BWW Interview: Charles Di Meglio of LA COMPAGNIE OGHMA Discusses the Oghmac Festival

As we sat in his living room for this interview, Charles Di Meglio, the artistic director of the Compagnie Oghma, sorts through a suitcase full of shoes, dance belts, and tights, and makes sure they will all eventually get returned to their rightful owners.

The Compagnie Oghma was founded in 2006 and has been growing vastly since. This year marks the fourth edition of the Festival Oghmac- their baroque theatre festival in the heart of Périgord. I wanted to give North American audiences a glimpse of what classical theatre is like in France. The "classic" here is baroque theatre. The best way I can describe it is a mash-up of Shakespeare, clown, and ballet. However, I knew that Di Meglio could explain it best!

What is baroque theatre?

Baroque theatre is theatre performed the way we are able now to imagine that theatre was performed in the 16th and 17th centuries. That [means] a very strong codification, that were very easily readable codes of the time, that are understandable nowadays. The time distance does not affect the comprehension of the shows, which is very important. We are not doing museum pieces. The original intent was not to have something natural, it was obviously artificial, even for the people of the time. [There is] also period pronunciation, the way we know for certain because we have documents telling us how it worked, pronouncing French the way it was pronounced in the 16th and 17th centuries. And of course, period costumes. Costumes from the period from which the play was written, for instance, Cleopatra is a 16th century play, so we're wearing 16th century costumes, or rather, the way 16th century people saw antique costumes from the Roman period. When we're performing 17th century tragedies, [which happen] in the Greek and roman times, it's the 17th century vision of Roman and Greek costumes. But when it's contemporary plays, like Moliere, we're wearing 17th century authentic clothes, in a way. And of course, candles, because all the shows are candle lit, which is very important because it gives them a very special atmosphere. The lighting is alive in a way that is unique to the candles and it really draws both the actors and the audience into a special mood, and helps us travel through time

What makes baroque theatre special?

Candles! Of course the candles, but that's not it. It drives a special attention to the text, because text is at the very centre of baroque theatre. Nothing happens without the text saying so. So sometimes, just like in Shakespeare, there are stage directions directly in the texts, without the actual script telling them. It clearly shows that everything was derived from the text. And text is where the action happens. That doesn't mean there's no action on stage, but in order for things to happen, they need to be said. And all these codes and specific ways of pronunciation, and also music, because it's a very musical language, with accents, helps to understand the text, but exactly as you would understand music. It's something much more moving than intellectual.

What made you want to start a festival?

It all happened kind of more or less by accident, as all great things do! Two months before the first edition it was kind of a joke. We knew we would be doing [a festival] eventually, like, "let's do a baroque festival in Périgord!", where I come from. And two months before the first edition we were like "Oh it's kind of happening this year. We're not ready. Let's do it!" Because I'm of course very strongly attached to Périgord, my homeland. It's a place [where] there's a lot of things happening in the summer, there's a lot of festivals, a lot of events, all the time. There is even another theatre festival! But there's nothing really made to value the heritage of the area. One of the nicknames for Périgord is "the area with 1,001 castles", I mean it's covered in history. You can see two castles in the same tiny landscape. And I felt that there was nothing made to value this heritage, [nor] to bring people to theatre. I mean, a lot of things are done for tourists, but not the locals. And they have no access to theatre, which is something very sad. To me it was kind of trying to do both things at the same time. To bring all these heritage places back to life, because we are doing theatre, that was stuff that the people who built these castles probably were seeing. We try to bring the shows and to adapt them to the places we're performing in, it's not just like "we bring the show, we do it", we really rethink the shows and really adapt them to the place. To bring them alive in a different way than a tourist visit could.

What was your favourite part of Oghmas past?

When people first come to Périgord, when my actors, after a period of rehearsal (or not) they first arrive to Our Studios and they see where we're going to be working, even though it's tough work, the beautiful landscape we have, that is always very pleasurable because I'm even astonished when I go there every time. Seeing the reaction, seeing their bliss, is always very blissful, also seeing my actors after a very intense period of rehearsals discover the place we'll be performing, because of course I know all these places, some of them are my favourite places in the world, like the Chateau de Losse, which I've known since I was born basically, it's like a huge landmark in Périgord, where nothing has been performed since 1575. It's a huge privilege and it's one of my favourite places in the world really. We just changed our company logo's color; the previous color was derived from the painting on one of the walls [at the Chateau de Losse] so it's really a big thing for me to be performing there. The Chateau de L'Herm is my other favourite place in the world, these two [castles], it's great, for me I'm really happy with this edition because we have two of my favourite places in the whole entire world. One opening and one closing the festival. But I also know that when my actors discover the Chateau de L'Herm every year the reaction is just, they can't believe their eyes, so that is one of my favourite things in the company. Just to see those sparkling eyes. And the audiences. Meeting the audiences is always very important, happy, and overwhelming because it really enables us to exchange with people and to grow with them, because we're not just doing some absurd 17th century thing in 17th century places to an imaginary 17th century audience, we really talk to them. And we try to grow from what we see that they perceive. If we go too much in the museum direction, we know straight away because audiences don't cheat. Especially when we get to meet them after because they always want to, and we do too!

Can you tell us about Cléôpatre Captive?

Cléôpatre Captive is the first secular tragedy ever to have been written in French. Before that, there were of course mystery plays which were written in French or whatever language the play was supposed to be performed in. We had Latin tragedies, so tragedies inspired by antique models, antique layouts basically, but they were generally performed in Latin as a part of young boys' education. But never before Cléôpatre Captive had anyone written a roman tragedy in French. Basically, Jodelle [the playwright] was doing the same thing as we are, he was using something from the past but reinventing it for his modern audience. It's kind of fantastic to be working on something that is exactly the same thing as we are trying to do. And asking what he is adapting, what he is taking from contemporary (I mean, 16th century) France, we can see an influence from the mystery plays, but we can see influence also from farce, so there is really everything. And we're basically seeing something come to life, something that is going to be the norm 100 years later. It was written in 1553 to celebrate both the Kings' victory and a wedding. It was performed before the king, and it might even have been performed before Jean de Losse, the man who built the chateau we'll be performing in, because we know he was in court precisely at that period, so we know that there's very little doubt that he has not seen it, which is even more exciting. But what is interesting, it's not a glory piece for the king. We could imagine that, because it's a play being performed to celebrate a victory and a play speaking of an emperor who is victorious over the enemy, that it's going to be something very praiseful for Henry II King of France, but on the contrary, it's a big warning towards the king (or whomever), that despotic power is not something that is to be looked for. Because we see the Victor King defeated in spite of himself. Not in a military way. He is the military victor, but he is the loser in the end, because Cleopatra decides to escape his grasp.

Le Festival Oghmac opens July 23rd and runs to July 30th 2018. More information can be found at compagnieoghma.com

Photo: Abel Llavall-Ubach

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