Believing before seeing | Didier Ruiz

I grew up not really knowing what theatre was. I went there only at a later age. The only pictures I had as a child were from the TV show Au théâtre ce soir. I guess it was once a week or once a month, most probably on Fridays. The show started with the murmur in the theatre, the plays they offered were burlesque theatre shows with the big stars of that time. My parents loved this ‘theatre date’ and they would always be bent over with laughter. We would all sit in our fixed spot, be it a chair or an armchair, and watch these black and white images. It was popular and cheerful, the theatre came into every home, even to those who never went to the theatre. Like us. Emotions were rare or absent.

But I have no memory of live theatre whatsoever. I can’t say, like so many others can, “Oh when I saw so-and-so in this and this play, my life changed…” My theatre was built on the wind… On other images, on reading, on the television programmes of the only available, inescapable channel, the bullfights presented in the sixties, which would always leave a very strong impression on me. I was astonished, as if in a state of apnea, facing the unfolding rite of life and death.

My choice for theatre happened very quickly. Without really having an example, but with a big desire. Without any references, like groping in the dark, guided by a sensation more than by images. I believed before seeing: I was the anti-Saint-Thomas.

Why theatre today? Because I don’t do politics. I am engaged ‘in theatre’ because I don’t identify with any political party. It’s my way to reunite society, to stir it, to make it dream my way, to offer society a space for sensations and questioning, a society that resembles me most.

I make so-called documentary theatre, this is theatre of the humankind, that articulates itself in the moment. On stage, I accompany the voices and bodies of those I like to call ‘innocent’, those non-actors who speak out, vertical and facing the world, without a net, who address us to tell us their world, to claim the world for us. The spectator recognises himself in this ordinary hero who speaks to him, who is not wearing a costume. He leaves the theatre troubled by what he has seen and heard. Changed by the performance, he rejoins his social group, he infiltrates the group with a new vision. For me, this is the start of a possible revolution from individual to individual, of a small-scale spin-off.

I love the idea of the group. The idea of this evening rendezvous, of these strangers meeting in the dark to share their emotions, always leaves me on the verge of tears. Creating an ephemeral community, every night in a different way, enchants me. This community is alive, its members remain united by invisible bonds, together they experienced the emanation of that particular evening. Because I’m not religious, it is the temple in which I reflect. Yes, the theatre is the place of mystery where anything can happen. Spectator, actor and nowadays as a director, I continue to meet myself over and over again and commit myself forever to find new ways of life. Theatre helps me to be the man I am and at the same time, it allows me to immerse myself into the world, as one plunges one’s nose into a simmering casserole to capture the aromas.

I believe that theatre is capable of stirring our consciousness. It is this conviction that makes me want to continue trying to change the colour of the world. After all these years, I make theatre that resembles me.

Today, we talk about theatre performances to watch at home, on one’s screen. As a matter of course or fate. For me it is like going back fifty years in time. He, who hasn’t had the experience of being with others in an auditorium in the dark, doesn’t know what theatre is. We are asked to invent ersatz theatre, to imagine almost empty halls, hidden shadows. We can hear the voices of the gravediggers here and there, they want to put the beast to death. Theatre will resist as it has always done, as it has always defended itself by renewing itself for centuries. And I will help her.

Didier Ruiz is a French director. Participatory creation is a trademark for his work. His company La compagnie des Hommes is involved in many projects in the suburbs, rural areas and specific neighbourhoods. Memory, the trace, but also the portrait and the collection, are reference points along a continuous path that Ruiz explores relentlessly.