L’Avant-Scène in Paris: Reflections on the Twentieth Anniversary Trip

Feb. 28, 2024

“one of the highlights of my Princeton experience and of my life.” —John Patrick ’24

“the memories created during this journey will be cherished for a lifetime.” —Mikaela Avakian ’24

“one of the most significant highs of my time at Princeton.” —Gil Sander Joseph ’25

“transformational would be an understatement.” —Hervé Ishimwe ’24

“a highlight of the year and my Princeton journey.” —Darius Rudasingwa Ganza ’25

This January, as in previous years, Prof. Florent Masse brought a select group of Princetonians from the L’Avant-Scene French theatre troupe on a whirlwind trip to Paris. Things were extra special this time, however, as L’Avant-Scene prepares for its 20th Anniversary celebration in April. Here’s what the students from this year’s group had to say about their experience:

What a trip! You visited the National Archives, attended a Zaho de Sagazan concert, and watched six plays. Did you have a favorite?

GSJ: Le Misanthrope turned out to be my favorite play of the whole trip and that is no small statement given the quality of the plays we saw. I was honestly impressed by the acting and the mise-en-scène which left me in awe. The actors did a fantastic job bringing to life this 17th-century masterpiece by Molière.

MA: We began our trip with Contes et Legendes by Joël Pommerat at the Porte Saint Martin. It was fascinating to me that against the backdrop of the theater’s rich history and gilded proscenium arches, we saw a contemporary play presented by an all-woman troupe on adolescence in the era of artificial intelligence.

DRG: My favorite play was Lucrèce Borgia because it was constantly engaging and dramatic, and the direction of the piece was elegant and easy to follow.

As interpreters of French theatre, you must have found that profoundly moving. Did you feel you grew as actors as well?

JP: From Le Misanthrope, I learned the importance of acquiring a deep understanding of the text in order to tease out the nuances for the audience. And the passionate acting by Elsa Lepoivre as Lucrèce Borgia encouraged me to not be afraid to take a commanding presence on stage and not be afraid to express strong emotions.

GSJ: One of the lessons I took away was a new appreciation and understanding of minor roles in plays, especially characters that don’t have much text. I learned the importance of stage presence and sharpness for conveying meaning in the absence or lack of expressive words. I learned the importance of understanding the stakes so that every line, no matter how short, and every move, no matter how subtle, achieves the desired effect.

HI: At the National Conservatory for the Dramatic Arts, we attended a first-year class with Mounir Margoum, whose teaching methods reminded me a lot of our very own Professor Masse. In this class, we learned the importance of dissecting characters to further connect with the dialogue and understand what kind of emotions to use.

DRG: I now have a better understanding of the multitude of styles in French theater, a wider exposure to different authors both classical and contemporary, and an inside look into the professional process of an actor including how they work with directors and producers. This will, no doubt, enrich my performances as an actor, help me embody my characters, and optimize my process.

I’ve seen the schedule Florent made for the trip and it’s jaw-dropping. Do you have a favorite random thing Florent put together?

JP: Prof. Masse is incredibly well-connected in the world of French theater and was thus able to offer us exclusive and unimaginable access. In fact, there was not a single actor from any one of our plays who did not seem excited to see Prof. Masse. I have no doubt that there is no one in the world who is better equipped to help Princeton students discover the world of French theater.

MA: A personalized shoutout by the flight crew of AirFrance announcing our arrival in Paris.

GSJ: Florent has really put Princeton on the map in the theater world and I got to witness it firsthand when the main actor of Le Misanthrope welcomed us backstage as “Florent’s group from Princeton University!” (This was in front of an audience of 900 people.)

How about outside the theatre? Did you have a favorite non-theatrical experience?

MA: What made this journey genuinely remarkable was Prof. Masse took time to connect us with people who reflected our interests in/outside of theater, as I met with a graduate of the Conservatoire National currently working on a play about the Armenian Diaspora that will soon debut in France and Armenia. I also loved when we were invited to the residence of Steven Bawol ’81, where we brunched on delicious Corsican clementines and homemade quiche!

HI: The Museum de Louvre, where I had the chance to admire the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon, among other beautiful pieces of art.

DRG: Probably the multitude of chats we had with notable actors and authors, specifically Eva Doumbia and Olga Mouak, who had rich perspectives on the state of French theatre especially when it comes to diversity in the cast and audience.

You’ve been using words like “transformational.” What will stay with you from this trip?

JP: We attended two classes at the Paris Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, a highly selective theater school that admits the top thirty actors in France every year. I expected an air of elitism to pervade, but I found the opposite to be true. The students were incredibly friendly and approachable. Instead of being proud of their accomplishments, they seemed grateful for their opportunities. I left the Conservatory with new friends and the resolve to continue to aim for high achievements, but to always be cognizant of the fortune (and luck) I have to be at Princeton. I hope to carry this mindset to future opportunities as well.

GSJ: This trip nourished a creative part of me that I have not been able to care for as much as I hoped since arriving at Princeton. Seeing the actors on stage, the Conservatory students practicing their craft, and the many other cultural and artistic aspects of the city took me back to the days when I felt intimately connected to myself. I returned to campus feeling refreshed and excited to integrate creative exercise into my daily life.

HI: I would like to thank Prof. Masse for organizing such a beautiful escapade with the troupe and for his relentless dedication to sharing this part of French culture with Princeton students. I will always cherish the memories I made with my troupe mates and him!

Your ears must be burning, Florent! Any last remarks?

FM: Just that we are most grateful to the Department of French and Italian for making the trip possible, and to the many friends and sponsors of the program, in Paris and Princeton, who have contributed to making this trip such a resounding success. What an exciting start to the year, which will mark the celebration of twenty years of full-length plays at L’Avant-Scène! I eagerly look forward to the coming spring season, in which Mikaela, Hervé, Gil, Darius, and John will star—next in Le Dindon by Georges Feudeau!