Nov 27 - Nov 29, 2016
It seems that the manifestation in 68 continues, the struggles, the pains, and the spirits for a better future.
In 1968, Living Theatre spent four months residing in Avignon, creating, rehearsing, and engaging with the local citizens and artists from around the world. Paradise Now was showed in Festival d'Avignon, but soon was withdrawn from the program due to the dispute within the festival.
Almost 50 years later, we went back to Avignon, tracing back the history of 68 with the same global struggle and pain. We met with Sébastien Benedetto, current director and son of André Benedetto who founded Théâtre des Carmes André Benedetto. Théâtre des Carmes is located next to the Cloître des Carmes where Paradise Now was performed. During the meeting with Sébastien Benedetto, we learned how he carried on his father’s legacy within and outside this theatre. While our conversation was happening, a very nice old gentleman named Christian joined our conversation. He is the photographer for the company, and was a student who stood up and protected the Living Theatre when we were residing in L'Ecole des Beaux Arts and were stoned by protestors.
He told us how Judith and julian beck met with André Benedetto, and had discussions about politics and arts while the company was rehearsing Paradise Now next door. André Benedetto dedicated his entire life to political theatre, creating over 70 pieces in response to the global political issue, from Vietnam War to the labor rights. Christian told us that he remembered clearly how Living Theatre has brought in a very different artistic approach to political theatre. Benedetto applies much of Brechtian theatre techniques whereas Living Theatre integrates Artaud's theatre of cruelty in its works which during the time was rare in France.
After the very nice meeting, we visited the Cloître des Carmes briefly. Avignon, filled with traces of histories and cultural heritages, is now considered one of the most important cities for performing art in the world. We speculated how contemporary theatre performances resonate with these ancient buildings from the Middle Ages. Our amazement by the city and the theatre culture continues. Soon after, we were honored to visit Théâtre des Halles, and met with Alain Timár’s daughter Alexandra. Alain Timar has been adapting classic and modern theatrical works to respond to the subject of identification, and has been an important figure for Off Festival d’Avignon. We met with Alexandra and discussed about theatre reaches out and engage the audience members from different socio-economical status.
Later we discussed the potential collaboration in the near future, and visited the theatre spaces, envisioning different projects there. After the visit of Théâtre des Halles, we continued tracing back the history of 68. One of the fascinating cultural preservation policies is there is a library particularly dedicated to theatre and the festival. The archive covers from the early years of the establishment of the festival till today. Over 30,000 scripts are collected aside from manuscripts, posters, programs, and audio and video of the festival reserved.
This collection of the Maison Jean Vilar has a unique archive for the residency of the Living Theatre there. “Paradise Now,” “Mysteries and Smaller Pieces,” and “Antigone” were the pieces presented in 68 in the festival. The archive contains journals and photos of the rehearsals, of the performances, and of the protests. It was very interesting to see how conflicting the attitude that different press held was. Some celebrated the Living Theatre’s residence and the presence in the festival. The Living Theatre was regarded the representative of the new era, of freedom, and yet was also the riot, the trouble, the disruption.
Reading and investigating these materials, we puzzled the history piece by piece. Yet, magically, although we were tracing our history, it seems that the history has also come naturally to reveal itself for us. An old friend of the library who experienced the 68 came to the library, and was informed of our presence there. He came to tell us an anecdote of why the Living became a controversial presence there. A member of the Living during the time was taking a shower in the middle of the day. His child dashed into the street. He tried to catch his child back as soon as possible. Instead of putting on his clothes, he walked out with a towel around his lower body. Some of his witnesses believed that his action was meant to disturb the peace of the city. Such presence of the half naked body out from misunderstanding soon became the controversial mark, the label of the Living in France. Reading and listening to these stories, suddenly, it is no longer simply a piece of history of the Living, but deeply connected with us with its spirit and commitment. We know, the Living Theatre has not changed and will not change its passion and its mission.
The night slowly falls upon us, urges us to bid farewell to the city. Walking out the castle of Avignon, and looking back, it seemed to have more to tell us. No, these buildings, these people on the streets are not old. They just witnessed the history, the history of living, of Living. This trip of connecting the past, of speculating the past with our present, we know, we don’t just walk away from this city, but towards the future of our presence in the city.