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Flash Communique, 11-9: Romeo Castellucci at the Theatre de la Ville - Paris
October 20 - 30: 10 days of resistance to fanaticism
The director, the staff of the Theatre de la Ville, and the audience did not give in
By Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota
Artistic director, Theatre de la Ville
Translated and with an introduction
by Paul Ben-Itzak

In 10 days of confrontation that made the riotous response to Stravinsky and Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" of a hundred years ago seem like a Spring picnic, the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt -- Europe's leading theater, situated on the banks of the Seine across from Notre Dame, and where the Divine Sarah was once all that was needed to stir up the public -- faced off against a small but virulent cadre of right-wing Christian fundamentalists, as the theater's director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota courageously called them, determined to stop performances of Romeo Castelluci's play, "On the concept of the face of the Son of God," a dramatic reflection on the relationship between an incontinent father and his son, amplified by their rapport with the visage of Christ, as represented by a giant rendition of the Antonello da Messina painting. From October 20 to 30, the Place Chatelet and the inside of the theater itself, situated not far from what Parisians refer to as Point Zero in front of Notre Dame because all distances in France are measured from it, became Ground Zero in a daily escalating battle pitting freedom of artistic expression against violent religious fanaticism, as right-wing Christian agitators scaled the exterior balcony of the theater to toss eggs and pour draining fluid on would-be spectators; bought entrance tickets so that they could launch stink-balls and tear gas at the audience; stormed the stage; incited young people with lies that the play included excrement being thrown at the portrait of Christ; and, on calmer days, settled with simply disrupting the performance with boos and whistles. On four occasions, the theater had to call in the police. At each and every show, the artists performed the work to its conclusion. What follows is Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota's first-hand account of the events. Owing to the imprecision of translating certain uniquely French terms and expressions, for an authoritative French text readers should visit the web site of the Theatre de la Ville, where they can also sign a petition of support for the theater against fanaticism whose current signatories include the actors Sylvie Testud, Juliette Binoche, and Michel PIccoli, choreographer Sasha Waltz, directors Patrice Chereau and Robert Wilson, and dancer and director of Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal Dominique Mercy. -- Paul Ben-Itzak


The performances of Romeo Castellucci's work, "On the concept of the face of the son of God," at the Theatre de la Ville October 20-30, were systematically disrupted by organized groups claiming to be from Action Francaise and Renouveau Francais. AGRIF (the Association against anti-White and Anti-Christian racism), went to court to try to block the performances, before the Court of Grande Instance October 18, 2011 and the Administrative Court of Paris October 28, 2011, and its request was denied.

In our view, these were not simple interruptions of a performance, but violent acts aimed at blocking public access to the Theatre de la Ville and going after individuals and property.

Before numerous collective and personal threats that we received over many weeks, following the campaign lead by (militant Christian organization) Civitas, I asked the mayor of Paris to undertake steps to guarantee the security of the public, personnel, and artists, and to allow us to continue holding the performances.

The procedures put in place starting from the first performance:

-- The presence of police in front of the theater allowed us to prevent groups of demonstrators, some of whom were particularly violent, to enter the theater, and to guarantee access to the public.

-- When the stage was invaded by persons holding tickets which enabled them to enter in the auditorium, I asked them to get off the stage. Determined that each performance continue until its conclusion, where these people refused to leave and where it was not possible to make them go calmly and without violence, using our own staff and our security guards, I was forced four times, as a final recourse, to request police intervention.

-- Before each performance, I announced to the audience that the Theatre de la Ville would file a complaint each and every time performances were interrupted, pursuant to Article 431-I of the Penal Code, which stipulates:

"The act of blocking, in a concerted manner and with threats, the exercise of freedom of expression, work, association, assembly, or (performance) is punishable by one year in prison and a 15,000 Euro fine.

"The act of blocking, in a concerted manner and with the aid of (physical) blows, acts of violence..., destruction or degradations in the sense of the present code the exercise of any one of these liberties...is punishable by three years in prison and a 45,000 Euro fine."

***

Before coming to France, this work was presented in Germany, Belgium, Norway, Grand Britain, Spain, Russia, the Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland, Italy, and Poland. It did not cause the least reaction comparable to those that we deplore today.

The Theater against fanaticism

These (actions) of a fascist nature are absolutely inadmissible. My collaborators and myself, in full agreement with Romeo Castellucci and his team, as well as the ensemble of the staff of the theater, did not give in under any pretext to these threats and this intimidation. We intend to defend even beyond Roman Castellucci's piece freedom of expression, artistic freedom, and freedom of thought in the face of this new fanaticism. We intend to fully exercise our rights and seek damages against these trouble-makers and the damages they caused.

-- After many days of disturbances, the Theatre de la Ville put into place a support committee, The Theater against Fanaticism, on Wednesday October 26. The text of this committee, accompanied by an initial list of signatories, is now online on our web site.

I would like to salute the attitude of the audience during the performances. In the face of the verbal and physical aggression to which it was subjected, it responded with calm and patiently respected the measures of enforcement we were forced to put into place.

The Theatre de la VIlle is the executive producer of this work in Paris, presenting it through October 30; it will be reprised, in the umbrella of our partnership, at the Centquatre, November 2-6. (Editor's note: This communique was issued November 1.)

We hope that the public will continue to come discover, in complete freedom, at the Centquatre and in all the other venues in France and abroad where it will be presented, the work of a major artist who we are proud to support and work with.

The City of Paris has condemned "in the strongest terms this type of action, whose goal is to block the principal of freedom of artistic creation," and has re-affirmed "(our) support of Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, the director of the Theatre de la Ville, of Romeo Castellucci, and of the artists and staff of the theater." Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterand has condemned the act of these fundamentalist Christians.

Monseigneur Andre XXIII, Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, in an interview with Radio Notre-Dame on October 29, strongly condemned these acts of violence, (explaining,) "What is significant is that in fact a faction which claims to be part of the Catholic Church without any mandate, which is in fact a faction attached to the Lefeviste movement, would justify violence by faith. It's exactly the contrary of what we wanted to show, of what we wanted to say. The authenticity of religious faith is not something that can be promoted by violence, it is something that can only be to be promoted by conviction, by the appeal to liberty."

Ten performances were given at the Theatre de la Ville, drawing 6,482 spectators. Every performance was able to be given in its entirety, but four of them were interrupted by attackers. The public was subjected to attempts of intimidation before the performances and to the insults of the protesters on exiting the theater. The entire staff of the Theatre de la Ville mobilized itself with me despite a daily pressure totally without precedent. I would like to thank them here.

Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota
Director of the Theatre de la Ville


From Romeo Castelluci's "On the concept of the face of the Son of God." Klaus Lefebvre photo courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

A Day by Day Chronology


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Before the performance:

* Violent attempt at intrusion by organized militants, using tear gas.
* Chaining of the doors of the theater in an attempt to prevent access.
* Utilization of stink balls.
* Distribution of tracts denouncing the supposed "Christianaphobic" nature of the work, based on entirely fabricated allegations.

During the performance:

* Invasion of the stage of the theater by nine activists (who had bought tickets), interrupting the performance.
* Faced with the impossibility of getting them to leave calmly and without violence, and to prevent them confronting the audience, I requested, after 20 minutes of interruptions, police intervention, with the goal of evacuating the attackers.
* After their evacuation, the performance resumed and continued to the finish.

Legal action:

* Filing of a complaint on behalf of the Theatre de la Ville for willful violence during a public assembly, at the 17th arrondissement police station. Nine persons arrested.


Friday, October 21

Before the performance:

* Two activists mounted the cornice (of the Theatre de la Ville) situated above the entrances to the lobby and tossed eggs and sprinkled draining oil on them. Many spectators had their clothes and hair dirtied. We're in touch with them to take action on these attacks.
* We were forced to move the entrance of the theater to an emergency exit on the side of the building, which caused major disturbances in the theater in the process of guaranteeing the security and appropriate reception of the audience.

.

During the performance:

* The performance began at 9:40 p.m. (an hour late) and continued normally until its finish.


Saturday, October 22

Before the performance:

* Police presence reinforced outside the theater.
* Building security re-enforced by enhanced checking at the door and by security guards and by augmented presence of theater staff.

During the performance:

* Second invasion of the stage by a faction of eight persons (who bought tickets), who brutally interrupted the performance, threatening personnel and the audience.
* At the request of the theater, police intervention, with the agitators calmly evacuated.
* The performance resumed after an interruption of 10 minutes, and continued normally until the finish.

Legal action:

* Filing of a complaint by the Theatre de la Ville for blocking liberty of expression, deposited at the police station of the 4th arrondissement. Eight persons arrested.


Sunday, October 23:

Before the performance:

* Security procedures re-enforced with augmented security checks.

During the performance:

* Third invasion of the stage by a faction of seven persons (who bought their tickets), who interrupted the performance.
* The agitators were calmly turned over by security guards to police.
* The performance resumed after an interruption of seven minutes, and continued until its finish.

Legal action:

* Filing of a complaint by the Theatre de la Ville for blocking liberty of expression at the police station of the 9th arrondissement. Seven persons arrested.
* Filing of a complaint by (deputy mayor) Christophe Girard on behalf of the City of Paris.


Monday, October 24

Ticket sales for Romeo Castellucci's show:

* Attempt to block online ticket sales on the Theatre de la Ville's Internet site by massive reservation of all the tickets available.

8:30 p.m., previously scheduled performance by Tunisian musician Anouar Brahem.


Tuesday, October 25:

Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, director of the Theatre de la Ville, and his staff establish a support committee, The Theater against Fanaticism, text to be found on the theater's web site.

Before the performance:

* Violent clashes around the theater. 138 people taken into custody.

During the performance:

* No interruptions.


Wednesday, October 26:

Before the performance:

* 300 protesters on the place du Chatelet (across the street from the theater).
* First taking of people into custody in front of the theater before the show.

During the performance:

* First disruption by a group screaming and yelling from the audience. Quick evacuation of this group by theater staff. The performance was not interrupted.
* Second disruption by a group which had remained in the audience, utilizing whistling. Tossing of stink balls on the audience. Quick evacuation (of the trouble-makers) by theater staff. Performance continued.
* Third disruption before the end of the performance, yelling and screaming.
* Despite these three aggressive disruptions, the show continued, the actors having followed the directions given to continue performing when possible.
* During these three disruptions, I intervened to ask that the audience not issue insults and not commit acts of violence, to allow the staff of the Theatre de la Ville to continue the performance while proceeding with the evacuation.

Legal actions:

* Filing of a complaint by the Theatre de la Ville for blocking freedom of expression with the police station of the 18th arrondissement. 19 persons arrested.
* FIling of a complaint by Christophe Girard on behalf of the city of Paris.


Thursday, October 27:

Before the performance:

*300 protesters in the center of the place du Chatelet, chanting, "Castellucci, return to your country." (The playwright is Italian.)

During the performance:

* No interruptions of the performance.


Friday, October 28:

AGRIF once again had its request (for an injunction) to prevent performances (of the work), (this time) at the Centquatre (Nov. 2-6) denied.

Before the performance:

* 300 protesters on the place du Chatelet.

During the performance:

*Some disruptions in the theater (the new tactic of the agitators to destabilize the actors and the audience).
* Insults of audience members at the end of the show.
* No halts in the performance.


Saturday, October 29

Before the performance:

* 400 protesters -- arriving from the (earlier, larger) demonstration called for by (Christian fundamentalist group) Civitas -- on the place du Chatelet, surrounded on all sides by police. Among them Muslim extremists. (Apparently in a counter-protest.) Tense face-off. One of their slogans: "France, youth, Christianity." The group of protesters, after having attempted (to break the police cordon), were then pushed back by tear gas grenades, and contained. For the next two hours, (the protesters), awaiting the (end of the show and) exit of the audience, prayed, (conducted) religious chants and (shouted) slogans. Peaceful dispersal around 11 p.m..

* Seven persons stopped and caught at the entrance to the theater for possession of illegal weapons. During the security check at the two security points in the lobby, four knives and one tear gas bomb were seized. According to an official source, the first time that knives have been seized in 10 days of protests, interpreted as indicating the desire by fringe (elements) of this movement to "strike a blow" Saturday night in escalating eventually to more violent action.

During the performance:

* No interruptions of the performance.


Sunday, October 30:

Before the performance:

* 400 protesters on the Place du Chatelet, surrounded on all sides by police.

During the performance:

* No interruptions of the performance.

Denial issued by the Theatre de la Ville to the press regarding false information being spread by opponents of the work, later circulated by some in the media, according to which, during the show, excrement is hurled at the visage of Christ or his face is dirtied by excrement.


From Romeo Castelluci's "On the concept of the face of the Son of God." Klaus Lefebvre photo courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

Monday, October 31:

Some testimonials on the Internet from Catholics who dispute the so-called blasphemous nature of the piece, some of whom denounce the manipulation they've been subjected to:

"I didn't see any blasphemous intentions. I even left unnerved, marked. (The piece) calls for a real reflection on suffering, on the compassion of this son for his aged father. The compassion of the Son for our muddied old humanity. Again, one can discuss the piece. Not like it at all. But I ask of those who shout 'Blasphemy': Have you seen the piece? Until the end? Until the final words with which it concludes: "You are my shepherd," a shining word, which takes precedence over the 'not' which inserts itself like doubt can at times attack our trust. I have a problem with all those who have exploited the work for their own ends. I have a problem with those who have influenced young people to disrupt it with violence. I have a problem with all those who use all this for their own publicity. In the mob that night, three youths were there (evidently planning to disrupt the performance). I recognized one in the waiting line. By SMS, I told him, 'Wait... watch... listen... Then judge in good conscience.' In the end, they didn't do anything. On exiting, they told me, 'We feel like we've been betrayed. They lied to us in crying 'Blasphemy,' they manipulated us. The Abby X and the Abby Y... pushed us to come here to interrupt the performance, telling us that they'd pay our legal costs if we were arrested. We were manipulated.'

-- Abby Pierre-Herve Grosjean

"As for me, I can attest that this piece lead me even more to Christ. The terrible coldness of this theater stage where the furnishings ooze solitude and death, this coldness jostled by the incontinence of the father and by the love of his son who takes time off from his own path to care for and comfort his father, this coldness dominated by the light and the power coming from Messine's Christ sent me back to two things: The apparent vacuousness of our life on earth -- even more in this epoch -- and the... only question that can confront it: Christ, the shepherd. My shepherd." -- Myriam Picard, Nouvelles de France

****

The staff of the Theatre de la Ville remains active to collect the many signatures (artists, intellectuals, scientists, politicians, members of the public) that arrive daily to support the manifesto, "Theater against fanaticism, Support Committee for the liberty to perform the work of Romeo Castelluci." The address: comite-de-soutien-castellucci@theatredelaville.com


Read Paul Ben-Izak's Cross-Country: A Memoir of France here.

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