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Interview with Playwright David Lescot

Dough, a choral text with a frantic and hectic rhythm that addresses our relationship with money will be performed by three actors. The interview with David Lescot below was conducted by Guillaume Clayssen, also a playwright, in June 2016.The translation into English is by Jessica Cohen.

Note that the performances  of Dough (Mon Fric) written and directed by David Lescot at The New Ohio Theater planned for April 2020 are postponed due to Covid-19.

Guillaume: How did you think of writing a piece about money?

David: In the beginning, the Comédie Française had asked for a short play about money. Ten contemporary authors were invited to write on this theme.

Thus, I had written a play of about 20 minutes that was already centered on the theme of Mon Fric: the entire life of a man told through the lens of money, from his birth to his death. In theater, I like to recount lives in their entirety. It was therefore a quick play, half narrated and half performed.

Cécil (Backès) saw this 20-minute play and the dramaturgy interested her. She thus asked me – and I was thinking along similar lines at the time – if I could develop the play, if I could make a long version. But, even if this short play was developed, what was rapid stayed rapid. The long version was not really that long. This rewriting allowed me to tackle other dimensions, other moments in the character’s life.

Guillaume: How does having a character named Moi change your theatrical writing? What does this clear proximity between the author and the narrator, which we often find in novels, provoke?

David: In this play, the narrator is truly the subject of the story. A theatrical work in the first person is not easy. Here, it is about a man who narrates what we see, but also what we don’t see. There is thus a mix of narration and dialogues. I very much like this mix between the narrative form and the dramatic form. There are some authors who achieve this back and forth between the two forms with great success. I am thinking of a successful Swedish author whose work was put on in France by Michel Didym: Jonas Hassen Khemiri.

The other effect of using Moi in the writing of the play is a type of game with my own autobiography. Indeed, I start from elements of my own story from which I deviate and which I take in new directions. In the play, there are real memories and other events that I had fun evolving in a different way from how they happened in my real life. It is a game of possibilities. It happened like this but it could have happened differently. It does not much make a difference in the play whether you know or do not know which parts are true. I thrive on the rooting in authentic facts. It gives me a larger sociological credibility and sometimes a technique for certain elements. For me, this approach in theater is precious. I prefer that things are not too abstract.

This rooting also allows me to evoke multiple periods. In the play, we go through the 1980s, for example. Thus, we have details that signal these years and permit us to reconstitute the epoch in a credible and authentic way.     

Guillaume: In your writing, how do you manage to make theater with a story?

David: Through language. Mon Fric, particularly, rests entirely on language, a very spoken language, addressed to the audience, a language that could almost be used for standup comedy, since the audience is strongly taken on board. In this play, the audience is almost the confident of the character, since the latter addresses the viewer throughout the entire work.

The other work that I do in order to transform a story into theater consists of creating characters by giving them ways of speaking, characteristics of language. Notably, I like pushing on spoken language, the music of speaking. I approach orality in a fairly musical way. The more we listen to spoken language in its true form and the more we make musical work, the more we perceive the true musicality of speaking. Contrary to widely held opinion, it is necessary to search and to study spoken language. Above all, it is necessary to get rid of the habitual way that we approach language, that which passes through the filter of screenwriters and becomes televisual. Often, when we want to be realistic, we imitate televisual reality, which I strongly disagree with.

In order to find the musicality of orality, I work by ear. When I write, I write aloud. In public places, I cut myself off from things and I listen. I also organize recordings. For certain plays, I recorded Moi while talking with people, or while people were speaking amongst themselves. Then, I listen to these recordings, I transcribe them, and I work based on this material.

In the play, the dialogues between Moi and his wife are notably written with the desire to rediscover the way that we speak to one another, even if it is smoothed out and transposed. For example, there are a lot of ruptures, the characters do not always exactly respond to each other. In the same sentence, there are shifts, characters interrupting themselves. 

Finally, the two things that interest me the most are languages and music, since we speak many languages: native languages, foreign languages, informal languages (for example, we do not speak to our friends in the same way that we speak in a professional setting) – we speak all of these languages. I seek to say things in the most accurate way possible, whether it be in a discussion, a debate, or the writing of a play.

I also love challenges: I love to tackle themes that are uncommon in contemporary dramaturgy, all the questions that seem like they should not be asked in theater, such as Europe, the climate, etc. But outside of my love for challenges, I like to listen to everything that happens around me, to feel my epoch, to feel my society. To receive this and to reproduce it makes me the echo of it, in one way or another, but an altered echo, a subjective and poetic echo, a space moving towards the present reality. I like both the critical and the subjective elements of theater.

To go back to Mon Fric, I have truly decided to be a monomaniac by only discussing Moi’s life through his relationship to money. It is the theme of the play. We often say that the theme is not important. For me, it is the most important. And in this play in particular, there is only one theme that we do not stop talking about. Only in my writing is the theme also music, the principle of melody that gives a work its identity. The notable characteristic of a musical theme is that, once you have used it for one work, you can no longer use it for another because it will be essentially attached to that work.

Guillaume: Isn’t time the central and hidden character of the play?

David: It is clear that I like to bring elements that are ordinarily excluded from theater into my work, my treatment of time being an example of this. In his treaty of dramatic poetry, Aristotle affirms that a play cannot recount an entire life. I obviously have the desire to transgress this prohibition because, in order to be successful, you have to use unusual techniques.

With Mon Fric, I wanted to develop time on the scale of a lifetime, without any interruption. I did not want to put ellipses, blackouts, or subtitles with “15 years later” or “20 years later” in the story. The rule of the game that I created for the writing of this piece is to write the life continuously. The things that come after one another. I wanted to create a single movement, with no segments. Plays like Mon Fric are essays, experiences.

This play, by its singular temporal structure, also questions acting. For me, the development of time in the play is comparable to an accelerated film of life. It is about editing effects. The influence of movies in my writing is definitely very strong. Film is an art that very much helped us enrich the story. Speeding up and slowing down are film processes. In theater, it is difficult to create this effect, unless you imitate cinema.

Finally, this principle of speeding up in a play allows you to travel across multiple decades. Thus, Mon Fric recounts the passage of time, the passage of epochs, of decades. In writing this play, I often thought in terms of decades: I cut a life into decades. The unit of life, according to me, is the decade. In the play, I have fun going back to the half-false, half-profound theory of a philosopher friend according to which you dominate the world (or at least strive to) from forty- to sixty-years-old and learn how to die after sixty. When this friend told us his theory, we died of laughter. And at the same time, it is a view of life that is not entirely false. This friend also said that the second period is less philosophic because we start to distance ourselves from learning and delay the realization of wisdom as much as possible. While I’m thinking about it, I have to say that, at the end of the play, I bring Moi into a certain type of wisdom.

Guillaume: What is the meaning of the spectral identity of all the characters of the play?

David: But all the characters of the play do not have a spectral identity! When I think of life in its entirety, I often ask myself the following question: What sample of humanity do you experience this journey with? Who are the people that you knew, crossed, loved, and hated in your life? I like this representation of existence a lot: Imagine all of the people who have been a part of your life.

One day, after Mon Fric, I would love to write Mes Potes -- a play about somebody’s life but only through the friends that they had. Figures like bankers, sellers in a rush, and people who counted, like the women with whom you had your child, come out of this representation, this dramaturgic rule. In Mon Fric, for example, there are three, very different lovers of Moi. I drew my inspiration for the last one, Sylvaine, the cool hippy, from a friend that I do not see very often. What I know about her is that she no longer buys anything, to the point of growing her own tobacco. And that she does not do this by greed, but because she does not want to participate in our society of exchange and commerce. She has rock solid resistance.

To return to the question of spectrum, I would say that even if Moi seems to discuss a bit of a strange place, we could also say that it is about a retrospection. For that matter, I was very marked by a play by Peter Handke that my father performed in when I was little called Introspection. A man recounts his entire life, as a litany of acts or abstracts or hard facts. He recounts everything that he did, beginning with “I came into the world” and finishing with “I wrote this play.” This type of structure interests me.

In Mon Fric, we are in the mind of Moi, as if he had the power to show us what is in his head. That is the structure of the play: he speaks to us in order to help us see better, to show us. In creating his autobiography, he revisits images, and we also see them.

Mon Fric is an autobiography and, like in all autobiographies, it is necessary to do two things: to give a point of view on what you are recounting and to render the events that you are narrating exciting. If you only give commentary on what happened to you, it is extremely boring. In autobiographical writing, it is necessary to both give your point of view and to be lively, thus theatrical. And it is through being lively that you succeed in captivating your viewer. But it is also true that he whom recounts his life looks at himself and his story when starting, when connecting historical events and epochs. And in this way, the autobiography is an interesting genre, interesting because it mixes a lot of genres and modes of writing.

Without a doubt, Mon Fric is only a mix of novels and theater. Finally, it is always the mixture that is interesting. Nothing is ever pure.