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Stéphanie Bérard on Caribbean Theater Action (ACT)

Stéphanie Bérard

A few words on the birth of the project Caribbean Theater Action / Action Caribéennes Theatrales (ACT)

By Stéphanie Bérard, Curator

November 25, 2019

Since I started my research on Francophone Caribbean theater in 2000 until now, I have always been very surprised by how little people know about this theater, especially people outside the Caribbean.  It is true that plays rarely travel beyond the insular perimeter, and if they do, it is most of the time towards metropolitan France. Therefore maintaining a close relationship with the former colonizer country to which they still belong as French overseas departments with regard to Guadeloupe and Martinique (whereas Haiti’s situation is quite distinctive as gaining its independence more than 200 years ago in 1804).

How to get out of this East-West relationship, how to move and shake the postcolonial axis that limits the dialogue with the neighboring islands?  How to foresee a new emancipated North-East relationship that will connect the Caribbean world with the Americas, with this whole New World that shares a common historical legacy, that of colonialism and slavery, that of the encounter of multiple cultures, races, languages, that of “Creolization” to quote Edouard Glissant?

That was my goal, my wish, my dream when I started to conceive this project with Elvia Gutiérrez, co-director of the Siyaj Company and a dear friend with whom I have been collaborating for a long time. The key to open the doors of the insular world would be languages: translating the plays in other languages to allow them to travel and be heard, staged outside of their native islands. Having Francophone and Creolophone plays translated in English and in Spanish (the next project) would give the texts and their authors a visibility in North America and in the whole Anglophone world. That would also enable Caribbean dramatists to share, exchange their perspectives with their American counterparts, and open up a dialogue with an American audience to see how their plays are perceived and received outside the Caribbean.

Having studied and worked for a long time in the U.S. where I did my PhD (U. of Minnesota) and had a professional career in various universities (Bowdoin and Bates College in Maine, Ryerson University in Toronto and University of Virginia), I have maintained closed ties with the American academic and cultural world. In the past, I already collaborated with Frank Hentschker on two previous Caribbean events at the Martin Segal Theater, a place that I personally value a lot for its opening to the outside world, and its engagement to promote contemporary dramatic works and experiments. When I came with the proposal to have Caribbean plays translated and stage read in English, Frank immediately jumped on board and has been since then an extremely inspiring collaborator. Based on previous projects of The Martin E. Segal center with plays from Japan, Poland, Haiti, Italy, we decided to present six plays from three Caribbean countries (Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti). We created an Advisory Board to select the plays that will be translated, stage read and later published in 2020 by the Martin E. Segal Theater. Frank mentioned Nicole Birmann and Laurent Clavel, Cultural Attaché at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy who also accepted right away to join the team. Without Nicole and her incredible professional network but also her invaluable commitment and sense of organization and pragmatism, this project would not have been possible.  

ACT is indeed a collaborative project that gathers a very large number of people, starting with the selecting committee of 8 distinguished readers and scholars from the US and France[1] who read, commented and chose 6 plays out of 25 respecting a gender balance, allowing new dramatic voices to emerge --and especially women voices-- as well as evaluating what plays may resonate and impact the American society. Then the translators at the core of the project who not only translated the texts from one language to another, French into English, but also managed to let hear the musicality of this very particular French from the Caribbean, often tinged with Creole, with specific images, rhythms… And finally the American directors and actors who will have the delicate task to give flesh and blood to the words through the stage readings coordinated by Candace Thompson-Zachery, our dedicated external artistic advisor.  Some of the actors are professionals, others are students, and this is also a specificity of this project to connect the artistic world with the academic one and have professors and students be part of it.  Sylvaine Guyot from Harvard University and Florent Masse from Princeton University have both agreed to join the project and work with their students on the translation and the stage readings. This is a great opportunity for the plays and their authors to be studied in American universities. And last but not least the Caribbean dramatists themselves are invited to New York, most of them for the first time, to hear their voice in another language, and see how their work resonates on a neighboring land, to meet their American brothers and sisters, and enter in dialogue with the audience…

No less than 40 people in total to make the dream come true… and build bridges between artists, languages, cultures thanks to theater!

I want to thank all of them and tell them how grateful I am to work with highly talented and deeply committed people. And I am now anxious to see, hear, taste and savor the fruits of a very long harvest!

I also want to acknowledge the FACE Foundation in New York and the Contxto network (Artcena in Paris) for their precious support that made this project possible.

[1] Members of the advisory board: Benedicty-Kokken Alessandra, Birmann Nicole, Brewer Maria, Denyer Heather, Erfani Amin, Flaugh Christian, Hentschker Frank, Lainez Le Déan Amaya.