MARIE SOPHIE FERDANE
By SPECIWOMEN Illustration TEGAN IVERSEN
"This first experience was like love at first sight."
What do you do?
I am a theater actress. It has been fifteen years. For a while, I played in classical repertory pieces, Berenice by Racine, Macbeth by Shakespeare, Feydeau, Horvath. That obviously emphasized when I entered the Comédie Française, who’s mission is to present pieces from the repertory: Molière mostly, because it is his house, but also Marivaux, Pagnol, Duras, Gontcharov, Brecht and other great playwrights. Following this intense experience, I decided to go work in other directions, with contemporary authors, like Pascal Rambert who I am touring with at the moment. Other directors practicing stage writing such as Marc Lainé. I like to feel that I interact with my time, with its lines of force that pass through us. Since I am also singing a lot, I often participated in plays with important musical content, for example The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht, cabarets, for radio or for theatre, or more recently, I worked with the band Moriarty, in Paris and in Montreal.
I also participated in several movies, for television and for cinema, and last year, I got the chance to be directed by Philippe Harel in Underground Time. This beautiful movie tells the evolution of a woman who is a victim of moral harassment in the business world.
Have you always known what you wanted to pursue? / Have your passions changed throughout your life?
I discovered theatre quite late, when I passed my Aggregation in Literature at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. I have always wanted to stay in the world of literature. In high school, when people asked me what I wanted to do, I answered: Read. Thus, I chose studies which would allow me to stay in touch with books. Theatre arrived all of a sudden in my life during a workshop I was participating in at the ENS. We were playing The Maids by Jean Genet, we rehearsed when academics slowed, on weekends, late evenings, in the school gym. This first experience was like love at first sight. I was lucky to find a very good course, the conservatory of the 5th arrondissement in Paris, which was directed by Bruno Wacrenier who was a great pedagogue. The following year, I entered the ENSATT (editor’s note : a national school of theatre), and then here we go! From my studies I kept my love for literature, while continuing to emphasize the importance of language and expression, which acts as a springboard for my imagination. I also like to do public readings, from authors like Rilke, Modiano, Yourcenar, or newer writers we allow the audience to discover at festivals. The delightfulness of words and of poetry has never weakened, it is quite the opposite!
How has art shaped your life?
When I am arriving in an unknown country, city or town, the first thing I go see is the theater. It is a landmark, an indicator, we understand a lot of things by seeing their programs like what interests their people. What authors they like. What touches them. I always start at the theater, in Berlin, New York, Chicago, in London, Barcelona, Madrid, in Montreal, Athens or Brussels, in Venice, Lisbon or Milan. This is how art embraces my life : it serves as a compass, or an anchor to help me understand life and the people in it. Have you ever noticed how less alone you feel when entering a theater? Without knowing anyone, and being away from everything, suddenly the light, a mark, things are instantly clear again, you are in a theater!
How do you reconcile art as a purely creative outlet with the need to make a living?
I have been lucky enough to make my living working in theatre. It is an incredibly difficult business to become a part of. In France our artists receive support from the government. For example if you are going through a period of time where there’s no work you still get payed. It is called “Temporary Worker Status” and it is very specific to France. This support allows us to further our artistic development rather then search for other jobs to pay the bills.
How do you get over writers block / art block / a creative block?
In stressful times like the opening night of a show, or when I am assigned an important role that requires a lot of time and effort, I do singing exercises. It calms, relieves, relaxes, and focuses me. It makes my body and spine vibrate, it makes me cheerful ! It’s truly and incredible exercise for refocusing yourself. However, you can’t avoid fear, discouragement and even anxiety… But it still helps, and with time, I developed a breathing technique best for me and learned some songs that make me feel good (my co-workers may disagree) but we all have our field equipment!
Do you work better under pressure?
I work well when I am well surrounded! That starts with the look of the director on me: the more friendly and positive he is, the more free and rich my work will be. Power relations can drain the sensitivity and self confidence, and this greatly impacts the work. What a waste of time for such unuseful things! I performed my most beautiful shows with directors who knew how to look at their actors with empathy and confidence. I feel like this confidence is crucial.
What brings you inspiration?
What inspires me is other people’s work. If I see an audacious show, a striking actress, hear a text that makes me emotional, I figure out all the things that make me think about what I do, what I would like to do and with whom I would like to do it. A book can hold a similar virtue: a painter’s memories, or the story of a life on stage, the difficulties they met, their doubts, their progress, can help lighten difficult moments. It is a chain of experiences that connect us to people who in other countries, different times, and different artistic occupations tried to reach the same kind of goal.
What's the best advice you've ever received, and what advice do you wish someone gave you when you were starting out?
The best advice was given to me by my theatre teacher Nada Strancar. She said: be obsessive! It is impossible to live half of this profession, from underneath, being an amateur. It is necessary to read, see and absorb everything. Thanks to her, at the beginning of my acting career, I was going to the theater all the time, I was reading everything that concerned the author I was working on, I was asking to attend shows and rehearsals, I was allowing people to recite their lines to me, I was going to the specialized libraries to see old recordings of plays, I was an intern, an assistant, a volunteer… I was doing everything! I wanted to discover everything, technique, lights, costumes, diction, everything. Maybe because I started a little late, I felt as if I had a whole world to discover, and that this world was unlimited.
The advice I was not given and which I now give to young actors is to never be scared to ask for help or advice. How to choose a class? An agent? How to approach a director you would like to work with or an actor you admire? You can save a lot of time. Even if the person you’re asking cannot help you, learning to express your desires helps you see clearer and define more precisely what you want to do.