Brigitte Haentjens talks about her recently published book

© Mathieu Rivard

Brigitte Haentjens, Artistic Director, NAC French Theatre

Q. You’ve just published a book, Un regard qui te fracasse (“A gaze that shatters you”), about your artistic approach. The title has an element of violence about it. What does it mean?

A. It’s about how the audience looks at theatrical work … how people’s scrutiny of the work can kind of smash you up inside. The notion of shattering comes up repeatedly during the creative process. There are many “violent” aspects to it, not in an aggressive sense, rather it has to do with intensity.

The artistic process requires a combination of strength and fragility—both elements—because you have to have the supreme confidence to speak up, and at the same time you have to be willing to be extremely open and vulnerable, to keep your awareness at a maximum.

Q. You write, “To me, directing seems closer to meditation or listening than to control or mastery” (transl.). What do you mean by that?

A. The general perception is that a director has a predetermined vision that he or she imposes on the designers and performers. People picture the director giving orders.

Q. And that’s not how it works?

A. In fact, a director is someone who is prepared for whatever may come up. All of a director’s advance work is done in order to allow things to happen. It’s a state I would describe as meditative, but it’s far from passive. It’s an active gaze. The point of your work is to make you receptive, to allow you to watch things emerge. If you’re not prepared, anything can happen … and sometimes it’s not what you intended. It takes a lot of preparation and a lot of listening to be open, and to recognize things that are part of the work.

Q. You also write that each creation causes a kind of depression, “as if you were ridding yourself of a need that had overpowered and poisoned you” (transl.).

A. For an artist, it’s an overpowering need that completely takes you over, and when it’s been satisfied, it leaves you completely empty. In many ways, creation is a form of obsession.

Q. Here’s another quote from the book: “Directing is like hauling a massive dead body out of the ground and standing it upright so that it will start to walk” (transl.). It’s as if you were describing Frankenstein’s monster.

A. (Laughter) It’s true! Often you have no idea what it is that’s going to get up and walk.

Q. And you hope the monster won’t turn on its creator.

A. Most of the time it does!

Q. One of your productions this season—Shakespeare’s Richard III, translated by Jean‑Marc Dalpé and performed by Sébastien Ricard—features a terrifying monster, the Duke of Gloucester. How do you imagine him?

A. Richard III, the Duke of Gloucester, is an absolutely fascinating character. He’s a monstrous individual, a psychopath—someone who has absolutely no empathy for others and basically hates people. What is remarkable is his ascent to the Crown. And the minute he gets it, he begins his descent into hell. He craves power for its own sake. He has no master plan; he wants to win for the sake of winning, he wants to dominate and destroy.

Q. You’re currently in the process of creating Richard III. How is that going?

A. We’re at the design stage, we’re defining the space. This is the agonizing part. You’re not in the action, you’re not in the rehearsal hall. Nothing is moving. It’s the most terrifying stage of the creative process!

Q. You recently said in an interview that The Godfather is one of your favourite movies. Is that true?

A. Yes. It’s an extraordinary work.

Q. Will we be seeing The Godfather on the French Theatre stage next season?

A. In fact, Richard III is the Godfather!