From our special correspondent
It is a rustle, barely perceptible, which in places wakes up the deserted maze of the City of the Popes. No crowd or parade, and even less tirade under the stars, but here and there, by listening well, the quidam can pick up the sound of a few scattered trumpets, the historic hymn of the festival which relives this autumn on time for an Art Week.
Of the fifty or so shows usually offered, only seven proposals remain, presented under particularly strict conditions. Under the reign of Covid-19, the ritual that now surrounds the holding of shows is not festive, but the public is there. The restricted gauges are full, despite the establishment of a curfew which forced the organizers in extremis to advance all the performances by three hours.
The spectacle continues in Avignon: fragile, threatened, and yet very much alive. But for how long ? Uncertainty hangs over the festival and its artists already deeply affected by the months that have just passed.
This Saturday, October 24 afternoon, at the social center of La Barbière, in an outlying district of Avignon, Gwenaël Morin and his actors cling to a relatively safe horizon: in a few hours, the premiere ofAndromache to infinity, almost four months later than originally planned. The play was to be performed in July during 27 performances, of which only twelve dates remain this fall.
“I am very happy to finally do battle, launches Mehdi Limam. When it all stopped in March, we were learning the text and we thought we would never play it. “ Mehdi Limam, like Emika Maruta and Sonia Hardoub with whom he shares the bill ofAndromache to infinity, comes from program Ier Act, initiated by Stanislas Nordey at the National Theater of Strasbourg, to promote the professional integration of young actors.
“I have so many friends whose pieces have been abandoned that I measure my luck to be there, says Emika Maruta. The accumulation of rehearsal hours and performances will allow me to obtain my intermittent status. “ An important step for the young actress, despite a reduced form of the Avignon Festival, with a smaller professional audience, which will ensure her less visibility for the future. “I try not to think too much about all of this and to concentrate on the present”, she assures.
The present, for her and the actors who play with her, is this Everest to be climbed every day with the demands of a director who spares them nothing. Gwenaël Morin rushes his three young actors, accompanied on the set by Barbara Jung, seasoned collaborator of the director – here both choir director, and voice of all the small roles – in the furnace of tragedy, forcing them to unfold at breakneck speed the 1648 Alexandrines in Racine’s play.
A relentless artistic quest, a real test to which is added an additional framework – the three actors take turns playing the four protagonists of the play, with a rotating cast – and, henceforth, the health constraints.
“Since we started working, we have had to change the device several times to comply with increasingly restrictive measures, explains Gwenaël Morin. The actors had to be seated in the audience, this is obviously no longer possible, and we had to demarcate, by adhesive tapes on the ground, a playing space at a good distance from the spectators. This idea of social distancing goes so far against the very vocation of the theater! And now, the curfew obliges us to play at 6 pm, it’s a real escalation… But we are going to play anyway, step over these contingencies to continue to give meaning to our existence. “
Off the stage, the troupe keeps as far as possible away from external interactions, a tacit agreement between the artists. “A suspected case and everything stops, so we are vigilant, indicates Sonia Hardoub. Still, we know anything can happen. I play each performance as if it was the last. “
A tension that adds to the puzzle of the last few months. The six weeks of rehearsals and creation ofAndromache had to be postponed when the reprogramming was announced. “The whole team had to be free on these dates and above all to find places to work, says Élodie Erard, administrator of the company. It’s always complicated for companies like us without a fixed location or large means, but this situation is unheard of.At the time of confinement, we were able to benefit from partial unemployment but now, despite government announcements, it is total vagueness. We fill out files to get help but it’s difficult to get into the right boxes! We are in a moment of suspense: the projects planned for this year are being done but what will happen next year? It’s very complicated to project yourself. “
As a result of multiple postponements, the company condenses the planned work over a period of twice as long in a few months: fatigue, in addition to stress, weighs on the director who has also just created The theater and its double, according to Antonin Artaud, at the Autumn Festival in Paris.
“We must not abdicate, insists Barbara Jung, at his side for fifteen years. Live performance is essential food and if it disappears, the whole of society will be sick. “ At the mention of the millions of euros put on the table by the government, they barely repress a shrug. “We would like the proposals to go beyond crisis management alone,” explains Gwenaël Morin. We know this moment will last, how to reinvent life? How can we make this relationship with the other, fundamental in theater, possible again? “
In the meantime, with the young hopes of the scene, he puts the verses of the great Racine back on the bench every day. An ambitious company, undoubtedly a little crazy, but which in the face of adversity hoists itself like a refuge. “I am looking for a principle of beauty that makes it possible to challenge the reality of time, assures the director. Racine offers us this divine sensation. Of course, we may not have eternity but beauty, yes, which brings us back to the essence of being. »Against all odds, the vocation of the theater, intact.