"QWhat is the importance of concepts such as identity, origin, homeland, "home" in a Europe that has, once already in history, peacefully overcome linguistic and national borders, but is threatened by fear, crises, and risk falling back into nationalism and populism? " They are eight to answer the question. At the same time by the prism of their generation (they are between 25 and 35 years old), that of their profession (they are all actors or dancers), of their geographical and socio-cultural origins (very diversified), of their family inheritances (most have parents or grandparents who have experienced migration), their languages - French, but also Arabic, Portuguese, German, Italian or Croatian. On the set of I Am Europe, they play their own role as young, precarious and mobile European artists in a group portrait framed by Falk Richter. For the first time, this author and German director associated with the National Theater of Strasbourg (TNS), one of the rare playwrights to see his texts translated into nearly 20 languages, worked in a documentary way, by co-writing the testimonies of these young performers crossed at the will of international workshops.
Readers who know a little bit about the work of this quadra doped with the Bourdieu sociology (he quotes Edouard Louis and Didier Eribon as key readings of the last years) know how much the news innervates his works, they which all examine the effect of the neoliberal economic system on our intimate lives, our loneliness and our ways of loving. But I Am Europe occupies a special place in the repertoire of this successful artist, a young emissary of this sometimes refrained dramatic tradition: that of a frontally engaged theater. This time, the piece resonates not only with the present socio-political (it was created partly in France in full emergence of yellow vests) but also testifies to a decidedly salient aesthetic trend (the documentary theater) as much as a sociological problematic that do not give up the theatrical milieu lately: the question of diversity and socio-cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity on the stages and in theaters.
Today, many directors respond to this challenge by making multiculturalism a casting issue as much as the subject of their works, as evidenced by the remarkable artistic epic of All birds Wajdi Mouawad, created with multilingual actors from Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Germany or the United States. In this, and beyond its aesthetic value – which we know almost nothing, the piece is still being created at the time of the discussion that follows – I Am Europe appears in any case as the emblem of an air of time. A tune of the time that, preoccupied by the questions of diversity, sometimes transforms the creation and the tour of a show into a societal laboratory as well as an artistic adventure. Meet.
You center this piece on the relationship of new generations to Europe. Why ask only artists, not young people with varied professional situations?
Because I meet them every day, these young artists of very different origins, with legacies, languages, multiple backgrounds. And it interested me that these theater interpreters, brought to play characters usually, can for once tell themselves intimately. In addition, I wanted a fairly collaborative work, a job where the people whose testimonies I collect are able to write texts, which I then rewrite or develop with them in return. And then the idea was not to do a sociological research on European youth in general.
Is it not also because the young artists of today, often very mobile, experience more than others the question of the European space?
The project started at the Venice Theater Biennale, a utopian workplace where young people from all over the world meet to work, to experiment together, over a set period of time. And one of the reasons I chose to make them testify to them, indeed, is that their real, everyday life is the very image of a utopian Europe. The eight artists that I finally selected work in multiple countries, in several languages, take Easyjet flights, stay in Airbnb apartments, often lead remote love affairs, do not have a fixed home. They are therefore both privileged and precarious because they do not earn a good living in this Europe. But it offers them the luxury of mobility, a daily crossing of cultural and linguistic boundaries. So they form both the metaphor of a "desirable" Europe and live in full this reality. It is in danger today, with the rise of nationalisms, this temptation to close the nation-states. For many of them, the disintegration of Europe would immediately put them at risk, as some have several passports, several mother tongues, have grown up in different countries. Choosing one in which to stay working would be extremely complicated.
From Madrid to Vienna, via Berlin, you worked on this project for four years with a group of about fifty performers. There are eight in the final room. What criteria did you choose?
I wish they were thirty, but economically, it was not possible! I chose those that seemed to me to be the most interesting artists in the workshops. One of the criteria was that they speak French, because we will be shooting a lot in French-speaking countries: in Switzerland, in Belgium, in Luxembourg. Even if the actors say some texts in their own language – for some, it is not so simple, because they do not have only one language but two. I also wanted to have four men and four women, almost as many people who define themselves as homosexuals, that there are also young parents and single people, atheists but also believers . Religion, moreover, had a special importance in the play: some come from Southern Europe with a very strong Catholic culture, others are of Muslim faith.
What kind of questions did you ask them at the beginning of the job?
The first was: "How would you describe your heimat – this difficult German word to translate into French, close to English home – how would you describe the place you liken to your" home "to someone who does not know it? Then I became very interested in the stories of parents and grandparents who, for the most part, have experienced migrations. So there were a lot of questions on this subject, but also, for example: "What trait of your father's character do you not like?" Or : "What is the difference between your own definition of family and that of your parents?"
On political or societal issues, European politics, migratory flows, "cultural identities" and community belonging, have you been surprised at the answers that some have given you? Or is it finally, despite different backgrounds, a homogeneous group of young artists obviously progressive, carriers of values and subjects of indignation that is expected of them?
Indeed, we tend to think of artistic circles uniformly left but, to the extent that I knowingly sought a group with diverse profiles, there were surprises. One of the interpreters, for example, is a young Muslim convert to Catholicism, who leads a very conservative way of life, is chaste, will soon get married and feels marginal in the art world, which is traditionally progressive. On another level, a young woman surprised me by explaining that she had never had a romantic or sexual relationship.
What do they have in common, apart from their job?
Surprisingly, on the intimate plane, the recurring subject was the absence of the father. It concerns six out of eight performers. Then the question of belonging. Many of them have had to experience being a "minority", whether of sexual orientation, origin, confession or political choice. The whole piece does not revolve around questions of identity of course, but it was an important subject since it becomes again very politicized, by the extreme right in particular.
The team of I Am Europe, is it for you the utopian theater troupe in terms of diversity?
I like that the creation of a play serves to bring together people who would not have met otherwise. Even if, we can say, we had a lot of arguments! Especially around religion. And it is also what is very strong: to manage to create together beyond irreconcilable disagreements, by inventing intimacy by other means: that of the plateau and the tours.
You are associated with the Strasbourg National Theater, which has created a preparatory class for drama school competitions to support diversity. What is the state of these reflections in Germany?
In Berlin, the Maxime-Gorki theater is known for wanting to represent in the troupe the diversity of Berlin today. Many of the members of this team have families with an immigrant background. There is also a sort of troop in the troupe, with Syrian refugees for example, or Israelis recently arrived in Germany. This desire to search for new stories and create a new repertoire, I defend a lot. Like Stanislas Nordey (the director of the TNS), where I feel at home when I come to work here, in Strasbourg.
I Am Europe d.s.b. Falk Richter from the 15th to the 24th of January at the National Theater of Strasbourg (67) then on a European tour.