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Virginie Hocq
© DR
An interview with Virginie Hocq by Sabine Bossan

We interviewed well-known Belgian humorist Virginie Hocq after the whirlwind tour of her Seule en scène show in France, Morocco and Quebec. It's what you might call ''Comedy without Borders.''
She's thinking about mounting a play, and has already found the actors and director – but no play yet!

Sabine Bossan You prefer the term Seule en scène (Alone on Stage) to One-Woman Show. Is it because it's French or because you're alone?

Virginie Hocq A bit of both. When I was really young, at the Académie, my speech teacher called it a Seule en scène. Being French and Belgian I liked the idea of using the French term. And it's true that I am alone on stage. The expression Seule en scène evokes the theater and monologues more than "One-Woman-Show."

SB It's rare to meet people who have a vocation, but you do. As a young girl you already wanted to be an actress. Was it about making people laugh or just acting in plays where you didn't necessarily make people laugh?

VH It was more about acting in plays without necessarily making people laugh, and about collaborating with others. As a little girl I liked learning texts, rehearsing them, seeing how they changed, being on a stage in a small theater, then going onstage and performing with friends. I often improvise in my texts, which can trigger laughter as well as emotions. And I've allowed myself that in the Seule en scène performances through collaborating with different artists. In drama school they often added people who sight-read, wrote or danced. It was very complementary.

SB After winning First Prize in Drama at the Conservatoire Royal in Brussels you joined the Belgian Amateur Improvisational Theater Federation. Improvising seems like a good way to find one's style. What did you get out of it?

VH I loved the Ligue d'impro (Improv League). It wasn't very well thought of when I was at the Conservatoire, because it wasn't theater. But all the courses and categories were so compartmentalized and I didn't endorse that. They told us we had to work with the teachers who had chosen us for the entrance exams, but I worked with all the teachers because they all had different sensibilities. I tried the Ligue d'impro because it was a good way to experiment with characters. It helped me learn how to portray them. I spent two years there as an amateur and five years as a professional. And to this day I still use improvisation when rehearsing and working on my texts. My director, who's from a theater background, takes the raw material and rewrites. And I always recommend the Ligue d'impro whenever any teenagers ask me how I did it, and how they could too. Because the acting is non-stop and you have to listen to your partner constantly. You've got to be compelling and present in the moment. And, like everywhere, there are lots of brilliant moments and some that are less so.

SB You delve into many subjects dealing with human relations, youth, adults, the elderly, and people with special needs. Do you think all subjects can be treated comically? Or are there some that you'd rather not take on?

VH I've dealt with lots of different subjects, but I always try to use a magnifying glass to dramatize situations. Take the subject of Down's Syndrome. It's different for the parents of a child who has it. But it scares people because they don't know very much about it as a handicap. I succeeded in doing a sketch where the audience ended up loving the character. It was a breath of fresh air that made people laugh and was also quite moving. I'm really from the theater and don't focus that much on word play or jokes. I start by making fun of myself, so I can take it anywhere and get people to laugh. The other characters knew this character was different and somehow endearing.

SB Do you prefer writing your pieces alone or with others? Are you planning mounting any plays?

VH I like to write with others. I'm alone on stage but I don't like being alone. I guess I'm self-centered enough to be alone onstage but not enough to do everything by myself. So there are several of us. I come up with a "skeleton" for a sketch, then I ask my partners to perfect it by fleshing it out. I entrust the staging to someone else because otherwise I'm afraid it might be too self-indulgent. It's teamwork. The same goes for touring, and it's very important. And yes I do have plans for staging plays. That reminds me that I have to check out the SACD playwrights because I've got a director and have found the actors but no play yet. Why not bring someone else's words to life? Or commission a playwright to write something? I really have to get down to it.

SB You're outstanding at imitating human and animal behavior. And you move beautifully. Did you study dance or mime? Is it your sharp powers of observation? Or all three?

VH All three. Really. I studied dance when I was little and didn't like it at all. But since I was the one who had asked to do it, my parents told me I had to see it to the end. I was always taller than everyone else. Ultimately the dance training was very useful. Now I know how to position myself, I have good posture and a good sense of my muscle chain. Mime was essential, so I took a workshop with Michel Courtemanche. I'm curious about everything. I might look into Kabuki and Noh theater later. I don't know yet.

SB Your work is sassy but not vulgar, your facial expressions are versatile but not outrageous, and your humor is mainly based on "hijacked situations." What are the most important qualities for a humorist in your eyes?

VH I don't really know what the most important qualities are. The most important thing to me – probably because I'm from a theater background – is for the idea to be firmly established. I mean that when I tell a story I should totally believe in it. That's what I was taught from the start. I wasn't planning on doing these Seule en scène shows. My aim is to bring in lots of people, and for them to have a good time, but it should sting a bit at times, to cut through the veneer. I'm not into vulgarity, so I have to walk a fine line there; and I can't go too far because it makes me very uncomfortable.

SB The word "kindness" comes to mind.

VH That's right. Someone in Quebec once said to me: "Such humanity!" I really like people. I need to be with others. I think I'd be really unhappy all alone. That's another reason why I like reaching out. When people leave the theater I really want them to heave a great sigh of relief and say they've enjoyed a good laugh, along with some compelling visuals and stories, and it's left them feeling relaxed and in a good mood.

SB You've talked about finding "your own" brand of humor. Could you elaborate on that?

VH I'm so full of doubts and am my own worst enemy. I could mess something up because of my lack of self-confidence. I found my own brand of humor by discovering an unsuspected part of my personality. And I found it because I've always been given a lot of support and been encouraged to take things to a higher level. When I tried something new, I was never told not to do it that way. They let me try things out, and that's how I was always taught. There were a lot of kind people around me. My world is quite unusual - being able to talk about animals for instance. When I decided to do the bonobos, I thought people would think it was ridiculous, but they didn't. So I can do anything.

SB You act in the Seule en scène shows and in plays, on TV and in films. How do these different artistic forms fit together for you?

VH I approach them all the same way – because it's always about wanting to reach out to people. In my Seule en scène shows I always start by saying hello and taking the time to talk with people. When shooting a film I'm always very respectful of the crew. On TV I'm always eager to meet my new partners. When you work together it feels like creating a team or group. I like learning and trying new things. I love getting the giggles. I love it when something's not working and the director tells you that you're way off. I love going back and thinking it's going to go better that day. As an actor you've got many strings in your bow. And I love the theater!

SB What is your greatest strength and your worst shortcoming? If you have any.

VH My worst shortcoming is really my lack of self-confidence and I don't think it's getting any better. I'll have to do some serious work on that. I have constant doubts, even when everything's great and things are working well.

SB Doubting can be a strong point at times. It can help you progress. Maybe it's your greatest strength and your greatest shortcoming.
You were awarded the SACD New Talent Prize in 2011, and a grant from the SACD Comedy Fund in 2010, so you know the SACD's opinion of you. What's your opinion of the SACD?

VH This is my Belgian side talking now. I'd already been awarded a prize from the SACD in Belgium, so when I was awarded the prize from the SACD in Paris it was like going up to the next grade. I thought: "well, that's nice!" I was glad to see all the people who came to see my show. It was good. And I invested in a new project – a photography exhibition – with the bit of money I got from the SACD France prize. I did a photomontage of my shows, and found a theater where I could exhibit it.

SB Is there anything else you'd like to add?

VH Yes. Thank you, and see you next year for my new show ;-).

Virginie Hocq Interview
June 21, 2012

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