Disarming solitudes

If you were to ask me today why I think theatre is irreplaceable, I would say that it is the shortest path from aesthetics to ethics. And immediately I would have to add that it is the shortest path from ethics to aesthetics, which isn't quite the same thing. Theatre only has to open its doors to express its political conscience. Even the most apolitical of theatre is more political than most of the declarations of the consumerist world. Who can't see that individualism now has a market value and that capitalism not only ceaselessly encourages it, but also proclaims it as the only expression of intelligence and self-fulfilment? And what other human adventure, in this great technological supermarket, can still teach us the joy of being together? To be together doesn't mean to stand in a crowd or to vibrate with suppressed urges, but to accept to share our anxiety and to hope for the return of founding myths. Aesthetics and ethics are so close during a dramatic performance that we can struggle to tell them apart, our sense of wonder crossing paths with our desire for a better society, our collective conscience strengthened by the celebration of the stage. The consumer consumes alone and comforts himself in luxuriant poverty, and buys noise to pull even further away from that which could save him.

Because what saves us is to belong to History, it's the feeling of having taken part in a story; even the most humble gathering of hopes can be enough to give rise to that feeling. He who goes to the theatre ever only brings his inability to understand the world and his despair at his isolation, what we could call the silence of the room. He comes to join in the silence, a strange and anachronistic experience in light of the howling polemics and invasive slogans that litter social media. Theatre begins with this shared silence, which isn't the same as keeping quiet. Quite the contrary. It's easy to be cynical about the power of theatre to change the world. And since the dawn of the world, theatre has had its doubters; and since the world itself has needed to be saved, there has been reason to fear that theatre has been reduced to a distraction for a privileged few obsessed with the idea of cultural heritage. But to understand that theatre has lost nothing of its thaumaturgic power, one only has to change points of view, to look at it from the vantage point of a life, that of a teenager with no entry point into the life of the mind, of an inmate oppressed by social determinism, of a teacher who fears neither darkness nor blinding light, of an artist who gave up on fame for the love of their craft, of a passerby who mysteriously strays from the path chosen for them by commercial powers, of a lover looking for a point of crystallisation, of a dying man who needs to gaze upon the ultimate truth of his own end. Looked at from those vantage points, the power of theatre to change things becomes obvious, and the very idea of possibility becomes like a morning light.

But theatre, which promises less than it gives, doesn't just open the doors of what is possible. It is action. Everywhere grows the danger of living in a disillusioned world, a world in which we are alone against guilt and powerlessness. To help us make our way through the rigour of the time, theatre simply offers us the opportunity to come and gather to watch the eternal performance of humanity struggling with that very powerlessness. Silence then becomes a means to perceive this shared imagination, this deep and unspeakable link: the messianism of the collective. Don't we say of a room that it listened attentively or that it breathed together? And what can we say, after this silence, of the deflagration of applause that breaks it and celebrates not the end of the performance but the presence of the Present? Political theatre argues that performance is the essence of politics, and it needs images and stories to avoid being empty and show only the violence of power.

This is the immense ambition of the Festival d'Avignon. Our impatience for a more just society, for a healthier relationship to the world, for a fairer distribution of the right to speak, is but the highest form of political desire. And to achieve it, we have to disarm solitudes. There is no hierarchy in this adventure, all of us are responsible for ourselves and for our own conscience. Thank you to one and all for making theatre an art of the future.

Olivier Py