In the premises of the theater company Les Sibyllines, the Rome design team is brought together to design lighting, costumes and sets. The task is colossal: five pieces to put on in one show, a multitude of locations to identify, nearly 30 performers to dress as a plethora of characters. How to find a unity, a coherence to the whole?

Especially since Brigitte Haentjens was clear with her designers from the start of the adventure: Rome, her colossal and “a bit crazy” project, will be a show where technology will be minimal, without video projections or sound effects. “It forces you to do things differently, of course,” says the director.

Already, the first rehearsals for The Rape of Lucretia are over. Those for Coriolanus are coming to an end. And there are still a lot of threads to tie for the production.

Around the table, ideas fuse. The team wants to play with fire on stage. Literally. Torches. Braziers. The head of accessories, Julie Measroch, displays on her tablet a basin made in France. Beautiful, but expensive. “I could try to make something, maybe with a large wok bought in Chinatown. There is also the problem of the shroud in The Rape of Lucretius. “We don’t want to be too realistic with an old cutlery,” says Julie Charland, Costume Manager.

Brigitte Haentjens launches food for thought

The multiplicity of places is also a puzzle to solve. The action takes place in various locations throughout this marathon show. How to identify each of them? Banners? Signs ? Julie Basse, lighting manager, suggests changing the colors, depending on the location: “You have to trust the spectators to understand the codes that we are going to establish. »

The director takes the lead: “The spectator notices everything, contrary to what one might think…”

Slowly, ideas settle, clearer concepts emerge. There are six months until the premiere at Factory C and the first reading of Titus Andronicus is scheduled for 12 days.

In hindsight, the director believes that the design work for Rome was not so different from her previous projects. “As always, there was a formal language to be found. However, here the number of performers posed a challenge for the costumes. It didn’t look like having them change their dresses all the time. Julie Charland had to find a system… The result is imbued with a great unity, with a very simple artisanal side that we managed to find. This simplicity suits me quite well. I like the theater in its brutality. »

“Is this the start of a new project?” “says Iannicko N’Doua. Around the large table at Usine C, the laughter is heard. This is the fifth time that all these beautiful people have gathered for a first reading. After The Rape of Lucretia, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar, the team dives into the Nile with Antony and Cleopatra. The previous four pieces were read and repeated in small bites. We must now tackle the final piece with the same enthusiasm, even if no performance will take place before April 5.

This time, it is Jean-Moïse Martin and Madeleine Sarr who have to defend the leading roles, those of Antoine and Cleopatra. Big hitters (think Sylvie Drapeau or Céline Bonnier) will only have two or three words to say in this piece, but these performers will have had heavier scores to carry elsewhere in the show.

It doesn’t matter, almost everyone is there: 21 actors plus 7 members of the production team.

There are many Quebecisms. A few coronations dot the text.

The scenes go by at breakneck speed and end with applause. Sylvie Drapeau kicks off the comments: “There is a lot of humor, it feels good. Gaétan Nadeau continues: “It looks like a sitcom! »

Brigitte Haentjens agrees: “The stakes are high, but the form is very playful. It’s almost soap opera! It’s melodramatic. »

Mattis Savard-Verhoeven makes a comparison. “It reminds me of the last Palme d’Or at Cannes, Triangle of Sadness. We are in total drama, but with a fantasy. Brigitte Haentjens also sees a connection with The Banshees of Inisherin, by director Martin McDonagh. Before the break, everyone takes note of the titles. I-n-i-s-h-e-r-i-n… For many, the work will continue in front of the television tonight.

“My role during the first readings is to observe, to feel what is coming. I trust the interpreters. When the distribution is made, you live with it. For Rome, I built the cast like a family portrait, one piece at a time. I don’t necessarily think in terms of roles, but more like a puzzle that you build around a performer. For me, it was clear that I wanted to mix generations. I wanted women to be able to play men’s roles and for the performers not necessarily to be the age of the characters. »

“I don’t know how we’re going to keep listening and the energy, to keep the thread taut for all these hours. »

In a bright rehearsal room, at the Cité-des-Hospitalières on Avenue des Pins Ouest, Céline Bonnier wonders. She has never participated in a project of this magnitude, with such a strong cast. “It’s a challenge, this entity moving together and holding the same thread. These are all great stories told to many. We’re really like a troupe where everyone can play big and small roles. »

Sébastien Ricard is in the same situation: this project is the most titanic of his prolific career. “I don’t know how the pieces will fit together, but what strikes me is the consistency that exists from piece to piece. All raise questions about the people, the tyranny of power, the question of the nascent republic. »

That day, a dozen performers were on hand to rehearse scene 3 of movement 1 of the play Julius Caesar, a relatively short segment commonly referred to as the scene of the conspirators. Céline Bonnier embodies Brutus. For the good of the republic, this character knows that it is better to assassinate Caesar. But the gesture is repugnant to him. “We are not at Tarantino’s”, as Brigitte Haentjens repeats.

The performers are busy on the improvised stage where colored rubber tape runs to determine where the vomitory is located, the platforms where the musicians will be perched, the stairs.

Everything is not in its place, far from it. Aftershocks sometimes come out hampered. The intentions of some need to be clarified. The movements of the protagonists are still hesitant. But director Brigitte Haentjens is watching. For an hour and a half, the artists will put their work back on the job to tame the handful of replicas that make up the scene.

Some do not have a single word to pronounce, but their listening remains complete throughout the duration of the exercise. This is the case of Irdens Exantus, who plays one of the conspirators in Julius Caesar. The young actor who graduated from the National Theater School in 2021 is still pinching himself at being able to continue his apprenticeship with actors of the caliber of Sylvie Drapeau or Marc Béland.

“I made great artistic encounters here. Every day is an acting lesson for young people like me. We feel very privileged. »

“This project poses great challenges for performers. Firstly because the workload is enormous, but also because the organization is unlike anything we know. You can rehearse a show for three weeks and then not touch it for two months. These are not the same landmarks as usual. For the actors, it is very insecure. For me too. The amount of details to remember is so great that we end up forgetting some. Mentally, it’s crazy! It’s as if I had five families in my head. But I have too much work to be afraid of! It is demanding for us. And it will be demanding for the public, I know that. But this show will bring them a lot. »

11 p.m. This is the time at which the interpreters in Rome were able to return home after an evening of work which lasted for more than six hours.

In the middle of an industrial-looking set erected on the boards of Usine C, they performed two of the five parts of the show, namely the adaptation of the plays Coriolanus and Jules César.

Made up, with their hair done, wearing their almost finished costumes, the 26 performers and 3 musicians led the rehearsal at full speed before the watchful eye of Brigitte Haentjens. Everything is in place, or almost. Tiny details remain to be settled, in particular from the point of view of lighting. But the level of energy and the rhythm satisfy the director.

Half-shaved head to wear a mohawk, Sébastien Ricard carries on his shoulders the intense score of Caius Marcius, also nicknamed Coriolanus. The actor spares no effort, even though he only plays for members of the design team. When the play ends, he is covered in sweat.

Around him, his peers unfold on several levels: sometimes on stage, sometimes on catwalks that run along the room.

Julie Charland’s costumes are to match: faux leather, studded belts and army boots mingle with pieces of fabric that nod to Roman costumes. Smokey eyes and black nail polish on some complete the ensemble.

To this aesthetic cohesion is added a dramaturgical cohesion. Throughout his adaptation of the five Shakespearian plays, Jean Marc Dalpé plays with levels of language. He also added prologues and epilogues that bridge each of the parts.

So when Coriolanus ends, Julius Caesar walks onto the catwalk. Rome is not made up of five distinct parts. It is a long story about the abuses of power, the paradoxes of democracy and the inequalities that plague society. All things that still resonate long after the fall of the Roman Empire.

“To me, it’s clear that Rome is not just a row of separate rooms. The pieces respond to each other and the more the work progressed, the more I discovered links between them. But I have no reference to predict what it will produce as a final show. I won’t see the entire show until the theatrical premiere! However, I can say this: Antony and Cleopatra has a lot of humor, Titus Andronicus is downfall, The Rape of Lucretius is poignant, Coriolanus is powerful, and Julius Caesar is fascinating! »