Playwright shares creative critiques

Kathryn Droullard

Human puppets move jerkily across a stage with billowing silk and smoke in the film version of French playwright Helene Cixous’ latest play, “Tambours sur la Digue/Drums on the Dyke,” playing at Annie May Swift Hall on Monday.

About 100 students, staff and visitors watched excerpts of the film, produced at the Theatre du Soleil in France. Cixous and two actors from the Theatre du Soleil answered questions after the screening and discussed the difficult process of portraying actors as puppets.

The screening was the first of several events Cixous will lead this week, including private workshops and lectures open to the public. The series was coordinated by Northwestern’s School of Communication and several departments within the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, said Craig Kinzer, associate professor of theatre.

“A consortium of people got together to bring her here for this,” Kinzer said. “(Cixous) is a major international figure in literature and theater. She’s a novelist, critic, philosopher, playwright and teacher.”

Cixous, a professor of English literature at the University of Paris VIII, has visited NU many times since 1995, when she was NU’s Avalon Distinguished Professor of Humanities. Her play, “The Perjured City,” was produced by NU’s theatre department in 1997.

“She wanted to come back and talk about theater,” Kinzer said. “She’s very interested in the process of creating for theater, and in the relationship between text and performance.”

Cixous’ visit is the third in a series of international artists sponsored by the School of Communication in the last three years, said Mary Kate Barley-Jenkins, director of communications for the school.

“We’re trying to bring international artists to campus so students have a chance to interact with a broad variety of artists,” Barley-Jenkins said. “We’re very excited about these visits because they’re (organized) in conjunction with the other schools here at NU.”

Cixous’ series is a valuable chance for NU students to become familiar with a nontraditional form of theater, Kinzer said.

“Her aesthetic evolution is unusual for most of us in this country,” Kinzer said. “It represents a model of collective creation. I hope our students will get exposure to that.”

Several students who attended the screening Monday said they appreciated the opportunity to experience a new form of theater.

“I sometimes feel that the theatre department doesn’t teach us enough about avant-garde theater, so it’s nice to have some international perspectives on different types of theater,” said Communication sophomore Brooks Teevan.

Matthew Morosky also said he was impressed by the unique nature of Cixous’ work and the Theatre du Soleil.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen theater as physical as I’ve seen tonight,” said Morosky, a sophomore theatre major at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill.

Cixous’ series is sponsored by the School of Communication, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the university president, as well as the Consul General of France in Chicago and Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Chicago.

For more information, visit the School of Communication Web site or call the French and Italian department at 847-491-5490.