I am currently stuck in the dilemma of sort of wanting to take out theatre subscriptions for the next season but hating to have to commit to things six months or more in advance. 20 years ago it did not bother me at all but now it really irritates me to decide about such things so far ahead of time. I think that I will still subscribe to at least one of the theatres, if only because the price is so much cheaper that even if I miss a show, it won't be tragic.
I agree with the subscription thing. I can't even commit to a week in advance to anything, let alone a year. Now that you are retired, and you have more time to travel (a bit more), I wouldn't make that commitment,although I'm sure the companies appreciate the support.
I open tomorrow in a new show, something completely different. An amalgam of movement and poetry, an experiment. I'm sure the houses will be negligible. But it's a paycheque. And it's my form of prayer.
Well, this is upsetting to me. An actor in a production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof was fired for physically ejecting an audience member who was catcalling and yelling "Fag!" at one of the performers. It turns out the drunken patron was the boyfriend of the "actress" playing Maggie the Cat. Has to be read to be believed.
That article is interesting, but reading it really does not give me enough facts to decide who is right. While the audience member clearly should have been removed, it seems that the actor may have been excessively violent in doing so.
I have been in audiences where the performers reacted to hecklers or to people who just wouldn't shut up, but they never left the stage to do so.
There is no mention of any violence, Kerouac, just that he was "physically remov[ed]". The audience gave the cast a standing ovation afterwards, which is, I think, an indication of where their sympathies lay. The heckling happened in the first act of the play and redoubled after the audience returned from the intermission at the bar. I know what I would have done.
The inaction of front of house and stage management is pitiful. The reaction of the females in the cast is appalling. But then again, that's theatre in Southern California for you; real actors who live there use live performance to hone their skills and as an creative outlet while film and tv will (mostly) just eat away at your soul (especially if you're a day player, which it sounds like the men were). Emily E. Low (aka Jolee Blon) was making her stage debut and it sounds like her chief talent is posing for cheesecake photos.
It depends. If the taunting had been going on through the first act, I would refuse to go back on stage after intermission until Stage Management and front of house assured me the drunk had been removed permanently from the audience. If it continued while I was onstage, I probably would have stopped the show. I've seen photos of the theatre in question, it's an "under 99" house (which means that no one gets paid properly, anyway) and far too small for anyone to be able to disregard what was going on. The actor was being respectful to the show, to his fellow actors and especially to the audience. The thing most audiences don't realise is how sensitive actors are to them; we hear you breathing, we know when you're bored and, like wooers, we will work our asses off to make sure you're having the best time possible. If some drunk barges in on our relationship, well, words will be exchanged.
Nobody thinks that a live performance is reality. Things happen, shit happens. I've had shows stopped for various reasons: power outages, heart attacks in the audience, swords breaking off and flying into the seats, curtains on fire. You stop the show, deal with it, and then get back to the job at hand. Audiences often love it when something goes wrong, because the artifice drops for a few moments and they get to see the machinery exposed. The problem gets dealt with, the casing goes back on and everyone picks up where they left off. Admittedly, I've never had an audience that disruptive before, but perhaps that's because I perform in Canada and we're all so polite. And actors temper their expectations of audiences depending on the situation; I wouldn't expect the same level of attention and quiet from an audience of preschoolers at a matinée of The Cat In The Hat as I would from people watching Hamlet at Stratford, say.
I would have been furious, and I would have done something. I probably wouldn't physically eject a drunk, but I'm confident that, with my wiles and wits, I could have found people who would have.
I went to a play in Brussels once where there was an outcry because ecologists (?) in the audience thought that goldfish were being mistreated, possibly even swallowed. The play was briefly interrupted while the troublemakers were removed, and then it continued without incident. At the end of the play, the actor who played the role of the "nasty goldfish person" brought out the goldfish bowl with the fish still swimming around calmly, and the goldfish received the biggest applause of the night.
I had the pleasure of seeing Richard III starring Kevin Spacey recently. What a performance! He seduced, cajoled, bullied, and connived non-stop for almost 3 hours and kept the audience captivated. Like Lola mentioned before, he also wrung a lot of unexpected humor out of his lines. There was a particularly funny scene when Richard, in a hammy show for the media, pretended he was reluctant to be king when clearly it was his most desperate desire. The sword fight at the end was rousing, and even Spacey's portrayal of a corpse at the very end was attention-grabbing.
The set was simple and effective and the live drums created a sense of urgency. Lit-up title cards on the stage told audience the name of the character who was the focal point of each particular scene, which I found helpful. The rest of the cast did very well, but obvious Spacey was the star of the show.
And in the same vein as the posts about Cat On A Hot Tin Roof:
So far, I have seen six plays in the last 3 days, which is fewer than I usually see in Avignon during the "Off." One reason is that I really didn't like the one I saw on the first day, something called "On the Road" based on the writings of a certain Kerouac. I'll give a full report about all of this but only once I have returned home.
The main thing I like about going to Avignon every year is not having the slightest idea of what I will end up seeing. Since I ignore the plays of the official festival, I don't get excited about anything specific, no star directors or star performers for me. Yes, I would like some day to go and see a play in the Palais des Papes or one of the other prestige venues, but for the moment I am still more attracted to the chaos and total unpredictability of the "Off." However, picking up the catalogue every year with the list of 1200 spectacles is a challenge. This year I made a very quick stop at the tourist office to get my catalogue and then went to my hotel in the suburbs to try to get organised. I took a quick shower and started turning the pages to see what looked good. As usual, I gave up after about 120 pages -- the whole catalogue is 400 pages -- and just turned to the back section where everything it listed by performance time, starting at 9h20 and ending at 23h45. There are other indexes by type of spectacle (dance, mime, comedy, classical, etc.) and other by author with a division between "live author" and "dead author," and of course a listing by title. There is also an index of "spectacles accessible to non Frenchspeaking spectators." All useless -- the only one that works for me is the time of the show.
And what did I finally find as my first spectacle? A performance of On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Frankly, I knew ahead of time that there was a 95% chance that I would be disappointed. And indeed I was. It was a one man monologue -- nothing wrong with that -- but performed by a man who was much too old for me to believe what he was saying. The actor was talented and totally possessed by his text, but it just didn't work for me. Perhaps if I had been less familiar with the material, I might have appreciated it more, but the main thing for me was the age factor. Too bad.
The next morning I started off with Les Fables, the fables in question being those of Jean de La Fontaine. This is a standard of the Off every year, with at least 3 or 4 versions. This was another one man show in a contemporary presentation while still respecting the original text. It was simple and effective. The tortoise might have been a declining sports star, the wolf a member of the mafia or the lion a corrupt judge. I enjoyed it but it made me realise that I needed to see some actors interacting. Solo spectacles have their limits, no matter how excellent the performer.
I made sure that my next spectacle had more than one performer.
My next play finally hit the spot. Charlie Bauer est amoureux (Charlie Bauer is in love) was anchored in the real world, because Charlie Bauer was a real convicted criminal who spent 25 years in prison, including 9 years in solitary confinement. Yes, it is a love story.
The stage was split in two with a woman on one side and Charlie on the other. It is mostly epistolary as they recite their letters to each other. A young teacher writes to Charlie to express her admiration for him as an antifascist leftist anarchist who merely entered criminal activity to show his opposition for the system. He spits back his disdain of her as a disgusting groupie turned on by the thought of horny prisoners. She replies with her own revolutionary credentials and makes it clear that she is under just as much surveillance as he is and that he is clearly a macho asshole to write such things as he did. After a few more letters, they are inflamed with absolute passion for each other. It would all be silly and ridiculous if it were not a true story.
The teacher finally gets visiting rights, and their first real life encounter is painful to behold. Both of them come away from it with thoughts of "what a total idiot I was!" Time goes by and their passion grows, even though Charlie gets years added to his sentence for various reasons. After quite a few years, he actually is released from prison, and they finally are able to live their passion, but it is very brief, because he is sent back to prison after a year or two. Their daughter is named Sarah Illoucha Bauer, "Sarah" for their Jewish roots and "Illoucha" in honour of Lenin.
Prison just goes on and on and never ends. The play is tragic, but it is interesting to learn after the fact that Charlie Bauer earned two university degrees in prison, one in philosophy and one in psychology, as well as a doctorate in social anthropology. He was in a constant struggle to give prisoners the right to watch television and to have free access to books and newspapers.
I looked up quite a few things about him due to the power of this play, which of course only scratched the surface. After being released from prison in 1988, he wrote two books, including a best selling autobiography. He went to prison in 1962 when he was 19 years old and it was in the mid 1970's that Renée, the teacher, wrote to him. After leaving prison, he became a vegetarian and was involved in women's rights. He died of a heart attack in 2011 while preparing a photo exhibition of Robert Doisneau's works for the Marseille year of European Capital of Culture in 2013. He was from Marseille and absolutely loved the city. He was 68 years old.
I am eternally grateful to theatre (as well as to cinema and literature) whenever it leads me to discover extraordinary things about which I would have never know otherwise.
I looked up more information on the Internet after reading your description of the play, Kerouac. This does sound like an interesting story. How likely is it that some of the Off plays, such as this one, will be performed to larger audiences at other venues in the future?
The whole point of the Off is to be a calling card for booking theatres for the coming season. Anybody who is involved in programming a theatre in just about any part of Europe gets into these plays free of charge and often they also receive a press kit. Lots and lots of these shows are just minor items with no ambition other than being presented in regional cultural centres or for children's events, but a number of them hit the big time and go on real tours. Once the theatrical season starts in Paris at the beginning of September, as usual I will recognize dozens of the plays from Avignon filling most of the small theatres of the Paris metropolitan area. Lots of the suburban municipal theatres have extremely reasonable subscriptions for the whole season, so being programmed in one of them is not a recipe for becoming rich, but at least it gives a lot of the actors the assurance of performing before a reasonably large audience. I really feel their pain in Avignon when they are acting their hearts out in front of 8 or 12 people.
For the 3 spectacles I have written about so far, there were about 10 people for On the Road, close to 20 for Les Fables, and Charlie Bauer was a full house of 67 (I looked up the capacity).
The next play I saw in Avignon was another two-person event. I just managed to squeeze in to the 150-seat theatre, because this was one of the hits of the Off. The play was called Occident and was one of the few plays (I'd say no more than 5%) which carried the "not recommended for under age 16" warning. The introduction to the play in the programme say "The Occident is bored so it drinks. It likes watching people die on television. If it is a woman, it stays home. If it is a man, it goes to the Palace with its friend Mohamed. At the Palace, there are Yugoslavs. Yugoslavs are skilled in languages. They learn French and like to beat up Arabs. One day they even beat up Mohamed."
The play consists of scenes of the husband coming home drunk to his furious wife, and sparks fly immediately in complete gutter language. It is the sort of play where the words become so grotesque that the only defense is laughter. And it really is very funny in its own way. The husband stops going to the Palace because of the Yugoslavs, and anyway Mohamed is in the hospital. But he didn't try to defend his friend. "I'm sorry, but I'm not about to get beaten up over an Arab!" Instead he starts going to the fascist café, the Flanders. This enrages the wife even more. The husband doesn't even go to visit Mohamed while he is in the hospital. On top of that, rumour has it that Mohamed has stopped drinking and is growing a beard. The play is an absolute descent into hell, and the actors were extraordinary. The only conversation that the couple has is violence or sex, and to provoke her husband after he has said something outrageous, the wife claims that she is fucking every Arab and African in town. "They line up outside the door while you're getting drunk with your new friends."
One comes out of the theatre feeling beaten up and ashamed for having laughed so much.
Next I saw yet another 2-person play, although one of them performed 90% of the time and the second person was just a foil. Yet, while I will not say that the 2nd person stole the show, he made his presence felt far beyond the role he had to play.
This play was called Burn Out, and it filled a role in my annual Avignon trips as being the play that I went to see because I was "tracted." As you walk though Avignon during the festival, you encounter at the very least 50 people a day who give you tracts for plays and who very often want to stop and have a complete conversation with you about why you should see the show. I admire these people enormously, because very often they are the stars of the play, and they work their asses off for about 5 or 6 hours, both before and after their performance time. I came across the performers of Burn Out, who actually go through the streets with a keyboard to perform songs by Piaf.
The setting is a cabaret show, but the director of the cabaret has had to take over all of the acts because the other performers have disappeared over time until he is the only person left. So he sings, performs pathetic magic, does comedy routines as best he can, supported by his faithful pianist. But he is so overworked that as the show progresses, he gets mixed up about who he is supposed to be and what he is supposed to do. The pianist conveys an incredible array of emotions with raised eyebrows and various grimaces as he supports the star.
This was probably not the best play that I saw in Avignon, but I was extremely impressed by the sincerity and the energy of the actors, especially with an audience of 15 people, and it might be my subjective favourite.
Avignon is a place where I try to see the most extreme spectacles possible, so even though it is now a "vintage" play, I figured that I should go see Copi's Le Frigo. Copi was an Argentinian writer who spent most of his life in France, moving there in 1963 when he was 24 years old. His passion was always theatre, but his French was not good enough for awhile, so he made a living as a cartoonist until he could move into the world of theatre. He was a major figure in gay movements, so in this imperfect world, he died of AIDS in 1987, but his totally wild plays live on. Le Frigo (The Fridge) was originally performed by Copi alone on stage, but this production had two actors, playing a variety of roles. It's hard to describe the basic premise, but "L" a former model who has become a writer, lives with his maid Goliatha. It is his 50th birthday, and his mother has had a refrigerator delivered to his apartment as a gift. Among the characters is the imaginary psychiatrist, who was performed by the second actor pretending to be an inflatable sex doll -- this was one of the most extraordinary performances that I have ever seen because with the round open mouth, he really did look like a doll and he managed to "deflate" little by little as the scene progressed. As for the main character, this is the sort of role that demands no modesty since the actor basically wore just a "banana hammock" and net stockings for most of the play. There was also a detective, the editor and of course the mother. Obviously it was a total farce but as it progressed to the inevitable conclusion since "L" has caught the "gay cancer" (remember, this is the 1980's when people did not even know what the disease was), it became incredibly poignant and there was no farce left at all. I love this sort of play that absolutely rakes the spectators over the coals and punches you in the mouth just when you thought it was being funny.
My next play in Avignon was a well-loved classic -- Molière's Les Fourberies de Scapin. I have probably seen it at least half a dozen times, including probably at least 3 times in Avignon. It is one of the most performed plays in France since it is such a delight even though it is almost 350 years old. When it was first performed, it flopped because the French royal court did not really like the style of the commedia dell'arte because it was "too common" and "too exaggerated." But us normal people have always loved it. If you are not familiar with the plot, it is the usual situation of young people falling in love while their fathers have plans for them to marry other people.
Scapin is the valet of one of the young people, and he is as tricky as you can get, so he manipulates everybody, not just so everything will end up happily but he also extorts lots of money from the fathers along the way. It is not an extremely moral tale.
What was interesting about this version is that all of the roles (of which there are 10) were played by just 3 actors, and they were brilliant, especially the young actress who also played one of the old men totally convincingly. And even though I love elaborate sets and costumes in theatrical superproductions as much as anybody else, I have to admit that I am even more impressed at what people can do on a practically empty stage with almost no costumes. In terms of costumes, there was a rack on stage with some items hanging from it, and that where the actors obtained whatever item they needed to change persona.
I always try to see at least one classical play in Avignon every year -- usually either Shakespeare or Molière -- and I am rarely disappointed.
Heiner Müller's Hamletmachine was the next play I saw. The first version of this play was written in 1961 and made oblique references to the events in Budapest in 1956, but a new version from 1977 allowed the play to become a total free-for-all at the whim of each director. This time we had 6 actors on stage (for an audience of 13) and the performance was incredibly ambitious for its limited means. After a first austere scene which could have been lifted from a traditional performance of Hamlet, we were whisked away to Ophelia's discotheque where Ophelia and Hamlet's mother Gertrude gyrate in slutty sparkling dresses while working out certain "issues." The leaflet for the play says "don't try to understand everything" and indeed, you just have to let this play wash over you, with its nude scenes and gun battles. It all ends in a disco strobe light apocalypse during which Hamlet does his famous soliloquy. In any case, the play completely fulfilled another category that I always try to experience during my visits to Avignon, the experimental play.
The last of the nine plays that I saw in Avignon this year was Bobby Fischer vit à Pasadena. This is by Swedish author Lars Norén and the English language title is Bobby Fischer is Alive and Lives in Pasadena. Naturally, the play has nothing to do with Bobby Fischer (who is no longer alive in any case) but instead Norén's usual theme of a corroding family. It could be described as an ice cold comedy because the family is funny only because it is grotesque. The father is the most normal person who is trying to hold things together while the mother is a neurotic control freak. They have two children -- a hysterical young adult daughter who wants to break free and a somewhat younger son suffering from Asperger's while being creepily obedient to all of this mother's orders. Actually, the only reason that the daughter wants to break free is so that she can kill herself on the 3rd anniversary of her own daughter's death. The son has just returned from a stay in the loony bin.
The "action" of the play is that the family has been out to the theatre and has just returned home. All through the night various things happen as people go to bed or get up, sneak out or hit the bottle. The performers were excellent and so frightening that it was a relief to see them behaving normally during the applause. This was performed in the back room of a café with an audience of about 25.
This is the fewest number of plays that I have ever seen in Avignon during my usual 4 or 5 day visit. I used to see at least 4 spectacles every day, but I am pleased to be finally learning a bit of moderation. With a little luck, I should be able to make more side trips in the future, like my morning in Gordes this year.
I have enjoyed reading your very thorough descriptions of the plays you saw this year in Avignon, Kerouac. I was there one year just before the festival began and there were signs everywhere and young people beginning to pour into the city which made it feel quite lively. It seems there are so many interesting places nearby, it's nice you were able to get away from the performances and capture some of the local beauty.
Last week I went to see "Idiot!" based on the novel The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Just like with just about any Russian novel, you have to toss out about 50 characters to make it workable on the stage, so this was pared down to 8 characters, but sometimes they seemed like many more since so many things happened during the 4 hour performance. In fact, the "show" starts before you even arrive in the theatre, because as I approached Place du Châtelet where the theatre was located, it seemed like there were near riot conditions. Since the "intermittents" have been rumbling lately about their still unresolved unemployment benefits, I thought at first that there was a demonstration underway about the subject. People were shouting in megaphones, running around in all directions and playing music.
However, it soon became apparent that these were the actors of the play since they also ran in and out of the building, through the foyer-bar, up and down the stairs, etc. Speaking of the foyer, there was deafening techo music playing and lights flashing. The play was supposed to begin at 19:30 and it wasn't even 19:00 yet.
They opened the doors around 19:15 and there was more chaos Inside since the whole auditorium was filled with stage smoke and was swept with coloured laser beams and stobe lights like in a disco from the 1970's. Otherwise it was dark, and this made it a real adventure to try to find your seat (this being a municipal theatre, there are no ushers to show you to your seat, just greeters at the entrance to hand you a programme). Luckily most people have the flashlight app on their mobile phones, so that helped. A group of 20 young people -- normal spectators? -- also occupied the stage, so I could only wonder what this evening would be like. As the play had not officially begun, I and everybody else felt fully authorised to take a few pictures.
The 20 spectators on stage were served beer and soda out of the on stage refrigerator, and actually quite a few other entering spectators were offered drinks as they passed by. When it was the official time and most people were seated, the spectators on the stage sat down on the stage, too, half on one side and half on the other.
And then it was time to figure out who was who. Prince Myshkin being the idiot, he was pretty easy to identify. In the novel, he has just spent 4 years in an "institution" in Switzerland, and of course the event we were witnessing was the big set piece of Nastassya's birthday party. The prince immediately offers Nastassya 100,000 rubles to marry her, but she throws the money in a fire, so yes, obviously there was a real fire on stage. Among the rowdy guests was a man who spent 90% of the play stark naked but also a few minutes wearing an XXXL sumo bunny costume. He was actually sitting next to me at the very beginning of the play, but I knew something was up because he was wearing a velvet waistcoat and boxer shorts. Actually, most the actors popped out of nowhere in the audience at one time or another, as did the director Vincent Macaigne who would follow people walking out and talk to them. The first walkouts were plants, but then of course a few people really did begin to walk out because the play had gone beyond their comfort limits as well as their sense of aesthetics. Techno music blasted, the stage was invaded by foam and smoke. The young spectators on one side of the stage had to move the other side in the middle of a scene as the foam began to engulf them like The Blob. And just a few minutes later, they all evacuated the stage, but they had seats waiting for them in the first two rows -- and also big sheets of plastic.
After about two and a half hours we arrived at intermission. Time to clean the stage. This was done both by actors and stagehands.
Actually, this is playing from 1 to 12 October at the Théâtre de la Ville (1000 seats) and then it moves to the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre (900 seats) from 4 to 14 November. And this version was actually created by the municipal theatre of Lausanne. (There was a previous version in 2009 by the same director.)
Back Inside, the play continued to its tragic ending 15 or so years later. Blood flowed, people died, other were covered with glitter and a tonne of dirt fell from the ceiling and out of the walls. At a certain moment, the false back wall of the château was released to fall foward on the stage and an actor shouted "LIFT THE PLASTIC." The first two rows did the best they could, but dirt and glitter went flying through the theatre.
Prince Myshkin gave away all of his money to the needy but also lots of swindlers and Nastassia finally realised that she should have married him after all. As the play ended, everybody was exhausted, both on and off stage. It's hard to believe that they perform this play every night, even if it is for a limited time. There were seven curtain calls.