with Simon Grangeat
On Thursday, March 2nd, Simon Grangeat, author of French contemporary theatre, has accepted a zoom conference with the French theatre club. They have had the occasion to learn about his experience, his vision of theatre and the play he has written and that they are using as their final representation: T.I.N.A. une brève histoire de la crise (There Is No Alternative: a brief story of the crisis).
One of the particularities of Simon Grangeat is his conception of the role played by the comedian toward the public. Since very young, he has been reading a lot of theatre plays of various genres that all have influenced his current writing style. His most conscious source of inspiration is the Brechtian vision of theatre: the idea that a play should not only be poetic but should also have a part of politics that help the public to think of society by itself. Therefore, if classical theatre might have unconsciously inspired him, it is the antique Greek theatre made of satire and based on a choir that had direct interactions and is establishing a link between the audience and the comedians that is closer to what drove Simon Grangeat’s theatre. Indeed, for him, theatre is more of a meeting between two collectives than a lecture about art or politics, and that’s the reason why the choir plays a central role in his writing style: because, unlike lecturers, comedians have no legitimacy to educate the audience from a higher state, and this social barrier is broken by the choir that is often a narrator with human feelings that can react with the public and try to understand the play with it.
This distinction between a lecture and Brechtian theatre, Simon Grangeat feels it from the writing process of his plays. While he writes, he learns as much as the public about the topic of the play. Art becomes not only information but an experience the author gets, puts into words, and that the public receives individually and personally. For this reason, the only play he has written without any character playing a choir was very unique in his production. For the same reason, Simon Grangeat does not have images of the play in mind while he is writing it, the stage directions are rare and practical which leaves the director and comedians with the freedom of interpretation and imagination of both the settings and the character’s personality. “I am writing with my ears” instead of his eyes, Simon Grangeat said, as reality is always poorer than imagination, which makes freedom more relevant than intransigent directions.
Simon Grangeat defines T.I.N.A. une brève histoire de la crise, as the first play of his career. The texts he wrote before are still important for him but in an emotional state. Back then, in 2008, the subprime crisis was defined as a disastrous monetary condition, but very few people in the media were actually explaining the crisis itself: the subprime, who they were, what was the actual economic meaning of T.I.N.A. (There Is No Alternative). As he was, through TV and journals, following the demonstrations in Greece where the people were claiming “We are not PIGS”, referring to the banks refusing to lend money to Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain because they were considered not economically stable enough during the global economic crisis; Simon Grangeat and some of his colleagues decided to try to truly understand what had caused the 2008 crisis, and what the T.I.N.A. strategy was underlying.
At first, the play was supposed to be short, a satirical ten minutes sketch that would vulgarize the situation. However, throughout their research, they progressively understood that such a story was understandable once studied, but could not be summered up in 10 minutes. If they wanted to deal with it, they needed at least a one-hour-long play.
Even if the play will be interpreted by nineteen members of the French theatre club sharing twenty-two characters, it was initially written for three comedians playing the three narrators and all the other characters of the play in order to both try to understand and explain the crisis to the audience with a burlesque tune. The play is a true gift to the comedians as all characters are free of interpretation. Paramo, the main character took his name out of the book Pedro Paramo, and happened to have a name meaning “desert” in Spanish but also very close to the French word “parano” (paranoid person), which can both give him a strong personality or none, even if all these personalities are unstable. The other characters have either very common names or no name at all and are called by their job and functions in the script (le chef d’Etat, le banquier…). This gives a strong message to both the director and the reader: anyone could have been at any of these functions, and the story would have been the same. The subprime crisis was not occasioned by individuals but by an army of random persons, mechanically doing their jobs without asking themselves questions. The end reflects what Simon Grangeat calls a “Banker apotheosis”, a hold-up, an illustration of political cowardness when it comes to financing, but also of the role bankers assume or do not take in current societies. The final scene of T.I.N.A. can both be seen as a message of complete pessimism as everything seems settled but also a message of hope as only a bit of courage can completely change the balance. For Simon Grangeat, all this end takes place in the public feelings, how the audience wants the end to impact it, individually.