The French theater festival at Princeton University, Seuls en Scène, brings celebrated French performers and actors in the making to the New Jersey campus. Started by a French theater professor as a way of engaging his students, the festival has expanded to become a showcase of contemporary French theater in the United States.
Florent Masse was directing plays in France when he was invited to create a French theater program at Princeton University 16 years ago. However, he still returns to France every summer to attend the Avignon theatre festival to keep current on new faces and ideas in French theatre. With this knowledge, he curates and produces Seuls en Scène, which has taken place annually at Princeton since 2012. This year, the festival will take place from September 15-30 and feature 8 productions — performed in English or in French with English subtitles.
France-Amérique: How did you begin Seuls en Scène in 2012?
Florent Masse: The festival began as part of L’Avant-Scène, the year-long program I created at Princeton University. I couldn’t take my whole class to Paris every week; so instead, I brought eight French plays to them. The festival began as a showcase of solos from French drama school graduates whom I met through exchanges with the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique in Paris. As the event became more successful, I started inviting more prominent actors. Today the goal of the festival is to promote up-and-coming artists, contemporary creations, and the new leading generation of French theater in America.
How do you pick the actors and the plays to show in the festival?
I pick the artists, not the plays. Every edition I book some signature names in French theatres that can act as models for my students. We mainly invite small pieces that can easily travel; we don’t want a huge production but rather a play that has a focus on the artists. We want to be able to accurately recreate shows that are being presented in France right now.
How do these artists help your students?
Watching French theatre performances enhances instruction. Artists also interact with students. For example, during the second festival in 2013, on a random Monday night, three of my students were being coached by three leading French artists: stage director Guillaume Vincent and actors Loïc Corbery and Clément Hervieu-Léger from the Comédie-Française!
What are some highlights of this year’s festival?
The festival will open with Interview. In this play by Le Monde journalist Nicolas Truong, two actors perform famous interviews with personalities like Richard Nixon, French philosopher Michel Foucault, or French writer Marguerite Duras. Pascal Rambert, a renowned French playwright who has been coming to our festival since 2015, will present two critically-acclaimed plays: L’Art du théâtre and Le début de l’A. Additionally, Tiago Rodrigues, artistic director in one of Portugal’s national theaters, will showcase a play he wrote titled By Heart. He invites ten audience members on stage to memorize a sonnet by Shakespeare while telling the story of his blind grandmother. The show will be performed once in English and once in French.
Seuls en Scène