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"l'Avant-Scène", the French theatre workshop - 2

Project coordinator: Florent MASSE

Total costs of the project: $ 37 600
Embassy of France support: $15.000

Summary of the Project

 L’Avant-Scène is the Department of French and Italian's and Princeton Center for French Studies’ French Theater Workshop. It offers students a unique combination of linguistic and dramatic training. Based on the “cours d’interprétation” used by the French conservatories, L’Avant-Scène introduces students to acting techniques and allows them to discover the richness of the French dramatic repertoire. Offered exclusively in French, it gives French language students a chance to improve language skills. Classes cross-listed with the Program in Theater complement the offerings of the co-curricular troupe that performs four to five full-length plays each academic year. Recent productions include Moliere's "Dom Juan," "L’École des femmes," "Le Tartuffe" and "Le Misanthrope," Feydeau's "La puce à l'oreille," Koltès' "Roberto Zucco," Lagarce's "Juste la fin du monde," Racine's "Phèdre" and "Britannicus," Musset's "Lorenzaccio," Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac," Corneille’s "L’Illusion comique," Claudel’s "L’Échange," Mouawad’s "Incendies," and  Ionesco’s "Le Roi se meurt." Every academic year, the overall program with the co-curricular troupe and classes attract about 50 students. The dozen yearly performances are typically sold-out and bring together a large number of people from the university community, and the francophone communities of central New Jersey. L’Avant-Scène is now well established in our communities where it is treasured as a unique cultural outlet. It promotes French culture and language exceptionally well and it has grown steadily since its creation on the Princeton campus in 2001.

Over the past two years, the program has significantly developed and now includes a growing international French Theater Festival happening at the beginning of the academic year, one visit every semester of one prominent French theater artist, four of five plays put on by the students with their director Florent Masse every academic year, presentations of classical and modern scenes every semester with students enrolled in French theater classes, and an international exchange with the Paris National Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.

This current academic year 2013/2014 best exemplifies the exceptional lineup of events of L’Avant-Scène and its outreach in our university and francophone communities at Princeton and beyond in central New Jersey and New York. The year started with the second edition of Seuls en Scène, Princeton French Theater Festival. 20 French theater artists visited Princeton to perform twice five plays that had been previously presented in theater festivals and national theaters in France. Member actors of the Comédie-Française were part of the group of artists traveling to Princeton, as well as prominent names in the field such as Nada Strancar and Audrey Bonnet. The festival, which was free and open to the public, brought together close to 800 people. Students, professors, Princeton French community members, sudents enrolled in French courses in High school of the local area and their teachers, as well as theater people coming from New York and New Jersey joined for the one-week long festivities. For a second edition, it was a resounding success and it is now a new tradition at Princeton. Later, during the fall semester, L’Avant-Scène students presented two plays back to back: Musset’s favorite “On ne badine pas avec l’amour” followed by Marivaux’s “La Surprise de l’amour.” Both plays were critically acclaimed and brought large audiences in the university, local and francophone communities. Theater director Lukas Hemleb visited Princeton in November to offer private master classes on Feydeau’s “Le Dindon” and the semester ended with an exquisite presentation of works by students enrolled in FRE/THR 211; the landmark course proposed by L’Avant-Scène every fall semester. The coming spring semester shall be equally vibrant and exciting with the visit of celebrated French director Benjamin Lazar, followed by a visit in Paris of Princeton students to explore the French theater scene, a visit of students from the Paris National Conservatory for Dramatic Arts at Princeton, and a record number of four productions with Princeton students: Racine’s “Phèdre,” Feydeau’s “Le Dindon,” Camus’ “L’État de siège” and “Ma chambre froide” by contemporary French playwright Joel Pommerat. The year will end with a presentation of works by students enrolled in FRE 311/THR 312, the advanced French theater workshop class that serves as a sequence to FRE/THR 211.

With L’Avant-Scène at Princeton, French culture and language are always in motion. At any given time of the academic year, theater events help promote the French language and culture and enable to reach out to an increasing number of students, followers, and supporters. A particular emphasis is put on reaching out to a maximum of regular Princeton students enrolled in French courses and high-school students from local area high schools. High school and college students also travel as far as New York City to attend our events, and we are developing our contacts with French programs in the region. L’Avant-Scène equally seeks to reach out to francophone communities living in central New Jersey, and it must be noted that the support received by the Princeton francophone community has been outstanding.

With large turnouts and growing interest L’Avant-Scène is able to develop its programs. The Princeton French theater festival brought many new opportunities to students and followers. Master classes with French artists and Q & As with actors and directors are much appreciated and make for wonderful opportunities. French artists visiting Princeton rave about their experience performing live theater in the US, and French theater students visiting Princeton from France feel very welcome on campus, where they can take classes and learn more about theater in the United States.

Princeton students can either take French theater classes for credit or participate in the co-curricular troupe of L’Avant-Scene. Every semester, they are about 25 of them enrolled in a French theater course, and 25 participating in the troupe. These numbers speak for themselves and L’Avant-Scène certainly is a popular choice for students.

As a truly unique linguistic and artistic program, L’Avant-Scène is also a laboratory for other language programs to learn from and develop. L’Avant-Scène is growing in reputation and also serves as an example for other French language programs that would like to diversify their offerings and attract more students.

For Princeton students, the experience can be life changing. Members of the troupe of L’Avant-Scène become lovers of France for the rest of their lives and they leave Princeton with a unique appreciation of French theater and culture. Not only do they significantly improve their French language skills by training in the language of Racine, Corneille and Koltès or Lagarce, but they are touched by the commitment that it takes to produce good theater. They also leave the program with a keen appreciation for the acting profession and what France probably does best: support and promote culture.