Poetic Consultations: easy communion

publicity still for Poetic Consultations from Théâtre de la Ville

My temporary phone buddy Johanna White (Photo: Théâtre de la Ville)

I got to talk to a charming actor from Paris. Considering we were complete strangers when we started, our conversation was surprisingly easy and intimate. And, at the end of it, Johanna White performed a poem for me based on her assessment of my needs.

The experience lightened my heart. I recommend it and something similar can be yours — free or by donation.

My conversation with Johanna was part of Poetic Consultations, an initiative of Paris’s Théâtre de la Ville.

The roots of Poetic Consultations go back to 2002, when Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, who is now the artistic director of Théâtre de la Ville, set up shop in a bar and started giving out “prescriptions” to patrons, printed copies of the poems he had assigned to them. The original idea was to take poetry to people who might not be exposed to it otherwise.

Théâtre de la Ville had a shopping-mall version going last February so, when Covid hit, the company was primed to pivot to phone consultations.

The phone version has been a hit. In collaboration with companies from other countries, Théâtre de la Ville is now offering Poetic Consultations in 23 languages and it employs 108 “consultants”. Most of those consultants are performers, but a handful are scientists who offer their expertise in Scientific Consultations, a recent variation that’s currently only offered in French.

Johanna asked how I was doing and we went from there, chatting about kids, Covid, theatre, and the performance of success.

When we were talking about work, I mentioned that I used to contribute to Sesame Street and I recited a few lines of “Otters”, a poem I wrote for the program. Johanna, who has lived all over the world, was quiet for a minute, then said, “I remember those lines. When I was a little girl in Miami, my sister and I watched Sesame Street all the time.” So, at her request, I sent her the full poem on WhatsApp.

And she read me Walt Whitman’s “On the Beach at Night Alone”: “A vast similitude interlocks all/… All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,/This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d,/And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.”

POETIC CONSULTATIONS Initiated by Théâtre de la Ville. Experienced by telephone on Sunday, March 14.  Available until June 30. Tickets (free or by donation)

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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