Interview with Elodie Bordas
Is this your first collaboration with Jean Lambert-wild?
Yes. Do you know how we met? We were performing in La Chaux-de-fond with the director Christian Geffroy Shlittler and were asked to perform in front of the theatre managers. Jean Lambert-wild happened to be there and saw the performance by chance. We then had a meal together and he said: "You’re in." Obviously, I was a bit incredulous... But it actually happened! We played in Caen last October, as part of the season presentation. And that’s when we really connected.
What do you mean by that?
Well, it felt like the coming together of two pests, two clowns! I'll give you an example. One day, during these performances, a friend of mine (who’s also part of the project) told me: "John is up to something, so make sure you listen to his season presentation…" As it turns out, Jean Lambert-wild stated, during his speech, that an actress from the show was a table tennis champion and that she’d acquired a very special acting technique thanks to her wildly successful sports career...! I wasn’t going to let him get away with it! After a few memorable evenings with the team, which typically ended with some lively verbal sparring between him and I, I told myself I would leave with a bang. So, on the last night, as Jean Lambert-wild was giving his speech, I interrupted him and asked him to sit in the front row. I gave a sort of homage to him in front of the audience! After that, he was lost for words, and that’s saying something... It was clear to both of us that this was a meaningful encounter. At the end of 2013, Jean Lambert-wild asked me to help put on Me in front of me. It’s a crazy proposition for me as it is my third Richard III project – the second one was cut short before opening night due to a huge conflict within the team ...
Were you familiar with the work of Jean Lambert-wild?
Hardly, and this is what makes our collaboration so exciting. I'd never attended any of his plays. I got a feel for his work online and this is when I realized it had strong ties with technology. It’s a form of theater I’m not at all familiar with as I’d never worked this way before. I was fascinated and intrigued but had many unanswered questions, namely, I was unsure whether I would like it or not. Our Austin residency was a great opportunity to tackle these questions.
Can you tell me more about discovering this technology? How do you integrate it to your work as an actor?
First, I realized that the actor’s role was slightly altered. In addition, Jean Lambert-wild asked me to be more than a mere performer by actually contributing to the project along with Lorenzo Malaguerra, Jean-Luc Therminarias and Stéphane Blanquet. This meant getting an overview of the entire project, being involved in the adaptation we’re working on collaboratively as well as in the visual side of the show, which implies trying to understand the technique behind it. In Austin, they initially seemed like two separate worlds to me: I was watching Jean Lambert-wild and his team’s technological experiments from a distance, wondering how I would manage to play opposite these ghosts that kept appearing and disappearing... Over time, my imagination started to synch with the technology, and the ghosts have become real acting partners.
In Jean Lambert-wild’s work, technology is used as a means to rethink dramatic language. It is completely intertwined with staging…
That’s exactly right, and that's what I liked... It’s not a case of special effects merely being projected against a backdrop screen. This is why he thought it was so important for me to come to Austin with him, although I was just a performer to begin with. Staging Richard III with two actors has its limits, but the use of these images will increase our possibilities and help convey the crazy and nightmarish world our Richard III is trapped in.
You speak of an adaptation that is entwined with technology. How do you envisage transposing this classic to the highly personal aesthetics and world of Jean Lambert-wild?
Jean Lambert-wild told me that the greatest Richard III he’d ever seen was Matthias Langhoff’s, and I think it’s very tricky to stage a play after experiencing a version we find utterly satisfying. However, his adaptation will be a very personal take on Richard III thanks to the aesthetics he’s been developing over the years. It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore the friction between a classic work of literature and innovative means. I love authors, including Shakespeare – I find him fascinating and he makes me want to perform. But it’s not easy nowadays to stage works that are as important as this. Too many versions already exist and it’s difficult to find a good enough reason to stage such a play and make it current. But I have the feeling we can bring it all together, using Jean Lambert-wild, his clown and everything he’s built over the years as a starting point.
The draft for Richard III has undergone several phases of development but the circle is now complete: Jean Lambert-wild’s clown will appear on stage. What’s your relationship with the clown Jean Lambert-wild considers a part of his fantasized autobiography?
Your question encapsulates the complexity of the task at hand... There was a time during our Austin residency when I no longer knew what my place was. Everything seemed fragmented. I could see the point of the technique, I could picture the impact these characters would have and the dreamlike dimension... I could also picture his clown - Jean Lambert-wild spoke about him at length - he moved me, as the autobiographical aspect is very strong. I could also really sense Jean Lambert-wild’s desire for our collaboration. But I just couldn’t connect the dots. It's funny you should ask because when Jean Lambert-wild told me his clown would embody Richard III, I thought to myself: "Hang on, his clown already exists, it has a story... How am I going to find mine? " Suddenly, perhaps because we saw each other as alter egos, I had the idea of becoming his double. I thought a mirroring game would work but I didn't want to be a pale imitation of his clown. How do you go about unearthing your clown? Is it simply a matter of painting your face, or dressing up? I think it stems from something deeper. I also had to admit to him that I don’t particularly like clowns! Their makeup alone seems to state that everything is allowed, that nothing is out of bounds. I always felt as though something was being cancelled out in this overabundance.
Despite this, there are still only two of you on stage, mirroring each other... as per the title: Me in front of me.
Yes! What Jean Lambert-wild loved in our previous project at the Comédie de Caen was that we recreated different dramatic worlds within our imitation game: I embodied eclectic performance types and a variety of characters, whereas he felt unique as his character - his clown - whom he chooses not to break from. He loved my ability to multiply. We talked about the theater and why we loved it, and our conversations reawakened my early impulse: my love of theater is rooted in disguise, in the uniqueness of each appearance. On the premise that Jean Lambert-wild is Richard III, I have to be all the other characters - and this is where I belong. This, also, is how I discovered how best to engage with technology: I decided I would make it materialize. It wouldn’t be an external manifestation. I am the magician, so to speak, who enables the clown to act out the story. This also means that I won’t wholly become these numerous characters. This approach won’t prevent a sincere performance, rather it will allow a broad, extravagant, uninhibited one.
It will also really emphasize the duet dimension of Richard III – the unfolding of a whole world through a clown and his double. It’s not about a clown and scores of characters, but about two characters, one of whom embodies a variety of puppets, thus creating this world…
Exactly, and it also allows a different take on Richard III’s character. He is often depicted as extremely powerful, charismatic and angry. Jean Lambert-wild follows a more melancholy path, something more subdued and internal. His diminished vitality, on a hospital bed, allows the characters around him to take on a very powerful and very broad dimension. Richard III will exist through others; everyone will project things onto him. It’s interesting to think that he will not play a madman or a monster - it is the others who create the monster.
Jean Lambert-wild’s decision to opt for the clown is very interesting, as it forces the character to open up and question things...
Absolutely. The clown will have to interact and look around him, and find out how to engage with others. This makes the title resound: Me in front of me... The clown is no longer on his own, someone sees him. He has to really engage. Others can mirror who we are: how we see ourselves and how they perceive us and who we become through their eyes. This is what Me in front of me stands for: someone in front of him will react to who he is, help him, make him laugh and transform him in places. It’s an interesting layer, a sub-tale within Richard III.
It’s amazing you two found each other! In Jean Lambert-wild’s view, collaborations and encounters happen through serendipity but never totally by chance. He described your encounter almost exactly as you did!
His faith in these encounters is beautiful. It comes down to his enthusiasm, which I love, because despite his vast experience and know-how, he wants to be changed by others and through encounters, exactly like in the play. I find that really amazing.
Your collaboration stems from such an encounter, another principle that is close to Jean Lambert-wild’s heart. This contributes to making these collaborations such a liberating environment. It’s pretty similar to the way I fit into this project: as a researcher, I’ve always enjoyed a lot of leeway that is rooted in a true mutual sense of trust. For you, this collaboration will also lead to a different experience on set. Do you essentially have experience as a performer, or are you experienced in multidisciplinary stage writing?
I have very limited experience in this kind of writing. It’s the first time I’m involved in anything like it. For me, being an actor is about more than simply performing. For things to flow, something has to be triggered within my imagination and my awareness. The dynamic of give and take is fundamental; otherwise things are accomplished but not inherently understood or felt. A deep affinity is a prerequisite for this kind of collaboration. I had never experienced such a degree of freedom and expression in the very process of work, and it makes me very happy. It's a great opportunity. It’s incredibly enriching and contributes to what is, in my mind, the perfect rehearsal: what will be created could never have been anticipated by any member of the team - the combination, exchange and gathering of different ideas, sensitivities and worlds will allow for something completely unforeseeable, all the while maintaining the character and aesthetics typical of Jean Lambert-wild.
Jean Lambert-wild wants to create a translation and adaptation that are close to the original language, but also close to his poetic world. What do you like about Shakespeare and his relationship to language?
The relation to language you mention is important to me, and translation is always a tricky issue. What I particularly like in Shakespeare is the magnitude of the stakes at play in his work. There is something huge within the language and the challenges of the story. This is real drama, on a physical level. Shakespeare cannot do without physical involvement. Yes, language is there and yes, they are very wordy plays, but they can’t be performed, in my opinion, on a psychological level: it would not be on a par with the power of his writing. You have to dig very deep, reach into your feet, the ground and yourself to unearth a power that makes the words ring true and restores its full force to his language. This is an incredible challenge, and this is a direct answer to the question: "why theater"? I love the poetry of it, these tangible, straightforward relations that are tinged with poetry. A poetry that transports us to another dimension and can touch us in places that cannot be similarly moved by other art forms.
Interview by Eugenie Pastor