Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Tom Stoppard

I got to shake hands with Tom Stoppard and I am delighted! He attended the play Generation Jean by the Belarus Free Theatre, on the same day that he won 7 awards from New York theatre journalists and critics for his play The Coast of Utopia. In my recent voyage of getting to know theatre I now am a bit familiar with the work and aspirations of Robert Lepage, Bob Wilson and now Tom Stoppard, and it is inspiring, and humbling.

Now I am starting to think that meeting Johnny Depp may not be so impossible after all....

Monday, 21 May 2007

Horses and Irish Luck

Sunday 20 May – It was the annual Irish day for the Galop de Dimanche at Longchamps racetrack, and Hilary and Gael Staunton from Irish Eyes invited me there out for lunch and a bit of gambling. Well, it was a jour de chien, dripping Irish rain all day, and so their green-tented cabane offering shelter and entertainment for children was mobbed. We had our hands full from 2-6pm showing little ones how to mold clay with leaves and then carve their names in gaelic. Great fun, got my kid fix in for a while, and actually watched the last 30 seconds of one of the final races! Bonus: got a free invite to go to the track at Auteuil next Sunday, looking for a gambling partner.

Les excès de Paris

Saturday, 19 May – Les nuit des musées calls. Didn’t even know it was happening until coffee hour after aerobics and a couple of friends invite me to go with to the Musée Branly, which is open until 10pm tonight, and for free, with jugglers, dancers, music, drums. Went along at 8pm, found a line that snaked around the block, so instead we went through the café and ended up sharing a bottle of Pouilly Fumé with a couple of chirpy French women from the neighborhood, Yvonne and Nicole.

The park of the Musée Branly is great, situated as it is practically underneath the museum itself – which interior I’ve yet to see, since the lines have always been exaggerated after it opened last fall! When the foliage catches up to the landscaper’s vision, the park will be lovely, and colorfully exotic.

So instead, after some wine and pasta chez moi (with a superb sauce I scrambled together a l’improviste), Abby, Lynn and I wandered over to the Dome des Invalides and enjoyed the music and lights over Napoleon’s tomb, with neighbor Vincent joining us. Breathtaking, the men’s choir and the Corsican quartet and the horns, the sound vibrated throughout this cathedralic monument, a surreal bit of Saturday midnight pleasure.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Belarus Free Theatre in Paris

NOT TO MISS - the performances of the Belarus Free Theatre at Maisons Alfort this week and next. Saw two performances last night, Technique of Respiration in an Airless Space and Being Harold Pinter, and they were both strong and vibrant. Next Tuesday, 22nd May, Tom Stoppard hopes to be in the audience, and the troupe will be showing their recently finished documentary.


Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Photo: Alvis Hermanis - photographer, Epaminontas Stilianidis

New Realities:
Disturbing the sounds of silence

Theatre in the dark – as in ages or mood, as in approach or “hasn’t a clue”. All were to be found at the recent Europe Theatre Prize, an awards event that took place in Thessaloniki, Greece, from 26-29 April. One theme that threaded its way through the weekend was, as prizewinner Robert Lepage put it, “Theatre as communication: we try to change our public and to change the world.”

Dark ages: Think revolution, dissidence, struggle and art. Hark back to the sixties, when youth had specific issues they were fighting for or against, not just torching cars and spray-painting their 21st century angst. Yes, there is still oppression in continental Europe, and a clandestine theatre company from Minsk talked up their cause and their conflicts

During the breaks between symposia and performances, Belarus Free Theatre spoke with participants about how the theatre they created two years ago got closed by the state; how they secretly produce plays in apartments whose location and dates are obtained by discreet word-of-mouth and cellphone; how the government hinders their travel. Despite the roadblocks, and helped by such notables as Tom Stoppard, Vaclav Havel and Harold Pinter, the company has been nominated for next year’s Europe Theatre Prize for New Realities, and will be performing in France for the next two weeks.

The New Realities prizewinner for this year, Latvian Alvis Hermanis, best known for his breathtaking verbatim play “Long Life”, also talked about growing up under Soviet repression in Riga. He described in an interview in Thessaloniki how he and his friends would secretly gather to tune into Radio Free Europe, to watch forbidden Western videos, exchange forbidden books. It was a dark period, he said, and projected a series of short pieces called Sound of Silence, thespian exercises based on songs from Simon and Garfunkel’s eponymous album. One was a portrayal of people crowding into a tiny room to listen to the radio and moving different metal objects around as receivers to try and capture the elusive radio waves.

Speaking of “theatre in the dark”, he stated his dream to make “light” theatre, arguing that Simon and Garfunkel represented the last spirit of utopia in the 20th century: “There was such positive energy in those songs, before we lost our innocence and purity”.

Taking the idea a step further, Hermanis said, “Today especially, theatre should be about getting people out of their houses and together, so that they’re not just huddled incessantly over their computers, their TVs, listening only to their stereos, cellphones, Ipods.”

Alexandru Darie, head of the European theatre union, also spoke of days as a theatre student in Romania when western materials were forbidden books and videos were smuggled in. “What a change when the walls came down,” he said. Plays were brought in, communications opened up, and he became first head of the state theatre and now head of the union. His voice cracked as he said, “I only got to see live performances by Lepage and Hermanis in the last few years, and it was so moving to finally see these pieces come alive.”

Accepting his New Realities prize, Hermanis said, “In the past, artists were bohemian, self-destructive, alcoholic; but the art they created was always seeking beauty, humanity. Nowadays we artists behave very nicely, more like businessmen, we drink mineral water, do sports, go to bed early. But we create art that is pessimistic and dark, focusing on the dark side of our lives. It would be a good challenge for artists to present a more positive theatre. I think our brains are too large, and our hearts are too small. But we have to try.”

Belarus Free Theatre performs in France at Nancy from 8-12 May, and in Paris from 15 May to 2 June, 2007. See


I recently returned from the European Theatre Prize in Thessaloniki, where Robert Lepage won the top award, and won us all over with his generous personality and passionate ideas. Discovered Alvis Hermanis, one of the New Realities prizewinners, and his incredible piece, Long Life. Met the Free Theatre troup from Belarussie, and a host of other interesting people, too numerous to mention. A few articles will soon be posted, describing the event. Meanwhile, see Michael Billington's inspired yet scathing article for the Guardian Unlimited at