A cartoon-like direction
For the second phase of production at Woubilis, we talk to Fabrice Murgia, recent recipient of a Lion d’Argent award from the Venice Biennial Festival. We managed to snatch twenty-four minutes of chit chat and innovative ideas from this producer who is ever hungry for new ways of reinventing things.
How do you cope with the challenge of bringing so many different disciplines together in one show?
It’s what I’m used to doing in the other areas I’m involved in like theatre, music and video. Although in this particular case, it’s about working with different types of production, including circus direction and the musical scores on which the duration of each scene depends.
Kris will concentrate his energies on the show, the music will express something not necessarily expressed in the libretto, and the production needs to tell its own version of the story too.
What are you hoping to get across through the theme of immigration?
We’re hoping to convey the idea of a collective through the number of people present on stage, through the energy generated by the music and script, and by the way in which the performers behave- some running, some hanging around, others left abandoned at the side of the road… At a certain moment, a strong sense of hope will be provided by a girl trying to climb up a wall – a kind of barrier or frontier, past a group of people beating themselves with barbed wire. Laurent wanted to convey the idea of the serenity of passing over to the other side, of a father letting go, of passing out of this world into a magnificent Utopia. It’s a very poetic moment, like the moment when we see the bodies in the water which is a reference to the thousands of people who drown each year.
How does the stage set help to create the atmosphere you’re looking for?
We’ve based things around the idea of a wall which moves towards the audience during the show, and which symbolizes the desire to separate the genteel neighbourhood of the opera from a mountain of detritus corresponding to a very different world.
I wanted to create the image on stage of a barrier with people calling out for help on one side, and people comfortably seated on the other.
What were your main objectives for this second phase of production at Wolubilis?
I’ve made some modifications to the décor and to my ideas for the sequencing of the circus acts. I’ve also really thought about the characters, the acrobats in terms of who they are and how they move. We’ve fixed ourselves a target of two sequences per day. For the final few days it’s a question of repeating each acrobatic sequence five or six times because I need to see the circus performers working flat out for a period of twenty minutes straight. One of the most unique features of a circus performance lies in the ability of the artist’s body to imprint and become totally familiar with a movement. This is what determines accuracy and quality.
What are you doing in preparation for when the singers and musicians join the acrobatic team in August?
Much of the show’s energy will be conveyed by the musicians and the music. For the singers I’m preparing a kind of parallel narration. They often have to mingle on stage with the acrobats, but I really want to avoid them being just people standing around the acrobats gesticulating or singing, so there’ll be scenes which are dedicated purely to singing, without acrobatics, and vice versa, but with music playing all the time. I’ve just got to get the balance right.
I like the dimension that we’re currently adding to things: we’ve created something which is both fluid and sharp, incorporating different layers into the set with things happening simultaneously at the back and front of the stage.
Where do all the images that you use in the production come from?
I open a drop box and anyone who wants to can drop images into it. I look for colours and materials like peat- red earth, an important element linked to what I know about Africa from my visits there. I never try to reproduce an image; I just compose it like a painter. I also have to think about how to manage the geometry of certain spaces- I’m fond of large spaces. It’s like a moving canvas, and the opera itself is almost like a cartoon because of the music.
You’ve also defined your approach as being “cinema-theatre”
Parallel narration works with images and the way in which we film moving bodies.
I like films like Flamenco and Pina, where you understand the dance by really getting into the intimacy of the performance; you can almost feel for yourself the effort that the dancer or acrobat is making. And that’s the objective of the cameras in this production: to show another point of view; we see things through the eyes of the acrobat and this helps us to add an element of danger to the performance.
How do feel about being awarded the Lion d’Argent?
I’m happy! Lots of people say that the work I do isn’t really theatre, or that it lacks content. People have no problem reading and understanding the message in comic strip books about immigration, but in the theatre, if you show pictures or images without an accompanying narration from an actor, people think that you’ve got nothing to say. I’m just trying to stimulate people’s imagination. I received the award for the contribution I’ve made towards reinventing writing design for the theatre.
I’m sure it’ll shut a few people up too!
This post is also available in: French