June 3, 2020
Being at home.
The cosy comfort of your own home.
Having everything. Wanting for nothing.
Going round in circles.
After eating quickly, grabbing whatever is at hand; after watching TV reports about stock markets plunging below an invisible bar, thus causing destitution; comes the need to go out, escape, get some fresh air.
To get out of oneself.
Walking around in the bright lights of the city as darkness falls.
Eyes grown heavy, fatigued by the wickedness of the world, its carelessness, its laziness, its greed, its blindness.
Walking past shops with magical phones that hypnotize the eye, welding the phone to the palm of your hand; past counters of doughnuts full of glucose rather than the labour of bees; past display windows featuring cheap clothing and shoes that strive to convey luxury, glamour and pleasure, clothes made by 8-year-olds in exotic countries that we dream of visiting in air-conditioned buses.
On the sidewalks of my city with hands outstretched, for we are lost, we are uprooted, we are unnatural, we are forsaken.
Feeling overwhelmed, not wanting to stay outside.
Needing calm, the darkness.
Taking refuge in another house, one that is at times big, at times small, a place that belongs to one and all, inhabited by cheerful tenants who are unpredictable, who speak their minds, who come and go from month to month, from season to season.
Sitting in some sort of living room or parlour with lots and lots of armchairs.
Savouring, in the company of other solitudes sitting next to you, the silence that precedes a hubbub of words and gestures.
Looking straight ahead as these happy tenants talk about the passing of time.
Yesterday, today, tomorrow.
A great big story before falling asleep, like the child who is afraid of the fast approaching darkness.
Even if he knows the story by heart, the child that we are wants to hear it once again, the eternal student that we are wants to understand the whys and wherefores of the how, the amateur historian that we are wants to amplify, to make it more complex and nuanced.
Again and again, story.
The same, not the same, never the same again.
It’s the story of a young Greek girl who dies in a tomb because she dared to disobey her uncle, the dictatorial lord and master of her city.
It’s the story of a Norwegian woman who leaves her husband and children because she can no longer breathe in her oh-so beautiful house.
It’s the story of a young woman, disguised as a young man in order to serve her master, who falls in love with her master’s friend and, confused and embarrassed by her masquerade, is unable to declare her love for him.
Beautifully invented by dreams or sadly modelled on life, stories to clear the mind, stories about nothing in particular, stories for the sheer pleasure of telling, stories to help us better face tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow.
As long as possible.
This is the end
This is the end
My only friend, the end
– Jim Morrison / The Doors
From one newspaper article to another, from one airport to another, from one Atlantic crossing to another, can be heard in the hollow of my ear a smoky song whispered by an ancient Greek singer named Cassandra.
Dying on Stage / Dying Together / The Way she Dies.
For years now, seeing shows with uncompromising titles, shows that strike us as bearing witness, portraying the evidence of what we do not have the courage to name. For years.
The dreaded collapse.
The dreaded end.
With art, with refinement or delicacy perhaps, but the end all the same.
Buy an irresistible perfume in an airport duty-free shop.
Fly to Toronto.
See a show that celebrates a mother who died of terminal cancer.
Declarations by Jordan Tannahill.
A script he wrote in a single burst aboard a plane to Toronto from London after receiving the terrible news.
From the windows of a taxi, observing with a dubious eye all the new skyscrapers – rich, powerful, gleaming.
Who works there, who lives up there?
Who is happy so close to heaven?
How many birds crash into those shimmering windows?
Canadian Stage, Berkeley Street.
Always stirring to see obsolete utilitarian spaces transformed into places devoted to the imagination.
Here, a red brick industrial building from the early 20th century, formerly a gas works.
The 100-seat theatre is bare, the energy already flowing.
Almost nothing onstage.
A square white floor, neon glow lamps hanging from the ceiling.
The force of the empty space.
For over an hour, five actors throw out seemingly mundane phrases that celebrate life in all its fullness.
Free, almost accidental gestures flesh out the meaning.
This is the thing
This is not the thing
This is my mother crying
This is her ghost
The ending is electrifying.
Shake shake momma, shake momma, shake shake
Shake with tears
Bodies are rocked and shaken.
Both onstage and in the theatre.
I leave the theatre imbued, vibrant, alive. I take that life with me aboard the plane that takes me back to Montreal.
In the sky I am vibrant, fully alive.
January 2013, New York and its exciting forest of skyscrapers.
A sunny afternoon in a Soho loft.
I’m here at the suggestion of Marie-Hélène Falcon, founder of the FTA, who is renowned for her infallible intuition.
I’m attending the presentation of the initial phase of an ambitious project, Holoscenes.
The creator Lars Jan talks to us about the inescapable rise in water levels all over the planet.
The project consists of a large glass tank in which people go about their daily activities – reading the newspaper, doing housework, playing guitar – despite the 2 tons of water that suddenly submerges them.
The extreme adaptability of humans.
The video images are magnificent.
The reality they describe is terrifying.
In the heart of Manhattan and the American dream, not far from the Twin Towers that are no more, I can’t stop associating Holoscenes with images from The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, the vaguely ludicrous disaster films of my adolescence.
Alas, Holoscenes is by no means ludicrous.
This is the end.
Holoscenes must be shown in Montreal.
The scope of the project makes it difficult to organize.
After several unsuccessful attempts and a climate emergency that has only increased in the previous 7 years, 2020 is at last the moment for its presentation.
The disaster has reached us.
Erratically wandering the streets around the Mont-Royal subway station are men and women who I believe come from the Far North, a place I’ve never been.
My ignorance of our Indigenous peoples is immense.
On cold nights I know that they sleep in the doorways of banks and credit unions in my neighbourhood.
In the Salle Jean-Claude-Germain at Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui, less than a 10-minute walk from the Mont-Royal subway stop.
Aalaapi, a show rich with the voices of women from Nunavik.
I learn that in Inuktitut “aalaapi” means to be silent so that beauty can be heard.
Taking up the entire stage is a simple house.
Two women in the cosy comfort of their home.
Surrounding them is whiteness, the immensity of the sonorous silence of the Far North.
Being at home.
Playing cards, listening to the radio, throat singing, preparing meals.
The smell of bannock being cooked permeates the air.
Embracing tradition and modernity.
Wanting for nothing.
I leave the Centre du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui.
Walk around in the bright lights of the city.
Head home in the cold night.
See these men and women from far away sleeping in the warmth of ATMs full of bank notes.
Detest the invisible bar of the stock market index.
Wish for a universal PIN.
Avignon Festival, July 2018.
Avignon, an infernal theatrical machine, an untamable thousand-headed beast that seeks only to mollify the unsatisfied revolutionary that I am.
Seeking in its profusion a trigger, the fermenting agent for a better life.
A place dedicated all year round to sporting events.
But in the sticky summer heat now a place for stories, fictional or real.
Delighted to see for the second time a show seen barely two months ago when it was first presented in Brussels.
La reprise. Histoire(s) du théâtre (I) by Milo Rau.
Seeing a powerful show, its dramatic structure tightened, a story of the tragedy of everyday life expressed without fanfare.
Touched once again by its essence.
Onstage are actors and actresses, both professional and amateurs, with no apparent distinction between the two.
Women and men.
Also a dog.
Milo Rau says that his theatre reflects global realism.
He is fascinated by reality, and passionate about staing it.
This raises a vast but simple question What does “truth” mean in theatre?
In an attempt to answer it, he stages a sordid story about a recent occurrence in the city of Liège. Staging that evokes the mournful ambience of the city, the confusion and helplessness of its inhabitants.
What is palpable is the pernicious violence generated by excessive, chronic unemployment.
To witness the reenactment of the senseless murder of a young man by four “ordinary guys”. Because he was different, gay. Perhaps. Or perhaps because they were bored.
Seeing in action the ravages of a lack of purpose, no direction, no future.
The banality of the unbearable, the horror, an inhumanity conveyed by the humble, comprehensive and sincere work of the performers.
Theatre as a punch to the gut of our society.
Paris, June 2019, between the Gare du Nord and Boulevard de La Chapelle, on the boundary of the 10th arrondissement.
A lively working-class district where signs on several restaurants and shops advertise their Sri Lankan, Indian and Pakistani fare. A little further on, on the other side of the boulevard, a hot zone where dozens and dozens of tents, pieces of sheet metal, cardboard boxes, nylon tarps and other makeshift shelters are lined up, crowded with the homeless, the marginalized, migrants and refugees, legal or illegal, a precarious and destitute community.
I look away, a little ashamed.
I don’t know how to deal with this other Paris.
I leave the street, enter a humdrum lobby, walk along a corridor with greyish walls and, holding my breath, enter an extraordinary place where, magically, time stands still.
I am at Bouffes du Nord, a theatrical jewel more than a century old, abandoned to its fate for many years, then miraculously restored.
I sit down, my heart beating.
I am enveloped in a strange splendour.
I never tire of examining in detail this majestic ruin, the dilapidated, decayed walls, deeply marked by the passage of time, the mouldings and finely worked stucco, the balconies held together by the will of who knows what ghost of an actress or vaudeville singer, the elegant glass roof that pierces the ornamented ceiling and beckons the eyes.
These golds, these reds, these ochres, these triumphant splendours plunge me into a glorious past, into a fearful future, into a present that is at its tipping point.
The aura of Peter Brook, the great Peter Brook, the master of the house, the rescuer of this extraordinary wreck is present in every nook and cranny.
The theatrical spirit that he has constantly refined over the decades is evident everywhere, from the heights of the balconies to the coat hangers and the floor, from the backstage areas to the upper row of seats.
His deep love of theatre, of life, touches everyone of us.
And I think of all those women and men of the theatre who, for centuries, have left their mark, their sweat, their doubts, their creative impulses in those empty spaces pregnant with possibility, be they ancient, new, bourgeois, underground or ephemeral, or located in London, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Tunis, Beirut, Montreal.
Theatres all over the world.
At the thought of the thousands of stories told within their walls, again and again, I smile, I breathe.
The show begins.
The latest work by Peter Brook and his colleague and accomplice Marie-Hélène Estienne.
Two actresses and an actor arrive in all simplicity and recount this beautiful thing that is the theatre.
How it is done. How it is lived, performed.
With very little.
The incredible evocative power of “very little”.
The walls of Bouffes du Nord resonate with what Peter Brook so ingeniously named the empty space.
The e m p ty s pa ce.
E m pt y s p a ce.
A playground for the soul.
The piece shifts to tell the tragic tale of the Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold. A strong supporter of the 1917 Revolution, Meyerhold invented a theatrical theatre far removed from any naturalism, to inspire the people, to uplift them, to give them an impetus for a better life.
Posing fundamental questions about power in performances under his avant-garde direction, Meyerhold was ignobly executed in 1940 under Stalin’s orders. The show ends with the story of Meyerhold’s final moments.
The three actors face the audience to tell us, plainly and simply, that:
There are 3 truths:
And the truth.
I leave Bouffes du Nord.
I leave home.
I take away the splendour of the theatre, its golds, its reds, its ochres, Meyerhold, Peter Brook, the breath of the actresses, of the actor.
A space, empty.
I have everything to fill it.
The Poseidon Adventure (1972) | Trailer