Moïse Touré, founder and artistic director of Les Inachevés (Grenoble, France), has led far-reaching interdisciplinary projects in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Americas. During the past twenty-five years, he has staged the work of Marguerite Duras, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bernard-Marie Koltès, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, and Jean Racine—not only in French, but in Bambara, Spanish, Portugese, Berber, Japanese, and Arabic dialect.
In 2011, a commitment to new theatrical forms and processes led him to re-envision his company as an Academy of Shared, Intergenerational Artistic Knowledge and Practices. Since then, the company’s innovative projects in cultural centers, urban spaces, schools and homes have included Awaiting the Arrival of Dawn in San Francisco’s Mission District and Awaiting Dawn in San Francisco’s French-American International School. Projects drawing together professional artists and local citizens in France have included Urban Utopias–the Citizen Actor, Promise Factory, and Heroines of the Four Winds. The company’s current major interdisciplinary project is Hopitality: Fabrication of Humanity, which focuses on the theme of hospitality through workshops, events, video, and photo portraits in four cities across France and four neighborhoods in N’Djamena, Chad.
Some of the company’s work still takes more traditional forms, such as its productions on the theme of Africa’s future, 2147, If Africa Disappeared? and The Night Will be Calm, developed in collaboration with Malian singer-writer-performer Rokia Traoré. In 2022, however, Moïse has been reframing the company’s work as a Laboratory where each aspect of its activity can be re-examined to develop new tools that meet the challenges of the times.
The Laboratory is there to say we’re going to start something, but we don’t know where it’s going to go. The Laboratory is going to integrate doubt, uncertainty, and the state we’re in—emotionally, psychologically, socially, artistically.
Michelle Haner: Moïse, what a pleasure to find you here in Grenoble, France. You’re planning to continue working on the theme of hospitality with Les Inachevés but now frame your work as a Laboratory—a space of experimentation. Can you tell me more about that?
Moïse Touré: In 2020, I wanted to work on the question of hospitality. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic came, crashing into our work on this theme. On the one hand, it was terrible as our company wasn’t able to do what we had originally planned. On the other, it was an opportunity, as the theme of hospitality allowed me to face the pandemic. Sometimes you are up against questions or problems, and you don’t know where to start or what dynamic you need to get started. But in this case, I realized the theme of hospitality was exactly the right one as it allowed me to address the very challenges we were living through.
Then, as I was reworking the project in 2021, I was able to delineate three areas within the wider question of hospitality. The first is hospitality and humanity—the dynamic between them. The second is hospitality and habitability—how we live within our world. The third is hospitality and tragedy. When people speak of hospitality, they often associate it with happiness. In fact, there are many facing tragedy when the question of hospitality comes up. Today, there’s the war in Ukraine, and France is welcoming refugees whose context is tragic.
Those were the three major areas relative to hospitality I was working on as the pandemic unfolded. However, the pandemic exploded our imagination. It exploded our narratives. We found ourselves unable to create new narratives that might tell the story of our community. A lot of things have broken down.
Within this context, how can the question of hospitality allow me to rework and rethink things? Not simply to do something, but to ask: What models must we, as artists, invent to confront the challenges we face today? Even before the pandemic, the models we had were struggling. The pandemic allowed us to see even more clearly that they weren’t able to engage a dynamic of work and reflection.
When we at Les Inachevés created the Academy of Shared, Intergenerational Artistic Knowledge and Practice in 2011, it was the same thing: the feeling that we must invent a different kind of space for our work. The Academy has been a structure for deeper, longer-term projects that reach across disciplines and national boundaries. Creating a new space also means creating a new way of thinking. It’s also saying we can’t leave experimentation to technology and science alone. In arts, sociology, and ecology, we must also take ownership of experimental spaces. So, the Laboratory can take on themes such as hospitality and also address questions related to modes of thinking, reflection, process, and execution. What is new? What is old, but might be revisited? What do new challenges require?
What models must we, as artists, invent to confront the challenges we face today?
I also realized you can’t create community if you don’t take care of the individuals first. The pandemic returned us to our position as individuals. We found ourselves in solitude, no longer connected with others. We must start from the individuals to rebuild community. That can only happen through the Laboratory, as the pandemic affected each person’s intimacy, imagination, and narratives. The Laboratory allows our company to welcome each individual, understand them, create links with them and then move towards building community. Our company asks: What are the best ways to relate to people? How can we call them together today? How can we speak to them of narratives or “works of art”? We need to arm ourselves with tools not simply for creation, but experimentation, to try new formats and narratives and to understand what has happened to us all, individually and collectively.
Michelle: You’ve been experimenting with new forms for some time. When I met you almost fifteen years ago, you were already building multimedia projects integrating different generations, seeking out people in diverse communities. With the idea of a Laboratory, what might be a continuation of this existing approach, and what are new elements?
Moïse: I’ve always had a dimension of research experimentation in my work. The difference is that, today, it’s not a choice. Before, you could say “I’m going experiment or not.” It wasn’t a big deal. Today, you can only do experimental work, because there’s a revolution underway, and it’s just the beginning. The Laboratory is there to say we’re going to start something, but we don’t know where it’s going to go. The Laboratory is going to integrate doubt, uncertainty, and the state we’re in—emotionally, psychologically, socially, artistically. The Laboratory is also so we take on questions posed by the environment, meaning, by life – as we’re not alone, but with other living things.
Indeed, the environment will require us to invent thoughts, imagination, reality. How are we going to summon environmentalism onto the stage? Bring it into our relationship with the public? Are there sustainable artistic productions, respectful of living things? How can the theatre be a space of life, not simply of performance?
This relates to another key question I’m trying to answer: Must the artist simply focus on creating community or on making work? In fact, we must connect both. The artist must build community and, at the same time, produce work. What has changed is that you enter into relationship with people to create a work of art, and the final goal is not a show. Instead, the final goal is that the people who have undertaken the work become the work of art themselves. A work of art can be a play, dance, or video. However, a work of art can also be a person—or people—who take part in an experience.
Michelle: Yes—come participate, come take part and we’ll accompany you. Thus, the theatre truly becomes the company of the people, and also may unfold in locations that are equally diverse.
Moïse: Yes, it also raises the question of movement in locations. In fact, we can no longer designate places where people “only do one thing.” We can’t say, you’re in a theatre, you only make shows… or in a museum, only exhibitions. It needs to be more circular, in movement, because we’re seeking what’s alive.
Michelle: When COVID isolated us in our homes, technology gave us new possibilities in some ways. At the same time, I felt the limits of virtual spaces. So, what does live theatre—or non-virtual spaces of exchange—offer us that technology doesn't?
Moïse: I think the pandemic has shown that not everything can go through technology. It has shown us its limits. However, traditional spaces aren’t able to create what we want today either. There’s the paradox.