This year sees the first edition of the exciting Paris Fringe Festival. In order to draw attention to the event, and find out a little more about one of the participating groups, I spoke to Lilac Yosiphon, the Artistic Director of Althea Theatre. Althea Theatre is an international theatre ensemble who will be performing their play “There’s No Place Like” at the festival on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 May.
E. Tell me a little bit about the birth of Althea Theatre and the people who you work with!
L. We’re a group of ten actors, British and non-British. I started the ensemble when we all graduated from acting school. One of my mentors had asked me “If you could only have one production, you could do anything you want to, but it would need to be good enough for you to stay in the country, what would you do? Take a couple days and get back to me about it!”. I’d always been inspired by the idea of writing a play based on love letters written during war times: across cultures, languages, times and places – and that was the passion, the one thing I would do if it was a question of leaving London.
I thought about the ten people I trust more than anything and would want to work with every day. I met with them for a coffee and explained that the production needed to be good enough to keep me in the country – no pressure! We were working on this fifty-minute showcase together, and suddenly we got a slot at one of the biggest fringe theatres in London. All of a sudden we became a group.
E. So do you find that being an international group changes how you produce and perform together? What do the different cultures bring?
Interesting question! I think I would have answered that differently before I left London… There’s this quote that says “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” (Anaïs Nin). In our group, everyone comes with their own cultural point of view, and this makes the work richer. Dealing with ideas like home and belonging, you see how that feeling is different from a British point of view, a French point of view, an Israeli point of view or a Swedish point of view. It allows you to get to the essence of the thing in a way that is meaningful to me.
Also, the nature of leading an international group is that the work has to travel! The work is created in London, but must then echo in other places as well. When we came to Paris for the first time, we didn’t even know if people would laugh at our jokes, let alone be moved, or provoked to think differently. And we realised that, actually, once you ask those questions in different places, what we do changes, the play changes.
E. Your piece “There’s No Place Like” is introduced on your website with the Maya Angelou quote “The ache for home lives in all of us; the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” This also implies, or wonders, if such a ‘home’ really exists. Is this sentiment echoed in There’s No Place Like?
L. I think that sentence is being, in a way, contrasted in “No Place Like”. We meet two characters who have two very different notions of what home is, and what they’re willing to risk to have that feeling of belonging somewhere. Maya’s quote captures that sense of stillness we are all looking for, a place to find peace, and how that search is a shared one.
The show never ends when we finish the curtain call, we always say that it’s only the beginning of a longer conversation.
E. Where else have you performed “No Place Like”? What other countries?
We’ve been to Tel Aviv a few months ago. That was completely different, because our two main perspectives are an Israeli perspective and a British perspective. Performing in Israel gave a flipped response to that from when we performed in Britain. There are also talks about bringing the production to Spain, Ireland and possibly Italy. We don’t really know where we’re headed next!
E. Talking about the play’s reception and interpretation, what do you hope or expect to get from these performances at the Paris Fringe?
It’s interesting because we had three Paris previews in a really tiny bar, twenty people max, and we didn’t know how the audience would react. But people came up to us and said “this is so relevant to French society”, which we found fascinating. I wonder if sometimes, if you don’t feel like a play is directly pointed at you, you’re much more open to listening and thinking about it.
Also, when we performed in London and Tel Aviv, we only performed in black-box (experimental) or pub theatres, but in Paris we get to do it in an actual pub [Lilac will literally be performing behind the bar, and serving drinks beforehand]. Which is great because we believe the story should travel, not the set, so it keeps changing. You walk into the place, and the boundaries between theatre and reality are blurred.
E. Thanks for talking with me, Lilac, and I look forward to seeing “There’s No Place Like” during the Paris Fringe Festival!
You can find more information about “There’s No Place Like” as well as the other plays on the Paris Fringe line-up here: www.parisfringe.org/. The website for Althea Theatre can be found here: www.altheatheatre.co.uk/