La vie utile
Jeanne is going to die. Her decline drags on, but her spirit is unyielding, resists. The end drifts off into the distance, only to return at a gallop.
The past and the present merge and overlap. Thus begins a fascinating journey into the heart of memory, which is clawing its way to the fore. A unique moment of theatre created by two major ambassadors of Quebec theatre: Marie Brassard and Evelyne de la Chenelière.
In this dizzying piece for five voices, the final whisper, like a last-minute blare of thought, seeks a response to the upheavals of life. A final battle against indifferent, deadening looks, the last duel between self-absorption and the desires of others, one last conversation between the living and the dead. What should be believed, feared or hoped for at the end of this vie utile (useful life)? A highly theatrical exploration of how we come to grips with time. Which, of course, flies.
Produced by ESPACE GO
Written by Evelyne de la Chenelière
Directed by Marie Brassard
Performed by Christine Beaulieu + Sophie Cadieux + Evelyne de la Chenelière + Louis Negin + Jules Roy-Sicotte
Set Design Antonin Sorel
Lighting Design Sonoyo Nishikawa
Music and Sound Design Jonathan Parant
Video Karl Lemieux
Sound Manager Frédéric Auger
Costume Design UNTTLD – José Manuel St-Jacques + Simon Bélanger
Make-up and Hair Angelo Barsetti
Director Assistant Emanuelle Kirouac
Photo Marie Brassard
Co-produced by Festival TransAmériques in collaboration with Infrarouge
Codiffusion ESPACE GO
Evelyne de la Chenelière + Marie Brassard (Montréal)
The writer and actress Evelyne de la Chenelière approaches writing a play like a research laboratory, a workshop where she fabricates a script destined for the stage, a text to be embodied by actors.
She has written some twenty plays that have been translated and staged in Quebec, across Canada and overseas. Her works question language as conditioning the expression of thought. From 2014 to 2017 she embarked on a writing workshop that took on a physical shape. The long wall of the café-bar at Théâtre ESPACE GO, where she was artist in residence, was covered with her distinctive poetry. She asked five actors to create their own interpretations of that literary backdrop, resulting in Mur mur (e), presented at the FTA in 2015. For the final opus of this fertile experimentation, she asked Marie Brassard to direct La vie utile.
An iconoclastic artist and an inspired director, Marie Brassard is fearless. She invents technologically fascinating worlds with overlapping time frames and layered levels of storytelling. In Jimmy, créature de rêve (FTA, 2001) and Peepshow (FTA, 2005), she amplified and altered the human voice to create dreamlike worlds and multiple identities. With L’invisible (FTA, 2008) and Moi qui me parle à moi-même dans le futur (FTA, 2011), she presented autofictions that deconstructed her psyche and her memory in visually fantastical realms. In 2013 at ESPACE GO she put the world of writer Nelly Arcan onstage in La fureur de ce que je pense. It was reprised in 2017 at the FTA with magnificent actors (including Christine Beaulieu, Sophie Cadieux and Evelyne de la Chenelière), and will soon go on a European tour.
After a three-year residency at ESPACE GO where you, Evelyne de la Chenelière, created a wall of words and images, and where you also invited artists to use that as inspiration for their own interpretations, you have now come to the final phase of that project. What themes did you pursue?
Evelyne de la Chenelière: When I embarked on my artistic residency project, I concentrated on two aspects: language and religion. I realized that those two elements are both founding and constituent components of how I view the world, a gaze in which I often feel imprisoned. Language and religion are at the heart of my existential discomfort.
I think that they keep us in an illusion of a common language. It is only natural that La vie utile, a fiction that grew out of three years of writing on a wall, would deal with those two themes. At the moment of death, I imagine what unfolds in the mind of a character, a sort of inflation of the basic Catholic, French-speaking iconography that forged her imagination.
My urge to write is always driven by a desire for formal research. The subject or theme is not really part of that initial drive; that emerges later. My question was, How can writing render the idea of layered time? The wall was a tree structure that led to new writing.
Given the usual production constraints at play in the theatre, wasn’t it unusual to be given so much time and creative freedom?
Marie Brassard: Indeed, and that time is essential. An idea emerges slowly by observing, contemplating, calling into question. Obscure zones that occur during the creative process are often the most interesting. Time helps us better grasp their surprising nature and that speaks to us, as does its imprecision.
I have little interest in a scholarly approach. What I find fascinating is the experience of human encounters and what they generate. I don’t often work in established theatrical institutions, but if I’m invited to do so, I ask that I be allowed to pursue my approach, which is the freedom to flirt at some length with the vague and the hazy, with loose ends.
E.d.l. C.: I find that notion of vague loose ends attractive. Not only do we accept the idea, but we provoke an uncomfortable extension of that idea because we believe in uncertainty.
That also corresponds to my writing work, which is at variance with our times, where productivity is highly valued. Even if we employ different theatrical vocabulary, both of us are deeply committed to our artistic freedom. That anchors our work and our conversations. The wall reflected what threatens the freedom of our imaginations, of what might constrain it.
I try to measure up to that freedom as much as possible, to that integrity of the uncertain gaze I cast on the world. We live in a culture that encourages the spectator to feel satisfied, the complacent consumer. Theatre artists are thus tempted to propose works that are readily understood and fully perceived during the presentation. Yet often the force of a piece resides in what it evokes days or weeks afterward in the spectator’s mind; its capacity to have an afterlife.
The piece speaks of time, but space is also a focus of interest: space for the spectator to reflect and think, a creative space for the artists involved. What drives each of you to constantly pursue new artistic forms?
E.d.l. C.: Artaud said that to be cultivated is to burn away forms, “to burn away forms in order to attain life”. Creating a form means destroying other forms that hinder our freedom.
M.B.: Making the decision to enter unchartered zones, to be vulnerable and to be thrown off balance with regard to others, is all part of the creative act. The world of show business often encourages us to present pieces that are impeccable and predictable, that are designed to impress, where the artist affirms his or her superiority. What we are seeking here is the opposite.
We create intriguing, multiform work because the subjects of our interest are difficult to grasp and to define, as is life. Like the wall that Evelyne wrote on, we are trying to convey abundant meanings and possible combinations by inviting the spectator to notice together with us how thoughts are made clearer when they are unconstrained.