One upon a time

Every generation bears witness to the end of a world and the beginning of another. Between the two there is a mess, a cacophony, an unfinished theatre. It’s up to each generation perhaps to change the course of fate, but above all to create their own narrative. For a youth who has seen its hopes threatened and witnessed the resurrection of old demons and the fragility of all that was built before, finding their true narrative isn’t just a poetic question, but a vital one. Every struggle sees the opposition of material violence and of the angelic power of stories. Contrary to what some might think, worlds are created not by ideologies, but by stories. But the question is whether we’ll still have the haven of silence, the contemplative time, and the harmony of engagements necessary to tell those stories, to renew those fertile myths, to call again on historical narratives. In time of war, we believe that only violence can write History, we lack the strength to undo material curses. But war also begins by a perversion of the narrative; nationalistic discourse, the colonisation of memory, the falsification of our legacy, all are diseased stories that only righteous ones can counteract. Has History ended, as some think? And with it all hopes for social equality, humanistic progress, and advance towards Meaning? Then we will repeat our stories, repeat and rehearse them, not like stuttering incantations, but to delve deeper into this narrative that unites us, to become a People. And even though History has certainly left many peoples behind, it is undeniably stories that make peoples just as much as peoples make stories.

Television audiences gorging on stupidities aren’t the People; masses waiting in line on Black Friday aren’t the People; blissful throngs watching empty shows aren’t the People; hateful mobs looking for an expiatory victim, flocks manipulated by frustration and folly aren’t the People; groups brought together by nothing but shared resentment aren’t the People; fortuitous aggregates tied together by untruths, rumours, invectives, useless controversies, medieval fears, none of that is the People: it’s the crowd.

But the hope that work and probity will give upcoming generations a better world, that’s the People; intelligence freed from fads and ignorance, that’s the People; the legitimacy of fighting for one’s rights and for the rights of others, that’s the People; the unshakable knowledge that dignity is derived from culture and education, that’s the People; compassion, empathy, generosity towards those who suffer, those who have less, that’s the People; rebellion without pride against social injustice, that’s the People; the will to live with others without asking them to give up their truth, that’s the People; the awareness that prisons are filled with men and women whose crime was to be born in the wrong neighbourhood, that’s the People. It is the People who tell history, and what unites a people as a People, it is this narrative it can see itself in, not genetic chimeras.

When those on the inside tell us that our theatre is elitist and not popular, all they do is disregard the intelligence of the people. This people with a great desire, who knows that the soul isn’t alone and that the greatest treasure is made of words and wonders. When we stop believing in popular theatre, we betray not only the highest idea we can have of culture but also the most powerful definition of democracy. In a word, we mistake entertainment for theatre and television ratings for the people. We need the people more than ever, to wash away fake desires, created through media hype with the complicity of some among the elite. There is more than just material poverty—although we need to fight it as a mad injustice in such a rich world—but what we also need to give children are the means to formulate their own stories, to make sure that they don’t see libraries as walls keeping them away from others but as gardens where they will learn to love.

That’s what popular theatre is, the knowledge of the people’s desire to be greater than the labels they’ve been assigned. There can be no Democracy, no Liberty, no Equality, without education and culture. Those who don’t accept that bar the people from all hope for a better life, for any possible Fraternity. They are, simply put, bastards, and they don’t always know it.

As for me, what could I wish for? For this struggle, that has been the struggle of my life, to also be that of those who’ll come after me. They’ll do better than us, even though they live in an even more difficult world. It’s a struggle that will never end, but why should it? It is a struggle which is its own reward as soon as you commit to it, which helps found communities of spirit, which makes hope palpable, which transcends communities and identities and gives greater meaning to the destiny of a generation. In a word, it is the construction of a salutary narrative.

In the end, it all always comes back to “Once upon a time…”, that is, to the possibility of telling stories again and again. Something ends and something begins, and between them, youth has to find the words which will give Meaning to its struggle.

Let the Festival d’Avignon always remain a place for youth, for words, for what is to come.

- Olivier Py