This year during the Sibiu International Theatre Festival, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota will receive a star on the Sibiu Walk of Fame. Well-known in the French theatre world and beyond, Demarcy-Mota is the accomplished director who has perceived and lived his life through the theatre from an early age. If you give everything to the theatre, the theatre becomes your life. His French-Portuguese origins have certainly had an influence on the way in which he approaches the stage and the actor, the great theatre, tradition, modernity, new theatrical elements and the young generation. By listening to him talk and by watching him work, we understand that, for him, theatre goes beyond the stage, it is a way of life, an existential dimension of a depth that exceeds all expectations. His artistic discourse includes the major contemporary themes: migration, the young generation on the cusp of the millennium, responsibility towards the youth, the fundamental problems of a Europe of unity and artistic and cultural diversity. In an exclusive interview for the readers and the audience of the Sibiu International Theatre Festival 2019, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota has talked to us about his dramatic universe, about the freedom that the theatre has to offer, but also about what art has offered to him in return.
How do you choose your repertoire and who are your favorite authors?
I tend to choose the authors who write about the relationship between the individual and society, freedom and power, resistance and choice, youth and the world and, if possible, all of the above, as is the case with “State of Siege”. The choices I make are always based on an elective affinity, on intuition and on the fact that I prefer the works of the 20th century – Pirandello, Ionesco, Brecht, Camus, Miller… And, also, on a lasting friendship with a living author : Fabrice Melquiot. I like to tackle plays that have never been performed, those which are part of the collective imagination, but which are not frequently staged, at least not in France. This is the case of the plays I have directed in recent years: “Rhinoceros” by Ionesco, “State of Siege” by Camus, “Six Characters in Search of an Author” by Pirandello, “The Crucible” by Miller… All the authors of the plays I choose to direct are or become my favorites and that is why I try to dig deep for the essence of their thoughts, for the vision they have, I try to search beyond the words they use.
Does “State of Siege” by Albert Camus reflect the contemporary social and political realities?
I think it is more than a mere reflection of the contemporary social and political realities, it is a warning: the plague never dies, it is intrinsic to man and can reappear whenever we lose our vigilance. Camus sets off the alarm with the clarity, lucidity and power of his uncompromising message: “Neither fear—nor hatred—therein lies our victory.” From my point of view, “State of Siege” reflects the universal timeless state of the relationship between human beings, fear, freedom and man’s capacity for resistance. The force of this play lies in the fact that it resonates over all times. The works that I am interested in shed light on the world and crystallize around contemporary challenges. The latter resonate with the play and not the other way around. I like it when things go this way: the play attracts current challenges without seeking to illustrate them, without solving puzzles, and it presents them on stage counting on the imagination or the free interpretation of the audience.
The dramatic universe you propose has multiple facets and it includes many influences. Do you see the stage as an immense laboratory where the director is conducting research or is it a work-in-progress in which several cultural sources are combined?
My dramatic universe is being built over time, it is first and foremost the human adventure of the group I have been working with for many years – more than twenty years with some of the actors. The collection of my performances represents a galaxy of planets that helps us hear the words of the great poets. During the act of creation, I follow the force of the literary work, but also the imaginary universe of the actors, the diversity of their ages, their origins and the languages they speak. It is a place of seeking, of shared things, a village where we can all find one another. We try to create a world on stage and then we experiment. This world is one that belongs neither to reality, nor to abstract fiction, and it contains things which are left hanging, which welcome and include all that makes us human, from personal experiences to artistic ones.
Multiple cultural sources combine multiple identities. How would you define the sense of belonging to today’s Europe?
From a historical standpoint, Europe brought us long-lasting peace and this should persuade us to defend it and to express ourselves through it in order to rediscover a part of the feeling of unity and fraternity, to rise above our own personal and immediate interests and to become part of a history that we cannot let disappear through negligence, indolence and a lack of interest. The European motto guiding us, “United in diversity”, summarizes the wealth of our European identity made up of all European languages, of the trails taken by its citizens, of their travels, of artistic, cultural and economic exchanges, even if being part of Europe cannot be financially conditioned. Europe is an alliance of several countries that were destroyed in two World Wars.
It stands as proof of the peace that we have inherited in the 20th century. We have to live up to the challenge of the 21st century. My personal feeling of belonging to Europe is filtered through the experience of belonging to something that goes beyond us, a space without clearly defined borders, by acknowledging the immense freedom it offers us, rather than the fear and self-withdrawal it might produce. For me, it implies the ability to see the world, the European space, as a landscape of infinite riches and, consequently, the possibility that each of us has to experiment, to move towards the other, the unknown, the foreign. All these should delight us, rather than scare us.
We often talk about globalization and about the fact that, in our times, people concentrate on digital activities. Day-to-day life is recorded, measured and shaped by social networks. How are theatre performances evolving in a world that is dominated by technology?
Theatre is timeless. It operates with such great openness towards the world that it can incorporate all technologies in the artistic language but, at the same time, it has the capacity to exist without them. If it keeps in line with profound authenticity, theatre is essentially free. It begins with only a body and a text. In their presence, in front of an audience, irrespective of its size, a journey or an experience may be created, an emotion can be born. Fortunately, technology can be in the service of a work of art. However, the work of art can emerge without technology. It is a matter of aesthetics, of languages, of possibilities. As an artist, creator and theatre director of the 21st century, I believe that the new technologies must accompany us at the turn of the century. If mastered, these can be used for arts and culture, precisely to create a dynamics of connection and to facilitate the immersion in a work of art, to disseminate knowledge, to bring together and not to isolate.
Presently, we are living in a world of technological and scientific achievements. Communication takes place using digital devices and the future can be seen from the perspective of a paradigm shift. How should theatre address the digital generation?
It should address it by talking about the world and human beings, by inventing amazing experiences that are not connected to the digital world and technology or just by using them. The story, the fable or the narrative can be exciting without being condemned to an immediate present. This is valid for all arts, for cinema or literature. Nowadays, we are fascinated by the stories of the Middle Ages, with armors and swords, but without mobile phones. Despite that, these stories shake us to the core and fascinate us. The story and the fable are thrilling for all generations.
How do we manage to keep the digital generation interested in the theatre?
This is a question similar to that concerning the different works of art. Of course, in this case, we must use the means of communication employed by young people in their daily lives by also adopting a critical and inventive perspective on these means and others. From its beginnings, theatre has been a place where people come together. The great questions of humanity are found in the theatre and the great human emotions are shared here. The theatre of the 21st century is open to the digital and virtual world: it is an opportunity since it will evolve and grow in this way. However, it must not suffer mutations and it must not forget its origins: it is a real place, not a virtual one, where people find themselves together.
The 26th edition of the Sibiu International Theatre Festival celebrates the Art of Giving. What has art given to you and what did you give back to it?
Art has given me a language, a way in which I can turn to other people and talk to them about what they do not know. I try to give back the same thing, to keep the language that was given to me alive and current, to make it last and to help it evolve. Art has also brought the opportunity to feed my curiosity, to explore the world, to meet people and to learn about their diversity, to be able to address the great questions without waiting for an answer. In return, I could say that I have offered it time (a lot of time!), enthusiasm, a whole lot of exigence and a great passion for work.