For nine years now, thanks to the senior actor, playwright, and stage director, Jean-Rene Gossart, French theatre is alive and kicking in the most unlikely place of all: Bali.
Well, “unlikely” might not be quite right, since the Balinese know a thing or two about stage performance. But we are not talking about “drama gong” here, rather about classic literature or popular modern plays – all in the French language. These French-speaking theatrical performances are conceived, rehearsed, and staged first on the Island of the Gods, before being toured to places like Jakarta, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, or Hong Kong.
Castings are of non-professionals only, all benevolent, and revenues are distributed to a Bali orphanage called “Seeds of Hope Children’s Home”. As you can imagine, staging full-length plays with a bunch of theatre enthusiasts with no previous acting experience can be huge and possibly doomed to fail at the challenge. Not with Jean-Rene Gossart…
Also as an acting coach, this senior actor, now 68, has performed in hundreds of films and plays in his long career and is not the type to be too much impressed by anything. After starting ten years ago with Le Monologue, a single actor performance that allowed him to evaluate the responsiveness of the French audience in Bali, he embarked on a crazy project called Suzon et la Republique. It was a farcical comedy set in the sixties in rural France that he had written a long time ago but had never been staged. It was an extravagant and colossal production, involving 28 roles for 24 performers, 67 musical pieces, 21 backdrop changes, 52 tableaux, about 80 costumes, and 50 liters of fake wine per performance.
Proven to be a huge success, Suzon et la Republique put his Bali-based License IV theatrical company on track for more successes and has now been reinforced by two other ex-pros: Patrick Richard and Jean Sueur. Then followed another hilarious comedy called Le Diner de Cons (Dinner of Fools), which was such a hit that it was staged for one continuous week. After nine years of activity, Jean-Rene Gossart has put on no less than 23 plays, half of them going international in many Asian countries.
But as mentioned before, Jean-Rene Gossart is also a man of literature and classic theatre. With Indonesian actors learning French at Alliance Française, he did an adaptation of Molière’s celebrated play Tartuffe, a musical comedy-satire with typical Indonesian props and gamelan music.
He is now working on an even more ambitious project after re-reading Victor Hugo’s masterpieces and personal correspondence. He is writing an adaption of the love letters exchanged secretly by the great French writer with his mistress, Juliette Drouet. Planned for two actors only, Jean-Rene Gossart said, “I’ll put on the play here in Bali, but I hope we can go to Paris with it.”
Indeed, some of the young talents he has discovered in Bali, like Alissa Doumeng and Jasmine Couteau, are actually starting a career in France, proving that even Bali’s expatriate community can be a nest of gifted comedians.
“Some people revealed themselves through my plays. Some of them would even be comparable with professionals now. In the long run, I am becoming more and more ambitious with my projects,” he asserted confidently. Speaking the truth, this is no wonder because, among his many talents, Jean-Rene Gossart has also been a devoted coach for a very long time.
He started to teach acting in the 70s at the prestigious Cours Florent (the French Actor’s Studio) but also, more recently, at Theatre du Gymnase. For this member of the Comedie Francaise, who has also worked with the French theatre legend Robert Hossein for 17 years, no doubt he would spend his years of retirement transmitting his passion for acting to the younger generations.
“It’s amazing, there are so many talents in Bali, and there is a real artistic community too,” he explained. “Actually, the real difficulty with all these amateur actors is not their lack of skills but their lack of time, as they all work to make a living and this sometimes hampers the progress of rehearsals,” he said. But now, with the coronavirus pandemic hitting Bali, all of his activities have had to be put on hold until the so-called “new normal” gradually takes place.
A man of multiple activities, Jean-Rene Gossart has also helped to put The Theatre Factory of Singapore on track by coaching and producing some of his plays there. He leads a Cultural Language Centre every Friday for Indonesian students in Bali, Bahasa Indonesia, and English – all for free. He has set up the Asia International Festival of Arts (AIFA) to promote live arts in the continent.
With this latest organization, he plans to launch a local version of the reality TV show Eloquencia where viewers vote for the best orator of Southeast Asia through weekly, simultaneously broadcasted TV programs in the region – all in English this time.
Indeed, Jean-Rene Gossart is also willing to overcome the language limitations of his theatrical performances by adding simultaneous translations through headsets distributed to the audience. This way, a lot more people will be able to enjoy his plays at home in Bali or when they tour neighboring countries, making the whole project more international and therefore viable.
A professional with core competencies like no other, Jean-Rene Gossart cannot turn his company of amateurs into a real business because of the extremely tight Indonesian regulations on foreign workers. Never mind, they have created the “Yayasan Tirai Merah, Tirai Putih”, a foundation to collect the revenues and re-distribute them to orphanages.
This way, License IV can also build all the necessary budgets by organizing crowdfunding or auctions similar to their recent dinner at the Rotary Club. No doubt that this man of great energy, like all stage directors, can overcome any sort of drawback! After all, he can give life to an entire world through his plays, so it would require more than just a couple of legal hurdles to see his projects jeopardized. The show must go on and it will, like with his latest play Le Compromis, which was staged in Paris until lockdown started, with a professional cast 15,000km away from Bali and its License IV amateur company!
Cultural Language Centre lessons start again in mid-August and will follow Bali’s “new normal” regulations.
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.