Franco Dragone, Italian-Belgian theatre director. From 1985 to 1998 Dragone directed nearly all of Cirque du Soleil's most prestigious shows and played a significant role in developing Cirque du Soleil's distinctive blend of theater and circus performances. In 2000 he formed his own company called Dragone. Franco Dragone has produced more than 20 shows all over the world. Some of the most famous are: Le Reve (2005, Las Vegas), The House of Dancing Water (2010, Macau) Paris Merveilles (2015, Paris). He is known as one of the most famous theater/show directors in the world.
Name and Title
Franco Dragone, artist.
What is your most vivid memory?
When I left my little village, Cairano, in the South of Italy, to join my parents who emigrated to Belgium.
What facts of your biography have changed your life?
The discovery of theater.
If you had to choose a profession again, what would it be?
There is only one answer: the same. But it’s stupid; if I had the chance to start all over again, knowing what I have done, I would try something totally different. But I guess it would always be something artistic.
Do you have any regrets in life?
I hate regrets, even if I have some. I trust very easily, and sometimes I have been disappointed, and even betrayed. But I prefer this rather than becoming a misanthrope.
What is something you could never give up?
Meeting new people and making new friends.
What do you fear and what do you want the most?
What I fear the most: that the world continues on this suicidal path. What I want the most: that “humanity” becomes something more than a word.
Which traits would you like your children to inherit from you?
The will and the force to fight in order to create a better and more beautiful world.
How did your artistic career begin? At what point in your life did you realize your place in the world and what you should do?
My “artistic career”, to be honest, began without knowing it could be a career, and doubting the fact that it might be “artistic”. Theater was more of an existential need. When I was a teenager it helped me to stay sane and not become crazy or bad. My first experiences on stage were very engaging, politically speaking. The people I worked with shared the same goal: to give people like my parents, who never came to the theater to discover it, the opportunity to love and appreciate it.
Little by little, step by step, stage by stage, it became a career and I realized it was art, because art is also (and maybe mainly) for ordinary people. I’m not an actor anymore, so my place is not on stage; but I’m there, in the shadows, putting actors and performers under the spotlights, in order to give to the widest possible audience the same pleasure that I wanted to offer my parents as a kid.
We live in a troubled, divided and conflict-ridden world. What kind of “niche” or place in the modern world does your art belong to?
You are right; this world is now, more than ever, troubled, divided and conflict-ridden. When I say “more than ever”, I don’t mean literally; the world can be even more dangerous, it has been so in the past and it might get worse if we — we, all together — don’t find solutions. My “niche” is the world, and it’s called “peace” and “understanding”. I create shows around the world because I believe that differences between cultures are a source of enrichment for each of them, and that nobody should consider that they are the only one who knows what’s right, good and beautiful.
The Russian writer Anton Chekhov in one of his plays brought to the stage the World Soul, the soul in which everyone was merged - “everyone, everyone, everyone” ... Do you think there is such a world soul in the audience? Do you think about your audience when composing your own show?
The World Soul is another word for humanity. We all share the capacity for empathy, no matter where you were born or where you live. Empathy is the ability to put oneself in someone else’s skin and soul. Even if it’s a very bad person. During a show, I hope everybody in the audience gets the feeling, even if tenuous, that what they thought was “their soul” can be bigger, deeper, and richer by letting other souls and feelings assimilate into their own.
In the theater there is the concept of the “seed”. Granted, it concerns roles, it’s the “seed of the role.” I would like to ask you, is there a “seed” in each of your programs? The main thing in the public’s eye from which the program grows, moves, and develops?
There are many seeds in every show, even though there is a “red line”, a kind of story that relies on all the scenes. The seed is what you discover when the plant has grown. Sometimes I have the chance to get a very small idea of it when I catch people’s eyes as they leave the theater. But I don’t know what I have sown, except that it should help the audience look at the world and their life in a new way.
Time and life are dramatic, in every sense of the word. Humans need to create order in the chaos of reality and to give it some coherence.
Who was your art teacher? Have you ever had a teacher?
I have had many teachers, and I’m still learning from the work of other directors. I will just give you a few names : Eugenio Barba, Arianne Mnouchkine, Peter Brooks
It is written about your programs that it’s a circus and a play. But I’d like to say that, at least in the familiar sense, it’s not a circus and it’s not a play. What is it then?
As you say, it’s not a circus and not a play. We might call it a Living Performance, or something like that. What is important is the blending of many different stage approaches and performers coming from different universes. In my shows you find opera, dance, theater, circus, sport, light, videos, performances, magic, story, History, legends, myths, visions…
Today many people talk about the fact that it is post-dramatic times. Do you agree with this theory? What is important to you: the dramatic content? The new language of your art? The stage effect?
I don’t understand this theory. It’s like saying: “Today, we are in post-life life”. Time and life are dramatic, in every sense of the word. Humans need to create order in the chaos of reality and to give it some coherence. That’s the work of fiction, of dramatization. My language is not that much different from the one Sophocles used; there are archetypes that have come from humanity, millions of years ago. There is no progress in art, just some accents that change from time to time, that disappear and reappear.
What kind of actors and performers do you look for? Should they be actors in the theatrical sense of the word? Or is it more important that they be acrobats, gymnasts, vocalists? Musicians?
I always ask the people I’m working with a very simple question: “Tell me WHO You are?” And the answer “I am an acrobat” or “I am a musician” is not what I am looking for. “Acrobat”, “Dancer”, “Musician” is not what they are: it is what they do. I am looking for something else. I am looking for unusual, even troubled souls, who are daring enough to go deep into themselves and ready to share their discoveries of this inner journey through acting, dancing, music… In other words, I’m not a stage director working with actors; I’m a creator working with acrobats, athletes, dancers, musicians etc, who, through this long and hard process of finding themselves, become artists.
The word stylization was once given great importance. There was a sense of fantasy, the creation of a different reality. Could your program be considered stylization or have elements of stylization?
The word “stylization” sounds a bit superficial. It sounds like there was something good or sufficient by itself and we just needed to put some dressing on it to be served quickly. When I begin creating something in the theater and with the artists, I come with notes, synopsis, visual elements etc; but everything that has been prepared can be thrown away if I discover something richer and more interesting coming from the stage. It’s the stage that gives me inspiration. In this respect there can be no “stylization”.
How is the “reality” of art and the “reality” of life connected? How do you see this relationship?
Ordinary people and animals, in reality, have to obey the law of giving the least effort in order to survive. But on stage — and in art in general — we spend enormous amounts of energy to achieve what at times can be very minimal results. I learned this from Eugenio Barba, and every minute of my work has confirmed this!
One of your latest works is called “Paris Merveilles“ (The Wonders of Paris). You probably love this city. Recently in Paris, there was a terrible event and the world was engulfed in pain and horror at what happened. What qualities will help Parisians through this tough time and help Paris keep its unique identity? What qualities are needed for all of us to remain steady and not lose the gift of love?
The barbarians who committed those crimes are at war against everything that Paris in particular and our democracies in general stand for: freedom, happiness, festive atmosphere, to live a carefree life, love… We share and we cherish life. Paris is the symbol of this. As we say in my world, “the show must go on”, even more so when bastards try to tear it down.
On one hand the Event was created in order to achieve business goals. On the other hand, the event itself is part of modern cultural life. Where is the line between culture and business?
Success is not the opposite of art. I’ve always tried to be popular and sophisticated. If you use “art” only to make money, you betray art and you are unfaithful to the audience. But if you create something sincere, and if it reaches a lot of people and, therefore, achieves some “business goal”, it will enrichen the cultural life and the people. As well it will reinforce art and also create jobs, which for me is very, very important.
There is no progress in art, just some accents that change from time to time,that disappear and reappear.
How do you see yourself in 5 years? What would you like to do?
5 years from now I want to be younger than I am today, because every new creation is a victory against Time. And during this time I want to help as much as I can, with the little tools at my disposal, make the world a less violent and more open-minded, tolerant, beautiful, and funnier place.