August 31, 2020

Seuls en Scène – Virtual French Theater Festival at Princeton

Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, Department of French and Italian, and L’Avant-Scène will present the ninth annual Seuls en Scène French Theater Festival, this year taking place online from September 10 to 20. The Festival’s 12 events include recordings of live performances of contemporary works recently presented on stages in France; recorded readings; live conversations with the artists,  and a recorded conversation on the current state of theater in France. Presentations will be in French, and several will include English subtitles; all are free and open to the public at All times listed for events are Eastern Daylight-Saving Time (EDT).

Seuls en Scène ushers in the 20th season of L’Avant-Scène, a French theater troupe of Princeton students. It also celebrates professional theatrical achievements from the past year: many of the artists appearing in Seuls en Scène are prominent contributors to contemporary theater in France. The Festival is organized by Florent Masse, Senior Lecturer in the Department of French and Italian and artistic director of L’Avant-Scène.

The Festival will kick-off with a recently recorded conversation hosted by Masse with directors of productions from Festival d’Avignon, Festival d’Automne in Paris, and Comédie-Française to share an update on the situation of festivals and theaters in France at the beginning of the new theater season. The recording will be available starting at 4:30 p.m. on September 10 and remain available to view through September 20. The conversation will be presented in French.

The second event is a recent film documenting the creative process behind the production of Marion Siéfert’s production of Du Sale! (Real Shit!). Last spring, during the pandemic, Siéfert and her collaborator Mathieu Bareyre made the film as a “Letter to the Viennese” for Wiener Festwochen 2020 when it was evident Du sale! could not be performed live as scheduled at the renowned contemporary theater festival in Vienna. In the film, by the time the rapper Laëtitia Kerfa says: “Normality is killing me,” viewers are already deep into the production process underpinning Du Sale!. Siéfert and Bareyre offer a very personal insight into the show’s rehearsals with two exceptional performers and their quest for their own personal identity. On stage, Kerfa searches for the truth through her rap lyrics and encounters the figure of Lady Macbeth. Her stage partner, Litefeet dancer Janice Bieleu, opts for stillness and the human body as her own personal means of expression. With her keen instincts and her gift for micro-observations, Siéfert has taken a gamble with this theatrical experiment, but the documentary demonstrates this experiment pays off. Masse hopes to bring Du Sale! to Princeton in a future Festival edition. The film, in French with English subtitles, will be available starting September 10 at 7:00 p.m. and remain available to view through September 13. A live conversation with Siéfert and Bareyre via Zoom will be presented in French on September 13 at 4:00 p.m.

Starting on September 11 at 5:00 p.m., a recently recorded reading of Pistes (Tracks) will become available on-demand. Franco-Senegalese playwright and dramaturg Penda Diouf reads her most recent play about resilience that is both intimate and political. Directed by Aristide Tarnagda, this monologue about the courage to come face-to-face with one’s own demons is also a road trip across Namibia, site of the first genocide of the 20th century targeting the Herero and the Nama people. Diouf’s play asks: How can we confront the past in order to rebuild ourselves? In Pistes, Diouf looks into the issue of bravery in a personal way and sheds light upon all the things that she has always kept hidden from view, her years of suffering, depression and fear of meeting the challenges of life. She plunges deep into her inner self and journeys through the intricacies of the various memories that have shaped her. It is this process which allows her to rebuild herself, discreetly testifying to her weaknesses. Memories come back to her. As an adolescent, she had admired the sprinter Frankie Frédéricks and the way he excelled on athletics tracks across the world. She decides to go on a road trip in Namibia following the footsteps of this track champion. Confronted with the discovery of the genocide of native people at the hands of the German colonialists, she comes face-to-face with her demons and her dreams. In doing so, she is able to heal her scars. The reading is in French with English subtitles and will remain available through September 14. On September 13 at 2:00 p.m. Penda Diouf and Artistide Tarnagda will host a live conversation via Zoom in French.

Exclusively for Seuls en Scène 2020 audiences, French theater artists Sandy Ouvrier and Astrid Bayiha will read a few of their favorite tragic scenes by Jean Racine, centered on unrequited love. The recorded readings, Fragments Racine, will be available starting September 12 at 2:00 p.m. through September 20. The readings will be presented in French.

5 kids seated on white bench by giant toy figures of mom + dad

Cast of La dispute from the recorded live performance, photo by Yohanne Lamoulere / Tendance floue

Far from any Marivaux-like literary flourishes, La dispute brings us words spoken in a direct, unflinching way on the subject of marital dispute and separation. Given that they are the ones best placed to talk about it – though rarely listened to – writer and director Mohamed El Khatib invited children of parents who have split up to take the stage and share their points of view, based on interviews conducted over several months with around 100 eight-year-olds from different backgrounds. The ‘real’ has always played the leading role in the works of El Khatib. Considering no area of investigation out of bounds, he prefers lived experience to expertise, source to digression, and personal account to professional analysis. El Khatib presents a far cry from the alarming pictures painted by psychologists, jurists, and sociologists in relation to the effects of divorce on the lives of children. Through his interviews with these children, El Khatib explores how children are affected by the decisions of their parents, asking: What words do they put to this crucial event occurring in the early stages of their lives? How do they view this breaking of a sentimental engagement that they always thought was unconditional? Did they guess it was going to happen? Had they taken sides? Caught up in the ruins of this dissolution of the family unit, how do they, themselves, rebuild their lives? What questions had they always dreamt of asking their parents? This latest work by El Khatib, written through the prism of childhood, treads a delicate path between audacity and discretion, emotion and mischievousness, and offers us a unique insight into a universal subject in society. The recording of this live production, in French with English subtitles, will be available starting September 13 at 5:00 p.m. and remain available on-demand through September 16. A live conversation in French with El Khatib will be hosted via Zoom on September 16 at 4:45 p.m.

2 people seated at long table by curtains with tv screen overhead

Cast of Le Grand Débat from Rituels 1, 2, 3 & 4 from the recorded live performance, photo by P h.Lebruman

Rituels 1, 2, 3 & 4 will be presented on September 15 starting at 5:00 p.m. and remain available on-demand through September 19. Using archival material and documentary inquiry as her starting point, Émilie Rousset’s performative research projects explore theatrical potential in the gap between original documentation and its representation. She has collaborated with filmmaker Louise Hémon on the Rituels series, an evolving collection of films and performances which probe the rites of society by drawing upon the respective codes of theater and documentary cinema. Le Grand Débat recreates a televised debate using a collage of archives from presidential debates taking place between 1974 and 2017 through three short films and a recorded performance with humor an essential component. Recorded live at the Festival d’Automne in French with English subtitles, the mechanism of the TV studio set and the codes of the live broadcast are brought to the stage in Le Grand Débat. Sitting opposite each other at a table, two actors, Emmanuelle Lafon and Laurent Poitrenaux, reenact these fragments before the audience and the cameras. This final debate, a mix of rhetoric and adrenaline, has a filmic language all of its own, in addition to its own editing principles, decor and media-based history. With its extremely codified rules, this event is a true ritual of modern times. But is it a ritual for democracy or for television? The dividing line may be a fine one. A recorded conversation in French with Rousset and Hémon will be presented on September 18 at 4:45 p.m.

man with brown pants and blue jacket with hands outstretched to show way

Babacar M’Baye Fall in the recorded live performance of Rémi, photo by Marc Domage

In Rémi, Jonathan Capdevielle tackles Hector Malot’s Sans famille, a vibrant classic of French literature and his first production aimed at audiences young and old. Based on this rite-of-passage novel, the show recounts the uplifting events in the life of the title character, an orphan sold to a warm-hearted artist. Little by little, the sound in this immersive adaptation makes the act of listening an increasingly important element of the production, paving the way for the shift from image to audio fiction. Childhood, memories, relationships with our origins, our family, and the way in which these elements shape — in part — the individual, have always played an important role in shows by this author, director and actor. Capdevielle is a graduate of the Ecole supérieure nationale des arts de la marionnette school of puppetry and a performer in several productions by Gisèle Vienne. Rémi, the young hero, played by Dimitri Doré in this recorded live performance, is forced to head off into the unknown in search of a new life, always managing to emerge from adventures of the darkest kind with a mix of optimism and determination. It is this bravery, of an almost systematic nature, which convinced Capdevielle to adapt the story for the children of today. The art of spectacle and a love of music occupy a central place in the figure of Vitalis, the street musician and dog tamer, a role which Capdevielle confers to Babacar M’Baye Fall. The actors Jonathan Drillet and Michèle Gurtner play several roles, using a combination of costumes and masks, including Capi the dog and Joli Coeur the little monkey. This event is family-friendly and suitable for all ages and presented in French with English subtitles. Rémi will be available September 18 at 5:00 p.m. through September 20 and is suitable for children/family audiences. A live conversation in French with Capdevielle will be hosted via Zoom on September 20 at 3:00 p.m.

Seuls en Scène is programmed in collaboration with Festival d’Automne in Paris. Since 1972, the Festival d’Automne à Paris has been assisting artists internationally by producing and presenting their work in contemporary theatre, music, dance, visual arts and cinema at cultural venues throughout Paris. This edition of the Festival will also continue partnerships with New York City French cultural organizations and institutions, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, the Education Department of the French Embassy, and the French American Cultural Exchange Foundation.

L’Avant-Scène anticipates a virtual season of programming with Masse planning to direct students in a number of plays starting with On ne badine pas avec l’amour by Musset in October 2020 and followed by Le Malade imaginaire in late winter 2021.

Masse, who curates the Festival, was trained as an actor and director at Lille National Theater alongside his studies in American Literature and Civilization at the University of Lille. He later pursued his theater studies at Amherst College as a Levy-Despas Fellow and a teaching assistant in the Department of French. It is there that he originated L’Avant-Scène, a program that combines language and dramatic training. He has directed more than 60 full-length productions of canonical and new works of French theater since arriving at Princeton in 2001 and has hosted several prominent theater artists. In 2017, he was named Chevalier of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.

The Festival is being presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts, the Department of French and Italian, and L’Avant-Scène. Additional support is provided by Princeton University’s Department of French and Italian, Humanities Council, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Study (PIIRS), Department of Art and Archaeology, Department of Comparative Literature, Program in Contemporary European Politics and Society, Center for French Studies, and Rockefeller College. Other sponsors include Festival d’Automne in Paris, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, the Education Department of the French Embassy, Institut français, and the French American Cultural Exchange Foundation.

Registration on Eventbrite is necessary for the live conversation with artists via Zoom (with Marion Siéfert/Mathieu Bareyre, Penda Diouf/Aristide Tarnagda, Mohamed El Khatib, and Jonathan Capdevielle. Registered guests will receive a Zoom invitation by email the day of the conversation. The conversation with Emilie Rousset and Louise Hémon will be pre-recorded and available on the website directly on September 18 at 4:45 p.m. This conversation and all other programming are available on-demand.

As noted, several of the presentations will have subtitles in English via captions. Patrons in need of other access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at 609-258-5262 or for assistance at least two weeks prior to the selected event.



View the French Theater Festival schedule and all event details »

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