Director’s Note : Sophie Bessie
  1. World theatre – New trends

Theatre like other forms of arts constantly responds to the evolution of the society. Some directors will embrace the changes and some others will not. There are quite a few new trends, but the two that strike me in recent works I’ve seen are the use of space/stage and the use of new technology.

Many artists now prefer to stage in environments away from the theatre, apparently

extending  the performance beyond the artistic space, trying to include it more in reality.

A lot of directors broke the idea of a stage; they created street performances, site-specific shows or what one calls immersive theatre. They create and perform their shows in unconventional indoor or outdoor or spaces like a church, a tube station etc and the audience is often evolving in the space alongside the actors. Punchdrunk is one of the lead companies in terms of immersive theatre. Their show is not so much about the narrative anymore as the audience wonders around the different spaces in no specific order, but it’s more about being completely immersed in the atmosphere of the play, deciding in your own time when and where you want to go. The audience is apparently more active, creating its own experience of the play that will be very different from one audience member to the other.

The other big challenge has been the evolution of our society in terms of multimedia and new technology. The role of video designer has become increasingly common in theatre when it was hardly known a decade ago. Shows around the globe have been embracing the latest digital technology like 3D projections, stop-motion camerawork and computer animation. Robert Lepage (French Canadian), is the pioneer. In the Uk, Katie Mitchell is the specialist in terms of directing multimedia projections; she explains that she got bored of mainstream theatre and the way they organise narrative with consecutive scenes and lots of words. She was interested in exploring something more actual that, she reckons, would reflect more our society and our lives. Something slightly more chaotic using multimedia and projection. Many in the theatrical community have openly attacked the work of video designers, saying that it distracts the audience, breaking the spell of the performance. It’s a tricky question. Theatre has to evolve with the society, we now use lighting desks and not candles anymore (apart from historic venues like The Globe theatre that specifically cherish Shakespearian times and will put on plays as they were originally performed). But I guess we have to make sure that new technology will serve the actor’s performance and not suffocate him. We shall never forget what  Peter Brook said ” The relationship between the actor and the audience is the only theatre reality.”

In this vein, some directors like Ivo Van Hove who is called an ultra-modern minimalist, mastered the use of new technology using very sophisticated lights and set but in a very sober way, always highlighting the actor’s performance. His mise en scene of “A view from the Bridge” is by far my favourite production.

  1. The place your theatre troupe occupies in this milieu

I am the founder and Artistic Director of PSYCHEdelight theatre company, I trained in both drama and therapy and I mainly do what we call in the Uk “social theatre” or “applied theatre”. It means that I use drama as a social tool to help expression and promote integration. I combine social world and theatre; other theatre companies do that as well such as Clean Break, Sinergy, Cardboard Citizens and many others. I run drama workshops but also create new work to help raise awareness on social issues. I worked with women in prison for 6 years, running drama workshops there for under 18y. In 2011, I wrote and directed a play called “A Woman inside”. Half of my cast, including one of my lead actresses, were trained at Clean Break, a charity teaching drama to women ex-offenders or at risk of offending. This was my first experience working with a mixed group that would involve performers whose lives had been directly affected by the topic of the play and some who had not. I reiterated this experience for “Borderline” with this time a cast of 13. In both cases, I was very interested in mixing people because it was the major theme of the play. Exclusion. Exclusion as a prisoner, exclusion as an asylum seeker. The two statuses and backstories are completely different of course, but there is a common theme: How do you find a place again in the society, how will people accept you. That’s why I was very interested in the theme of your festival “theatre of the Marginalized”. How do you take people out of the marge and put them (back) on the page? For me, it made complete sense to incorporate this challenge in the composition of the cast itself and not only in the narrative of the play. Can we work together? Can we listen to each other, understand each other even though we don’t speak the same language? Can our differences become strengths that will enrich our work rather than separate us? Can we create a theatre troupe, an ensemble, this famous “complicite” with such a diverse group? Honestly, It was not always easy for me as a director at the beginning (and surely for the performers as well!). Even though it’s thrilling, diving in a devising period, without a script to hold on to, always has an element of anxiety and stress. With 13 people who had very different experiences, needs and expectations regarding the play, it was a real challenge and a huge responsibility: To give space to everybody’s voice and skills and link them into one common artistic piece.

Luckily I had a clown facilitator with us called Frank Wurzinger for the first 2 weeks of the 6 weeks devising period. He helped hugely in exploring playfulness and physical theatre which was very useful to break the language barrier when we started creating the play.  But more importantly, everyone was very driven and keen. They all wanted it to work and went many times beyond their comfort zone to meet the other. To see the work through his lens. Our best review was to be shortlisted for the community integration award. We now know, yes it’s possible and they did it

3. As a director your own views on new approaches to theatre and how future should look like.

I go to the theatre to be touched and inspired. They are obviously many genres but I like thought-provoking plays; I like to be challenged with new ideas and surprised by a creative mise-en-scene. Theatre is very raw, deeply human and for me, it’s a treat as an audience member to be so close to the actors. This very “intimate” relationship between the actor and the audience that Peter Brook mentions, is for me very precious and a unique opportunity to convey a message directly from a human being to another without any screens or filters. Thanks to this connection and through humour, I hope to throw bridges between the performers and the audience. I want to fight misconceptions, to push away the fear of the other. I hope to move people in every sense of the word.

Sophie.Bessie – UK
Artistic Director : Borderline