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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Playwright Explores 2005's French Riots in Cutting Ball's "Communiqué n°10"

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Listening to news of the riot in 'Communiqué n° 10' - LAURA MASON
  • Laura Mason
  • Listening to news of the riot in 'Communiqué n° 10'

In France, unlike in the U.S., the suburbs (called banlieues), tend to be poor and predominantly immigrant-based, where racism and police brutality are common. And in October 2005, a group of friends from Arabic and African families were coming home from playing soccer in one of these banlieues, Clichy-sous-Bois, when a few of them hid from police officers in a power station. Three of them were electrocuted, and two of those died. That night riots broke out in Clichy-sous-Bois, spreading to other Parisian suburbs and then to the suburbs of other major French cities.

Samuel Gallet's play, "Communiqué n°10," which closes The Cutting Ball Theater's 15th season, was inspired by the riots and all the history leading up to them and explores the assumptions we make about immigrants and the preconceived ideas we have about their identities.

The Cutting Ball's artistic director Rob Melrose translated the play from the French and is directing this production. Gallet says he and Melrose share a love for August Strindberg's work, and he wanted this play, like Strindberg's work to show a tension between realism and poetry. Gallet spoke with us recently about that tension, writing as an adventure, and how art should add to reality.

Where were you during the riots in 2005? What did you think when you first heard about them?

I was in the Parisian suburbs when the riots started. First, the violence of the situation really affected me, and after I hoped that all this would lead to new ways of talking about the history of France, its immigration, the difficult conditions that a large part of our population have to endure. I was especially shocked by the way the media and most politicians talked about them: they totally ignored political, economical and historical facts or analysis and once again based their communication on fear, angst and confusion of facts and ideas.

What made you think it would be a good play?

I did not think about that at first. I wanted to describe the world I was living in, find a way of expressing the tensions and forces within our society. Even if the play is inspired by the riots, it does not only talk about them. It is not a documentary or historical play on the riots of 2005. It invents its own space and talks about the quest for justice, a place to live, the quest for the others, for meaning. I knew I was on the right path for this play when I came up with the idea of the poetical character of the child and the communiqués de la radio. I felt I was not trapped into realism, I was not only writing about the political and social situation but I was creating a universe with its own forces and contradictions. Art is interesting for me when it goes beyond reality, when it adds to it. I don't know if I managed to do so but it was one of my aims.

Scene from 'Communiqué n° 10' - LAURA MASON
  • Laura Mason
  • Scene from 'Communiqué n° 10'

What do you think the play has to say to an American audience?

I do not know if it has something different to say to Americans and Europeans. It is probably trying to set into motion again some images that are still or dead - a world where one finds it difficult to imagine the future without talking about disasters and cataclysm.

What did you like about working with Rob Melrose and about his translation?

I am very happy that Rob Melrose has shown such an interest in this play. We share the same love for Strindberg's work where naturalism is always mixed with symbolism and fantasy. In "Communiqué n°10" there is a tension in between reality and poetry, and the situations in the play and poetry. I also really enjoy the energy on stage, the strong way in which the actors commit to the fiction and the characters!

What kind of research did you do to write the play and develop the characters?

Of course, I read a lot about French history, political issues, immigration and the French social situation. But I do not start a play by creating characters or inventing a story, a scenario. I always write without knowing where the writing will lead me. Writing is an adventure. One has obsessions, a chaos of images, and sets off on a trip without knowing its destination. There are contradicting desires. One does not write with totally preconceived ideas. I start with bits of poems, descriptions of places and then lines suddenly come, names of characters, whole paragraphs. And so I put all this together, mix it all, share the lines and little by little a fiction is created. And it is only when the work is in good progress that I can understand what I am looking for, trying to tell.

How does "Communiqué n°10" look at the ideas we have about immigrants and about Muslims?

"Communiqué n°10" talks about people trying to shake off preconceived identities that have been forced on them. People trying to be themselves, to invent themselves, to break free from whatever locks them in, and people trying to get back the ownership of their stories. I think the play works against the way people are locked in only one static unchangeable and colorless identity. The way we only allow them to have one characteristic without giving them the possibility to be something else, which is a disease that unfortunately severely affects France and Europe today.

You and a lot of the cast members of the play are young -- how do you think that changes things? Does that mean the play appeals to a younger audience?

I am very happy if younger audiences attend the play but I don't think that "Communiqué n°10" is meant for one age category more than another. All the characters of the play feel lost in the world in which they are living, they don't feel like they belong and they want to meet other people. There are also older characters like Yag or the old man. But age should not be that relevant when it comes to trying to understand the world together. And this is for me, among other things, what theater should aim at.

"Communiqué n°10" opens at the Cutting Ball Theater (277 Taylor Street), May 2 and plays there through May 25. Tickets are $10-$50. For more information, call 525-1205.

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Emily Wilson

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