“PREPARATION FOR A LONG-TERM, LOCAL PROJECT by Helen Aldrich
What happens for theatre-makers when life slows down? When we stay close to home? When we get to know our neighbours? When we work with what is within arm’s reach? What kind of project, what kind of theatre does that make?
Firstly, if you make a plan, prepare to throw it away and make a new one. Upon starting the project in Villars, Luberon, we had a project all planned for the ‘good’ of everyone in the village: edible plants on the square, com- munity gardening, stories about the land with the aim of opening up dialogue and creativity. The town hall said, ‘thank you but no, thank you.’ We couldn’t understand why. Then, I sat on the square as my daughter played and spoke to the ladies who have spent their lives in this village I asked them, if they remembered the stories their grandmothers had told them, they couldn’t remember but they could tell me about how the village once was, they could tell me how they met their husbands, they could tell me how they fell in love. Then it became clear, it wasn’t for an artist to come and lead a project or come and teach some- thing, it was necessary just to listen. So we stopped and listened. It was apparent that the stories were there and the inhabitants wanted to tell them. So for a year, I have been sitting on the square with Sever- ine Bruneton, listening to people’s stories.
Points of commonality:
We can start by saying we share the village we live in today. Some of these places are used more by certain people and less by others but the village square is the central space that most people cross to get to the bakery, the school, the bar. It is shared as a place to sit, play, talk, take water from the fountain, for the trees to grow, the cats, dogs, children to run around and once the goats. It’s a place for dialogue and equally for conflict. It all starts around 4pm, beginning with the youngest: the children who ride their bikes in cir- cles, endlessly whilst the mothers rest. The ladies over a certain age sit and comment on how the trees have been pruned too short and there won’t be shade come the summer. They re- mapped the whole village telling us how it was 30 years ago, 40 years ago, 50 years ago: band- stand, the grocery shop, the Dutch hippy commune and the smell of weed, the washhouse. I’ve been in the village 21/2 years and there are several families here 4 or 5 generations back: great grand parents of children in the school arrived to work in the vines (vendanges), les ocres, candied fruit factories they crossed borders, they fled fascism in Spain and post war poverty in Italy. When the memories stop then we move to the metaphysical realm of imag- ination, of myth; the statue on the fountain takes on a real importance. Ceres, the goddess of the harvest stands at the centre of the ‘place’, the centre of the village holding her ears of wheat in one hand and grapes in the other. Her stories will become an important part of a performance planned for the village in the summer to come.
Points of difference:
At some point, even if we have four generations based in the village, our roots start to reach further afield. These moments are fascinating because we discover, in a place that is so quin- tessentially French, that we are a very heterogeneous group.
Theatre outcome: inventing, using, recycling other methods
With all this preparation and listening where do we go from here? We could of course make a performance with the local school and ask the maire to do an introduction and then see
if the bingo group could serve some drinks but how to really respond to the village? How to incorporate all these stories, all these lives, all these changes and all these dreams? And for that to result in an inter-cultural dialogue.
Let’s look at how we might respond to stories from inhabitants in the present, past and dis- tant past. The present is a question of negotiating and harnessing a ‘dynamique’ which is already there in the village. How do you use people’s habits and break people’s habits? How do we bring together all ages, from all the corners of the village: the children on their bikes, the teenag- ers smoking in the car park, the grandmothers on the square and the guys in the bar? I apologize for the stereotypes because there are also grandmothers on bicycles who smoke in the car parks and teen- agers who sit on the square and natter. We are looking at setting up little surprises before the main event: a tandem bicycle planted with edible plants and words of inspiration and treasure hunt maps for children. The event itself:
- Meal: local cuisine
- Music: local musicians
- Public outdoor space: the square
- Sitting around tables
- Involving audience
How to incorporate the stories from the past? We are writing a se- ries of letters that can be read out by inhabitants, during the meal and this will set off small performances that retell, visually, these anec- dotes. The architecture around the square will be used to bring these stories to life, with performances from windows and entrances and exits from doors, as well as bicycles and cars being part of it. What about the distant past? The realm of myth, of Ceres on the fountain? This will be a short per- formance based around water, using the fountain and a more poetic, visual language. Essentially, we have put ourselves in the role of an archaeologist, dusting off what is already there and then deciding what to do with it. Is its place in a museum or left in situ? Do we fill in the gaps, reconstruct it or admire it as it is? Do we hint at it and leave the rest to our imaginations?”
Quotation from the book Myth behind the community.