Editor’s Note: Taryn Smith reviewed Letter of Love (The Fundamentals of Judo) Read the full review of Letter of Love here
Trap Door Theatre upcoming world premiere with guest director from France, Aleksi Barrière
Letter of Love (The Fundamentals of Judo) is based on texts by Fernando Arrabal and Yves Klein. It describes itself as "a letter of love, reproach and reconciliation" and combines text with painter Yves Klein to explore the complexities of relationships with those from a different generation.
To learn more about this unique theatrical experience, Picture This Post interviewed guest director Aleksi Barrière
How long have you been working in theatre?
I started acting in plays, writing scripts, devising and directing in my teen years, but my first professional employment was in 2008, so let’s say theatre and I are currently celebrating our Tin Anniversary. I could not wish for a more appropriate feast than the play we are working on now.
Besides directing what other areas of theatre do you work in? How did you know you wanted to pursue theatre?
I majored in humanities and have done a fair amount of dramaturgy, translation and writing work. But theatre is also a strongly visual medium to me, and I have created sets, designs, live video. Music is also something I cherish –although I am no musician myself I work a lot with musicians. So to answer the second question, theatre appeared to me as the medium that can combine all these components into one articulate whole, and the director has the privilege of creating that articulation, which is why I have always been drawn to that specific position.
Can you tell me a bit about your company, La Chambre aux échos?
La Chambre aux échos is a collective I created some years back with Clément Mao-Takacs, a wonderful pianist and conductor who has as strong a craving for theatre as I have for music. Over the years we have brought together people with various talents who as a team create pretty unique artistic objects, ranging from performance poetry and extended concert forms to something like opera.
How do you like Chicago?
Chicago is a wonderful city, with a broad diversity of neighborhoods and atmospheres born from a rich history, which I suppose helps make it such a great city for theatre and the arts –things that only happen when people from different backgrounds mingle and inspire each other instead of working alone at a desk or in a workshop.
Have you ever worked in Chicago before? Did you pick Chicago specifically for this world premiere?
This is my first project in Chicago. It all started with an invitation from the amazing Beata Pilch, the Artistic Director of Trap Door Theatre, who offered I create a new piece for her company, based on the French avant-gardes of the 60s that fascinate us both. I do believe that this piece has something of both Paris and Chicago in it, like a tunnel under the ocean. I first met Trap Door in Paris, while they were touring their production of Regarding The Just by Albert Camus. I found the idea of a group of American actors trying to tackle challenging European texts that are completely foreign to their theatrical education fascinating, and inspiring. And these people have never stopped fascinating and inspiring me ever since.
How do you choose which text you will work with? Why have you chosen to use the works of these two artists?
Beata Pilch was interested in exploring the French legacy with a French director, and so we delved into the avant-gardes of the Left Bank in Paris in the 60s. Those were incredible times, when artists started moving freer than ever before beyond the limits of genres and disciplines. Our focus is on Fernando Arrabal, a poet, and Yves Klein, a painter: both turned towards performance as a way to brings arts together. In this show we hear them tackle, through texts they have written, with the burden of the past to invent a world different from their parents’, without genocide and nuclear bombs. It’s both deeply personal and attached to the collective experience of what it must have been to be a young artist, or person, in those years.
How are they similar? How are they different?
One of the appeals of the project to me was that Klein and Arrabal did in fact never meet, although they shared deep concerns and a neighborhood. Yet they are somehow connected, to start with both are deeply concerned about dealing with the legacy of their parent’s generation, with creating a world without walls, but they address it in comparable but different ways: Klein is influenced by the pared-down aesthetics of zen and judo, that are about a pure pared-down sensory experience, while Arrabal is influenced by the wild and bloody images of mythology, the Bible, medieval tarot cards. However they both aim at the same: the immediate experience of the present and of life, unmediated by alienating conventions.
I see that you frequently used mixed media forms with theatre-will the production use anything like that? How does this work differ from what you’ve done before?
These artists understood that human perception is complex, and that there is little relevance in speaking only to one of the senses, or one part of the emotional or rational mind, through one given convention. As you say this is close to my heart, and we can thank these actors’ talent for helping create a piece that has all sorts of layers of text, movement, sound and image, which I think is what theatre does best. I hope the audience enjoys the treat and the challenge.
How would you describe this work?
It’s a piece of theatre that addresses the complexity of the interplay between generations. Becoming a person (becoming an artist being only an image of that) is not a peaceful process and shouldn’t be considered a given, it is violent by nature and so are also our relationships to the people around us that define it. I think it is a lot about acknowledging the complexity of the world and our own assumptions, to try to take on the individual and collective levels the risk to live, love and create.
Do you relate personally to Letter of Love? Why is this piece important for a contemporary audience?
What I just described is so universal (if not corny!) that it does resonate it me on a daily basis. It also resonates in strong, if always different, ways in all people involved in the project who come into the rehearsal room with their luggage and their dreams. And I suppose it will be intimately, fiercely relatable to anyone. I believe we go to art in order to be triggered. Hopefully we get conversations started here, in the way that good pieces of art do –on any level people find relevant. About how we deal with our past, with our legacy, with our dreams, and with our feelings
What are some of the challenges you faced with this production?
Only good challenges: working with people I didn’t know beforehand, and therefore discovering what the piece was about with them, both in terms of the story it is telling and how we were going to tell it. They have been very graceful about exploring new ways to use space, music and movement, especially the stylized judo combat physical language that we have taken from Klein as a key to theatralize the ambiguity between love and hatred, desire and repulsion that is at the core of any intense human interaction.
Who do you think the best audience is for a play like Letter of Love?
I think a play has to have many layers and entry points, so that everyone can find something in there for her or himself. So I do believe any audience is the best audience, if we manage to challenge their expectations in a way that we all find surprising. They will also probably also challenge our expectations with their feedback, so again I hope there will be a conversation.
What are some of the similarities of working with an American cast/audience versus a European cast/audience? What are some differences?
I love the energy of American actors who are so committed to projects they struggle to make time for, it springs from an urge, the feeling that art is necessary, and the audience can feel that energy that can be life-changing. In Europe that is perhaps taken more often as a given, so we tend to forget the importance of what we are doing. I wish however that this urge could be understood on a larger scale so that artists everywhere receive more support from communities and governments, and therefore have the means to be invested full-time in the democratic conversation and education.
Are there any special challenges that you’ve encountered while working with an American cast and audience?
My French-Finnish pessimism has been challenged by how lovely and kind everyone has been to me.
What’s next for you?
I am starting a new rehearsal process right after we open, in the Studio Theatre of Hamburg’s State Opera, with a wonderful group of young colleagues. A piece by three composers of my generation about collective survival and overcoming fear. Something completely different, but related, I suppose, to the issues we are tackling here: what will it be like to be 30 in 2020, to be 60 in 2050, and to be the kids of these people I belong to, who think they have inherited a broken world?
Halie Ecker and Skye Fort
About the Author
Taryn Smith graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago's BFA Performance program in 2011. After graduating, she co-founded Realize Theatre Group and served as Executive Director for the company. She has filled numerous roles while with RTG both on and off stage including making her playwriting debut with her play America, Inc . She has worked as a stage manage, designer, director, and actor. Outside of the theatre world, Taryn is a licensed massage therapist.
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