Upcoming: The Maelstrom Reckoning

Paris, December 2019

Note from the Artistic Director:

“Theatre is a superstitious craft...and this implies a magic. We rarely ask what it is, we always know when it is. So much of our training is a recapturing of things we have lost. For the adult it represents a balance between the logical and the intuitive. For most of us this balance is a rare and precious thing. For the actor it is a minimal necessity.”

I wrote these words to my cast in New York City when we opened our first theatre, the Colonnades Theatre Lab in 1973. From the beginning we saw it as a laboratory to fine-tune the actor’s craft not just for stage transformation but to understand why it was so difficult to drop the personal masks that we hide behind. Some 48 years later I am still trying to answer that question. As I look around, it seems more pertinent than ever.

Hatred is on the rise around the world. Our masks are betraying an underlying defensiveness about who we are and who we are not...and we are experiencing an even more dehumanizing and divisive development—a growing fear of empathy itself.

Until now all of our productions have explored binary conflicts—two sides across a single divide. It is no longer enough. The Maelstrom Reckoning will commission theatre communities from multiple continents to incubate and create stories of their inherited conflicts. They will be incubations, developed in their own languages, working under the radar of their national politics to unpeel the historic source of their current fears, distrust, and hatred.

Each incubation will follow one single rule of engagement: that they move backwards in time across generations, uncovering its layers, embodying their own ancestors to face the genesis of the revenge cycle that brought them into violent conflict in the first place. This structural theme was inspired by our most recent production, See You Yesterday, where a young cast of circus performers from the streets of Battambang Cambodia created it to break through the veil of silence that genocide had cast over them and their elders. These locally-created incubations will come together for the final multi-language interactive rehearsal where they will blend their discoveries, becoming both audience and performer for each other—migrants and refugees in each other’s culture flow. At first it will be messy and risky, but it is this very messiness and risk that allows the conflicted groups of actors to search for truth where unexpected humor allows masks to drop and taboos to be re-examined.

This entire journey will take several years from start to finish and will result in an interactive collaborative theatre and film festival, so that every city can participate simultaneously in the international dialogue.

But most importantly, audiences will be able to experience not only the international theatre piece itself, but the process of perceptual and emotional change that allowed a globally-diverse community of strangers to re-engage a human connection that had been buried in the past. Furthermore, the new children's perspectives collected from the Children's Radio Project, which would then be running concurrently, will be used as narrative to the production and would be an interactive sidebar event to the festival itself.

Michael Lessac


Artwork: Artist Harry Clarke's 1919 illustration for "A Descent into the Maelström" by Edgar Allan Poe.