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Interview with Raphaëlle Boitel - Compagnie L'oubliée

Interview with director, choreographer,  and circus artist Raphaëlle Boitel - Compagnie L'Oubliée 

Raphaëlle Boitel's productions have been presented by Peak Performances-Montclair State University, NJ,  in 2017 and in 2019 followed by a tour (Boston, MA, Easton, PA).  Her work "5es Hurlants' (Fierce 5), a celebration of the circus arts, was to be presented at The New Victory Theater, New York, in May-June this year. Due to Covid-19 pandemic, her show has been postponed. 

As one of the artists with a growing audience in the United States, she shared her concerns with us. The conversation took place end of March.   Note: The French version of the interview is available. See at the bottom of the page.

French Cultural Services: What is the most immediate impact of Covid-19 for you?

Raphaëlle: Concretely, the cancellation of all our tours in France and abroad until the end of the season, i.e. June 2020.  We are counting 42 cancelled performances of 3 shows that the Compagnie L'Oubliée was going to tour, from March to June 2020. 

This also deeply impacts our next season because the presenters are not able to come and see the performances as planned, resulting in additional cancellations. We were planning to present some of the shows in theaters that are important for their high visibility, such as the New Victory Theater in New York for the "5es Hurlants" (Fierce 5) and young adult festivals for “Un contre Un” (One Versus One). The latter will not even come to fruition this season, as it has just been created.

Thus, it is an economic catastrophe that puts the cultural and artistic world and the company in a very serious precarious situation. Moreover, dreams are collapsing and encounters with audiences are being missed. 

French Cultural Services: How do you imagine the upcoming months?

Raphaëlle: Firstly, we will need to manage the crisis in order to keep the company financially stable so that we don’t fall bankrupt. We need to reassure our employees and artists about their situation and their future.

Day to day, we are following the evolution of what monetary aid is proposed. The [French] government recommends that contracts are honored, despite cancelations. This allows some people to overcome the storm, to bear the costs paid in advance for tours and to pay the artists that are suddenly technically unemployed. The [French] national theaters are doing this, but it is more complicated at the level of collectives, private theaters, and international tours.

We must also wait for decrees to be signed to make the subsidies official.  While waiting, we must face daily problems, questions of funds and fixed expenses…

Next, quickly, we have to be strong, imagine the future and develop new ideas, new ways of doing, new ways of creating. We have to keep reaching out and staying connected with an audience that had been growing, proposing the models of tomorrow that are in step with the world in which we find ourselves and our epoch, by keeping our standards high and never losing the magic of the live show.

French Cultural Services: How are your teams handling the crisis internally? How are the artists coping with staying at home? 

Raphaëlle: The hard core of the company has the role of keeping it standing and of working on the future, while waiting to know what can be achieved. In order to do this, we are using a lot of telecommuting. The telephone also has a predominant importance. Some discussions lose their meaning in an email.

During this time, the artists are trying to maintain their level of technique. Those who benefit from available space and resources are lucky and can practice daily. Others, the majority of circus artists, cannot practice their sport and will have to go through a very important phase of getting back into shape and reworking their technique.We are not installing acrobatic ropes and wires in our living rooms...

French Cultural Services: How do you hope to share your art and rest in contact with the public  in the coming weeks? In your opinion, what role does art play in peoples’ lives during the crisis?

Raphaëlle: Everything depends on the evolution of the situation, of course…
If the situation lasts too long, inspired by cinema, maybe by producing a feature-length film or a documentary linked to the signature or the universe of the company L'Oublié(e). And eventually imagining the recording of performances, which would be reshaped for a cinematographic format.

The length and other difficulties linked to the crisis require us to imagine new ways of viewing our art. These ways must remain founded on the principles of live work and the presence of an audience.

And finally, by emphasizing the importance of the solidarity, generosity, and sharing that we all need during these difficult times.

I think that one of the evils of our epoch is that we are in an era of haste and overconsumption – especially of images. This world works too quickly. It no longer has the time to look where it is going. In what is happening today, I see a red alert on the ways of doing and on the hierarchization of our motivations. I think that the phenomenon of more or less spontaneous propositions of video formats is more a (legitimate) emotional reaction to shock than a real artistic shift (but we need to see that life still goes on!). 

I see that artists are continuing to express themselves: We all have the desire to do this, and everyone will find what works for him or her, and that's important! But, for me, more than quickly creating videos that are distributed through social media and home deliveries, I am trying to reflect on new ways to create a live show, all while preserving what is most precious: a direct and sensorial link, a meeting with the audience. It is this link that vehicles emotions.

A deep reflection is occurring inside of me. I am still working on bringing it to fruition. And I'll let you know when it is official! 


Interview conducted by Nicole Birmann Bloom (Program Officer, Performing Arts, French Cultural Services). Translation into English by Jessica Cohen.

Photography copyright Louis Michel Grevent

Download the French version here.

PDF icon entretien_avec_raphaelle_boitel_-_mars_2020_-_vf.pdf
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