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Playwrights Corner


Playwrights corner

Clémence Weill
© Juan-Manuel Abellan
A face to face talk | A conversation with Clémence Weill, by Sabine Bossan


Sabine Bossan Why the title Pierre. Ciseaux. Papier. (Rock-Paper-Scissor)?

Clémence Weill One person always wins and one loses, and it's very random. That was the starting point for the play. In society, being a man or a woman, young or old, from a particular social class, who does that give me power over? And at the end of the story, how can that power be inverted?

SB Where did the idea of writing the play come from?

CW The basic premise was really a power struggle between a 35-year-old woman and a 55-year-old man. At first it was just the two of them, but a third character was needed to get the balance right.

SB Does the play differ from your usual writing style?

CW Retrospectively, I created bridges and correlations. As far as breaking the fourth wall, I haven't done it much in writing, but I've done it a lot as a director. I always come back to the point where the narrative stops and one is speaking to the audience. I can't bring myself to make people believe in a story for an hour and a half without breaking it up and saying what day and time it is.

SB Your play is full of shifts, irony and zaniness, which was very enjoyable to read and made me want to see it performed. What projects are in the works?

CW It's going to be staged in April 2016 by Laurent Brethome and his company Le menteur volontaire. He staged the reading at the Rond-Point last April and will be using the same actors. It's going to open at the Théâtre Daniel Sorano in Toulouse, and will be at the Théâtre du Rond-Point from mid-April to mid-May, among other venues.

SB It's like a psychological and critical investigation, scrutinizing the life of the three protagonists, with the plot fueled by our prejudices. Our critical faculties are engaged as we invent stories and look for connections. Did you compose it like that deliberately?

CW In terms of the spectator/reader, yes. It's just to force us to do what we do automatically, that is just to become aware of our prejudices. Which we do all day long.

SB Is your work as an actress very present in what you write?

CW Not really as an actress, but as a director yes. And my relationship to the stage too. I work on all of my texts out loud, and I always keep in mind that there has to be material for the actors to carry, that I shouldn't make it too easy on them.

SB Would you have liked to stage Pierre. Ciseaux. Papier.?

Not at all! It was even one of the constraints for the play in the beginning. I used to write my plays onstage, and once when I was staging one I was criticized for writing a show rather than a text. So I decided that in Pierre. Ciseaux. Papier. there would be a shower and a mike, there wouldn't be any scene indications, I wouldn't explain anything and they'd just have to make do with that. I put what I wanted to say in the words in the play, and it would almost be redundant of me to stage it too. So much the better if someone else comes along, adds his own point of view and highlights the themes he likes.

SB Human interest stories have a prominent place in your work, as a contrast.

CW I'd call it more topical issues. I don't believe much in the romantic idea of inspiration, but I am striving to understand how we live today, how others live differently, to see things from another perspective, to understand the reality of other people, not to judge it but to make characters out of it, and to present that world. It's triggered by my total incomprehension of the world, and there are examples of it all day long, from the most sordid to the most lighthearted. Psychologically and sociologically speaking, I ask myself: what does it mean that this little guy wound up saying and doing that?

SB Playwrights are often associated with loneliness, but that doesn't seem to be the case for you.

CW No not really. I come from the stage, and above all I come from a school that trains acting troupes, the Ecole Claude Mathieu. For twenty years, after graduating, it's kind of like you've got a family and they never drop you. That's where I learned everything. But I wrote Pierre. Ciseaux. Papier. holed up at home, without the troupe or any plans to stage the play. I discovered another kind of freedom by being far away, not from the people but from the institutions, production constraints, and the possibility of staging it. I write in my little cave and say whatever I want. And I'm getting better and better at striking a balance between that and life in an acting troupe.

SB Is that life with the companies that have commissioned the plays?

CW The companies or just the directors. That's been very present in my work these past two years. I'm also a member of Des clous dans la tête, a collective of actors, playwrights and directors. We write about current events, we act that evening and two days later it changes with the news. Dario Fo called it ''theater to be burned.'' I think I write all my plays with actors' voices in mind. Or I write them while watching an improv and then I jot down a few phrases and hole up to write the play. In the end it's often quite far from what's chosen by the director. Either I can't do it because I'm just a little brat, or else the reality of writing is stronger than the concept.

SB Do you still find time for acting?

CW I took a little break, then this year I was asked to act in a documentary theater project about nuclear power, a great play entitled L'Atome by Julien Avril, who is also staging it.

SB How does a playwright meet other playwrights of her generation?

CW Let me tell you about ACME*. I met Aurianne Abécassis during a playwriting residency at La Chartreuse. Marc-Antoine Cyr and I were both invited to a round table discussion about women writers at the CNDA de Grenoble. Solenn Denis and I met at the Journées des Auteurs in Lyon because we had both won awards and were taking part in another round table. And Jérémie Fabre met Aurianne at a festival where they were associate playwrights. All Institutional things. They were the first playwrights I met from my generation and it was fantastic. We had the same desire to challenge our generation of playwrights, not because of our age but because we started writing at the same time in History. When we created ACME – officially in June 2014! – we wondered what kind of club to invent that would resemble our generation. Our only reference was the Cooperative, which we knew, but without it being better or worse, it wasn't our generation. So we reflect on that.

*ACMÉ (= Leaning Against a Collapsing Wall) is an obstinate club of cool contemporary playwrights, typically neurotic, struggling against a sense of great imposture, but whose work has nonetheless been widely published, awarded prizes and performed in national theaters (despite appearences). Aurianne Abécassis, Marc-Antoine Cyr, Solenn Denis, Jérémie Fabre, Clémence Weill.

SB What brought you together?

CW Something very human. The club has turned into whatever each person was looking for. But in the beginning it came as the response to a kind of isolation. At one point I started having to write more, outside of my stage productions, and I was thinking: yikes I've never studied writing in school, I learned on the job; so how do other writers work? I had the idea of calling them up and asking if they wanted to form a club. We were all looking for completely different things, which is probably why it worked. I was looking for writing methods and ways of challenging our generation; Jérémie wanted to ask questions about politics and playwrights speaking to institutions with one voice; another wanted feedback about his plays; others wanted to try new forms. The first question we asked was about legitimacy. Even though you can be content with where you are at thirty or thirty-five, for some reason or other the question of legitimacy came up. It's clearly something real for our generation and something that really drives the writing.

SB Are you planning to write collectively?

CW That's what we do whenever we get together! The play will be called Appuyés Contre un Mur qui s'Écroule. A work in perpetual disintegration and reconstruction. Totally free in terms of form, bringing in contact our different writing styles. It's like a lab, with no production constraints or deadlines. Once per quarter we hole ourselves up for three days and talk, discuss, write and reflect on criticism or support for playwrights. At the end we'll open it up to the public and see how it goes.

SB What are you writing at the moment?

CW I have several plays to finish. Les Petites Filles par A + B, in collaboration with the director Sarah Lecarpentier and Compagnie Rêvages, which opens in March at the Grand Bleu in Lille. Another is scheduled for publication depending on what I decide to do later on. Then there's a commission with an assigned theme that I have to start writing. And the one about superstitions that I started at La Chartreuse last year and pursued while in India, which I care very much about. That's a lot of projects. And it's so hard to know when a play is finished and when to send it off. To trust in that way.

SB You're a musician, you've taken art history and acting classes. You like to learn foreign languages. You're very socially conscious. It seems as if nothing can quench your thirst for knowledge and creativity.

CW I'm very curious and I find nearly everything fascinating. Perhaps it comes from the precariousness of this work and the fact that you're always having to come up with new projects. The energy of despair? An appetite for life?

Clémence Weill interviewed by Sabine Bossan
February 12, 2015
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