Sneaking through the alleys of the City of the Popes at a time when the sun finally gives up its arms, heading towards the courtyard of the Musée Calvet and there escaping, rising, being enveloped by the beauty of words and caress of a light breeze. This is what France Culture offers throughout the Festival d’Avignon. On the bill that evening, Didier Sandre, member of the Comédie-Française and the actress Marie-Sophie Ferdane (who was part of it) gathered to offer us a very beautiful discovery: the writer Anne Sibran, also on stage .
A reading for three voices, composed of extracts from two very different books: one on shamans (Childhood of a shaman, Gallimard editions) and the threatened forests of Ecuador where she lives part of the year, the other on Cézanne and his quest for light and beauty (The first dream of the world, Gallimard editions). All intertwined with his travel diaries. Vibrant and inspired. We meet Didier Sandre, a few minutes after loud applause.
Franceinfo: What motivates you to engage in this reading of an ultra-talented but still little-known author?
Didier Sander: It’s a real discovery, I didn’t know Anne Sibran at all and for me the exercise of reading is also a way of going to put my nose where I would not have gone spontaneously, because other readings , other things to do… These meetings with the public on authors that we don’t necessarily know, it’s wonderful. And it’s also wonderful to be the smuggler. Especially when it comes to such a worked, stylish language. With this type of writing, one should not use pretty diction, be redundant with regard to the beauty of the sentence, but be as concrete as possible, not to oppose this beauty but to better convey it.
What does Avignon represent in your long career?
It represents a lot of nostalgia. Although The Damned6 years ago, very fresh in my memory, there is also obviously The Satin Slipper (by Claudel, directed by Antoine Vitez in 1987) which has been widely printed on the walls of the city, there are even frescoes of certain scenes on the facades. And then before I had done The Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare, directed by Jorge Lavelli with Roland Bertin, Anny Duperey… A cast like you can’t get in theaters today, there were only stars in that production. A lot of nostalgia but unfortunately I’m playing tomorrow at the Comédie-Française The Bourgeois Gentlemanso I can’t immerse myself yet, I’m there like a passing bird.
Do you ever come to the festival as spectators?
Nope ! Frankly, honestly, when you don’t have something specific to do in Avignon, I think there are other times to enjoy this absolutely sumptuous city, and also other times to see theater in more pleasant. But when you’re there to do something about it, it’s great.
Is there a particularly curious, passionate public here?
When you walk in the streets there is an Avignon fever, a madness for the theater, and at the same time there is not just an audience from Avignon, there are audiences. We feel that it is very heterogeneous, the public does not come for the same reasons. When you look at the posters along the streets, you see that there is everything, there is food and drink, it’s a kind of theater fair, it’s been said for a long time.
Does it scare you?
Yes, a little, but at the same time I feel guilty about it because I also know that I am a spoiled actor, and that all these posters hanging from the strings along the streets show the same love of theater, you have to start at the end. The theater, you have to experience it, live it, there is also a lot of risk taking in the fact of coming to present your work, your desire to do something other than what life predestined them to do. There is a lot of courage, there will be a lot of disappointment, and also wonderful surprises.
The Comédie-Française celebrated Molière’s 400th birthday this year with a dedicated program, did you enjoy being part of it?
As always with Molière, for me it’s quite ambiguous. This year Molière was both a programming and distribution constraint, an obligation to play Molière because we are in Molière’s house and I like not to feel like in La Fontaine’s fable The wolf and the dogthe bridle around the neck. And as always with Molière, the surprises are happy. I never wanted to play Géronte in Deceits of Scapin because it’s a play that rather bores me on reading, and as soon as we start playing it we forget everything, we play, it plays. This is where we see that Molière was really a man of the theater, an actor, the roles are written for the rhythm, the breathing, the voice of the actors. Molière takes you by the hair, he pulls you, he sucks you in, we are not without judgement.
And play Molière in front of such an enthusiastic audience?
This year was extraordinary because it was the first year after Covid where we really found the public. As Eric Ruf (the administrator of the French) says, if it hadn’t been Molière’s year, would the Richelieu room have been filled so much? We were spoiled by this anniversary and the magnificent attendance when many other rooms are suffering from these two years of Covid and restrictions.
Happy at the Comédie-Française?
Yes, basically yes! But I can’t say it’s easy every day. I think all the actors in the troupe would tell you the same thing. Firstly because we are asked a lot and then we are 60 actors but there are still 400 people in this house which brings together all the theater professions, the actors are in a minority in a way. But it is an extraordinary tool. I had been offered to go there three times, I didn’t feel ready, I felt that it wasn’t a home for me. When Muriel Mayette offered it to me the 4th time, I said to myself: there won’t be a 5th, you have to think carefully! I thought about it, I listened to the opinion of some people and I said yes. I am, 8 years later, very happy!
Voice of authors with France Culture and the SACD: Anne Sibran
France Culture Fictions as part of the Festival d’Avignon 2022