In January, Marianne Weems visited us in Paris so that she and Shannon could work on a book they are writing together on Marianne’s theater company, The Builders Association. Then the whole family went with Marianne to Liège, Belgium so that we could see their latest show, Continuous City, in Liège’s international performance festival. The show was fabulous, spectacular and poignant–very well-received by Liège audiences and Jack and Daphne who sat in the first row. While there for the weekend, we had a fun time with the Builders’ cast, especially Moe (also a member of the Five Lesbian Brothers) who played intensely with Jack and his Gormiti. The kids also enjoyed getting to know the Tchantchès, an historic trickster figure who has a variety of madcap experiences helping Charlemagne and drinking excessively. The Wallon Museum in Liège offered a vivid presentation of this Francophone political movement within Belgium; we actually had no idea how little we knew about Belgium’s internal politics. Jack and Daphne each got to a buy a new stuffy/doo-doo in Liège. Jack decided to name his new little stuffed monkey “Moe.”
After two weeks with my parents over the Toussaint holiday and three weeks with Michael’s parents that included Thanksgiving, we braced ourselves for being without family and long-time friends for Christmas. Montessori Kids started us off well with a lovely holiday fête, including an array of delicious food and a chorale of children singing holiday songs. After a solstice birthday where Jack got to have the food (steak) and movie (Madagascar 2) of his choice, we organized outings and playdates during the Christmas week. We also had a few lovely shopping excursions at the very civilized Bon Marché where we bought presents for American family members. Jack and Daphne wrote to Père Noel in French, asking for Gormiti and Ecole des Gourmets respectively. Instead of buying new stockings, I gave them each a “kitty-themed” hanging pouch that could double later as toy storage (which we desperately need). For Christmas Eve dinner, we had a wonderful goose and an array of new macarons (flavor: buerre salé, hmmm) cooked by Michael and Daphne. When I casually noted that this was the first that the kids had ever had goose, Jack protested, “No, Mommy. We’ve had goose from our traiteur at school,” reminding us that, while the parents nibble on leftovers at home, the kids are having long multi-course French lunches that include all varieties of meat, fish, and fowl.
Being in Paris has been a reminder of how great it is to be in a very active theatre town, or perhaps I should say performance town. “Theatre town” is probably too limited a term, perhaps too American a term, for capturing the sense of enthusiasm and experimentation that someone like me feels upon encountering an artworld with public resources. In France, an ethic of support has propelled l’exception culturelle française, a domain of public financial support that has kept French cultural life (along with baguettes, fromage, and wine) relatively accessible and relatively innovative. Compared to the United States (where corn is the closest thing we have to a subsidized national product, though banks and automobiles periodically join that list), the artistic variety seems absolutely incredible.
This is a lovely theatre that seems to have both an international face and neighborhood identity at once. Located in the 20th (i.e. to the ‘l’est”), it has the unfortunately unusual distinction of having a woman as its artistic director. Catherine Franc oversees a theatre whose self-presentation is inviting and innovative, not afraid to use words like “rêve” and “chaleur” to welcome its patrons to various spectacles, entretiens, and colloques. She directs herself, welcomes high profile directors and playwrights, and also mixes it up with a variety of cool pieces for different age groups. Recently our family took advantage of the “Samedi en Famille” program, one where we all got to see a new Mike Kenny piece for children called La Nuit Electrique –great acting, parable-like story, a tad scary for Jack who can’t stop worrying whenever theatre lights dim. After that, a troupe of Theatre de l’Est actors swooped up our kids from the lobby to an upstairs rehearsal room where they were served dinner and treated to an “atelier” of theatre games. While children dined and played, parents got to do there own dining and playing. Michael and I ran out to a local brasserie for a drink and snack and then returned to see a grown-up theatre production of St. Elvis, a piece originally conceived in the nineties to explore the obsessions, fantasies, and fetishes of Elvis as well as the world’s obsession with him. We had a great evening and felt inspired by Franc’s interest in creating the conditions that allow the parents of young children to attend the theatre while simultaneously cultivating a new little generation of theatre spectators.
Though I have no photos to post, documentation of the fall semester would not be complete without a few words about Erasmus Mundus and the consortium of universities that is graciously hosting me. Working in coordination with several European colleagues in our field, Professor André Helbo of Université Libre de Bruxelles runs an EU-sponsored graduate program “en Etude du Spectacle Vivant” [http://www.spectacle-vivant.eu/]. As a visiting scholar in the program, I gave six talks in November and December at partnering universities (mostly in my shaky but improving French, but occasionally in English). It has been a pleasure getting to meet Nathalie Gauthard and her colleagues at Université de Nice [http://portail.unice.fr/art-culture/], Hans-Thies Lehmann at the University of Frankfurt [http://www.tfm.uni-frankfurt.de/], and to get to know more about Brussels, André’s work, and the students of Erasmus Mundus. At Paris 8 with Jean-Marie Pradier [http://recherche.univ-paris8.fr/red_fich_pers.php?PersNum=405], I was also an examiner on my first French “soutenance,” a public, oral exam for those completing a dissertation. Raphaelle Doyon’s thesis on Eugenio Barba was excellent as was the opportunity to meet other scholar/examiners whose work I have admired–Piergiorgio Giacchè, Georges Banu and Monique Banu [http://www-b.unipg.it/~dut/persone/docente.php?doc_id=5, http://assic-ed267.univ-paris3.fr/index.html]. My hope is to maintain these new connections after we return to the U.S. and to create some new research opportunities for our students.
Another chance to see the work of a group about whom I’ve read a great deal. Rimini Protokoll is the name of a group formed by three artists who, as Hans-Thies Lehmann has noted, first met each other as students of theatre at the Germany university of Giessen, a laboratory for much post-dramatic theatre. Rimini Protokoll calls their recent piece, “Call Cutta in a box,” “global theatre,” and it is a indeed a global expansion of certain theatrical fundamentals even as it is simultaneously a retraction of others. Like many of their earlier collaborations with hospice residents, air crash victims, or truck drivers, this piece is a “real world” engagement, this time with the personal lives and assymetrical relations of a globalized call center industry. Call Cutta’s Paris visit was supported by Centquatre, the new, not yet fully rehabbed market-cum-funeral-cum-exhibition space located in the 19e arrondissement. My mom and I took turns playing with Jack and Daphne under their cavernous atrium while each of us spent a half hour in a carefully choreographed theatre-for-one. Continue reading
Not exactly right to categorize this as ‘theatre,’ but since I’m interested in when and why this category is used, why not? Palais de Tokyo is known as an artworld playground for a varied types of “relational” artwork, that is, work that tries to de-emphasize the object of art in favor of the social relation created by it (and, for some, the relation art needs in order to exist at all). Such relational turns require different material infrastructures, and so the large planes, triply high walls, and hangar-like environment of Palais de Tokyo seems to have been enabling for many an experiment. Join that environment to a couple of cafés, some workshop spaces, a release from museum conventions of silence and uni-directional flow, and it turns out also to be a great place to bring the kids (another form of relationality enabled). Mom, Jack, Daphne and I went there during the Toussaint vacation to experience Jeremy Deller’s “carte blanche” installation, D’une Révolution à L’Autre. Deller is a British artist whose image, film, text, and performance work consistently addresses different facets of the labor movement and working-class culture in England, pushing a general interest in so-called vernacular art to a level of engagement that hopefully pushes beyond some of the more superficial attempts to unsettle “high” and “low.” Deller’s most famous piece was a re-enactment of a 1984 miner’s strike that protested Thatcherian social policy. D’une Révolution à L’Autre follows similar themes but expands to think about the relation between the labor movement and varieties of popular culture, ranging from parades, to pub rituals, to glam rock that surrounded and supported the late 20th century British labor movement. Following the individuating conventions of visual art commissioning, “Jeremy Deller” received the carte blanche, though the singular name belies the collaborative nature of the exhibition. In this case, it is the banners of Ed Hall that most actively take hold of the Palais de Tokyo’s behemoth of a space, suspended from its high ceilings to act as both provocation and documentation of a range of social movements, from school reform, to labor policy, to sex workers’ rights. Around the sides of the walls, documentary video and photographs hang like postage stamps to highlight the homemade crafts and homegrown heros of local labor cultures that collect and rework popular images and populist artifacts. We drifted between the work of Hall, Deller, and other exhibits from Russia and San Francisco that all hung together pretty precariously under the theme of “revolution” but that were interesting in an of themselves. My personal favorite was probably a reproduction of an Everyband’s basement rehearsal studio, a gathering of instruments, images, and places to crash in more ways that one. The cryptic reproduction captured the sense of both liminality and safety that permeates such studios, usually in the basement of a parents’ house, sequestered away but still near, a transitional space which many never want to leave, a place devoted exclusively to the risk and failure of rehearsal or, as the French say, la répétition.