(En français... "I just Facebooked your mother.")
Upstage Contributor Alison Louder spoke with Co-Director Christian Lapointe about National Theatre School’s current bilingual presentation of En français comme en anglais, It’s easy to criticize. Below is an abridged version edited by Estelle Rosen, CharPo Editor-in-chief.
With us in studio is Christian Lapointe Co-Director of En français comme en anglais, It’s easy to criticize, a freely adapted work on writings of local writer and performer Jacob Wren being presented by the National Theatre School French and English graduating classes in a first ever collaborative project.
For the last year, the school has been celebrating its 50th anniversary. They wanted to close the celebrations with a collaborative work which has never happened in 50 years. When the school started I think classes were together but productions were not done together. With the two schools being separate, it was like two different schools under one roof.
Chris Abraham and I were asked to co-direct a piece with the graduating students. Though we looked at many options, we decided on Jacob Wren’s En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize. We wanted the play to talk about our reality as a group of performers who have to work together with the challenge of translation and getting to know each other.
They wanted a piece that would look at the future.
Tell us a little bit more about how you came to use Jacob Wren’s work.
The school asked Chris and I to look for a young director’s contemporary work. They wanted a piece that would look at the future.
After seeing a couple of Jacob’s plays, I had been proposing Jacob’s work. He’s challenging, contemporary, informative, and provocative. His work embraces all the questions of our time especially political and uncertainty. More than ever, we live in a time of uncertainty. Jacob’s work is a fine line between reality and fiction.
This piece also gives the actors an opportunity to use themselves as a starting point instead of fictional characters. As a training program those are all things that were a good way to allow the students to learn something else.
They don’t share the same political views or ideas. There were lots of clashes.
As you said there are two programs under the one roof of National Theatre School but students aren’t completely segregated from one another. Feels like this francophone and anglophone collaboration has been a long time coming. How much was this wanted by the students and how are they responding to this project?
Well they eat together every day at the cafeteria so they see each other daily. In the beginning when we said we’re going to do a creation project – not just taking a play and directing – it was quite challenging. They don’t share the same political views or ideas. There were lots of clashes. These clashes are still in our play. It was also a way to bring those two realities together without erasing any of the two realities. That’s one of the nice things about it .Even if they are collaborating together they still remain who they are with their own ideas.
At some point I remember some students came to us and said – there’s real friction in the group. We said that’s ok, that’s also part of the play.
Did the students become involved via an active process?
Now I would say yes. In the beginning it was more difficult to accomplish. The play is about mis-translating. When you mis-translate, you’re doing a critique on the person you’re mis-translating.
I remember one scene which is a fight between French and English. They do it as a staged scene. The first time they were unrehearsed beauty as Jacob calls them, but they were improvising with real thoughts. At some point I remember some students came to us and said – there’s real friction in the group. We said that’s ok, that’s also part of the play. It’s about not betraying yourself but going towards the other.
It’s been a long journey this past year. With the idea of trying to show how media crafts us, how politics makes us afraid of everything, all the themes of the play somehow gathered those young people around a common utopian ideas about how theatre can make the world a better place.
I would say that more than two-thirds of play is based on Jacob’s work.
How much of Jacob Wren’s work was translated for the sake of this production and how involved is Jacob with you and the students on this journey?
We’ve been using two of his plays which have been published in French and English. In addition to En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize, we’re using lots of stuff from his blog. We also wanted to see if we could include in the repertoire a dialogue with the past, so we also used Chekhov and Shakespeare. I would say that more than two-thirds of play is based on Jacob’s work. One other piece is Families formed through copulation where we use black lights human puppets with lots of projections.
What was it like co-directing?
Neither of us had ever done that before. It was a good way to experiment the idea when working with someone else instead of being the one that makes all the choices, you can discuss ideas. It’s not all dependent on your own thought. The process worked very well. Despite coming from different theatrical backgrounds, we found a way to gather our practices through Jacob’s practice.
Though this production is now over, I would personally recommend if ever it is presented again, don’t miss it. NTS provides us with an opportunity to see creation in the making. ER