Consultations involve a great deal of improvisation, White said, including choosing a poem for a person you’ve only just met. “Each of us has our own method,” she added. “I file them by emotions, by feelings.”
For the director of the Théâtre de la Ville, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, the idea of individual consultations with actors didn’t come out of the blue. In 2002, when he was at the helm of the northern French theater La Comédie, in Reims, he initiated in-person sessions at a local bar. Passers-by could meet an artist and leave with a poetic “prescription” — a printed version of the poem that was read to them.
Last February, he revived the concept at a Paris shopping mall, Italie Deux, where visitors could drop in for a chat between errands — and then the pandemic struck. The Théâtre de la Ville immediately pivoted to phone consultations. “We were ready,” Demarcy-Mota said in a phone interview this month.
Other institutions have taken an interest in the program’s popularity. The Théâtre de la Ville has partnered with a handful of European playhouses, including the Teatro della Pergola in Florence and the Orkeny Theater in Budapest, to expand its roster of actors. Additionally, Demarcy-Mota and his team are in the process of holding phone training sessions with around 100 actors from nine African countries, including Benin and Mali, so theaters there can replicate the program.
Demarcy-Mota acknowledged that the consultation format didn’t suit all stage actors. “Some were scared. You’re no longer performing while someone else watches: Instead, you’re in the position of listening to someone.” It involves a degree of psychology, White said, but “we’re not psychologists,” she added. “People need to feel that they’ve got a real person with them, that we’re in the same situation.”
The Théâtre de la Ville now employs a total of 108 “consultants.” While most are actors, they also include singers, dancers and a handful of scientists, who share their knowledge via “scientific consultations” as part of a program started in December. (These are being offered only in French for now.)