WRITING THE SCRIPTS
The French cultural repertoire is full of wonderful subjects. All I do is choose a few and assemble the pieces to make them “stageable”, and …well, write a script that has some French and some English, the two languages mirroring each other so that everyone can understand, regardless of their proficiency in the language.
Before starting I ask myself two questions: what would I want to see and what would I not want to see if I was sitting in the theater? Skip half-naked people, intellectually challenging words and metaphysical themes. Give us the bright costumes (historically correct though), the beautiful songs, the appealing stories. We want to laugh, cry, applaud with genuine enthusiasm, and leave the theater with a good story to dream about. And a little a bit of French culture to boot!
The second thing I ask is what is the best way to showcase the cast’s talents? If I have singers, I will include maybe more songs than originally planned; if it turns out I have some dancers, a dance number will be added. Someone has a guitar? We will need a guitar, to be sure, in one scene. Writing my own text allows me to change the script to suit one actor’s needs, skills, or personality better. Sometimes one actor can’t handle as many French lines as were originally written, so we switch the lines to more English, and vice versa. As we progress through the rehearsals, everybody is encouraged to make suggestions and we work them into the script.
I certainly don’t claim to be a writer, but rather a literary “bricoleur” (roughly translated by “handywoman”). All kinds of things make up the script: biographies (like the life of Edith Piaf, or Coco Chanel); icons of French culture like the Moulin Rouge; literature (like Molière and Notre-Dame de Paris); classic and contemporary French and sometimes American songs; famous music like the cancan; History (Joan of Arc); the types of the current actors; sometimes just a beautiful costume that I found for pennies at the Salvation Army store!
Once I find all my elements, I write a skeleton script. Next, I ask the dean to approve the project. Then I try to find a date on the ACC calendar for our performance, and finally, the casting call goes out. The casting can be a long process: it is not easy to bring together 6, 8, 15 different people, even harder to have everyone commit to see the (long-term) project through. This is why it took four years to put the Molière show on stage! I guess the main thing is to keep trying and not give up.
Once I have gathered the participants, the rehearsal dates are decided, based on everyone’s schedules and on space availability. Only then, when the cast is finalized and committed, can I start reworking the script based on the current cast’s types and abilities. I call it “writing backwards” because I have to look at how my script can fit the cast, instead of casting roles as is traditionally done. As a result, the original skeleton script can only be that: a skeleton that will get fledged as the troupe materializes. In the end, by some miracle that I still don’t understand everything comes together beautifully (see the “audience response” section for each show).