These fragments are taken from interviews carried out in the spring of 2022 by researcher Marie Bonnarme with Clément Papachristou and Guillaume Papachristou as part of her thesis La Création théâtrale à deux entre artiste valide et artiste en situation de handicap. [Theatrical creation as a duo between an able-bodied artist and artist with a disability]*
Can you tell me about your very first phase of creation at the Liège Conservatory ?
Yes. It was the first time that I realized that working in the theater with Guillaume was very different. During the days, I become aware of the complexity each time we rehearsed. With Guillaume, we can't really distinguish between the day off stage and the stage itself. Obviously, there is a difference between when we play and when we don't play but my day is still made up of all that. It is made up of the morning: getting up, making him take a shower, washing him, going to the toilet, eating, moving around, going down the stairs of a floor… Until arriving at the theater around 2 p.m.
We realize that it's all part of the show. It's porous. The whole issue is: what transpires from all that, from all the off, when we are on the stage? Should it show through ?
And the creation itself ?
To continue with the chronology of our first work session, 8 years ago now, I must admit that it was super difficult. Apart from the fact that when we arrived in the rehearsal room I was exhausted and he was too – we wanted to take a nap I think – morally exhausted too because it was super intense, for me, for us. Apart from all that there was this moment when we found ourselves alone and we had no idea what to do. The kinds of images, strong, powerful that I had in mind, on the one hand there was no one to look at them but on top of that we couldn't create them on set. And then, it turns out that I invited one person after all – Sarah to begin with – and then other people.
We started inviting people like that, drop by drop. Fortunately, otherwise it wouldn't have happened.
What did these outside views allow ?
These looks at the work were necessary to be able to work. I realized the disconnect between what I believed we would present and what Sarah was seeing. She saw all kinds of things that seemed violent to her and she was often afraid. Personally, I was doing a whole bunch of things with Guillaume's body which for me were completely normal, but when she saw it, she said to herself: "I'm afraid you'll hurt him, I keep thinking as a spectator that you are going to hurt him. That he disagrees. I always ask myself the question: does he agree to be on stage or not?"
Obviously, I had prepared myself to do this show and I told myself that it was a minefield of a project, that it was full of traps. I keep telling myself that. It's mined in a lot of places. My brother is very willing to do this show, he is very much an actor but it has to be shown. You have to find tricks so that you can clearly see that Guillaume is a stakeholder, an actor in the show.
Are you both creators/designers of the show? Did you imagine this show together ?
Yes, it's really together... It's really together... Even... You see there I was going to say, and I think it's interesting because it's one of the cruxes of the matter, I was going to say: "it's really the two of us, even sometimes I have the impression that it's more him than me". It's a challenge to do it together even in that sense: to avoid Guillaume taking up all the space, so I think it's important.
When working with a person with a disability there is no benefit of the doubt. At the slightest doubt, it will necessarily feed the thesis of the exploitation or non-consent of Guillaume. Just saying that means it doesn't have to be 50/50. As if from the outset we had to leave a larger share to Guillaume so that we can be sure that he is in agreement, sure that he is an actor, relieving all the fears that we have. It is also necessary to go beyond the presumptions of the spectator vis-à-vis a person such as he appears to us, that is to say a person who does not speak well and who does not walk and who is in a wheelchair, who drools a bit and does not breathe well. We have to see that all of that can be overcome, so we have to leave more room to see that, so leave more space for Guillaume. For all these reasons it could not be equal.
The challenge is therefore to allow this without me being “at the service of Guillaume” because otherwise we are missing something. At the same time, the stage must be left as the other's space, a space for the other, a space for Guillaume. I think that's important too. But you have to do it in a good way and I don't know if we pull it off, frankly. It's really not self-evident.
Is there a memory that particularly stays with you from the creation of the show ?
It's that Clément isn't afraid of me.
He's not afraid of how to handle me... How to dress me, how to put on my pajamas, how to put me on the toilet to pee, how to pee and how to poop... He's not afraid of any of that.
Do you feel like your connection in real life has an impact on the show ?
What does it change on stage ?
When I was little, Clément felt forgotten. It was a lot of Guillaume first, Guillaume first. And Clément was forgotten by everyone.
Can I tell you something?
For me, it's the opposite. I had the impression that it was Clément first and then me. I felt a little useless, in terms of movement.
Can I give you an example? … In terms of cleaning: my mum, she hung a small piece of paper on the fridge with the chores for the week. She listed Clément on Wednesday: clearing the table, etc. She never listed my name. I felt forgotten in the little paper.
When you rehearse do you also feel forgotten ?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
They don't give me a lot of direction. For example, someone could say to me: “don’t forget to do this, don’t forget to do that” or “remind me of that, I’m afraid I’ll forget”… For me, this is very important.
And for you this is as important as what happens on stage ?
Even a lot more. When I am not given direction, I feel like an object. Because when I'm not given a direction, I feel like a puppet who obeys. I feel a little dead.
And you don't feel like that during the show ?
No. I don't feel dead in the show.
Why is it different ?
I am given direction, I am given a lot of jobs on stage. I am highly regarded. For me, the most important thing is that I am given jobs and that I am considered and understood.
Can I tell you something else?
Go ahead, tell me.
Before the show, I didn't know Clément very well. I didn't know him very well. It helped me get to know him better. I still don't know him but… To get to know him better.
But sometimes I feel like I'm taking up all the space. I have the impression that Clément speaks less on stage. He talks less about his problems.
Sometimes I'm tired of performing, performing, performing on the stage. To speak, to performing on the stage. Performing a lot of material on the stage.
Sometimes I feel like I'm performing a lot of stuff while he doesn't tell me anything.
You are also part of a group of actors in Marseille, right ?
Yes, but in Marseille we are not paid.
And does it change a lot for you to be paid ?
Yes, it changes a lot for me. Excuse me, I'm a little emotional.
Because that means I'm a man, getting paid. To me, it represents being a man.
Do you feel like a man when you get paid ?
Yes, for me, yes.
* This thesis was realized at the doctoral school in Arts and sciences of art within the framework of a joint supervision between ULiège and the Royal Conservatory of Liège. It is co-directed by Maud Hagelstein and Isabelle Gyselinx and funded by Wallonie-Bruxelles Enseignement (WBE). Working with an actor with a disability entails specific creative conditions, too often unknown to the spectators. The interviews conducted shed light on the creative process from the inside, both professionally and in human terms.