10 a.m. that morning, the small hall of the Théâtre Présence Pasteur where Stunning is well filled. A few children, many adults. The story: two twins, a boy and a girl, wonder about the world in which they live, where the genders are reversed. Here, women dominate, unthinkable that a man becomes for example “president of the republic”. Street names bear the names of famous women, advertisers use men as objects of desire to sell a car, men who of course take care of children. Street harassment, school results, vocations… On stage, with a few objects and a lot of punch, the two actors, Léna Bréban herself and Antoine Prud’homme de la Boussinière, playfully dismantle many received ideas and sexist clichés . In a theatrical form of 30 minutes, no more, always followed by a debate of the same duration, where everyone can go there with their reflection or their anecdote.
franceinfo Culture : This show Stunning you played it in college, why come and present it here, at the Festival Off d’Avignon?
Lena Breban: I really wanted to play Stunning for all audiences. What happens here interests me, with the grandmothers who bring the grandchildren. We had already realized by playing it in colleges, in 5th grade, that teachers wanted to see this show with their own children. Adults really speak to them because we girls have all experienced the same thing.
How did you come up with the idea for this show for 5th graders?
It comes from a conversation with my producer: on a project I wanted it to be written author and he told me Phew! We got into a fight. And then I read Florence Hinckel’s book, Stunning, published at the Ecole des loisirs and it went from there. What I found brilliant in Florence Hinckel’s text is the humor. I was missing that front door, and yet I said to myself: you have to have a good time talking about this otherwise it’s pretentious, giver of lessons, everything that I hate. Laugh and chat. Hinckel gave me the key.
This show has toured many colleges?
It was produced by the Espace des Arts de Saône-et-Loire, of which I am an associate artist, it even filmed elsewhere than in this department. It’s super invigorating to go to classes but you never sell the show without the discussion that will follow. It’s my way of campaigning, it’s an extremely important subject for me, essential. My dream in the years to come would be to play it in the afternoon in a college and in the evening in front of a family audience.
Do the clichés you denounce still die hard?
There is still work to do! Especially on the representations that the girls have of themselves, they do not speak for example, it is the boys who speak, this is our observation on 220 dates. I had to think about how to get the girls to talk. They are very concerned about being beautiful, that’s what comes out. It’s crazy to ask a human being to prioritize something over which he has no control.
You who had a crazy year, with the success that we know of your play As you would like according to Shakespeare (4 Molières), you did not choose a relaxing holiday?
It’s a little weird (thoughtful laughter). The theatrical field, I have never left it. Even during the Shakespeare (As you would like) I continued to do college dates, it was important to me. And during confinement, going to play little sketches under the windows of nursing homes (it was called Cabaret under the balconies), it brought back something that I missed terribly: that people could come and talk to us, and see them in broad daylight. Before I had been very protected, I came from big theaters, I played with great directors, I dined after the show with my partners, and basically I had zero contact with the public. This lockdown reminded me why I do this job. Moreover, the actors of Shakespeare all have this desire, Barbara (Schulz) likes people, she wants to dialogue.
Precisely these 4 Molières (including that of best actress for Barbara Schulz) were a nice surprise?
That’s crazy ! This Shakespeare started from a story of friendship with Barbara, with whom I had already played. I was delighted that his work was recognized. Everyone could see the beauty of this woman. And Ariane Mourier (Molière in the second role), formidable, was also rewarded and the other Molière… (including that for Léna Bréban, Molière for the best direction). When I was little I remember very well watching the ceremony, I was obsessed with theatre, and I said to myself that maybe one day I would receive a Molière. It’s not the main thing but it’s rewarding and super joyful.
The Avignon Festival, what does it represent for you?
I am very fascinated by people who love theatre. I tell myself bug, they come during their vacation time, it’s expensive to come to Avignon, you have to find accommodation, buy tickets… I share the passion for theater with these people, there’s that and then all the history of the theater has passed through there: the Cour d’honneur, Jean Vilar… One of the most beautiful shows I’ve seen is here: Bernadette by Alain Platel.
Avignon is also a lot of sweat?
Sure, now I find myself towing, it’s super funny, it forces you to be crazy humble. I go from “Yes she received 4 Molières” at “Hello, we are playing a play on equality at 10 a.m., for children and teenagers…”.
Does towing work?
It totally works! For the voice it’s not very good, it’s very noisy here, so you have to yell to talk to people and try to catch them. We said to ourselves, with Antoine Prud’homme, my partner, that what is beautiful here is that festival-goers tell you: tell me about your show, tell me… And suddenly we have to tell them why they absolutely have to come and see us. Sometimes we get horrible rakes. The other day I said to a lady, she was with her three sons: “hello this is about equality”. “Ah yes? Well I don’t believe in it, I raise my boys that’s how it is and I don’t believe in feminism either. Have a nice day!”.
How do you organize your days?
I get up early, we set up the set, we play, we take the set down. Then we go to see shows. Tomorrow night I’m going to see Samuel Achache’s (Without Drum). The other day I heard a girl pulling next to me, I thought to myself ah the pitch looks good, so I’m going to go. And then to rest after a very intense year. I told myself that I was going to party too much in Avignon! In fact not at all, I am at home in the evening, peaceful. And then I have work appointments. A musical show on Colette that I am preparing, it is produced by the Espace des Arts in Chalon-sur-Saône.
Would you also like to participate in the In festival?
I would love to direct in the in of course. I would love to play too. But my dreams are not of that order. I would like to work with Wajdi Mouawad for example, in the in or the off.
By being associated with the national scene of Chalon-sur-Saône, you evolve in contact with a rural territory?
In Paris we don’t know the people we play for. In a provincial town the public is people you meet in the street or at the pharmacy, there is a loyalty that is created. It’s interesting to realize that our country is also made up of this audience.
Does the reception of this show give you hope?
It gives me courage, the niaque. We have such great reactions from the kids, we see things that sparkle in their eyes during the show. I am proud of Stunning, very proud. And then the children, for the most part, discover the theatre. If I manage to make them like it and send them more messages, that’s great. Theater is anything but boring!
Avignon Festival Off
From July 7 to 23, 2022
13, rue Pont Trouca, Avignon
04 32 74 18 54
“As you please”, after Shakespeare
Resumption in September at the Théâtre de la Pépinière