dimanche 29 novembre 2009


Je ne devrais pas écrire en français, mais c'est la langue qui me vient maintenant. Pourtant, c'est de mon grand-père américain dont je veux parler. C'est lui qui vient de partir.

Je suis allée en Oklahoma ce week-end, pour Thanksgiving. On fêtait les 90 ans d'une de mes grandes tantes, Aunt Marie. J'ai pu rencontrer des membres de ma famille dont j'ignorais jusque l'existence, et je suis éblouie par le pouvoir de ce qu'on appelle "famille". Des personnes ont beau ne pas se voir, ne jamais se voir, il y a quand même quelquechose qui les lie. Pas forcément un lien du sang, parce que les familles se nouent aussi par alliance et par adoption. Mais il s'agit d'un lien qui dépasse l'individu, qui voyage de génération en génération. Si quelqu'un connaissait ma grand-mère, connaissait ma mère, alors, ce quelqu'un me connait, un peu. Si quelqu'un connait ma cousine, et que je suis aussi sa cousine, alors, on est cousines. On ne se connait pas, mais on peut commencer la relation quelque part. En tout cas, ce quelqu'un m'accepte. C'est assez fort, mine de rien.

Ok, English now.
I had never been to Oklahoma, that I remember, so this trip was a first. Although I hadn't been there geographically, I had heard of Oklahoma from different family members. From my grandparents, first of all. Oklahoma was the place where they spent their childhood, and their years as young adults. Oklahoma was the home land. That arid farmland, those endless plains. Now I understand. When we were sorting out my grandparent's belongings when they moved from their house in Richmond, I came across this picture of my grandmother, who couldn't have been more than 6 years old, with her brothers. It's a brown and white picture, but you can still tell that the kids are squinting because of the harsh sunlight. They are barefoot in a dusty garden. My grandmother has a short cotton dress, and my great-uncles are wearing pants and suspenders, and scruffy shirts. Oklahoma farm kids. The dusty soil, and the incredibly bright light. Now I understand.
I remember my mom fondly talking about her paternal grandmother, and I can now imagine how her accent could have sounded. I remember my grandfather talking about the landscapes, and now I have seen them. It wasn't planned, but going to Oklahoma has made sense in the grand scheme of things. As my grandfather passed away, I finally discovered where he came from.

We stopped by OBU, Oklahoma Baptist University, which is basically the family university. My grandfather went there, my mother too, as well as most of my uncles. I heard great things about OBU from my grandfather, since it's the place where he was able to access to higher education, and think about becoming a pastor. It's also the place where he met my grandmother, who was also a student there. I didn't hear such great things about OBU from my mother, or some of my uncles, but - good or bad memories - it remains the place where most of my american family was educated. And when I see the results, I'm thinking that, either they were able to recover from that experience, or OBU taught them some valuable things along the way.

We also made it to Thomas, my mother's birthplace. When I think that she comes from that little town, in the southwest of the USA, I feel slight vertigo... to see where she is now, in Paris, France (and not Paris, Texas - which wouldn't be so far from Thomas!). I'm starting to understand more clearly what she means when she says that she has had "several lives".

And to finish off this Oklahoma hommage, here are a few other photos I took during the trip...
... of my sister on the phone with my mom in Shawnee

... of the old Santa Fe train line sign ( rail no longer in service, unfortunately)

... of the Oklahoma-city skyline.

vendredi 13 novembre 2009

Yes, ok, I do like teaching

Ok, ok, I'll finally admit it: I like teaching. Not just to make an extra buck (tutoring), but just because I like it. That's the scoop.
With Touchstone, I'm involved in education programs where we use theatre as a learning tool. We are currently working with a group of middle-school and high-school kids who have various issues - psychological problems, not able to deal with authority, depression, stuff like that. They really seem to enjoy the course so far. They're responsive, and come up with very interesting ideas, thoughts and confessions. I think we definitely lucked out with our group this year, since all the kids are surprisingly cooperative, but I also think that it has a lot to do with the program's approach. Vicki, Touchstone's education coordinator, is a very calm and tolerant person, and she's the one who structured the course.
During the first few weeks, many theatre games are introduced to encourage group solidarity, listening and responding. Little by little, elements of acting and performance are incorporated in the program, allowing the kids to finally share their own creative works in a showcase at Touchstone theatre. The aim of the program is to get those kids to work together, to help them communicate with each other in a positive way.
By doing this, I'm realizing how important it is to give people - and kids in particular - a chance to express themselves, and a space where they can be taken seriously. And sometimes, school isn't the place where that's going to happen: because there are many kids in a class, there's a curriculum to follow, etc. That's why programs offered by people from the outside, like the ones Touchstone is offering, are so important. It's a way for society at large to say that it cares about these kids beyond the institutional structure of the school. It's also a way for kids to see that they are worthy and smart even if they're not getting good grades.
I wonder how this program would translate in a French school. I'm really very curious about that. Since the French system is so much stricter, so much more regimented, the kids would probably need a time of adaptation. They would have to be assured and reassured that it's okay to express their ideas, it's okay to get up on their feet to play silly games. They would also be told that the program wouldn't be graded, they wouldn't be judged.
I think that such a program would be very beneficial in a french setting, especially for the kids who feel rejected by the school system (and there are many!). There must already be some similar initiatives in France, in banlieue schools or elsewhere, but I'm just not aware of them. Getting information about stuff like that on the internet is not so easy. A lot of actors in Paris supplement their income by doing educational stuff, and also working in prisons, but I don't know how they actually get the jobs... I wonder if there's a structure that organises those missions, or if it's disorganised, "au petit bonheur la chance"... if someone knows something about this, feel free to comment!

jeudi 5 novembre 2009

reconciliations on an opening night

Man, so many things to say! I feel like I should break up all my thoughts into different blog posts, to make everything look neater and less scattered. But I don't think that's what's going to happen. I'll just blurt all the thoughts out and see how that works.
I guess I should start by saying that I'm in the Touchstone offices writing this blog post while the first run of The Tempest is going on. The reason I'm not watcching it is because the house is packed with audience members! And that's pretty exciting. I'll get feedback on the show later tonight, and I'll probably get to see it tomorrow.

This production has been a race for all involved. First and foremost, the actors: three actors playing the ten characters from The Tempest in a quite physical rendition of Shakespeare's play. I was slightly skeptical at first, because it's an abbridged version of Shakespeare, and I think one must always be a little bit weary of Shakespeare "adaptations". But the show really is good, and I'm not saying that only because I participated in making it happen. I saw the dress rehearsal, and I was drawn to the playful quality of the character changes, and the physical rendition of comedy.

It's strange how, once something finally happens, it doesn't really matter anymore how you got to that point. All that matters is that it's all good in the end. These last few weeks were a lot of work, but the memory of how hard we worked is already starting to fade in front of what has been accomplished. That's probably theatre's redeeming factor, and the reason practitionners continue on working their butts off: there's magic there, I'm sure of it.

Zach and I worked on set and costume, and on anything that needed to be done, and that no one else had time to do (mainly, paint, paint, paint). I think this show definitely has gotten us involved in the midst of the company, and we are now seasonned apprentices. I feel like I know the nooks and crannies of this place after having searched - in vain - for black spray paint, which I finally went and purchased at the hardware store. I also searched for fabric, trims, thread and costume pieces in the costume store. I also had a fit of frustration in front of a sewing machine, since I had no way of figuring out how to put the bobin in so that the damn thing would work ( I now know: you don't try to insert the bottom thread in the hole, it does it on its own once activated...!)
I then reconciled myself with sewing by finally figuring out how to use the damn machine, and sewing a belt for one of the costumes (it was a team effort: Lisa, the producing director came up with the design, and I came up with the stitches). I made countless stitches for multiple puppets serving as the spirit Ariel. I also filled condoms with beans to make bean bags that were then attached to light-weight fabric, in order for the fabric to fly from one end of the stage to the other when thrown by the actors. Creativity can be umpredictable!
I think Zach knows the nooks and crannies of the closest fabric store (Joann's) since we went to buy muslin there once, which didn't turn out to be good for the set, so he went back to get burlap, and I think he had already gone once to find samples.

We're learning, so we often have taken longer roads to the solutions, but, in the end, it all worked out, as it most often does. I'm exhausted, but happy (the happiness only kicked in today. Yesterday, I definitely had a different attitude about all things theatre-related).

On a totally different note, I went to New York last week-end, and it was pretty great to be in a city, I have to say. I realised at every step that I'm an urban girl at heart. And as I was sitting in the subway and on the bus, I almost felt like public transport really was my true home. I got to see two good Trinity College friends, and as we went to a bar in the middle of the afternoon, I realised some things never change: we were back in Dublin pubs, only this was Brooklyn, on a halloween day, and kids were coming into the bar, trick or treating. The bar tender offered a kid a shot, but he politely declined.
It's cliché to say this, but I really do feel a connection with New York. I may never live there, and if I don't, it won't be the end of the world. But if I ever do, I think I'd enjoy it.

Here are a few pictures:
In Brooklyn...

In Manhattan, China town, on a sunday afternoon/early evening...
Tai-chi lessons in a neighborhood park

Card playing and sports