lulu White

 

Sometimes I feel as though I get into these sort of slumps where writing feels more like a chore than something I actually really look forward to doing. Maybe that explains why I felt like I had to drag myself to update this thing today. Granted, I did come off just finishing a preliminary bibliography – including small (and large…very large) paragraphs to accompany each text I read – so the thought of typing out anything didn’t exactly seem very appealing. Thankfully, weekends exist to help with the whole recuperating process.

 

 

I’m one of those grad students who basically treats what I’m doing as my job and, as such, I hold weekends – particularly Friday nights and Saturdays – pretty sacred, as in, I’m not going to touch anything related with my work unless I absolutely have to. Experience (and let me just take a minute here to process the fact that I’m currently in my sixth, yes sixth, year of graduate school right now) has sort of taught me that the best ideas come after I shove everything to the side for a minute and think on other things. Or  simply just try and be in the world instead of thinking about it from an ‘outside’/theoretical perspective.

 

Friday night thus found me back at Lulu White’s where I discovered that they occasionally play live music. It’s kind of surprising to think that they can pull this off to be honest, given how small the space is, but let’s be honest, if your Friday night doesn’t occasionally involve you cozying up to a three-piece jazz combo (as well as one or two small clusters of individuals who, immediately after admitting they aren’t experts on jazz, try to offer their opinions on what is happening to everyone else within earshot while taking on an insipid air of ‘expertise’…) are you really living?

 

Honestly though, the music was a really nice addition to the night. Coincidently, so was the hurricane cocktail that I ordered. Nice and rather potent.

 

 

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CalArts comes to Paris

 

Saturday was a bit more chill compared to Friday, in part because a good chunk of my afternoon was spent at the theatre (my one exception to the no work on weekends ‘rule’ – going to see a show…because it’s fun). This was my second time at the Théâtre des Abbesses, and I think I can honestly say that I’m not incredibly keen on seeing a show in this space again, unless I happen to be sitting in the orchestra. I was talking this over with my companion for the afternoon, and we both agreed that we were right to take the opportunity to move to the orchestra from our original seats in the mezzanine, mostly because even before anything started, the distance between our section and the stage coupled with the fact that the proscenium arch – and thus the stage itself – is not particularly tall, made it feel as though we were too far removed from it all. Honestly, I think the space would be better served with keeping things relatively intimate, but then again, theatres – even ones supported by the State – need to survive somehow. Capitalism…

 

Moving on to the show itself, the reason why I wanted to try and squeeze this one in to my rather full March schedule is mostly because it is a partial retelling of the Orestia, and I’m due to attend a conference around notions of power and theatrical representations/retellings of the Agamemnon myth throughout history. The fact that the show is not only a coproduction between CalArts and La Comédie de Saint-Étienne – and cross-cultural theatrical collaborations interest me – but also is a production of a text written by a female playwright of color (Alesha Harris) kind of gave me the last convincing push I needed to buy my ticket.

 

At its core, the play tackles the question of what makes us a society through the examination of two different families: the Halburtons, a political family lead by a matriarch with ‘lofty’ aspirations (and I mean this literally because her dream, as she lays out in her opening speech, is to build a great tower that will house all of society), and  the family of Agamemnon (here portrayed as a military general recently returned from war), his wife Clytemnestra and their son Orestes, a very shy, awkward fifteen year-old. There’s no direct mention of any of Agamemnon’s daughters (Iphigenia and Electra), though at one point Clytemnestra does evoke a female baby that she remembers holding in her arms before it disappeared (could we say a reference to Iphigenia perhaps…?). The play opens, however, not with a presentation of the two families, but with one of the actresses from the ‘chorus’ delivering a soliloquy on memory, the dead, and the evocation of ghosts.

 

I’m going to be upfront and say I was *slightly* disappointed in this production, but only because my expectations were so high after this first monologue. As the play was performed entirely in English – though the actors were a mix of French and American performers – the expectation was that there would be a screen of some sort set up for the surtitles in French. Imagine my very pleasant surprise when, instead of just a rectangular screen with ordered lines of text, the words were projected directly onto the curtain behind the actress, sometimes with print so large that the projection crossed over onto her body. These were not static words, they were rhythmic, lively playful words, words that appeared and disappeared in a rhythm evoking the spoken-word pace of the text being voiced. Call it an addition of vocality onto an otherwise silent form, or a way to  create an active form of reading text. I almost expected this to be brought back again, but unfortunately, instead of being a sort of throughline – and I should be specific here, I mean this in the case of both the alternative surtitles and the spoken-word style of the text itself – all this  manner of approaching speech and translation was reserved just for this opening prologue, though the themes of ghosts and reviving the dead came back again briefly. Instead, the overall structure returned to a slightly more traditional approach with regards to the surtitles, clean orderly lines replacing active and bordering on musical playfulness.

 

I will say though that the set design was probably my favorite overall element of the show. Created in a way so as to both keep a trace of a fourth wall – one thing that stood out to me as I was reading the dossier pédagogique  before going in to see the show was set designer Carlo Maghirang’s comments that he wanted the space to evoke that of a prison, with the cells stacked atop one another – as well as imagine the existence of possibilities beyond said fourth wall, the action was confined to two floors of the aforementioned tower, each one representing an apartment of one of the families. Verticality, I find, is something that is often not quite taken advantage of as much as it could be, and it was interesting watching the constant up and down shift of focus from one apartment to the next, making moments in which someone did actually cross the stage horizontally that much more impactful.

 

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Sun’s back…time for ice cream

 

The rest of Saturday consisted of a long walk home – the weather had finally taken a turn for the better so there was no way that was not happening – followed by a dinner featuring very smelly cheese (aka the best kind of cheese). I had originally intended to stay in on Sunday and spend the day tackling one or two chores that needed doing, but then the morning of, a friend put out the call to grab a coffee and given how nice it was out (sun! Finally!), I really could not resist.

 

And so I spent the day in the great sunny, yet still a tad crisp, outdoors walking. Oh, and eating the above ice cream cone.

 

 

Have I mentioned I’m really ready for spring and summer to get here? Because I am.

163 – 164

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“Les vrais dadas sont contre DADA”

 

I’ve got a pretty loaded program this month in terms of shows I’m seeing, including several for the seminar I’m taking. What this has meant is that I’ve had to make some interesting choices in terms of scheduling when I’m seeing everything, and today was no exception.

 

 

I went to a matinee. On a Wednesday.

 

 

 

For those unfamiliar, French elementary school children don’t have class on Wednesdays, spending the day either at home with a parent/caretaker, or in a school-sponsored daycare program. If it’s the latter, often whoever’s in charge of the program will organize outings for the children, including to cultural centers such as museums and – oh yes – the theatre.

 

Let’s take a minute to guess at the average age of 3/4 of the audience members. If you answered 6, you are correct.

 

Here’s the thing though, even though the energy in the room was a lot more – exuberant – than what one normally encounters at the theatre, I didn’t actually mind it. Yeah, even when the kids were shouting at the stage, which they did…very often. This was a DADAist show after all, and if there is anything suited perfectly for kids, it’s this. Of course this has a lot to do with the fact that DADAism can trace some of its origins back to a sort of ‘rediscovery’ of childlike forms of play and a completely wonderful disregard for established order and logic, but what I found absolutely delightful this afternoon was the fact that without using any forms of speech but relying solely on gesture and spatial dynamics, the performers were able to engage the kids right away and keep them interested and curious as to what was happening for the next hour.

 

What really worked to the production’s advantage was keeping the house lights on for the first third of the show. Honestly, I almost wish they had kept them on for the entire show, as once the house lights went down, there was an almost default back to a purely frontal relationship, a distancing of the audience from what was happening on stage whereas before, we were invited in.

 

And it’s a shame that this distancing happened because, from what I could sense (and hear), the kids wanted to keep being ‘invited in’. And they didn’t give in to the new spatial order easily, exclaiming, shouting, launching short comments on what was happening as it was happening. There is no hard and fast rule, other than social norms and a general sense that one must conform to them, that says one must always remain completely silent during a show. Hell, for most of its history, the experience of going to the theatre included the expectation of a sort of vocal back-and-forth between the audience and what was going on onstage. Thankfully, these kids were still at that age where you really don’t care what other people think of them so the disruption ran wild (and was actually rather fun – and encouraging – to hear).