Short analysis of theatrical performances and their social spreading

After the end of the play « Chocolat » we lead a meeting in association with Manduel's social center, an agricultural town close to Nîmes. The week before, the social center chartered a small bus and brought a group of 7 women, to the show. A few days after, we tried to estimate the way this small group had perceived the show and had analyzed it.

Among the 7 people who had attended the show, 5 were present. These women were about fifty years old, originally came from rural Morocco, and did not have a stable job -the only woman who had a job was as farm worker. Most of their children were married with French people -we obtained these information during the talks we have had with them. These 5 women had not joined the public debate that took place the week before-we'll come back on it later. Although collecting their feelings was facilitated - they knew the place and the social center's staff- the experiment remained limited by the collective nature of the meeting and the observer's status. We chose to give up the face-to- face interviews and preferred the « desultory » talks, so that we could avoid to impose and enabled them to speak more freely. This method also had the advantage to limit the effects of cultural domination and establish a friendly atmosphere -instead of the formal experiment it looked like in the beginning.

 

 

This empirical technique reduced formal rigor -especially in note-taking- but enabled people to speak more freely and in a more responsive way.

The first women comments, and this point was unanimously expressed, dealt with the public's diversity. A woman - the most talkative one - noticed that "it was useful for French people" and added : «if it was that for us, that was of no use ». This woman reversed the educational statement that are regularly addressed to popular classes. This class is commonly used as an example during « French people » meetings, who are « pure French people ».

Contrarily to popular education and its theories, these woman questioned with perspicacity the fact that education was in the hands of dominant groups. Therefore, this comment also questioned the public specification and the public renewal, between the ordinary ones, the informed ones, and the social ones, who are to be informed.

 

 

The second kind of comment regarded the way the play was received. The point that the women unanimously underlined was the fact that « Chocolat, he doesn't even have a name ». According to them, this was where all the tragic resided in : « I've cried ». At this point, the « Chocolat experiment » became more sensitive, and this was probably owing to the fact that it reminded them their own experiences, they spontaneously compared themselves to him. However, these women mentioned a last difference : « for him it was worse, he didn't even get a name ». Another woman agreed later on : « I've got a name, he hasn't ».

 

It was hard to go further in the questioning, without making it an examination ; so it was hard to obtain what we eventually sought. These women revealed themselves to be extremely good-willing, doubled by a cultural good-will towards the observers. At the same time, they proved to be extremely careful with their attitude with regard to the intervening person.

They obviously wanted to be pleasant and often apologized for their french, which was the reason why they did not take part of the debate in public. We could not obtain any critic on the play, as these women were trapped in a situation that had been chosen for them and were not very cultivated. However, thanks to their comments, we were able to come back on several elements they had expressed : the matter of « pure French », the way they experienced injustice and racism. We ignore their logical relations with the « pure French » category. The latter was both referred to a naturalized reality -blood- and the result of an unequal relationship. The women, « us », defined themselves as Arabic in a negative way, in opposition to the « pure French ». While asking what a «pure French » was, a woman answered in a laugh that it was « just like a horse ». The women did not actually define themselves as Arabic, but they felt they were defined this way, with a negative connotation, which sometimes hurt them : « I was upset ». But they did not do anything about it. This situation can define the relationship between these women and racism. They perceive it well « I can feel it », « I can see it », it raises anger but does not create any reactions. Despite the fact they have understood this domination, they remain proud. However, this pride is mostly due to external factors. Even if they originally feel a sense of protest, they remained reserved, muffled, and the action does not become concrete. Indeed, a comprehensive speaker spreads this speech with its own abilities, and brings the action to life.

 

When we asked them about their children -they specified their existence in order to underline that they were with French people- the women did not categorize them on the « French category ». However, their grand-children were or would be classified in the « French category », because they would have lost their origin's marks. Nevertheless, this fact did not answer the question of their perception about what a « pure French » was , in a positive way.

Was it about losing their physical marks ? Was it losing their natural national character -just like dissipated blood, let's keep the metaphor which was previously used- ?