MOISE FRITZ EVENS
Moise Fritz Evens is a manager at the heritage department of the Ministry of Culture. But he also is the artistic director of theater company Palto Vanyan – which means “valiant, or fighter outfit”. After having been a theater writer and actor, he now dedicates himself to direction. Moise produced six long theater pieces and fifty sketches. He worked with various theater styles, from puppetry to street theater, classic theater and total art. The latter mixes different art forms, including traditional chanting and dance, and acting. That is how Moise, or Vanyan as his friends call him, adapted major classical pieces and added a taste of vodou culture into them.
INTERVIEW – april 2017
How did you become involved in theater?
My family was involved in theater. My father was a theater writer and director. His brothers and sisters were also actors. My grandfather was part of Frankétienne’s troupe. So I’ve always been in this environment. I received my first classes at home, and then I took part in workshops at the National School of Arts as well as abroad. I was very young when I started going to literary reunions. I would go with my brother who was a left-wing activist – and he was involved in theater too. So I became an activist when I was very young, maybe twelve or thirteen. Because of my environment, theater was innate for me. I was very young when I fell in love with this art and I have been passionate about it since then.
What is Haitian theater to you?
Theater is your soul. In Creole, we say: “Se nanm Ayisyen, se nanm mwen” [it is the Haitian soul, it is my soul]. That means that we use it to tell what we think, what others think, and what those who suffer think. It is an art of freedom, which allows us to express ourselves. We express reality, but also our aesthetic vision. Art allows us to show and develop the beauty of Haitian culture. Because vodou culture has a strong aesthetic aspect. And through theater, we can find elements to show another face of Haitian vodou.
What are the vodou aspects that you use in your work?
Vodou has different dimensions. There’s a mystic dimension, with the lwa [divinities] and the trances, and there’s an aesthetic dimension, with dance, chants, colors, and all this graphic beauty. That’s a great richness that allows us to create.
Why is it important to keep showcasing these traditions?
You can’t neglect the identity question. Every people has its own identity. It is essential to make arts through one’s identity. If a French produces a work, you will find aspects of French culture in it. And if a Haitian creates an artwork, they shouldn’t be ashamed of their culture that will appear in that creation. That is what allows us to share with other people. Our company took part in exchanges with Burkinabé and Swiss companies: that was fruitful for everyone.
Is there a traditional Haitian theater?
Theater is universal. But you can use traditional sources, from our culture. Theater is a popular art throughout the world. Here, I think we should develop theater chanting, as we live in an area that is rich in history; we should use aspects of that history to make theater stronger.
How do audiences receive your work?
The Palto Vanyan Company is lucky to be accepted by all social groups. Mass audiences accept us as we play scenes which they can identity with. We are like a mirror that reflects people’s life. Elites also see the intellectual side in our work, as we research a lot in order to highlight the positive aspects of Haitian culture, and also just to make audiences learn about their own culture. Sometimes we even upset the authorities, when we showcase engaged theater.
Your company seems to attach great importance to its civic mission. What is it about?
We denounce what is wrong – because the reason why we do theater is to change our youths’ life. I mean youth in general, but also our young talents. We don’t accept any kind of censorship. Of course we think the aesthetic aspects are important too, but we always talk about deep feelings. We expose the issues in this country. We want to show that it is possible to change things through art. Therefore we encourage young people to develop critical thinking. We use texts by great foreign authors, by theater people who made History. We give audiences methods to act and we raise awareness about the importance of civic engagement and revolution. This art shouldn’t be taken lightly, it isn’t a form of entertainment or a getaway; on the contrary, we want to remain rooted in reality. Theater has to concretely impact our life.
At Palto Vanyan, we don’t train theater people, but rather citizens. Every young people should be aware that he or she is Haitian and that he or she should defend their own values. The youth has to fight for their rights, in exchange for which they also have duties. We want artist citizens. By suggesting rather than imposing, we try to make them be aware that they have to struggle to benefit from this country. This isn’t a miserable country. We don’t have all the problems of the world. We should believe in this country and strive to change our situation.
How do you envision the future of Haitian theater?
Like everything in Haiti, it is a struggle. We receive great influence from other countries. I think it is interesting to have exchanges with actors and artists from abroad, but we also have to preserve the Haitian soul, in arts and especially in theater. We have a lot of young talents, but they shouldn’t become representatives of other cultures. They should see themselves as Haitians who make quality theater, by including their own identity into their work. Because quite often, they take North American and European influences, and they just imitate the artists from those countries. On the contrary, I think we have to strive to play in the Haitian way, with the theater codes but with our identity. That’s why we have to train citizens who play theater, rather than actors.
We are considered an alternative theater troupe. Sometimes we are suggested a contract to perform abroad, and people tell us “that is how you should play theater”; they want us to play in their way. But that’s not possible: we claim our autonomy. We want to make high quality theater, in our own way, with our own culture.
You are currently working on a new piece, what is it about?
That will be a special show to pay tribute to our choreographer Naama, who celebrates twenty-five years of working in dance. This show will therefore give priority to vodou dance, but there will also be parts of acting. We will expose Naama’s history: she will come in with the dancers she started dancing with, then she will perform alone and finally she will dance with young artists from Palto Vanyan. The show will feature strong elements of vodou culture, especially trances.
One of your recent productions was Antigone. Why did you want to showcase this piece, today, in Haiti?
Sophocles wrote this piece in 441, but Félix Morriseau-Leroy, a Haitian author engaged in the cultural and political life of the country, adapted it into Creole and included vodou elements into it. He produced it in 1951. We took the text back in 2014 and modified it, as Creole, as well as the vodou culture, has evolved. But more importantly, our version of Antigone was engaged, because there are two aspects in this piece: autocracy being denounced, and the will for equity between genres. Antigone shows that a woman can be strong. In our adaptation we highlighted the vodou heritage, the rejection of autocracy, and the struggle of women for equality, all at the same time. It was very successful. We are now developing new projects to perform that Antigone abroad. We were invited in Benin and in the French Caribbean islands. We will perform in Creole while leaving enough space to include another language when necessary.
Do you have a message for the world?
I met with many awesome people in Europe, who respect the potential of Haitian arts, who showed great interest in our culture and who worked a lot with us. I want to tell them to continue, as this work is a difficult fight in Haiti, because of the numerous social issues that discourage the creators. What’s about us, we will keep striving. So please keep supporting us! Haiti is home to everyone. We don’t make any difference between white and black people, and you will always be welcome here.