How do we go about creating a cast today? Guy de Cointet is dead. He is not there anymore to help us, but like many great artists, he left behind a work that can still be alive when put together today.
He specifically described the work as a ‘play’, which makes it open for ‘interpretation’, or ‘action’. Making Five Sisters is not really about conserving the performance, but rather about making it come to life. Anyway, for me, the only manner to ‘conserve’ performance is to make it alive. That is why I re-made the play Tell Me with the ‘original actresses’, because they are a ‘living memory’ and I think that we needed their interpretations and advices to make it happen. Today, the context is different and we are thinking of making Five Sisters with an all-new cast.
The actors in Five Sisters are like drawings made alive, with moving lines and colored shadows. Guy’s actors were artists, not really professional actors. They were first of all individuals with strong personalities, who could also create space and movement with their bodies. They always stayed elegant, sophisticated and gracious, and played joyfully with elements of tragedy, while being comical at the same time. People say that “everyone who wanted to play was welcome”. I think that it was a little more complex than that.
First, I think that de Cointet was too elegant and polite to refuse any candidate. In the context he was operating there were not a lot of candidates who would accept to play almost for free, as well as help with building the props, etc. The ones that joined mainly did it for the real pleasure to share this adventure. This point of having pleasure and fun is a very important thing. He succeeded in creating a community around him.
De Cointet was surrounded by very different and original persons and he was attracted by ‘difference’ and people who did not ‘fit the mold’. For example, his first performer was Viva, one of Andy Warhol’s stars. He worked with Billy Barty, a little person, who also was an activist and actor. He is the one who changed the colloquial use of the word ‘midget’ to ‘small person’ in the context of acting, for example. Most of de Cointet’s friends were artists, some were visual artists that also wanted to become actors (remember LA is the city of ‘the Industry’, film). As John Baldessari likes to joke, “when someone here says ‘I am an actor’, you answer ‘Yes, in which restaurant?’”. So some of de Cointet’s players wanted to be actresses and practice, and at the same time were studying art or evolving in that field. It is probably the same today with artists. Anyway, these actresses were aware of the visual art context, even if it was not put to them in an articulated manner by Guy de Cointet. It was important for de Cointet that his actors had a persona, could create space with their bodies, and were elegant and gracious.