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At the Moulin de l’Hydre, the theatrical utopia of Simon Falguières

It’s the kind of place you don’t stumble upon by chance.

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At the Moulin de l’Hydre, the theatrical utopia of Simon Falguières

It’s the kind of place you don’t stumble upon by chance. To access the Moulin de l'Hydre, you have to walk the small winding country roads that run along the Noireau and Mont-Cerisy. The area is nicknamed “Norman Switzerland” for its misty and hilly landscapes. There, on the border of Orne and Calvados, there is an old spinning mill. The region is full of them.

It is in the ex-factory - and the large old stone house which faces it - that the K company, led by director Simon Falguières, was established two years ago. The thirty-year-old became known to the general public thanks to his show Le Nid de Cendres, presented in Avignon last year. Originally from Évreux in Normandy, he hopes to make the place a “theatrical factory”, with artist residencies and workshops for all audiences. And why not, eventually, build a theater there. The place, its old stones, the forest which adjoins the stage installed behind the spinning mill, has the air of an open-air utopia.

At the beginning of September, the company organized the second edition of its “Hydra festival” there. Two days of theater - six shows, half of which were written and directed by Falguières himself - at free price, a concert, a party with the artists. A way for artists to bring this “place of conviviality” to life and to put the theater back at the center of this rural space far from culture.

At the origins of this project, a group of actors, costume designers, technicians and directors. Simon, Léandre, Anastasia, Philippe, Louis and Alice meet during their youth. They all frequent Shakirail, a squat and “artistic workspace made up of shared workshops” at Porte de La Chapelle, in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. A few months later, the gang, some of whom have known each other since adolescence, renovated their first location in Aubervilliers. The room serves as a storage location for costumes and sets. They go there regularly to rehearse the first shows of their fledgling company, K. The adventure lasts two years, then the lease ends. We have to find a new place.

The six comrades set out in search of a new place of their own, this time in Normandy. A sort of homecoming for the actors, originally from the area. “We were already well established in the region where we regularly perform our shows,” explains Simon Falguières. For five years, we dreamed of being able to set up all our business in a place in the countryside.” They spend their weekends crisscrossing the region in search of that rare pearl. “A first spinning mill passed us by, then we discovered the Mill. It was love at first sight,” continues the director. If the house next to the spinning mill is habitable, the factory is in ruins. The roof threatens to collapse. For two years, the members of the troupe took turns becoming masons, welders and electricians. And completely renovate the ruined factory.

“This year is a bit like our year zero,” smiles Martin Kergoulay, company administrator. The thirty-year-old, who joined the troupe seven years ago, has seen the project evolve over time. The factory, which was mainly used to store equipment, was reimagined as a place that could accommodate artists and the public. “Given the space we had, and given that we produce shows in a territory where we don't know the population, we very quickly said to ourselves that we had to do events to showcase our place to the public,” he explains.

This year, workshops were held with residents of the region. Friday September 1, when he introduced the first show of the festival as master of ceremonies, Louis de Villers, an actor in the group, cited one of these sentences written during a writing workshop as an aphorism. Hundreds of Normans came for this first day of festivities. On site, well-established logistics provide guests with pancakes, beer and an evening menu. Blankets are even provided for spectators who, unaccustomed to the vagaries of the local weather, would be cold in the evening. “Their secret is that they are super resourceful,” says someone close to the company.

The troupe's actor, thank-you speech in hand, gives way to the young actors from the Amandiers school, the Nanterre theater. All in their twenties, they perform L’Errance est notre vie, a shortened version of Le Nid de Cendres written to be performed without equipment or scenery. Two trunks and a few suits, no more. Last winter, the play toured municipal halls, media libraries and prisons in Nanterre.

For this second edition, the company wanted to invite other companies to the party. “It was important for us to offer aesthetics other than our own,” begins Martin Kergoulay. Hosts in residence allow us to raise a little money and share a tool that we don't use all year round. Soon, we will be able to allow other companies to create shows there.” The actress Frédérique Voruz came to present Lalalangue, a single in an autobiographical scene. On Saturday, Milena Csergo presented her play, Isadora as she is beautiful as she walks.

The project is just waiting to expand. No more invited companies, no more workshops open to the general public. Simon Falguières, who dreams of introducing the inhabitants of this rural area to the joys of theater, does not hide his ambition. “I would like to organize theatrical practice workshops on weekends for the inhabitants of the surrounding villages, to introduce them to dramaturgy and scenography,” suggests the director. To give others a taste for theater as it was given to him when he was younger. Raised by an actress mother and a theater director grandfather, Simon Falguières thinks of theater as a utopia. And hopes to transmit to the most secular spectator this taste for dreams which shines through in each of his texts.

More than a factory, the Moulin de l’Hydre houses a social project. Bringing people back to theaters, especially residents of small towns, largely forgotten by cultural policies. “What interests me is to create popular theater that tells stories and touches all social classes,” explains the director.

His great play, Le Nid de Cendres, depicted two worlds, reality and that of stories. The text, loaded with references - from heroic fantasy to The Matrix via the greatest authors, Shakespeare and Sophocles - allowed those less familiar to hang up their wagons. The whole thing, told like a humorous soap opera, made sure to never leave the viewer behind. Same process for Le Rameau d’or, presented on Saturday to the Norman public. The play depicts Greek myths: Apollo and the poet Orpheus want to take the place of the other Gods of Olympus. A way to break with a form of elitism in the theater.

To convince as many people as possible of the benefits of theater, the director wants to develop shows for young audiences. “You have to bring families in, invite them to participate as volunteers and even have them play on the board. It creates a lasting memory in people, a link with the place,” he believes.

The next stage - for which estimates have already been made - aims to construct a building in the style of a theater for the people of Bussan. “We carried out a phase of work over four years, it would first involve redoing the roof of the factory, demolishing the interior and redoing a metal structure to create decorations. We could even create a scene that opens onto the forest,” explains Simon Falguières. The troupe has set itself a milestone: an inauguration for 2027. The festival has only just ended. But for the director, “the fight has only just begun”.

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