Innovation in Avignon- Collectif 8 and Their Universal Message
Guest Blog by Vanessa Anheim and Gaële Boghossian
Classic pieces have quickly become the linking thread in our work. It is surprising, even frightening, to realise, thanks to these historical texts, that history repeats itself over centuries, revealing universal and timeless mechanisms.
For each show, a solid artistic team unites around us, a “family” discovering and finding itself little one production after another.
Over the last three years, we have had the opportunity to present our work in the warm and professional venue, the Théâtre du Chêne Noir for the Festival Off d’Avignon.
The first time in 2014, we were terrified. Everything happened so quickly, the director contacted us and invited us to be included in their programme. It was the opportunity of a lifetime that we had never thought possible for one of our shows.
Restrictions with the sound and the video, and the technical precision, which is necessary, seemed incompatible for such a short montage, which is an insurmountable hurdle in the festival. The Festival gave us “slots”… two hours in total for everything: for the set design, to play, to disassemble! We took the plunge with enthusiasm, anxiety, naiveté… and it was a superb experience!
Above all else, the festival was a human experience, an intense exchange with the audience. It is also a month that brings us together and develops our own collective story. In 2014, our play the Laughing Man, a humanist testimony, rendered the words of Victor Hugo powerful and unifying. The warm welcome of the audience and professionals alike exceeded our expectations. The festival opened the doors to numerous theatres and we will soon celebrate the 60th production of this show! We have travelled across France, and even gone abroad all the way to New Caledonia. Whilst preparing for the festival, we had planned for the show to be performed in Antibes where the width of the stage measures 16 metres but also in Avignon where the stage is only 6 metres wide. Our set design was thus adaptable for stages of any size, and we played in miniscule and immense theatres alike, sometimes with an interval of just two days. Our first Avignon-esque experience of course made us want to do it all over again! This was also the case the following year with Alice based on Lewis Carroll’s classic, and again this year with a theatrical adaptation of Diderot’s The Nun.
In the current social and political context, after the violent events that have occurred over the last two years, we were shattered both as humans, as well as artists. We did not want to attempt providing explanations in our works, nor any commentary on the events; but this violence, community issues, hatred for others, and withdrawal, made us deeply reflect upon the question of free will and the choice to resist or to give up.
The questions of right and wrong and of Man’s fragile free will were present in and transcended all of these issues.
So, our creative work was harnessed towards a diptych of Right vs Wrong, two similar plays; first the masculine, lyric, and grandiose Faust by Goethe (premiered in Antibes last April), and then the more feminine, intimate, and underground, The Nun.
The voice of Diderot is indeed strikingly pertinent. It delivers a message about indoctrination, ignorance, and objectification and its dissolution in the community.
His fictional novel focuses on and is inspired by reality in order to better reroute and imitate it. It’s a hymn of hope, a cry of freedom. [In this adaptation] two actresses reincarnate not only the voice of Suzanne Simonin, but also the voice of all women, their ghosts, their twisted and stolen lives. Throughout the tale of these two women is a tone that is enlightening and tender, and engaged. The image of a complex, perverse, and scandalous world is portrayed, from which emerges the progression of a young woman towards her independence, affirming her right to justice and liberty.
A few days before the start of the Festival Off, we are both happy and nervous, particularly as we will be producing a very different kind of show. For the first time in Avignon, the public will have a chance to discover the premiere of this moving cry for freedom.
The classic texts that we choose know no borders. Whether it be Lewis Carroll or Victor Hugo, the public we’ve met during the Festival Off is international and regularly Anglophone. We would love for our audience to discover these texts without the language barrier. Theatre in Paris’ surtitling service thus seems interesting and promising; we dream of testing it, and of welcoming an audience comprised of all nationalities. The message that we are trying to send is universal; it is, most importantly, for the public that we create art.