The first artist in residence this year at the Lycée Français de New York was actor and director Marcel Bozonnet with the 11th graders. You may not be familiar with this name but in the theater industry in France it is a big name. Marcel Bozonnet has been a “sociétaire”, a member of the troup of the Comédie Française, and later directed that famous theatre located on the place Colette in Paris. He also headed the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art of Paris.
As an artist – his career lead him to play major roles in difficult plays under the direction of such directors as Antoine Vitez or Patrice Chéreau – as well as a director – he brought to the Comédie Française Robert Wilson who directed the Fables de La Fontaine, M. Bozonnet has always been a demanding professional. And demanding he was with the Eleventh graders who learn that art is perseverance, patience, frustration, enlightenment and work !
Marcel Bozonnet was in residence for a week from Monday October 28 to Friday November 1. The residence explored the work of actors and other theater crafts. The group of performers was composed of thirty to forty people. Around the group of “actors“, five other groups worked in the fields of theater crafts: the videographer, the musician, the Assistant to the Director, those responsible for communication and production, and the dancers.
Marcel Bozonnet chose to work on the text “ Plume” by Surrealist French poet Henri Michaux. “The character, Plume, emerges from these thirteen short stories by Michaux. Plume is made of the material of dreams. It is about waking up to the edge or falling asleep. This indecision appeals to us. The limits of his body are unclear: what makes it brittle, transparent, and sometimes dangerously invisible. The danger is also everywhere, as in dreams: trains cross the bedrooms, we walk on us, heads are cut off, the body is trapped, fragmented, swallowed.” writes Marcel Bozonnet.
French teacher Isabelle Milkoff familiarizing her 11th graders with the text Plume, by Henri Michaux.
Prior to the residency, Isabelle Milkoff, Head of French Department and five teachers involved in the project had divided the 13 stories between the students. The students-actors did an incredible job learning the difficult texts under the guidance of their teachers in the weeks leading up to the arrival of Marcel. Also prior to the residency, they all visited the exhibition Magritte at Moma to familiarize themselves with Surrealism.
Three hours with the artist
Marcel Bozonnet came to New York with his wife Judith Ertel who is a professor of video in France and worked all week at the lycée, directing the videographers. Students in full classes (S1, S2, L) or in half classes (ES1, ES2) corresponding to the newly created advisory groups met with the artists for three hours prior to the ultimate rehearsal leading to the final project, a show of Plume by Henri Michaux in the auditorium.
The final performance of Plume, by 11th graders on November 1st 2013.
It was not always easy: the time frame is short and in five days Marcel Bozonnet wanted the play to be as good as if it were at the Comédie Française! But the result was amazing and all in all reactions were rather positive. When students will look back at this special week, they might say like Clémence: “I think the presence of a professional such as Marcel Bozonnet in our studies -and especially in French theater -has brought me a lot. Indeed, Marcel Bozonnet had a vision of theater different from mine, which has not only helped me to discover other ideas and opinions, but also help me see Plume by Michaux differently. He associated the words and gestures, which helped my understanding of the work often made of abstract scenes. Therefore, the experience was fun.“.
I was very impressed by his ability to stage a play with so many students in so little time.
Or Alexis: “It was super interesting to see that it is possible to connect all areas within the same show: theater, dance, singing, theater, music, etc.. And it was also great to understand that text must be said with infinite precision in order to be understood by everyone.”
Or Zoé: “As an actress, the experience was fun! Indeed, it was very interesting to be in these conditions, to have the chance to be with a well-known company director. He showed us how to stand on stage and speak properly. I was very impressed by his ability to stage a play with so many students in so little time”. Well Marcel Bozonnet did it thanks to the wonderful work of the Eleventh Graders, with the help of Judith Ertel, the French teachers and our behind the scene Kamel Ouazzi. Bravo to all!