- Soccer Fans on Stage
In Stadium, a documentary performance created by French-Moroccan artist Mohamed El Khatib and produced by his company Zirlib, which opened at Le Tandem, the Scène nationale Arras Douai in France on May 15, 2017, we meet fifty-some inhabitants of Lens, a town in northern France, who are passionate about their local soccer team, the Red and Gold. Known as “the best soccer fans in France,” they share their life stories and thoughts about their devotion to the home team. We hear from Kevin, who loves to go to games with his father and shout at the referee. Another Kevin speaks about their private club, Elements of Language, that meets over “a beer or two” to invent unforgettable insults. He is followed by another Kevin and yet another. Out of 17,000 season ticket holders to the Bollaert Stadium in Lens, more than 4,600 are Kevins.
They are joined by Monsieur Drapeau and his daughter Clémentine, cheerleaders, the Communist mayor of a neighboring town, a parish priest, and many others. Yvette Dupuis, eighty-seven years old, appears not only on video but also in person with her family of twelve children, thirty-one grandchildren and thirty-four great grandchildren, all of them fervent fans of the Lens Racing Club. Mohamed El Khatib is present throughout the performance asking the participants questions and improvising with some of them. A number of the fans are the children and grandchildren of the coal miners, who worked in the flourishing mining industry in Northern France in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and lost their jobs when the coal mines closed down in 1986. They are proud of their heritage. At the games, they sing Les Corons, a 1982 regional song composed by Pierre Bachelet and dedicated to the Northern miners.
Mohamed El Khatib is himself a devoted soccer fan. He was a star midfielder on his high school soccer team and was invited to join the prestigious Paris Saint-Germain soccer training camp, but he injured his knee and his soccer career was finished. Instead, he graduated from Science Po in Rennes and studied geography at the CADAC in Mexico, eventually becoming a playwright and director with an interest in real lives and different types of anti-spectacle performance. In 2008, [End Page 93] he co-founded Zirlib, an artists’ collective, with a group of visual and sound artists, dancers, set designers, and writers, based in Orléans.
In 2011, he won a residency at the L’L in Brussels, a research center that supports young artists, which offered him opportunities to focus on creating what he describes as “a new kind of poetry of the everyday” in the form of plays, dance pieces, films, and installations. He has been further supported in his endeavors by the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris that named him an associate for a period of four years.
Finir en beauté [A Beautiful Ending], a one-act, fifty-minute lecture-performance conceived, written, and performed by the author that opened in the Fall of 2015, is his moving tribute to his mother, who died of cancer. It was presented at Crossing the Line Festival in New York in October 2018. Based on e-mails, text messages, administrative documents, and recordings, reorganized and reconstructed by Mohamed, this bittersweet play is still touring and receiving accolades, winning the Grand Prix de litérature dramatique in 2016. To tell his story, El Khatib appears alone on stage with only a TV monitor on which to project images that complement his narrative. Finir en beauté is not only about his mother but also about his search for identity as the child of Moroccan parents who came to France in the 1970s. He was born in 1980 in Beaugency, a small town in north-central France.
In 2016, he composed C’est la vie [That’s Life] for two professional actors, Daniel Kenigsberg (sixty-one years old) and Fanny Catel (thirty-seven), each of whom had, at the time, lost a child (Kenigsberg, a son who committed suicide at twenty-five; Catel, a daughter born with a rare, incurable disease...