Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Theatre sans animaux

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to bring you Théâtre sans animaux, a contemporary comedy presented by my French Theatre Workshop class at Colorado State University! I'm so proud of all of these gutsy students that I wanted to show off some pictures of them in this funny, funny play.

As I mentioned earlier this month, this play is entirely in French (with English "subtitles" projected above the stage), as were our rehearsals, which makes for a great immersion experience (as good as it gets here in northern Colorado, at least). Here's what I say in my director's notes in the program:

Welcome to CSU's most ambitious French play in at least ten years! Théâtre sans animaux is twice as long as the others I've directed here. Published in 2001, it's also replete with rapid-fire slang, idioms, and other expressions that raise our eyebrows and contort our tongues. (This means, though, that my students can now say the French equivalent of things like "That's freakin' scary" and "skank" with ease--they've delighted in learning words that we don't normally cover in French class!) And since each scene that makes up Théâtre sans animaux is not connected to the others in the play, we've had to figure out who the characters are, what they want, and what's the point of the scene--six times! It's as if we're presenting six mini-plays to you today, each its own entity. I'm sure you'll agree that these gutsy actors and the stage manager--who holds it all together--have done a remarkable job with this task.

These six plays are a fascinating combination of linear, straightforward storytelling and vibrant characters interrupted by some absurdist conceits. A father and his teenaged daughter who sit down for their first real conversation in years--prompted by the fact that he can't remember her name. A long-married couple with different religious beliefs who must deal with the arrival of an enormous ballpoint pen in their living room on a Sunday morning. A bride struggling to support her new husband's efforts to stop smoking, wanting to help him but also embarrassed by the ridiculous item he insists on wearing. While maybe these exact situations haven't happened to us, we can still identify with many of the characters and themes in the plays--sibling rivalries, lovers who want different things, people who overanalyze life instead of simply experiencing it. And doesn't every family have a diva like Simone? Merci beaucoup for joining us for this adventure. We hope that Théâtre sans animaux makes you laugh and makes you think. Laissez-vous porter par le courant!

Here's our performance space: a lecture hall on campus. We have a very simple set--since there's no backstage area--and we also have to contend with a big audiovisual station that holds a projector, DVD player, and much more. (It's the big tan thing on the right.) In this scene, it becomes a bar. Later on, it's a dressing room, and at the end, a statue.

Scene 1: Égalité-Fraternité. Beth Santerre as Jacques, annoncing to his older brother André (a famous writer, played by Catherine Peterson), that he has become smarter than him.

Scene 2: Tragédie. Louise (Ashley Kidder) tries to convince her recalcitrant husband Jean-Claude (Shaun McCullough) to say "bravo" to her sister Simone after her opening night at the Comedie Francaise.

Patricia Pineiro-Nunez as Simone the diva in Tragédie.

Scene 3: Monique. Papa (Lucas Sweet) gives advice to his daughter (Alison Baumgartner), even though he can't remember her name.

The daughter confronts her father about his forgetfulness.

Scene 4: Dimanche. Mom (Julia Thornton) expounds on the joys of living in the Creuse while her teenage daughter Severine (Lucy Tunna) mocks her.

Severine and her father (Courtney Gregory) measure the enormous ballpoint pen that has crashed through their living room ceiling.

Scene 5: Bronches. Jean (Frédérique Pesin) comforts his new wife Claudine (Jessi Day), who's worried that Jean, a former smoker, will get lung cancer.

Jean has managed to stop smoking by wearing a Louis XV wig, but Claudine finally accepts to go shopping with him in public anyway.

Scene 6: Souvenir. A group of friends spending the afternoon at an art museum start to wonder if we've all evolved so far that all we do anymore is think. (Frédérique Pesin, Lucas Sweet, Courtney Gregory, Catherine Peterson, and Shaun McCullough.)

Getting in touch with their inner fish, the friends return to their prehistoric origins and swim offstage.
And here's the whole cast again, with me and my amazing stage manager Rachel Ladasky sitting in front! Wish us luck this sounds like a lot of people are planning on coming! (Click here to read about how it went and where we donated the proceeds.)


  1. This looks like great fun! Congratulations on putting together such a huge undertaking!

  2. Sarah,

    Thanks for sharing the photos! I know this has consumed such a large chunk of your time and energy and patience this past semester, it is nice to have a better idea of what it's all about. Hope it was a big success! And bravo for creating such a rich experience!

  3. Sarah,
    I wish I could see Theatre sans animaux" in-person! It looks like a lot of work and a lot of fun. Way to go, and good luck this weekend (or last weekend, not sure).

  4. Dear Anonymous, Estela, and Dory,

    Merci beaucoup! I wish you all could have seen it too!

  5. Hi! I have no connection to you other than I googled Theatre Sans Animaux and this blog came up. This cheered me up so much, because I just got back from an Experiment in International Living trip (French Theater themed) where we performed Theatre Sans Animaux. I played Louise in Tragedie. Performing this play was the single biggest accomplishment of my life (we had only four days to prepare for it!). It was so much fun and it seems like you and your students had the same amazing experience with this play. Congratulations!

  6. Dear Emily,

    That sounds like a wonderful experience! I can't imagine pulling together a scene like "Tragedie" in such a short time--must have been intense. Were you in France at the time? Were all the actors fluent? Are you a student?