By SPECIWOMEN Illustration VISNJA MIHATOV
"I have to juggle to be able to live my life. I need to accept many projects while preserving my own moments for my personal creation."
What do you do?
Hmm…Some stuff, usually everything at the same time. Odd jobs, kind of DIY.
I am in the theater industry as an actress, a writer and a performer, working with different directors as well as with a company called L’Organisation that I co-lead with the director Elodie Segui who created it. I am also an associate artist with the Am Stram Gram Theater in Geneva, Switzerland. Moreover I sometimes work as a screenwriter and an actress for cinema and television. Since 2001, I have been directing documentaries for TV, in Gaza, in Paris, and all around France as well as in New York City. I create soundtracks for shows. I am also a singer. I created my singer character named RUPPERT PUPKIN with whom I collaborated in cinema, theater and fashion industries. I toured all around France and a little bit abroad too. My first record just came out this month, on June 10th.
Sorry, I guess this is such an unclear first answer. Let's short cut and say that I am the mother of two magic children and that I potter about.
Have you always known what you wanted to pursue?
I understood something when I was 7 and I saw that show at the Théâtre des Célestins in Lyon, France, in which kids were singing (The Little Sweep). I was deeply moved by that other possible reality: children playing and singing on stage. I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to be there. I got out of this show all shook up. Then, I took a drama class in middle and high school while being locked into an immense shyness. There was a dichotomy between me and myself. However, I was happy on stage. It took me a bunch of years to understand the exact place where I needed to be. I did Hypokhâgne and Khâgne (superior literature studies), and a master in literature. I tried Art History too. I was looking for myself, acting in small shows here and there and I was working in a bar at night. The day I signed up for a real drama class, I finally understood… How obvious! The funny thing is there is a huge gap of time between this sensation of obviousness and the moment where you can effectively create your place in the industry. Everything is always moving around. You always have to conquest, to rediscover things, to reinvent. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and I like it…
How has art shaped your life?
I think I could never resolve to be convinced that I was shaped for something in particular. I mostly ran on instinct, sometimes even carried away by chance. I am still unfinished. My relationship with art keeps shaping itself, step by step.
I was trained as an actress in theater. But one day, I read in Le Monde (np. French newspaper) some letters that had been written by Algerians who were living at the heart of terrorism in the late 1990's, and I suddenly decided to adapt and direct these letters in theater, as a play, although I had never thought of doing anything like that before. Then, I followed a boy in Palestine and I found a job as a director there in one of Gaza’s opera, financed by the French consulate. It was a big project for me who was so young at that time. After almost one year there, I wanted to come back. The only thing I could do about my experience was a documentary because it would have been impossible to finance a short film of fiction or even a play in that background, just before the second intifada.
This is how I decided to direct my first film: by chance and by default! I was in Gaza, in 2001, I had no knowledge nor training, and I hadn't seen any other film on the subject. I was driven by my desire to give the floor to people I had met there. The film was a way to discover others. An attempt to understand the world. I had not foreseen that I would so much enjoy that experience: making films to tell people's lives. Then I directed one documentary film every year during ten years, while working in the theater at the same time. All my films were financed and broadcasted by television or in festivals. They fulfilled my social aspirations and satisfied my curiosity for others, in a way drama could not have done — at that time, my practice as an actress was very ego-oriented.
Now I realize I should talk about music, since it is more topical today!
Directing documentaries became my profession almost by chance. Then I wrote plays and co-wrote screenplays: Héros, a feature film by Bruno Merle, which was screened in Cannes in 2007 in the Semaine de la Critique selection. There was also Benoit Cohen Feature film, Les Violette, which was adapted from my own play. New wonderful experiences.
Encounters and desire shaped my journey. And curiosity. This is why I pursue my passions.
As for my musical carreer, it started quite late, when I was 31. I used to play three chords in my living room for my lover and I didn't feel legitimate because I had not studied music. He encouraged me, and I owe him a lot because he allowed me to be self-confident.
It was an unembarrassed passion. I always wanted to sing. Today, music is one of my professions. For six years I have been creating songs for shows, and my songs appear also in cinema and fashion. I performed in unusual places, theaters, garages, even in a bunker (with the company Le Théâtre de Chambre). My next show will be created in Geneva in the fall. I will sing on stage. It will be a mix of concert and musical, directed by Fabrice Melquiot, a strange form I will invent with the band of musicians and an amazing crew.
I love theater because it can lead you to others. It makes you aware of others. I mean, the kind of theater I chose. It is not disconnected from reality. He mixes creation, work on the set, touring, encounters of children and adults who are not used to attend plays. It is a creative commitment within our society. I believe in this social function of our profession. It is a group work. We potter about together. The company has to reinvent itself for each new project or it doesn't work. The human factor is particularly important for me. This is what I understood thanks to all those years of experience. It's beautiful.
Today I have more means and more choices. Three years ago, I did not know I would be able to bring and create artistic projects in a company, which I would provide a vision, some material and some meaning to. This is what I share today with the director Elodie Segui, and it is wonderful.
So in the middle of this f…mess — sorry but I don't seeany other word around for all this! — making an album and managing to release it for real might be the only thing I do outside the system, by autoproducing it and with sheer force of will.
I needed to do it but I had to push back the walls to find some space in my life for this project. It took one year and a half. I encountered great partners, in particular Pygmy Johnson, my arranger and director. However, it is a lonely path because I do not have any band. I am Ruppert, alone on the hill…
I am extremely happy that I did it and, for once, a kind of proud of my work… Now strangers can listen to my music. It is crazy!
I just have to organize a tour now along with the record release…
How do you reconcile art as a purely creative outlet with the need to make a living?
I consider my life as an artist a very global experience of the world; but with two children, you have to be concrete! I think creativity and precariousness go hand in hand. Even if there is a wonderful system in France for artists, it is regularly called into question and it does not prevent from hazards and instability of income. For example, I was not eligible for maternity leave when I got my second child because I was a writer and an actress at the same time, and I did not fit into any box although I had paid many contributions. It might seem a bit technical, but usually maternity leave is a right in France. I was angry but I had no choice but to go back to work. Back on stage. Women artists are vulnerable. French theater is beginning to open its mind to male-female parity but we are still far short of the target. There are much more men directing theaters, plays, and much more male writers programmed in theaters too. As for music, well… Sexism is embedded in rock n'roll and that is not a legend!
I have to juggle to be able to live my life. I need to accept many projects while preserving my own moments for my personal creation. For example, I just had a concert for my record release between two tours in Geneva, but I also had to fill out an application form for a new creation, another one for an exhibition, and meet a writing deadline as well. This is how it is: everything at the same time. My mantra is that line from La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz's film): "Until now, everything is ok"!
How do you get over a creative block?
As for singing, I work with coaches. My voice is my most fragile point. I have a hard time taking care of myself because I don't have time to and my free time is devoted to my family. However I guess "taking care of oneself" is part of the job. We work hard with our body. And years pass. I think it is wonderful though. First I thought time would be my enemy but it brings you all the answers to your questions. You get stronger and stronger. You dig deeper. You have important encounters. Time and acquired technique give you self-assurance when you face big challenges.
Then you have to choose the right crews. The right people help you get away with anything. Joy. Joy has become a criterion too. And preserving my intimacy, my family. This is my source.
I know I have a tendency to overload myself with work. I am a work addict…
Do you work better under pressure?
Usually I don't, but I enjoy writing deadlines. A theme is usually given to me. It is fun. It allows you to dig into unexpected zones.
I also love performing because it is a shorter form, and it sometimes happen only once. For example, I take part in "literary dances", which is a concept created by Fabrice Melquiot with La Coopérative d'Ecriture. We have one day to write a play we will perform the same night. I enjoy the pressure of those events and the collaboration with the other writers who create that ephemeral spontaneous object with you.
What brings you inspiration?
The world I live in. Politics belong to my creation. This is why I have directed documentaries during ten years. I think cinema and theater are political as well, which does not mean you have to give your poetic dream up.
Performances are a good way to deal with topical subjects too. At the moment, we feel very angry at the situation of the Syrian war refugees who arrive in Europe and are not welcomed. In Paris, camps are improvised and the governement does not do anything. We cannot not react.
Our next project with the company L'Organisation is entitled "The Modification of Fish Genitalia in the Lake of Thoune". It is about female desire and endocrine disruptors.
My last published play, Inside George, for which I received a grant, is about a loser who decides to go to his office with a bomb belt.
Another one, Cannibales Farce, is the story of a couple who accumulates artificial inseminations, in vain.
We live in reality. We receive it as a full blow and then we get our hands dirty. That's our job.
I often write burlesque plays, where reality and comedy violently collide.
And then the forms vary.
Cinema, American literature, Palahniuk, Copi, Koltès, South Park and the Coen brothers inspire my writing.
Through music, through my songs, I poetically explore loneliness and emotions like anger. The singing voice is probably the most intimate, shameless and organic place. For the moment, I can only write in English although I know it implies an approximate level of language and but it is the language that inspire me.
Songs are like prayers. Huge artists and poets who drew the path inspire me: Nina Simone, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Beth Gibbons, Nick Cave, Blonde Redhead, Depeche Mode, David Bowie… this is an endless list…
What's the best advice you've ever received, and what advice do you wish someone gave you when you were starting out?
No one ever gave me a lot of advice, or maybe I just did not hear them. I don’t think that when I was 20 I felt in need of advice.
The first advice I could give is: you feel a creation desire? Go for it!
It is important to listen yourself and to go for it even if you do not know anything. Make your own road. Invent your own shape, style. If you want to change directions, do so. Try. Fall, Get up. It is okay. Dig. Do it yourself. You will build your artist identity with your choices.
In France, we are still truly trapped in boxes and people find it weird if you have multiple jobs, if you are blossoming in completely different industries. It took me more than 10 years of artistic schizophrenia before people started to find my route interesting and a little complete. That said, it is changing. However, I would say that it is important not to confine ourselves with the others’ boxes, you have to create your own boxes…
Second advice would be: feed yourself with everything, meaning fill yourself, read, travel, go out, seek, look, smell, breath, eat, listen, read again, never stop… And a lot of literature, yes!
Another small advice: Art is not a warrant to act like a dick.
Lots of artists think that it is important to take ourselves really seriously and to act like a dick with others (in theater, or music etc.)
Being a young actress or a young singer expose us to some pretty clichés behaviors, even today.
And a lot of young artists/actresses/actors think that it is a must to bare all of the dick behavior.
This morning, this actress was telling a similar story that happened to her with a famous director.
I would say: Run away- Save time.
Other wonderful directors and projects are waiting for you out there.
Choose the people you want to work with.
Do not accept some stuff that might damage or harm you.
Run away from jerks!
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