They're a small, underfunded but spunky breed. They're part of the culture and yet outside it. They're English-speaking performers and directors doing English-language theatre in Paris.
At a late November conference organized by Florida drama critic and educator Marie Kilker, for a meeting of the American Theatre Critics Association (in conjunction with the International Association of Theatre Critics), several actors and directors spoke with pride about their small theatres and devoted audiences, while (of course) complaining about the problems facing their companies. Most of the gripes were endemic to any low-budget theatre company: critics don't come, the press ignores small companies in favor of bigger, established ones; the government won't subsidize the productions, and finding a core of like minded people to stay and work under those conditions can be frustrating.
Still, of all the people gathered for the conference, one had an unfailingly upbeat attitude: Melonie Hofstetter, co-founder of Bravo Productions. Not that she didn't acknowledge the problems facing English-speaking theatre artists in France, but she was too busy producing small-scale shows to engage in much handwringing. She and British-born Kim-Michelle Broderick founded Bravo in early 1998, and the idea couldn't have started smaller: free weekly play-readings in a local cafe. "It was so easy," Hofstetter told The Stage newspaper in September 1999, "We could not understand why no one had done it before."
Within a few months, Hofstetter and Broderick were staging shows at the Petit Hebertot Theatre (an off-off space). Previous productions included Vita and Virginia and Love Letters. The company is currently running A Girl's Guide to Chaos in repertory with Waiting For Godot.
Peter Hudson's staging uses Samuel Beckett's final corrected version and features Paul Bandey, Paul Barrett, David Gasman, Mike Dineen -- and Hudson's son, Lucas, as the young boy. The cast's credentials give some idea of the motley range of English-language theatre artists working in Paris. Barrett (Vladimir) and Bandey (Estragon) studied in London, Gasman (Pozzo) hails from Seattle, and Dineen (Lucky) is an expatriate Irishman. The staging of Godot is fairly straightforward, with two elements that may surprise aficionados of Beckett's comedy-drama. Instead of an intermission, the two-hour-plus play is split by a brief pause in semi darkness. Also, instead of a tree, the main set element is a coptic cross which, in the second act, sprouts little lights along its horizontal bar.
Godot began performances Sept. 23 and runs to Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Bravo continues its reading series at Cafe de Flore on Monday nights -- the night most French shows are closed.
-- By David Lefkowitz