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Portrait: Haitian playwright, author and director Guy Régis Jr

Guy Régis Jr - Photographed by Patrick Fabre

Guy Régis Jr is a playwright, director, actor and founder of « NOUS Théâtre », the first contemporary theatre movement in Haiti. His avant-garde work blends radical writing with committed poetry, and his reputation has made him an essential playwright of our time. Let's take a look back at his career and at one of his masterpieces, De toute la terre le grand effarement (And the Whole World Quakes: The Great Collapse). 

Guy Régis Jr: A Man of Conviction

Born in Port-au-Prince in 1974, Guy Régis Jr spent his childhood between Liancourt and the capital with his mother and grandmother. At school, he developed a passion for French language and wrote poems for his classmates. A few years later, while studying anthropology and psychology, Guy Régis Jr enrolled at the Institut français where he attended conferences for writers. In 1997, he became a stage technician and worked alongside artists such as author Syto Cavé and choreographer Karine Saporta, among others.

This unique experience led him to create the collective NOUS Théâtre in 2001. To mark the rebirth of Haitian theatre, the collective - dressed in black - walked the streets to mourn the old theatrical practices. With this act, Guy Régis Jr affirmed his desire to use art as a means of changing the world. In 2003, the show Service Violence Série became a great success. Sketches, slogans and rituals intertwine to denounce violence, dictatorship, corruption and injustice in Haiti. This multi-dimensional show was subsequently performed at the Théâtre National de Belgique, the Festival de Liège and the Francophonies en Limousin.

« As I got to know theatre, I realized it could get people thinking, just like real life can. » said Guy Regis Jr

His creativity is endless. He wrote poems such as Le Temps des Carnassiers (2000), short films such as Pays sauve qui peut (2001), Black out (2001) and Monsieur Le Président (2011) and translated into Créole the works of Albert Camus, Maurice Maeterlinck, Marcel Proust, and Bernard-Marie Koltès. Aiming to develop the living arts in Haiti, he also participated in the project "Migrants" in 2012-2013, became director of the theatre section of the Ecole Nationale des Arts d’Haïti from 2012 to 2014 and is currently the artistic director of the Festival des arts vivants Quatre Chemins. He wrote groundbreaking texts such as Ida, monologue déchet (2006) presented in 2007 on the Tarmac de la Villette stage in Paris. He also received the prize for contemporary theatrical writing in the Caribbean, awarded by the association Beaumarchais in partnership with ETC Caraïbe, for his text Le Père in 2009. Guy Régis Jr is also a Open Society Foundations-Soros Arts fellow (2018) for A City of Poetry, a project he conceived and took place in the streets of Port-au-Prince in Haiti.

After the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, Guy Régis Jr wrote De toute la terre, le grand effarement (And the Whole World Quakes: The Great Collapse) and staged it at the Festival d’Avignon. This work is part of the body of texts that mark a turning point for contemporary Haitian literature.

And the Whole World Quakes: The Great Collapse, how has the 2010 earthquake revolutionized contemporary Haitian literature?

When an earthquake in Haiti turned the lives of its inhabitants upside down,  contemporary Haitian literature embraced a new genre: "the earthquake writings". Indeed, since this natural disaster, Haitian literature no longer focuses on the Duvalier dictatorship but on this catastrophe. Guy Régis Jr (De toute la terre le grand effarement), Yanick Lahens (Failles), Marvin Victor (Corps Mêlés), Markenzy Orcel (Les Immortelles), Pierre Moïse Célestin (Le Coeur sous les décombres), Dominique Batraville (L'Ange du Charbon) and Dany Laferrière (Tout bouge autour de moi) are among the authors who have enriched this new genre and enabled Haitian literature to diversify on the international scene.

And the Whole World Quakes: The Great Collapse is a symbolic work by Guy Régis Jr. His text illustrates the dramatic consequences of the earthquake for the Haitian population, which sees its territory as a breeding ground for neo-colonialism. The story features two prostitutes who survived the collapse of the brothel "Bèl Amou". Looking at the sky, they count endlessly the shooting stars representing the number of people who died under the rubble but also the number of people fleeing the country and the number of planes carrying "international aid". The two women wearing French and American uniforms play this funeral game while sharing a moment of violent eroticism, as an allegory of the struggle of the two powers in Haiti. This poignant lyricism is none other than an accusation against "the international community".

After being published by Les Solitaires Intempestifs in 2011, De toute la terre le grand effarement was performed  at the Festival d’Avignon the same year. The play, translated into English by Judith Miller as And the Whole World Quakes: The Great Collapse was presented as a staged reading directed by Kaneza Schaal in 2019 at CUNY-Martin E. Segal Theater Center under the project Caribbean Theatre Action / Actions Caribéennes Théâtrales (ACT) curated by Stéphanie Berard.

This year, a FACE Contemporary Theater grant was awarded to the new project Quake, a collaboration between Guy Régis Jr, Kaneza Schaal, the two performers Gina Athena Ulysse and Cheyanne Williams, in partnership with Abrons Art Center, New York, for a production in 2021-2022. 

ACT project: presentation of And the Whole World Quakes: The Great Collapse at the Martin E. Segal Theater Center.