Alone on stage in a French theatre, Helena de Laurens plays her character Jeanne in front of an audience for close to two hours.
But her solo performance comes with a twist: the actress holds a smartphone with which she films herself constantly for a live feed on Instagram, in what has been dubbed the first such double act.
The play, “_jeanne_dark_”, is currently touring France after a successful run at the Theatre de la Commune in Aubervilliers just north of Paris.
There, the live feed was broadcast back onto two screens on either side of the stage, on which theatre-goers could read online viewers’ comments.
De Laurens, 31, plays Jeanne, a 16-year-old who lives near the central city of Orleans and finds herself ugly, uncool, feels her parents don’t respect her privacy and is mortified by constant taunts at school over her virginity.
It’s a cheeky nod to a patron saint of France, Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc), a 15th century virgin maiden who became a national heroine.
But the similarity ends there. While Joan of Arc led a French army to victory against the English at Orleans, our character Jeanne takes her stand on adolescent angst in a live feed on Instagram, which has just celebrated its 10th birthday.
– Reality and fiction –
Marion Siefert, who created, wrote and directed the play that was inspired by her teenage years, searched long and hard for a way to realistically represent “a 16-year-old who would speak up today.”
“At first, I thought of a private diary, but there was a lack of immediacy,” she said in a chat with spectators, many of whom were very young.
During the show, the actress moves her phone around, bringing it close to her face or further away with the help of a selfie stick, filming her body under every angle, using Instagram filters.
To exorcise her demons, she dances to the famous French 80s pop tune “the midnight demons” (“les demons de minuit”).
It’s a constant shift between reality and fiction as de Laurens occasionally breaks from her lines and interacts with instagrammers.
Some online users comment via emojis, others play the game or get hugely involved.
“You don’t choose your family,” “I find you’re really hard on yourself Jeanne” or “you must be body positive,” are just some of the comments.
– Rehearsed for a year –
De Laurens recognises that the process of filming herself creates “a particular brand of acting” with the phone “a mirror and a lens” all at once.
But she stresses she is not constantly assessing herself.
“I see myself all the time but I don’t look at myself all the time,” says de Laurens, who rehearsed the role for a year.
“Acting takes over.”
To reinforce the isolation of the character, the decor is a white room, “a space where there is no way out, where she cannot hide,” says Siefert.
“The ‘live’ is where the character feels protected, where no one is going to interrupt her.”
The audience, meanwhile, is often distracted by the screens where the live is broadcast, which competes with the physical presence of the actress.
And the fact that she films herself all the time, speaking to her phone instead of to the audience, makes her performance more intimate.
“I wanted to give the impression that we’re inside this teenager’s head,” says Siefert.
“I wanted us to hear her inner voices, and not just look in from the outside.”