A (Micro) Interview with Pascal Rambert, Transcribed
Director Pascal Rambert talked to Sampsonia Way about creating and directing his performance of A (micro) history of world economics, danced. City of Asylum’s Pittsburgh production of the show occurred on June 5 and 6 at the New Hazlett Theater.
A (micro) history has been performed in Paris, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, and Cairo. Each performance is recreated with local participants determining the direction of the production. In Pittsburgh, (micro) history involved members of the disability community: people with disabilities, their friends, family members, caregivers, and other advocates.
Pascal is the artistic director for Théâtre de Gennevilliers, a national center for contemporary performance located near Paris, France. In 2012, his Love’s End won the “Best New Play” award from the French Drama Critics’ Association.
This interview took place on May 26, 2015, at the beginning of the community workshops that were eventually written into the final performance.
In the different cities where you have performed A (micro) history of world economics, how has location influenced the way people express themselves? How does the way people express themselves in Cairo compare to the way they express themselves in Los Angeles or Pittsburgh?
When they created the performance in 2010 at my theater in Paris, Gennevilliers, the [financial] crisis in America hadn’t eaten France. By 2015, it blasted Europe, especially France. This effect is visible. In Germany, I did a version [of the performance] in Hamburg. The audience was very wealthy. The effect of the show was not the same [as] when I did it in New York a year and a half ago. It is so difficult to make a living as an artist in New York, so the theater was full of artists. I could see that their bodies were [leaning into] the show because they wanted to get something out of what was said, philosophically and economically.
Recently, in Cairo, [the performance] was not just about economics, or philosophy, or theater, or dance, but something about life. Cairo had a revolution in 2011. Watching the show and participating in it made it possible to say things which were not being said in a public space.
I’m going to do A (micro) histoire in Bangkok exactly a year from now. Thailand is a dictatorship. Everybody goes to the beach, but it’s a dictatorship. When I was there a few months ago to prepare the work, all the young artists I met were like: “We can’t talk. We can’t talk. We can’t.” So in a certain way this show permits a lot of expression, not for me–because I express enough– [but] it creates a frame, and inside it people can express things.
When you go to different locations, do you also see your self-expression affected by the change in environment?
The theater I do is conceptual, based on the body and human beings. It is not a theater where people are performing; I hate that. It’s something quite cold. I try to see them as I am talking to you now. I like to be in front of human bodies, human skin, human thoughts, and give the possibility to those people to be seen and to be heard in an artistic way.
Artists and people who have worked with me in other countries have told me that the show changed the way they saw theater. Even in New York, where a lot of things are shown from all over the world, [the reaction] was: “Ah! We have never really seen this way of bodies on a stage before.”
The impact of the work is not always immediate. Some of the artists from 2010 are still talking to each other. I love this non-artistic thing continuing like life: I work for life and I love life. The thing continues to live. The effects are not visible immediately, but theater can change the world a lot.
How do you explain theater’s impact on the world?
There is a big pain. We are in a moment of our history which is quite stressful, quite difficult. Even in a wealthy place like America, people go through struggles and difficulties.
Day by day [in the performance], things are being built. There are a lot of people [who say], when I talk to them, they always wanted to be a dancer, or they always wanted to be an actor, or they always wanted to be a writer. Life decided in a certain way that it would not happen. People got married, they had kids, and whatever. I don’t judge that.
I know that there is an urgent need for art and maybe just nice moments. Out of the family circle, I think people really need to be proud of being something. It’s important to do things together. We can be proud of [making] a cake but if I just eat the cake by myself, who cares? The thing is to give the cake to somebody and share it.
What can community members bring to this performance that professionally trained performers cannot?
When you work with a trained dancer, their body is totally conceived and made for dance. I like people with bodies that are not trained for things. I am not a big fan of specialists in life. I like when people are more on the side of not being sure. There is an emotional aspect. For instance, last night [I was looking at] one of our performers, a big guy, [built] like a carpenter or something. I was looking at him reading a text, and I could have taken him and put him in one of my shows or in my film because the body is right. Everything is coordinated in a nice way. At the same time, he is not a professional and there is a beauty in that.
All those people bring their own experience. The fact that they don’t know how to dance: I love that. If they don’t know how to sing it’s even better. They don’t know how to act. Please, do not act. Just be. This gives to the performance something that I am looking for: the true life of things, not the fake.
The group is a beautiful group in Pittsburgh. Some of them can’t hear or can’t see and have developed other methods of perceiving life. I think [the performance] is going to be very rich. I felt this richness last night [at the first rehearsal].
You say that this piece is not political, but is it a piece of activism for you?
Yes, but in a way that I don’t put the label “political” [or] “activism” on it. The process is political. If we achieve working every single night for two weeks on a common project, which is the case now, trying to create beauty; if everybody is singing at the same time, dancing at the same time, writing, there is a kind of equality in the work.
For me this is a metaphor of how people can work together. Art permits that. We work for beauty, for intelligence, we work for something so we can show to the audience that it is possible to do things in different languages, with or without disabilities, even in a country where it’s difficult to talk, like in Egypt. Here, the people who are in wheelchairs or with [other] disabilities, they know that too. They know that they want to go to a place in themselves where they never imagined they could go. For me, this is so very political.
What kind of social changes would you like to come out of A (micro) history?
You never know. I’ve been doing theater for 45 years. Sometimes people come and tell me that they saw something in 2001, or ’95, or ’82, and I think: Wow that was another time. The effect can happen two years later, 10 years later, 20 years later. It’s not something that you can tell is going to change.
With people here in Pittsburgh, some of them will see something in 10 years. I’m not working to be efficient immediately. I have time. The art of theater is the art of time, and I have all the time. There is no rush for a vision to take place inside somebody and grow.
Putting this work together in Pittsburgh, which has an industrial history, do you see capitalism manifest in your performance?
In the performance, we don’t [critique] capitalism as bad. The political statement is more about how it is possible to create beauty for a temporary community that we have formed for the show.
I think people know that capitalism is awful. We show that there are other ways to think about economics. The credo today is to show that there is just one way to trade. We are showing, in the performance, how many ways of doing economics are possible. Because we open these things in the mind of people as a possibility, maybe we can do it in another way. Maybe we can change. If the show has an impact, it is this one: the clear view that there is not just one road for economics, which is the road we are on right now, of capitalism. There have been other roads through the centuries.
When I talk with people after the show, that’s what they all say: “So there are other ways?” Yes, there are other ways. Of course there are other ways.