Photo: Martin Argyroglo
Photo: Martin Argyroglo

Could you, please, tell us something about the title, Farm Fatale? And how did you come up with such a “juicy” title? The main role belongs to a community of scarecrows. How important is community in your performances?

- Yes, that’s a good question. And in fact, I really start with titles. I entertain ideas for a few months, or a few years before I really write titles and we really invent the show during the rehearsals, with the team, with the actors. The title of this show is Farm Fatale and I really wanted to explore this problem of ground, the problem of agriculture, of pesticides, GMO, farmers, and the difficulty to really define what we eat. Moreover, many birds have disappeared in the past few years, so that became one of the topics, too. Of course, my work always raises questions of the relationship between human and nature, the end of the world, and of ecological problems, but in this show again it`s a group of people, I mean scarecrows, but it still is a community. Because I always like this power of the group on stage, the joint potential to find a way to experiment with new perspective or to share a topic. In this performance, those five scarecrows are also a band, because music is very important in my theater. Music sets the atmosphere. And music is a nice art which brings people together, just like dance or theater. That`s why I consider Farm Fatale a musical. I transformed voices of actors. They seem like puppets, but all these scarecrow figures are also nostalgic. Scarecrows disappeared from this planet because birds are gone. What they say in the show is “No birds no job”. And if we don`t care about the planet and the Earth, for sure, the destruction will continue. For a few years now, I have been thinking that the end of the world is near, and the feeling over these two years, with the Covid and this pandemic or fake pandemic, has made thinking about it not urgent but necessary (смех). Because we have really entered strange times in which many things seem too late. Politicians and governments haven’t been concerned for quite some time now. All scientist, good sociologists, they have been aware of this problem for over thirty or forty years. And the industrialization and capitalism create so much trouble and they don`t care. The planet is crazy. So, on stage also, I always try to work in a special smooth tempo. And my actors in general are calm, friendly, like a utopic community, because it is theater, where you can be happy together.

It’s beautiful what you have just said, because Bitef Festival is this year dedicated to the environment and the problems it faces. Moreover, the festival is trying to raise awareness. How important is ecology in your other performances? Would you say it is your main topic?

- Yes, I started in 2003. That was my first show. I think that has been my only topic for almost 20 years. The relationship between human and nature, and not only humans, but also how to observe or create new links, to connect all the species together. The vision of humans is not the only one that matters. I was also curious to work with stones, with moles, with dogs, we need new ways new perspective, new, new (laugh) But in my show, we never save the world, it`s most of the time a community that worries about the future, and then try to survive or create a new artistic group. In Farm Fatale it`s a community of scarecrows but they are also artists, they play music, sing, they have their own radio project, they record good things on the planet. They want to create archives for future generations. Yes, it’s my topic. In the history of theater, we have so many authors. Shakespeare was brilliant about power, kingdom, the relationship between father and son, or family, rich and poor. I feel my way is just to try to put simple groups on stage. Sometimes people say it`s a bit childish group, but why not? Because when you are young, you are more utopian, and we need to trust children more because they know more and are more instinctive. And it’s not the case just in France, but everywhere in the world. For sure, dream is important for humans. I cannot say that once you are older than ten, you have no more dreams, but the society changes your dreams. And capitalism changes you, for sure, more liberalism, and in more and more countries also the war and the migrant crisis, it`s a really difficult planet. I am not sure if humans really want to save this planet. Apparently not. (laugh) But in my shows, yes, I think I manage from time to time. I like when the spectator or the audience manage to connect with us and the feeling we bring onto the stage. I mean after the shows they say sometimes oh, I want to live with these scarecrows, I want to play with them. That`s very important connection for me. Because in the show, I don`t work with the tragedy, about conflict, some other authors deal with those topics.

You have mentioned the word “community” several times, so I would like to mention your theatre lab Vivarium. It’s, in a way, your own baby, you’ve raised it yourself. Tell us something about the beginnings, how you created it. How important is it for young actors to belong to such a theatre lab and to have some kind of haven where they are free to explore?

- I come from visual arts, which is why set design is very important, the image. And the theater is a good art to work together. When I started, I was also set designer for choreographers and directors, so that`s why I know actors, people from circus, people from dance. As for my company, when I decided to create my first show, I had a clear feeling I should invite different kinds of artists. Both amateurs and professionals. The repertoire of my company consists of many shows with amateurs. I don`t like the term “normal people” but I don’t think it is necessary and important to study acting. With three actors from Farm Fatale, I have worked for twenty years, and it`s nice to grow together, to search. Although we don`t have the system like Germany, with permanent actors, we have a big chance to travel a lot with shows and it`s so exciting to present the work to different cultures. I am super curious to see the reception tonight, I don`t know, sometimes people don`t laugh, and why not, sometimes they are melancholic because of the topic, and I am really curious.

You enjoy creating dreamy, post-apocalyptic worlds. Is it related to young Philippe who used to collect bugs when he was a little boy, to put them in a box and observe them like in a symbolic little theatre?

- O yes, and I think it’s also nice to simply have fun in the theatre, to explore the magical aspect of it. Sometimes I compare stage with drawing and painting, and aesthetics of the stage and theater is a very important part. I also work with sound, with light, theater doesn’t consist only of actors, it`s text sometimes, sometimes the feeling with special sounds, you can rely on various things when you make theatre. When the topics are a bit terrible or tragic, like the end of the world, the problems with ecology and destruction, it`s sad. In this piece, they talk a lot about suicide, how it is difficult to resist the GMO, and pesticides, so that is why I need this joy in images. I like that you said “dreamy”, yes that`s it. Dreamy. Dreamy because we are not in the real world.

How do you treat the audience? How important is it for the creation of your performances?

- All the time I say, in my theater you need to be relaxed, it`s more like theatre - terrarium. It`s not an exhibition, but actors most of the time don`t play frontal at the audience. You can observe them and it`s a microcosm, it`s a micro world, it`s an ecosystem on stage. It`s not a zoo but I like this situation with frontal. They are alive on stage, they are a group. It`s also entomological in a way, it`s like a terrarium. That`s why the company name is Vivarium.

What was the first thing you created in Farm Fatale?  Costume, music, mask, stage design? Where did the idea develop from?

- I really start with the group, with the performers but sometimes we don`t know the set, it`s a totally new mission.  Sometimes, I have in mind the general landscape. For Farm Fatale, I had a clear feeling that it is super important to work with masks and transform the reality, in order to talk about this hard and sad topic. This show is a bit special, they had masks from the very first day. It’s like a fable. It’s a process, and I like to compare it with partiture - music sheet, because light, sound, words, positions, energy, it`s a composition.

Do you rely on a specific acting technique in each of the performances, or you have your own?

- No, there is no technique. Maybe in France there is press and media who tell I use non-theater, I don`t know terminology… But for sure, I’ve been going more after a clown technique for years. Because the world is so stressed, I don`t know, I need more special figures. Like five scarecrows with these strange costumes.

I will not hold you up since you have to get ready for the performance, but there’s something I’m curious about. I have heard that you recycle your props. Could you tell us a bit more about that? That is truly amazing.

- Look, sometimes my work is with big set, big landscape. Tonight, it’s a white curtain and haystacks. I like this recycling method. I work with a fixed group, regular friends - actors, authors, sound and light designers as well.  We all try not to dispose of things as much as we can. I also try to play as long as possible. With some shows like The Melancholy of Dragons or The Serge Effect we have been on tour for the past ten years, and I feel Farm Fatale is really on its way and I am super happy. This show premiered in 2019 in Munich at Kammerspiele and it`s amazing, because afterwards, the world has entered in this Covid-year 2020, but in this show, the masks and everything what’s in it, was in there before.

So, you predicted what was about to happen?

- It`s easy to predict the end of the world, you have so many possibilities (laugh). The possibilities for artistic interpretations of the end of the world are endless. Art cannot change the world, but it is so important to connect poets, artists and scientist. The future is not in the hands of politicians, it`s clear. We need different approach and awareness of what we want to preserve, defend.

Thank you for your time, I hope you will have a great performance, and good luck with your career. And, come again to Bitef!