"We're kidding" to the Francophonies, "why doesn't anyone talk about cultural development?"

Warning, disturbing sight. The set-up on stage is as varied and surprising as the stories and realities resurrected by this piece presented at the Festival des Francophonies in Limoges. "Are we brown? If you feel like it, come! " tells the story of Adelaide, a woman who left her homeland overnight. Very quickly, mythology is invited, but also colonialism and marronnage as a movement of revolt of former slaves. Interview with Togolese author Gustave Akakpo and "Métisse francophone" director Geneviève Pelletier from Canada.

Gustave Akakpo and Geneviève Pelletier, author and director of the show "On marronne ? If you feel like it, come! ", presented at the Festival des Francophonies in Limoges. © Siegfried Forster / RFI

By: Siegfried Forster Follow


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RFI: Are we kidding? Why did you choose such an enigmatic title?

Gustave Akakpo: What is marronnage? We have the image of two archetypal images of slavery: the domesticated slave, of the house, and then the slave of the fields. That's all. There is also the slave who rebelled, it has always existed, but we know him less. Some rebellious slaves fled to inaccessible areas, but returned to rescue their compatriots. Today, people like Denetem Touam Bona [professor of philosophy and anthropologist from Mayotte, editor's note] have made marronage a very strong philosophical concept. Marronage is finally how, within a system against which we cannot oppose - we see the strength of capitalism to be able to recover everything, all revolutions - how do you do within this system to free up other spaces of freedom, of thought? That's what marronnage is today. And the title of the show: On marronne? If you feel like it, come! is a way of saying: you don't understand anything about the title, because you don't know the marronnage. But, does it still tell you to come to the unknown?

Geneviève Pelletier, you are in charge of staging this piece that begins with a DJ and a dance floor before continuing with laughter and rap, mythologies and mysteries. Is it theatre, spoken concert, an unspoken journey, applied mythology?

Geneviève Pelletier: Very quickly, with Gustave, an idea came to me: it would be cool to do a cabaret, mix a variety of shapes, because we are in a variety of different cultures. For me, too, marronage is a question. We tend to say "the slave", just like a word like that, without thinking that people who came from the territories had different cultures, spoke different languages. It is this mixture between them, this notion of coming together and mixing that makes it so that there were precisely some slaves who wanted to leave the plantation. I come from a nation called the Metis Nation. My first DNA is miscegenation. So, it is also a question of wanting to clash theatrical forms, performative, spectacular. Theatre is, after all, a Eurocentric form that does not necessarily belong to other territories. But, together, we are able to find forms where we can come together, talk and finally find a political, cultural act together.

"Are we brown? If you feel like it, come! ", a show written by Gustave Akakpo and directed by Geneviève Pelletier at the Festival des Francophonies in Limoges. © Christophe Péan

You are in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, director of Théâtre Cercle Molière, the oldest Canadian theatre company, and you define yourself as a "francophone Métis of the Red River Valley." Does Adelaide's story speak to you in the first degree?

Geneviève Pelletier: Yes, of course. I come from a people who are a meeting between the French settler and the indigenous peoples. Together, there is a new nation that was born from this. The reason why we are called a "nation" is because, politically, there is a very important load on the Red River territory: a government has been formed, a culture has been made of this miscegenation. Many Canadian philosophers from the Métis Nation say: we will be able to mix because Canada, as it is today, is precisely a manifestation of what we saw on stage: multiple people with multiple voices who have multiple things to claim and who act together rather than isolating themselves in each other's spaces. But how do you really manage to speak or feel? Because we are also peoples who are not necessarily born into any reality. So, for me, it was super important that there was a whole sensory aspect in this show to honor these peoples who do not necessarily have the written word as the basis of their cultures.

Adelaide, the main character of the show, is a young woman breaking with her origins, her roots. Why is it so important to tell such a story today, also passing through the phenomena of the resurrection and a worldwide crusade of evangelism?

Gustave Akakpo: It is so important, because it is an act of peace in the face of a war that has been declared for a very long time against peoples on all continents and that no one talks about. For example, when we talk about Africa's development, we always focus on economic and political development. No one talks about cultural development, identity, the fact that I was born into a culture where all the signs of recognition of this culture - voodoo, statues, gods, etc. - are considered shameful, diabolical, something degrading. And today, when we talk about ecology, we will say "wow". But voodoo has been talking about ecology for a very long time!

When I say it is an act of peace, imagine a European atheist: he will never deny his Judeo-Christian culture and yet it is understandable that Africa denies its roots. There is no research, there is no archaeology. African elites are not interested in building schools to study their own history. There is no such political will. So we can recover the masks, the museums, all that, it's very good, but the root, the base, where is it? If you deny who you are...

"Are we brown? If you feel like it, come! ", a show written by Gustave Akakpo and directed by Geneviève Pelletier at the Festival des Francophonies in Limoges. © Christophe Péan


In the beginning was the liana" sings the band on stage. That's one of the challenges of this staging: that everyone finds his liana?

Geneviève Pelletier: In today's world, it is imperative and essential to find the vine that binds us to others. We certainly have links that bind us with certain people around us, but often they are people who look like us, who are in our communities, with whom we can easily find collusion, but we tend to want to deny the link with other people who may have other ways of thinking and other perspectives of the world. So yes, the vine is at the heart of this room. Five people on a stage, how do they manage to bond each other around any project, how do they find this vine that binds them all together?

The play was staged in French at the Festival des Francophonies. Is such a show the same in Winnipeg and Limoges?

Geneviève Pelletier: This is a new text that has seen three audiences to date and will return to Winnipeg. We have two weeks of residency in Winnipeg again. Of course, there will be changes, fine-tuning. For me, a show is never over until its last one is done. So yes, Winnipeg is going to be different from Limoges, which was different from Ottawa.

► Les Zébrures d'automne of the festival "Les Francophonies – des écritures à la scène", from 20 to 30 September, in Limoges, France

► Read also: Francophonies: "Zoé" by Hassane Kouyaté, "the theater has a mirror role"

► Read also: Francophonies: "Léa", the urgency of the ecological fight in the theater

► Read also: Cameroonian Eric Delphin Kwégoué, winner of the RFI Theater Prize 2023 for "Open heart"

► Read also: Francophonies: the Canadian "Convictions" directed by Djennie Laguerre

► Read also: Opening of the 40th Francophonies in Limoges, the epicenter of French-language theatrical creation

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