Armel Roussel was born on the beautiful Ile aux Moines, in the Gulf of Morbihan. After sitting a baccalaureate with cinema option at the Lycée de Vannes, he applied to study film-making at the INSAS (Institut national supérieur des arts du spectacle). Somewhat surprisingly, on the very day of the results, the board suggested he study drama instead. He has no regrets about this “accidental” career path, since it taught him how to direct actors.
He acquired his early professional experience in the shadow of Michel Dezoteux at the Théâtre Varia, where he became assistant director for six years, working in particular on a production of L’Eveil du printemps (Spring Awakening).
However, at the same time, and away from the Théâtre Varia, he began directing himself. His first production was Roberto Zucco by Bernard-Marie Koltès, which heralded his future aesthetic commitments: in it, he championed a text-based style of theatre in which emotions, conveyed by words and by the body, formed the basis for the construction of the image.
For Roussel, characters and emotions are the bedrock of all stage aesthetics. The same holds true for the sets: they are there solely as a platform for the actors, for the drama, and for the overall performance experience.
Furthermore, his artistic approach views each show as a unique, autonomous experience for the spectator. His style of theatre breaks down the fourth wall, despite its true aim being to capture life on stage. At times, Roussel actually prefers to use the word “presentation” rather than “representation” so as to place the emphasis on the here and now of the inhabited dramatic moment, which is always brief and transitory.
Roussel has been called a symphonic director rather than a chamber music director. This is because he eschews plays with three or four characters—for fear of being reduced to a single short psychological tune—in favour of “chorality”, collective action, group movement: the type of interaction that rapidly becomes a changing panorama and is better able to show the isolation of a character who is lost or submerged in all this plurality.
For the second chance he has been given by Fabrice Murgia at the Théâtre National, he is determined not to repeat the same past mistakes: most importantly, he does not want to second guess the supposed tastes of the audience or those of the establishment, he is keen to reject false issues and will not let himself be impressed or swayed by illusory expectations. On the contrary, he wants to remain true to himself, an honest craftsman; to put his trust in the new director’s youth, the originality of his programming and the dynamism of fresh ideas.