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La Grande et Fabuleuse Histoire du commerce
Joël Pommerat
La Grande et Fabuleuse Histoire du commerce
photo Elizabeth Carecchio
Actes du théâtre n° 55.[ imprimer ]

To sell at any cost. No matter what, no matter how. That’s the credo of five sales representatives who get together after a day’s work.
Joël Pommerat and his troupe worked from interviews with travelling salesmen in the Béthunois region to create a cruel and jubilant comedy about business logic.

“Two stories. Two eras.
The 1960s. The 2000s.
In the first, a young man with no sales experience joins a group of four older salesmen.
In the second, four older men who are beginners in sales are given advice and encouragement by their young boss.
I’ll try to define what interested me in this project.
Those who prefer not to have a playwright’s motivations explained to them (and I sympathize) should not read what follows.
This play was a way for me to talk about and show on stage certain values and ideologies orienting and underlying human actions today.
And the increasing confusion that reigns in this area.
It’s a way of showing how this commercial activity of buying and selling - activities at the heart of society - influences our way of thinking about ourselves, our way of conceiving of what constitutes a human being and our relationships.
I wanted to show how this business logic can disturb and confuse our minds and particularly with regard to our major moral principles.
The fascinating and staggering thing about the sales profession is that the best expertise and techniques come from the seller’s genuineness.
The best way to lie in this business is to be sincere.
So a good salesman has to use what’s best in himself: his own truths, and who he “is.”
You could even say that his best “technique” is in being “himself” (contradictory and even absurd since no one knows exactly what “being oneself” means).
But while the salesman must more or less deceive others, he must above all trick himself, to “build up” that famous authenticity that is his best asset.
To be a really effective salesman you’ve got to believe in it.
In this business based on relationships with others, if there’s a technique, it’s about managing to be sincere or “real” with other people while being more or less “fake.”
It’s about “fabricating” authenticity.
This paradox, known by actors, becomes a curse for salesmen because unlike an actor who can easily perceive the line between “stage” and “real life,” a salesman can get lost in this labyrinth. The borders can be gradually erased, inside and outside him.
One day a salesman will forget to take off his mask after the performance. His mask becomes his skin.
His thoughts will have become one with the needs and logic of his activity based on seduction and conviction.
It will be impossible to draw the line between what’s true or false inside or outside him.
His relationships to other people will have disintegrated along with any chance of trusting others. Trust: a word that will have lost all meaning and value.
By showing these professional salesmen, at the bottom of the hierarchical system, like soldiers that are a bit lost yet certain and faithful, I wanted above all to talk about all of us, ordinary citizens immersed in this world of pretense and real values that have been more or less consciously hijacked and exploited.
We have surely been fooled as well by the ”great and wonderful” confusion of history. Winners and losers united for better and for worse.”
Joël Pommerat, January 20, 2012

“You see men that are proud, sometimes happy. Men among themselves. Bound by the need for results. Blind in some cases to the transformations in consumerism. You feel their loneliness. Sometimes they are reduced to tears. Joël Pommerat has succeeded in creating a tragedy of modern times. He has transfigured the most prosaic reality into dreamlike material the better to understand that reality. This theater of ideas, striking in its beauty and meaning, is deeply moving.”
Armelle Héliot, Le Figaro, December 28, 2011

Opened at the Comédie de Béthune, December 12, 2011. Then on tour throughout France.
Directed by the playwright. Artistic collaboration: Philipe Carbonneaux. Scenography and lighting: Eric Soyer. Sound: François Leymarie. Original score: Antonin Leymarie. Video: Renaud Rubiano. Costumes: Isabelle Deffin. Documentation: Evelyne Pommerat. Interviews in the Béthunois region: Philippe Carbonneaux and Virginie Labroche-Cornil.
Cast: Hervé Blanc, Patrick Bebi, Eric Forterre, Ludovic Molière, Jean-Claude Perrin.

Characters : 5 men -

MICHEL so this is Franck
my sister’s boy
FRANCK sorry about being late
RENE no problem Franck
MICHEL René is the friendliest
…André the most intelligent
FRANCK hello
MICHEL Maurice
MAURICE the stupidest
MICHEL other than that these people here could be the best salesmen you’ll ever meet in your life….
FRANCK Ha! well
MICHEL it’s late you must be dead
so are we, we’ve been in this area for a week
… but there are a few important things we’d like to say to you before starting tomorrow…
first we want to explain
what made us pick you and not someone else to join our team
FRANCK yeah I’d like to know I’m quite curious ….
MICHEL well we’re going to tell you, just off the cuff - and avoid interrupting me if you don’t mind
FRANCK ok sorry
MICHEL … a good salesman is someone who knows how to listen to others...
a good salesman is not some guy who has the gift of the gab did you know that?
FRANCK oh really?
MICHEL … so, here’s the main reason we asked you to come and work with us: you’re new, you don’t know anything…. and in my opinion you have a good frame of mind…
That’s what convinced the others when I told them about you….
we didn’t want anyone with too much experience in sales ….we already tried that and it didn’t work….
What we realized over time is that the main thing for working well in a team is trust…
you understand?
that’s it…
that’s why we want to give you a try
and why we’re giving you a chance today because we think you’re an honest, levelheaded guy…

ANDRE you really have no experience whatsoever in sales?
FRANCK no none
ANDRE what do you think it’s like?
FRANCK I don’t know
ANDRE people usually have a bad image of sales and business …
except that without business and sales there’s no life….
…did you know that?
FRANCK meaning?
ANDRE if there are no salesmen or good salesmen people stop buying
if people stop buying the factories close
if the factories close there are no more salaries
and there’s only unemployment and poverty
FRANCK I hadn’t thought about that