Gérald Garutti

gérald garutti

Interpreting the world to make it visible

“Telling a story is telling the world. By definition, by vocation, the theatre gives to see. Theatron is the place from which we see, the place of vision. A vision that also passes through the ear. …] Vision, history, incarnation, presentation, presence, present, breath, breath, speech, verb, flesh, text, scenic writing: all these elements form, if not a system, at least a body, a living whole, an organism.

In an interview about Haïm – in the light of a violin, you explained that it was a story worth telling. What stories do you think deserve to be told?

In my opinion, the story worth telling is the one that has a power, a resonance in everyone who hears it. The one that will allow them to move on, to surpass themselves. That will touch an essential part of themselves. Stories that are so crucial that they have stood the test of time. Like the essential myths: Oedipus, Antigone, Hamlet, Medea, Don Juan. Fundamental stories that literally melt us, that articulate our issues, our questions, our mysteries, our cries. It seems important to me, then, to incarnate them, to question them, to make them resonate in the present, in the presence, with as much power as possible. If need be, in the form of new stories.

Raoul Ruiz postulates that there is a finite number of stories in the world, which, in turn, are embodied and pass through us. They emerge in the form of avatars, metamorphoses, transfigurations of old stories. They go through the rewriting of myths, legends, sagas. When the story comes neither from a myth nor a masterpiece, it seems important to me that in its novelty it combines several dimensions: beauty, intensity, intelligibility, complexity which often deserves to be presented in a simple way. Unlike other directors, I think that the fundamental function of theatre is to embody stories. I am struck by how sometimes in theatre the story ends up becoming secondary, inconsistent or non-existent. For my part, I believe in history, the small story and the big story, history with a big axe, the story that slices, that carries us, the one we make, the one that makes us. I think I am a storyteller.

This story will allow the spectator to get involved, to make him think about a vision of the world…

Every story involves one or more world views. Sometimes competing, they then confront each other on stage. Theatre is the art of points of view, of their confrontation in their difference, of their reversal and their questioning. History is meant to go through us from one side to the other, to pierce our vision of the world. To pierce the eyes is an inaugural gesture, from the Greek tragedy to the surrealist revolution. An Andalusian Dog opens with the image of a razor cutting out an eye, alternating with the image of a cloud crossing the moon, in an analogical and metaphorical montage. I hope that the stories that I show, that I sometimes invent, that I incarnate, will put questions into perspective. To stage is to question.

To tell a story is to tell the world. By definition, by vocation, theatre is about showing. Theatron is the place from which we see, the place of vision. A vision that also passes through the ear. In a global, visual, auricular and oracular contemplation. The theatre is shadows that whisper in your ear, that blow into your bronchial tubes, through your head, your body, and all your senses. It is the spirit that is still embodied in body and scenery. Vision, history, incarnation, presentation, presence, present, breath, speech, verb, flesh, text, scenic writing: all these elements form if not a system, at least a body, a living whole, an organism.

Writing also plays a fundamental role in your work.

The work of writing seems to me to be essential. There are many forms of theatre, often exciting, which are great sources of inspiration for me. But to create a show, I always start from the text. For me, the director is first and foremost a reader, an interpreter. It’s no coincidence that the word “interpretation” refers to the passage from one language to another, the analysis of dreams, the performance of an actor, the playing of a musician and the work of reading. To interpret is to give a meaning, to mean. It is the gesture that consists in starting from a text, whether it is a story, a dream, a score, or any other form of language or set of signs, to propose one or more meanings. The vertigo of interpretation, the fascination it provokes, is the complexity, the polysemy, the glittering of this meaning, which plays on sometimes abyssal depths. Kafka writes in The Trial: “The text is immutable and opinions are only the expression of despair in the face of this immutability”. The interpretation opens onto an infinity, which does not offer the possibility of saying everything, and even less of saying everything at the same time.

This work of interpretation fascinates me. It is the basis of my relationship to reading and directing. It combines imaginary freedom and the need for intelligence, in the sense of creating links – inter-legere -, of connecting things that are fragmented, hidden, of discovering tangents, vanishing lines, underground connections. To interpret is to open up dimensions that do not explicitly appear in the text, to put it into perspective and explore its depths – like a miner, an alchemist, a gold digger. In certain masterpieces such as Lorenzaccio, one must plunge, furrow everything, embrace everything to take the measure of the cathedral’s excessiveness. Writing is also an interpretative path, an understanding of the stakes, the lines of force, the threads that allow me to conceive the show with my creative partners.

Interpreting also means translating. And translating is already the same as making a first interpretation. For each text that I have translated, from Shakespeare’s Richard III to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard and Brecht’s Song, translation has been an act of writing linked to interpretation in a consubstantial way. Translation represents the first dramaturgy. It sets out the choices of meaning and the inaugural acts of reading.

Another form of writing that I practice is adaptation and editing. I have produced a great many text montages in order to construct dialogues. For example, I wrote a dialogue between Stefan Zweig and Klaus Mann on the question: “How can we resist fascism? ». To this end, I went through all of their non-fiction works (correspondence, newspapers, essays), to understand how, confronted with the same questions, they had come up with divergent, opposing, and even contradictory answers.

Finally, in my work as a director, there is stage writing, which induces a scenography, that is to say the writing of a space, a “choreography”, the writing of bodies, movements, dynamics. To draw in space, to draw in time, to write or read, is to go from one point to another, to trace a path from one moment to another. Stage, literary or theatrical, writing is itself rhythmic, musical, composed of contrasts, strong and weak beats, accelerations and syncopations, illusions, shocks, falls, parallel times. The writing brings into play all these significant elements that occupy the space of the stage. Because in the theatre, everything means. Here, even the insignificant is a form of meaning. Indeed, to say that we mean nothing, as sometimes with Beckett, is to signify the insignificant.

I could conclude that directing is an act of reading and writing, to use Sartre’s two parts in Les Mots: “reading” and “writing”. For me, what creates the real dynamic is the back and forth between the two. Diving into the text to extract from it what seems to me essential to embody.

Would stage writing therefore be complementary or at the service of the text?

I think that the most important criterion of a staging is its accuracy. This involves not only doing justice to the text, but above all – as in music – finding the right note. It is therefore a question of relevance and necessity. From it flow power, beauty, emotion, vision, intelligibility. With each new show, I ask myself how to find the most appropriate form for the text, one that will allow me to create the most organic show possible, one that is organic and succeeds in conveying the obvious, the power, the necessity. The life of an Auschwitz survivor[1], an epic fresco on the Revolution[2], the story of a man who enters a bourgeois family to subjugate it[3], or a journey through the night through poems by Desnos, Poe, Baudelaire, Michaux and Kundera[4] are not told in the same way. Each of these issues calls for a different form-even if the term form proves misleading because there is no possible distinction between substance and form: form is the substance that rises to the surface. It is the materialization, the advent, the organization of a bottom. In the theatre, everything is a sign. Every gesture means. And the word exists in its concrete materiality, in its relationship to language, to timbre, to intonation, to volume. This is what is fascinating in the theatre, what Artaud calls the hieroglyph, the impossibility of dissociating the spiritual dimension from the material dimension, the corporeal dimension from the semantic dimension. Artaud speaks of the hieroglyph to show the ultimate point to which he aspires, the absolutely indissociable character of the signifier and the signified, the unity of mind and body. The great power of the theatre is to be at this point of conjunction between the spiritual and material dimensions, for what takes shape in the theatre comes from a form of life. And this is where I find the source of rightness and necessity.

I find it totally absurd to reproduce the same theatrical system, the same device, for different works. You don’t treat a Racine tragedy and a Beckett play in the same way. Or if we do, it has to be for profound reasons that have to do with the works, with a significant and singular point of view on them, and not with a staging system. The latter proves to be sterile when it claims to express the supremacy of the vision of a director, a self-proclaimed genius, over those dwarfs of thought and creation who would be, next to him, Racine, Shakespeare, Musset, Beckett and the others. Such systems can sometimes reveal a work, but also, very often, abrade, degrade or even ruin it. This is why I always try to find this essential dimension, this accuracy, this sharpness, by summoning all the possible means of theatre: a bare stage, the word incarnate, a maximum economy of gestures, so that each of them will have a much greater scope, or, when necessary, scenic deployments, visual projections, “acting machines” – as we say in our profession. It is important for me to bring together the arts, techniques and means at the service of a vision and a purpose, so as not to become a prisoner of a mannerism, or even a kind of refrain that would make us hear only the director’s little music, confected in vain as a ritornello, and no longer that of the authors he is supposed to show.

How do you work the listening between actors? And when it’s just one actor on stage, like in Humble Odd to the Night?

Listening is one of the hearts of theatre. Listening from self to self, listening between the other and oneself, between the actor and the director, between the actor and the audience. It is this availability, this possibility of resonance against a backdrop of silence, presence, attention, that makes it possible for words not only to be uttered, but also received and heard. When it comes to fiery, lively and tonic dialogues, as at certain moments in Lorenzaccio, listening requires hyper-attention and virtuosity, an ability to bounce back quickly. Speed does not induce the absence of listening, quite the contrary. It must be all the more precise and sharp, like in ping pong. In Humble Odd to the Night, the actor is alone on stage, and yet he is extremely surrounded: this show has one hundred and twenty contributors, one hundred and twenty attendances, including a dozen principal authors, five secondary authors, three painters, three musicians, and thirty-six actresses who participate in the short film La Cité des femmes that I directed and which is projected at the end.

An actor is never alone on stage. He is crossed by ghosts, spirits, life, the audience. To make a word heard is to listen to these presences. In Humble Odd to the Night, the actor says in a naked voice the poem “Les espaces du sommeil” by Desnos. If his prologue possesses this power of emotion, it is because the actor is listening to his own resonance – an inner listening. Alone on stage, the actor is traversed by words, constantly moving from one position to another, sometimes to the point of delirium. He is streaked with these voices that populate him at the border of his madness. He has to be attentive to all these voices within him, even if they are contradictory, in order to be able to bounce back without falling into a monologue closed to the rest – to the world, to the other, and finally to himself.

Directing is fundamentally a musical art.

And first of all for rhythmic reasons. This is particularly true in comedy, but it is in fact true for all forms of theatre. This rhythm comes through tempo, contrasts, accents, listening. You have to know when to slow down, accelerate, punctuate, vary, when to create a suspense, a pause, like a score. But it is also a musical art because of the voice, through the timbres, the mutes, the bursts, the gaps, the silences, the tessitura, the heights, the intensities. This musicality is particularly vivid in English theatre. When I staged Richard III in England [5], one of the actors in the troupe told me that Shakespeare was above all music. And I realized that he was right. The meaning is fulfilled by this musical essence. Because the language is versified, with its tonic accents, its vocal amplitude, its sonorous materiality. Because it is pure poetry. To emphasize a weak beat instead of a strong beat already constitutes for the character of Richard a way of contradicting the Shakespearean verse, the iambic pentameter. There is a power grab, a power grab in the speech. This work also applies in French, for example in the way the words are brought out. In Nathalie Sarraute’s play Pour un oui ou pour un non, two friends discuss to try to untangle an unspoken malaise between them. The one who has succeeded tries to find out why his friend, who is far less successful socially, is angry with him. And the latter replies: “Because one day, when I bragged to you about one of my little successes, you said, ‘That’s good, that’, with a slight suspense between good and that. “In that suspense, in that little silence between two words, all the implicit contempt of one and all the accumulated resentment of the other were revealed. Part of the work of directing actors consists in finding the most accurate and powerful music, expressing a certain semantic and textual interpretation through musicality.

Generally and more literally, music is at the centre of my shows, in two ways. As the very subject of the piece – as in Haïm – in the light of a violin, where the central element is the violin, synonymous, for the character, with vocation, life, survival, transmission. Music is constitutive here. In the successive versions of the text that I have written, I have never ceased to make the link between the spoken parts and the musical parts, so that such and such a word is associated with such and such a note, with such and such a chord, in a close adjustment with the musicians so that texts and music are perfectly in phase. When the music is not the subject of the piece, I work with composers to create tailor-made music. In La Chute de la Maison Usher [6], a four-handed collaboration with the American composer Mark Deutsch gave a real musical identity to the house. In Petit éloge de la nuit, the extraordinary musician Laurent Petitgand attended the rehearsals and, in symbiosis, composed while I was rehearsing. This type of work, organic, completely interwoven, helps to give the show its power.

In Six Characters in Search of an Author, Pirandello has this sentence: “The Characters should not appear as ghosts, but as created realities, immutable constructions of the imagination: and, therefore, more real and more consistent than the changing naturalness of the actors. »

I agree with Pirandello. If there is a place where these ghosts take shape, borrowing from the actors to the point of becoming reality, it is the theatre. And it is one of the strengths of this art to summon such powers to give them a materialized view. When I speak of ghosts, I am not talking about ectoplasms, but apparitions, in the strongest sense of the word. In Greek, truth is called alètheia, “unveiling”. The theatrical appearance drops a veil. It makes another, deeper reality emerge. In the theatre, we see the appearance of realities hitherto masked, covered. This field of forces is a hotbed of truths.

Between the character and the actor a complex relationship is established. Who is who? The actor is traversed by the character. The character exists thanks to the actor. Some actors are so overwhelmed by their character that they no longer know who they are and become a toy. Others become as unpredictable, melancholic, baroque, tyrannical, unbearable, as exalted in life as their character on stage, unable to contain him, or driven by the impression that they have to go through it for their character to reach his full potential. There are as many ways to embody a character as there are actors. An actor once said to me, “From now on, I’ve decided that all the characters are me. “I play Hamlet, so Hamlet is me. He goes in the opposite direction: here, the actor no longer tries to become the character, it’s the character that comes down to the actor. It also happens that the actors remain who they are no matter what, the characters have to make do with the one who carries them. This can give magnificent interpretations – such as that of Jean Gabin. For me, the greatest actors, at least those I most want to work with, are those who are able to move around. So far, for the most part, my greatest theatrical adventures in terms of directing actors have involved counter-jobs. The first time I directed Harry Lloyd, an English actor of genius, was in Dangerous Liaisons at the Royal Shakespeare Company [7]. 7] Up until then, he had essentially been confined to the roles of young actors, comedians, or aristocrats-sometimes all three at the same time. When he contacted me again three years later to offer me the opportunity to work together again, I enthusiastically accepted, in a logic of counter-employment. Moving this actor into a very different role seemed to me the best way to deploy his excellence. Together we created Notes From Underground [8] (after Dostoïevski). In it he plays a madman who, locked up in his basement for ten years, is putting humanity on trial. It was an exciting adventure. If this show has become a must see in London, it is precisely because this actor went far beyond what he had been until then, to reveal another dimension, both of himself and of this character. Harry was nominated for Best Actor at the Off West End Awards for this role.

Another example of counter-employment that I practiced, in all the interviews he gave about my show Humble Odd to the Night, Pierre Richard said: “it’s the first time I’ve worked”. It’s one of the greatest tributes an actor has ever paid me. A fortiori at eighty-five, after one hundred and ten films. Up until then, Pierre Richard had been himself, distracted, clumsy, moody, goofy, very endearing – which is what he is in life. Which does not prevent him from being a comic genius, quite the contrary. You have to be very virtuoso, very skilful to be so clumsy on command, in front of the camera. But it is certain that with our show, he went elsewhere. Where is the character? Where is the actor? With this show, I wanted both to find him and to discover him at the same time. In the construction of the characters, I like those moments when we manage to touch a secret dimension, to reveal it, so that the character emerges with relevance, audacity, power and singularity. When I chose and directed Paul Anderson in Tartuffe at the Royal Haymarket Theatre in London, he told me that no one would ever have offered him that role, as he was coming out of Peaky Blinders, a series in which he played a gangster ex-soldier demolished by the war.

Without seeking to make systematic counter-employments, I think that both the actor and the character potentially have a lot to gain from this type of research, in this work of conception imagined, elaborated, worked out with the director, in order to succeed in bringing out something that is both new and essential.

[1] Haïm – à la lumière d’un violon, texte et mise en scène de Gérald Garutti, Salle Gaveau, Paris, 2012.

[2] Lorenzaccio, d’Alfred de Musset, mise en scène de Gérald Garutti, Théâtre Montansier, Versailles, 2015.

[3] Tartuffe, de Molière, adapté par Christopher Hampton, mise en scène de Gérald Garutti, Theatre Royal Haymarket, Londres, 2018.

[4] Petit éloge de la nuit, textes d’Ingrid Astier, Baudelaire, Desnos, Kundera, Poe, Maupassant, Michaux et Neruda, mise en scène de Gérald Garutti, Théâtre du Rond-Point, Paris, 2017.

[5] Richard III, de Shakespeare, mise en scène de Gérald Garutti, ADC Theatre, Cambridge, 2014.

[6] The Fall of the House of Usher / La Chute de la Maison Usher, de Steven Berkoff d’après Edgar Poe, mise en scène de Gérald Garutti, Vingtième Théâtre, Paris, 2015.

[7] Dangerous Liaisons, de Christopher Hampton d’après Choderlos de Laclos, mise en scène de Gérald Garutti, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, 2011.

[8] Notes From Underground / Les Carnets du sous-sol, d’après Dostoïevski, adaptation de Harry Lloyd et Gérald Garutti, mise en scène de Gérald Garutti, The Print Room at the Coronet, Londres, 2014.

Pictures: Helena Maybanks and Ledroit Perrin

You can find Gérald Garutti on LinkedIn, Youtube  and his website.

Interview recorded in july 2019.


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