Written by The Cultural Services of the French Embassy of the United States. Interview Conducted by Nicole Birmann Bloom (Program Officer, Performing Arts, French Cultural Services). Translation into English by Jessica Cohen.


Interview with director, choreographer and circus artist Raphaëlle Boitel – Compagnie L’Oubliée 

Raphaëlle Boitel’s productions have been presented by Peak Performances-Montclair State University, NJ,  in 2017 and in 2019 followed by a tour (Boston, MA, Easton, PA).  Her work, 5es Hurlants (Fierce 5), a celebration of the circus arts, was to be presented at The New Victory Theater, New York, in May-June this year. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, her show has been postponed.

As one of the artists with a growing audience in the United States, she shared her concerns with us. The conversation took place in late March.   Note: The French version of the interview is available. See at the bottom of the page.

French Cultural Services: What is the most immediate impact of Covid-19 for you?

Raphaëlle: Concretely, the cancelation of all our tours in France and abroad until the end of the season, i.e. June 2020.  We are counting 42 canceled performances of 3 shows that the Compagnie L’Oubliée was going to tour, from March to June 2020.

This also deeply impacts our next season because the producers are not able to come and see the performances we’ve planned, resulting in additional cancelations. We were planning to present some of the shows in theaters that are important for their high visibility, such as the New Victory Theater in New York for 5es Hurlants (Fierce 5) and young adult festivals for Un Contre Un (One Versus One). The latter will not even come to fruition this season, as it has just been created.

Thus, it is an economic catastrophe that puts the cultural and artistic world and the company in a very serious, precarious situation. Moreover, dreams are collapsing and encounters with audiences are being missed.

French Cultural Services: How do you imagine the upcoming months?

Raphaëlle: Firstly, we will need to manage the crisis in order to keep the company financially stable so that we don’t fall bankrupt. We need to reassure our employees and artists about their situation and their future.

Day-to-day, we are following the evolution of what monetary aid is offered. The [French] government recommends that contracts are honored, despite cancelations. This allows some people to overcome the storm, to bear the costs paid in advance for tours, and to pay the artists that are suddenly technically unemployed. The [French] national theaters are doing this, but it is more complicated at the level of collectives, private theaters, and international tours.

We must also wait for decrees to be signed to make the subsidies official.  While waiting, we must face daily problems, questions of funds, and fixed expenses…

Next, quickly, we have to be strong, imagine the future, and develop new ideas, new ways of doing, new ways of creating. We have to keep reaching out and staying connected with an audience that had been growing, proposing the models of tomorrow that are in step with the world in which we find ourselves and our epoch, by keeping our standards high and never losing the magic of the live show.

French Cultural Services: How are your teams handling the crisis internally? How are the artists coping with staying at home?

Raphaëlle: The core of the company has the role of remaining standing and of working on the future, while waiting to know what can be achieved. In order to do this, we are using a lot of telecommuting. The telephone also has a predominant importance. Some discussions lose their meaning in an email.

During this time, the artists are trying to maintain their level of technique. Those with the benefit of available space and resources are lucky and can practice daily. Others, the majority of circus artists, cannot practice their sport and will have to go through a very important phase of getting back into shape and reworking their technique. We are not installing acrobatic ropes and wires in our living rooms…

French Cultural Services: How do you hope to share your art and remain in contact with the public in the coming weeks? In your opinion, what role does art play in peoples’ lives during the crisis?

Raphaëlle: Everything depends on the evolution of the situation, of course…
If the situation lasts too long, inspired by cinema, maybe by producing a feature-length film or a documentary linked to the signature or the universe of the company L’Oublié(e). And eventually imagining the recording of performances, which would be reshaped for a cinematographic format.

The length and other difficulties linked to the crisis require us to imagine new ways of viewing our art. These ways must remain founded on the principles of live work and the presence of an audience.

And finally, by emphasizing the importance of the solidarity, generosity and sharing that we all need during these difficult times.

I think that one of the evils of our epoch is that we are in an era of haste and overconsumption – especially of images. This world works too quickly. It no longer has the time to look where it is going. In what is happening today, I see a red alert on the ways of doing and on the hierarchization of our motivations. I think that the phenomenon of more or less spontaneous propositions of video formats is more a (legitimate) emotional reaction to shock than a real artistic shift (but we need to see that life still goes on!).

I see that artists are continuing to express themselves: We all have the desire to do this, and everyone will find what works for him or her, and that’s important! But, for me, more than quickly creating videos that are distributed through social media and home deliveries, I am trying to reflect on new ways to create a live show, all while preserving what is most precious: a direct and sensorial link, a meeting with the audience. It is this link that vehicles emotions.

A deep reflection is occurring inside of me. I am still working on bringing it to fruition. And I’ll let you know when it is official!


This article was originally posted at frenchculture.org in March, 2020 and has been reposted with permission. Read the original here. The interview was originally conducted in French. For the original French transcript, click here: entretien_avec_raphaelle_boitel_-_mars_2020_-_vf.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.

This post was written by Nicole Birmann Bloom.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.