In May I found myself in Rennes, France, on the eve of that nation’s presidential election. As a part of my responsibilities at ArtsEmerson I travel to see work. As in professional sports, arts presenters call this scouting.
I was there to scout the production entitled The State of Siege We had already announced we’d be including Théâtre de la Ville’s production in our season and I was there primarily to experience it live, assess any challenges in bringing it to you and meet the company that we’d be hosting. We’d chosen the work before it was staged, based primarily on the stellar reputation of the company, these artists and the fact that they were turning their energies toward a rarely performed script by Albert Camus. Boston is one of the few audiences in the country where Camus is actually a draw. We love you, Boston audiences.
Little is actually written about the process of curating a season of performance. People ask all the time how it is we choose what we choose. In the case of The State of Siege, we were doing our 17/18 programming in the late fall and into the winter of 2016. This piece was already committed to dates in New York City, Ann Arbor and Los Angeles and could make one more stop in the US before heading to Canada. Throughout September and October we had many conversations about the play with their US representative. In December I found myself scouting work in Paris and agreed to meet with the TDLV team while I was there. A presentation of the underlying ideas for the production by the assistant director sealed the deal and we stepped into the final US spot.
While the presentation was persuasive on its own, what moved me to join the tour was something else entirely. During September and October we had been interested but noncommittal based on the naive assumption that the play’s relevance in our election season would dissipate with the result of our voting. And that by the time the play arrived it would have lost some of the power of immediacy it held for us heading into the election. But, as I sat in the Paris headquarters of TDLV in December, we were one month into the realization that love does not, necessarily, trump hate on its own and that we were living through something unprecedented in our lifetimes.
Even then, I was still in a state of denial, under the impression that by the time this Siege arrived we’d have recovered our footing as a nation. I expected the piece to land here like a reminder, a shadow image from a moment that we had come through and had learned from. Camus had anticipated the arrival of that moment and had prescribed the cure. We’d watch it with a sense of relief, of accomplishment, of the resilience of our country and its institutions. It would be a year to the day after the election. Surely we would have righted ourselves.
By May, in Rennes, I was no longer in denial. It was the night before France’s election and I felt like I was a walking cautionary tale. All eyes were on France. The city was quiet.
International news was talking of Russian interference and of rigged elections, predicting a tight race. The performance got under way and the sound of deep listening was remarkable. People sat forward in their seats, their heads in their hands. Or held hands. Or held their breath. It ended and there was almost total silence. As the actors appeared for their curtain call, a polite applause began. Had it bombed with this audience? Slowly, though, the crowd seemed to rouse itself from a deep and troubled daze and the applause grew thunderous and sustained for a long, long time. There was defiance now. Resolve. Gratitude.
The polls opened in the morning.
- David Dower, Co-Artistic Director