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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The BAM Fisher Files: Steven Cosson

Steven Cosson is a co-writer and director of Paris Commune, which runs from October 4—7 at the BAM Fisher. 

Our Show: This theatrical event revives the radical cabaret of 19th-century Paris to tell the story of the Paris Commune, a spontaneous popular uprising of working-class Parisians in 1871. Arguably the first socialist revolution in Europe, the Paris Commune was an anarchic festival of the underclass. While the Commune was violently defeated, its legacy inspired a century of revolution and change.

Sights and Sounds:
The music ranges from raucous popular songs to opera, from rude and hilarious satires of the Emperor to the future communist anthem “The Internationale,” written by Commune leader Eugène Pottier, and Communard Jean-Baptiste Clément’s “Cherries of Spring,” which became the anthem of May’68. All songs speak directly to the events of the Commune using a variety of narrative and visual techniques to tell the story, such as a Can-Can that charts the history of France in two minutes.

Our art is most inspired by:
Employing The Civilians’ unique skill as a theater of social investigation, Paris Commune was created from extensive research into both the cultural and political aspects of the revolution. The script draws inspiration from primary sources such as journals, transcripts, and letters, and sets these texts against the music of the time—shockingly modern songs of protest, liberation, and defeat.

“Investigative theater” is:
A live performance created by an artist or artists from an in-depth inquiry into a multifaceted, real-life topic. The development of a piece of investigative theater often involves community residencies, travel, face-to-face conversations, and extensive research. The basic crux of the idea is the application of the creative process to an inquiry into a real life subject. I think of “investigative” as different from documentary in that an investigation is an exploration of a question through this encounter with real life experience; it’s a springboard to creating an artistic work as opposed to a documentary, which I think of as a more expository form.

Theater is like a commune when:
Theater is always communal in the sense that in order for it to happen a group of people have to gather together for some experience. Theater is like the Paris Commune when that shared experience engages the group in a radical re-imagining of how we might live. A theater event can be like the Commune when the distilled world of the play in dynamic relation to the audience rips apart old ways of seeing and thinking, manifests a new way of being, and makes the audacious proposal that this new world could extend out into the larger landscape and remake it entirely.

Most interesting thing learned about the 1871 uprising:
For me the most life-changing lesson I’ve gained from 1871 is the realization that culture does in fact create the world we live in and that performance has a particular power in shaping our society. In the anarchic, populist crucible of the Commune it’s clear that performance can take many forms—a song in a cabaret, a speech pasted onto a wall, a citizen standing up to speak in a public meeting. All of these acts formed the living fabric of the Commune and all were clearly potent forces in the revolution. I think that, in our world, we often think of culture as a refuge from life; the Commune proves that life and culture are inseparable.

The dream of collective living is:
I think the dream of the Commune was the seemingly radical notion that all people deserve to live with dignity, to benefit from the wealth of their society, and to have a right to self-determination in their government. The power and the threat of the idea is the belief that in order for the poorest in society to realize this dignity, this share, this political power, we must break apart the consolidated power at the top of society and replace rigid hierarchy with a new vision for society. That’s why this dream is a dangerous dream; it threatens those who sit at the top. And it’s a problematic dream because having both liberty and equality at the same time is very tricky.

Favorite lyric from a song composed in the Paris Commune:
A simple one but it’s all in how it’s sung: “Revenge is coming soon.When the poor will rise again. When the poor will rise again.”

If New York were a commune, I’d most want to share book and/or record collections with:
Patti Smith.

Most overrated thing about private property:
It breaks down and then you have to fix it.

Best advice for discussion communism in social settings:
If you have to talk about dangerous things sometimes its best to sing.

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