The theatre is thriving around the globe and extraordinary companies are making theatre happen. In delving into these diverse theatre communities, maybe we can start to notice the universalities and trends that unify us in a world that’s sometimes too easily content in its divisiveness.
Destination: Annecy, France
Annecy is a beautiful alpine town situated on Lake Annecy in southeastern France, 50 miles from Lyon and close to the borders of Switzerland and Italy. The town is known for its Old Town, with cobbled streets and winding canals. The main artistic draws are film and theatre festivals, including the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and the Coup de Theatre Festival, which is where the production for this article made its debut.
Theatre: District 41
District 41 formed around their current production of The Wolves (US/UK). “The idea of forming a theatre company had been tossing around in my mind for several years in a passive way, and The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe propelled that company into existence,” said director Kady Duffy. “What initially drew me to the play was the idea of translating it into French with my teenage daughter, giving us a creative project where we could explore relevant themes in our lives and in our relationship to one another through the lens of the play.”
Kady came up with the name to reference her one-room primary school house in rural Nebraska.
“The school encouraged students to deeply explore the topics that interested us, igniting our curiosity and exposing us to a world of infinite possibilities, and infinite questions. The mission of District 41 is to aspire to the words of James Baldwin: “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.” Kady has worked closely with Le département théâtre du Conservatoire d’Annecy since 2016 and was able to assemble a group of students for a read-through which led to a full production and the new theatre company.
Production: The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe
The Wolves is the story of an American girls’ soccer team (or “football team” in Europe) navigating big questions about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “As an American, I have a totally different read on the play than the French actors that I am working with,” said Kady. “They have access to universal healthcare, an egalitarian approach to public education, access to free higher education, readily available family planning resources. In our work we have spent a lot of time around the table where I explain to them why these freedoms are not to be taken for granted. And maybe that’s something for a French audience to take away: protect these basic rights.”
The show was produced at the Coup de Theatre outdoor theatre festival where the audiences are encouraged to pay what they can. Due to Covid-19, audience members had their temperatures taken upon arrival, were seated at a 3-foot distance to other spectators, wore masks the entire show, and had to provide contact details so that they could be reached if another member of the audience declared a case of Covid-19 in the week that followed. “It’s a lot more than we usually ask of audiences, but they were engaged—laughing, crying, and appreciative. It was a cathartic experience for the actors and I believe for the audience as well,” said Kady. “In particular, a moment of shared joy and grief where the loss of one of the play’s character’s became a social mourning for those we have lost to this pandemic, and at the same time a social celebration where we could all come together again.”
The production took advantage of the outdoor setting to create a unique experience for an audience, including taking advantage of the lack of blackouts by using the transition time to announce scenes, and using the audience to create what is supposed to be an indoor soccer dome by weaving in and out of the aisles with their ball drills. Having any theatrical outlet during Covid-19 is a blessing, and the outdoor option was very successful—especially since a number of festivals and theaters needed to cancel planned summer productions to keep audiences safe. “In France, people who work in theatre, cinema and television have government-subsidized salaries, and the government is maintaining those benefits in the face of this crisis. It is not a perfect system, but in times like these it has ensured that artists can continue to create without having to worry about where the next meal is coming from.”
District 41 is looking to continue their performances of The Wolves sometime in the near future and are actively looking for their next production.
“There are universal themes in The Wolves that are relevant, tied to our humanity and not our nationality. How do the tribes we subscribe to (or succumb to) shape us? Why are the relationships we forge during our rite of passage from childhood to young adulthood often life long and extremely formative? The overarching message of the production I’m directing is that structural inequalities depend on ignorance and inertia to persist. They are the fault of no one in particular, and yet they are the responsibility of us all. For now, District 41 is looking for plays to challenge us on an issue that’s close to our community and where we thought we had all the answers.”
(photo: Florence Grandidier.
Actors L-R: Élise Messerli, Clémentine Przybyla, Christelle Charmier, Adèle Giraud, Agata Kazmierska, Charlotte Leroy, Marie-Aurélie Penarrubia-Marcos, Eline Matherion, Lucille Guenat.)