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Le Théâtre de la Huchette is a small theater with 86 seats located in the students’ quarter of Paris, Quartier latin. In 2007, at this theater, Eugène Ionesco’s “La Cantatrice chauve” (The Bald Soprano) had its 50th anniversary. Mr. Nicolas Bataille, who has kept producing this play since its first performance, talks about numerous exciting adventures he has experienced to date.

Mr. Bataille was born in Paris in 1926. When he was young, he was deeply impressed by Operetta which his grandmother took him to see. When he was 17, France was occupied by Germany during WWII. Since the students who attended national educational insitutions were exempted from forced labor in Germany, he attended Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique. In addition, he also learned performances at the acting school, run by Pathé, a movie company, and at Cours Simon, a private performing school established by the actor, René Simon. At Cours Simon, he met Juliette Gréco who later became the singer representing France, and the actor, Gérard Philipe. They often gathered in Saint-Germain des Prés to discuss films and performances. One day, he met Jacques Prévert, a poet/scriptwriter who had recommended him to appear as an extra in the movie of Marcel Carné called “Les Enfants du Paradis” (Children of Paradise) (1945) whose script Jack wrote.

‘Shooting in those days was completely different from now. The cameras and equipment were certainly different though, we have to do everything on a larger scale such as making the road for a movie shooting. Today, the sceneries and buildings appearing in “Good Old Day’s movie” were all built up completely just for movies.’

‘Besides this, Mr. Bataille has other memories of celebrities. At the age of 19, he made an unexpected visit to his idol artist, Jean Cocteau with his friend. Cocteau welcomed them pleasantly. His words, “Performance is magic!” resonated deeply inside his heart. After that, Mr. Bataille was strongly influenced by the Avant-Garde performances of Louise Lala and Édouard Autant and became interested in producing theater performances. In 1948, he produced the prose poem of Arthur Rimbaud’s “Une Saison en enfer” (A Season In Hell) and won the award of “le prix d’avant-garde au Concours des Jeunes Compagnies.”’

“Since I was orginally trying to be an actor, I had never dreamt of being recognized as a producer in the future. An accident posesses great power. I got attention from people as a producer of Avant-Garde performances.”

After that, Mr. Bataille was shocked to see “The Bald Soprano” written by Ionesco and he performed this program with his group. Looking at the title, we could guess the audience would expect a hairless chanteuse to appear, but that idea would be turned over. The script that could be perceived as word play continued like this. “An English man, Mr. Smith who sits in one of the English armchairs by an English fireside, wearing English slippers, puffing away an English pipe, and reading an English paper.” and the unmatched conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Mr. and Mrs. Martin went on and on. As the program symbolizes, “The Bald Soprano” had no context. This play that completely broke the theory of the theater performances of those days, had its 50th anniversary at Le Théâtre de la Huchette in 2007.

‘When I first read “The Bald Soprano”, I strongly felt that I definitely wanted to do it. I didn’t think I wanted to succeed with this play. Rather than that, I really wanted to make this play that I felt so attracted to. At first, critiques were mostly negative. But 7 years had past and other programs of Ionesco such as “Le Leçon” (The Lesson) and “Les Chaises” (The Chairs) were gradually gathering peoples’ attention, so I also started to get evaluated more.’

Ionesco, who brought “The Bald Soprano” to the world, had later become a scriptwriter representing French “The Theatre of the Absurd” with Samuel Beckett.

“The1950’s were when theater performances had their highest time in France. Also, this was the era that gave birth to the new genre of “The Theatre of the Absurd.” In those days, there were 7 theaters in Quartier latin. But now, only Le Théâtre de la Huchette remains there. The performance at Le Théâtre de la Huchette had its 50th anniversary, though the actual start of “The Bald Soprano” performance was in 1950. That performance was held at the theater we no longer have and it was in the same Quartier latin. It’ll have been 58 years by this year. I was spotlighted because I found the talent of Ionesco. But on the other side, it is true that I have had no chance of producing classic theaters such as Molière or Corneille. I got labeled by everyone as Nicolas Bataille = Ionesco.”

In 1967, Le Théâtre de la Huchette was invited to Japan on the 10th anniversary of “The Bald Soprano” and the play was performed at the national theater. At that time, it was very rare to have a small French theater group visit Japan to perform. Since then, Mr. Bataille became fascinated by Japanese theater performances and cultures, and Japan had become his second home.

‘In the1960’s, new theater performances were born in Japan. They included Karajuro’s situation theater, Tadashi Suzuki’s Waseda small theater and Shuji Terayama’s Tenjo Sajiki. They had very interesting activities going on. I was completely taken by them. Even though Huchette’s performances in Japan had ended, I continued to stay there for 4 more years and watched various theater performances. During that time, I wrote a script for the educational French language program of NHK and produced numerous plays including Antonin Artaud’s “Van Gogh le suicidé de la société” at The Institution of French-Japanese in Tokyo. Even after I went back to France in 1971, I visited Japan for 6 months a year and continued to work for production until 1983. I really had a lot of work including the production of the Takarazuka Revue Company. Last year, I visited Japan for a month to celebrate the 40th anniversary of my production work there.’

Among “Angura” (Underground) Theaters, he especially has an intense feeling toward the late Mr. Shuji Terayama who was leading “Tenjo Sajiki.”

‘Mr. Terayama was an extremely important person to me as much as Prévert and Cocteau. I’ve never been so excited as when I saw “Hanafuda Denki” in Tokyo in 1967. I also saw “Kegawa no Mary” starring Akihiro Miwa. Lured by his talent and his work, I produced “Hanafuda Denki” in Paris, wishing he would be famous in France. The audiences were very shocked. In those days, Japan was an unknown country to French people as if it was located in another planet. Apart from some intellectuals, French people had no knowledge of Japan. Even if they see this performance depicting the world of Yakuza, nobody knows Yakuza. It was the time when Kabuki and No were yet unknown and having a French person producing the program of Japanese underground theater performance was just unimaginable to the French theater world, I guess. In 1991, I produced “Terayama no Yube” which I combined the extracts from the 4 programs of Mr. Terayama. Despite 20 years passing since “Hanafuda Denki”, it seemed that the work of Mr. Terayama was still shocking to the audiences in 1991.’

During his stay in Japan, Mr. Bataille had numerous encounters except the producers of Underground Theater. One of such encounter was the late Hisao Kanze. As Hisao saw “The Bald Soprano” at Le Théâtre de la Huchette in Paris, he was very impressed and invited Mr. Bataille to the lesson of No when he visited Japan.

“Throughout 5-months-lessons, I learned the spirit of No from Mr. Kanse. Although I felt No was really fantastic, I never thought of taking its techniques directly into my production. I know there are some European producers who tried it. But I think No is too different from the European theater. It was a very rich experience for me to learn the world of No’s spirit through Mr. Kanse’s lessons.”

From co-starring with Brigitte Bardot and Marcello Mastroianni for “Vie privée” (A Very Private Affair) (1962) directed by Louis Malle, Mr. Bataille has appeared in a number of movies. However, he feels great attraction for his life as a producer.

‘I love the word,“magic’’ mentioned by Cocteau. I think the wonderful producers besides myself are Giorgio Strehler and Dario Fo. (laugh) Their production has magic and fantasy. The production of Fedor Dostoievsky’s works is fantasy itself. Play has to be magic. Curtains open up, a stage appears, and there is a different world from real life spreading out. It is essential for human beings to dream. And it is very important to have curiosity too. Lacking curiosity will narrow down various possibilities. Particularly with art, it is very important to challenge with curiosity.’

‘My future schedule is to keep producing “The Bald Soprano” and to keep performing the role of Mr. Martin on this program, sometimes. I’ll become 82 years old by this year. I’m getting older, “Kawaisou, Boku chan” (Poor me).” His last word was Japanese. Contrary to his word, Mr. Bataille smiled like a naughty kid. Tonight, the theater is full to capacity again. Dressed in costume, Mr. Bataille goes to stage to perform the role of Mr. Martin. There will be the audiences trapped by his magic again tonight.’

Nicolas Bataille, actor and theatre director, was born on March 14, 1926. He died on October 28, 2008, aged 82


Text & Photo by Chiho Yoda
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