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Les Déplacements du problème

by GRAND MAGASIN at the Théâtre de la Cité Internationale

17 bd Jourdan 75014. Until 30 October.
Grand Magasin maintain a rather ambiguous rapport with technology. Founded in 1982 by Pascale Murtin and François Hiffler, the company has always shown more interest in what doesn’t work than what does. The title of their last show, dating back to 2003, and directly copied from a computer screen, clearly demonstrates this difficulty: 0 task(s) out of 7 have been carried out successfully.

Binary. That said, the subtleties of binary language have a friend in Grand Magasin, who would willingly recuperate Musset’s proverb, which was also the title of a play: The door must be either open or closed. An assertion that the troupe would instantly follow up with: “Or, maybe not.” A quick visit to their website ( shows the extent of what’s at stake. In an elevator shaft, a little sign has been photographed:

In the event that you have stopped between two floors:
– Press button “A”
– In the event that there is no reply
– Press button “B”

Well-behaved clown-musicians, Pascale Murtin and François Hiffler, joined by Phoenix Atala, are not troublemakers but they know how to sow the seeds of doubt. The result isn’t any less devastating. In Les Déplacements du problème, their show currently on at the Théâtre de la Cité Internationale, they explain how the show will work: “Three demonstrators present a series of devices whose acoustic effects will disturb the presentation itself. They will have to do it over a few times.”
The devices in question clearly exist: they were supplied by the Ircam (Institute for the Research and Coordination of Acoustics/Music), which participated in the new project. The goal of the show: “To use devices that emit sound in order to artificially multiply the obstacles to listening and comprehension.” Which more or less amounts to learning the science behind scenes we witness everyday without capturing its generaI meaning. Who has never tried to have a conversation in a train while your neighbour is yelling in his cellphone, when you enter a tunnel, the employee in the bar-car is having problems with his speaker and a baby is screaming? Among the Ircam’s devices, there is a series of microphones, including the “relativizing microphone,” which punctuates all of your sentences with your own recorded voice (“I’ll have to check”, “Unless there’s been a mistake”, “Or not”, “At least, that’s what I understood”… ).

“Absorbing rug”. In the same order of ideas, you’ll find the “contradicting mic” and the “negative echo mic”. But there is also the “absorbing rug” which muffles all sounds the second you step on it. And, let’s not forget the classics: vacuum cleaner, jackhammer, etc. You could lose yourself in it if it weren’t for the rope of the absurd Grand Magasin has generously tossed out to you.

RENÉ SOLIS[/one_half_last]


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They do not ingratiate us with a smile. The lecturers of Grand Magasin do not hide their obsessive side.

That has been their style for the past twenty-five years… Pascale Murtin, François Hiffier and Bettina Atala, egged on by Ircam, who have supplied them with technical equipment, have pushed their logic to the extreme, while clinging fast to their principles (tirelessly deconstructing obvious facts and theorizing). They question everything that scrambles our messages and invent impressive non-communicating machines. At a time when we are flooded with information, the idea behind it is appropriate, and some of their experiments, like the “doubt emitter”, are really hilarious. E.B.


Until 30 October at the Théâtre de la Cité Internationale, Paris 14th arrt.[/one_half_last]

Le Point

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Grand Magasin, completely nuts!

Humor. Theatre de la Cite International, Paris 14e. Until 30 October. By Marie Audran

So who are these three weirdoes? Lecturers, auctioneers, crazy hosts of The Home Shopping Network? Who cares? This guy and these two gals have us rolling in the aisles. And that’s only saying half of it. Grand Magasin – the nutty name this collective of burlesque performers have given themselves – perform their hilarious numbers for a little over an hour (almost too short) at the Théâtre de la Cité internationale. On stage, you have the choice, it’s a smorgasbord! This infernal trio tests out the strangest products, like the doubt emitter with three pedals which complete your sentences with “That’s what I understood”, “I’ll have to check”, “at least, I think so…” a machine whose only purpose is to “minimize your arguments”. Another revolutionary invention: the “absorbing rug” which doesn’t absorb stains, but sounds. The second you step on it, you’re mute! There is also the contradicting mic, our favourite, which says the opposite of what you say, or even the negative echo, which can be heard before the sound is even made! Grand Magasin sure can be zany! And, above all, incredibly funny. The show, called Les déplacements du problème was made with the help of l’Ircam (Institute for the Research and Coordination of Acoustics/Music). Among the essential questions asked by these actor-provocateurs is: am I understood when I speak? Have I really understood someone when I think I have? Gleefully, they use their new sonic toys to question logical incoherencies, as they say, sense and nonsense, the traps of communication, new technology, the recurring obstacles to listening and to comprehension. This could have made for a boring show that wasn’t much fun. But it’s fantastic and so clever, you’ll walk out smiling. It’s good show which, under the appearance being light-hearted and uniquely strange, has a lot to say about the lack of communication that pollutes our daily lives. See and hear this show immediately! A remedy for the blues whose only durable side effect leaving you in a good mood…


Les déplacements du problème by Grand Magasin. By and with Pascale Murtin, Bettina Atala and François Hiffler. With the help of Manuel Coursin…[/one_half_last]

Rue 89

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Over-the-top and Jubilatory: Grand Magasin, a praiseworthy adventure

By Jean-Pierre Thibaudat | Journalist | 22/10/2010 | 16H00



You can find just about everything in Grand Magasin’s shows, but first what we like: craziness, the unexpected, playfulness and, as always, an unparalleled way of playing with the logic of facts, gestures, objects and everything else to the point of absurdity.


In the company of those who defy categorization

You’ll love the show put on by the unclassifiable artists, Pascale Murtin and François Hiffler if…


  • · you like Georges Perec (beginning with “Les Choses”),
  • · you have a special spot in your library reserved for Lewis Carroll’s “The Game of Logic”,
  • · you were a fan of Pierre Desproges’s “minutes necessaries de monsieur Cyclopède”,
  • · you aren’t indifferent to “L’Encyclopédie capricieuse du tout et du rien” by Charles Dantzig, or Pierre Bayard’s works,
  • · you never get tired of the films of Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati (whom Grand Magasin is presently referencing),
  • · you love visiting Eric Chevillard’s blog.


In a word, if you like theatre that isn’t theatre.

Their latest opus, “prepared and finalized” with the wonderful Bettina Atala, who joined the duo, has fdor its title, “Les Déplacements du problème”. A trio, a golden triangle, triplets out of nowhere… Let’s stop being biased: the problem with speaking about this show without revealing its exquisite events, is that one must speak about it without speaking about it. In other words, one must say nothing whilst saying everything, beginning with everything we like about it.



Let’s just say that, since 1982, they function perfectly together as a duo, François Hiffler loves the color green, usually shunned from the stage out of superstition, while Pascale Murtin adores Buskin-style shoes, colored stockings and a hairstyle that she must have patented since she is the only person in the world to have her hair like that.

Time seems to have slid off their backs without touching them, as if being strong in the degree zero of irony-free art has preserved them in an undisturbed jar of formaldehyde. Almost thirty years after they began, they still look like children caught red-handed in the schoolyard. Moreover, some of their performances resemble classes or demonstrations of products (household and others).


The hilarious sounds of Ircam

This is what you will find in “Les Déplacements du problème”. Initially commissioned by the Ircam (Institute for the Research and Coordination of Acoustics/Music), which proves that this institution, despite its air of seriousness and state-of-the-art technology, also has a sense of humor. The three accomplices that make up Grand Magasin accepted the commission – sound plays an important role in the show – but by displacing it:


“At the time, we asked ourselves some fundamental questions: am I understood when I speak? Have I truly understood something when I believe I have? Have I truly understood nothing when I think that’s the case?”

This is what they write in the succinct program handed out to the audience. The show, which has an answer for everything, answers these questions and many others with the help of machines and hare-brained objects:


  • · the absorbing rug
  • · the circle of inattention
  • · the untimely vacuum
  • · automatic hesitation
  • · the contradicting mic


This last device – my favorite – appears like the ideal Christmas gift for our elected officials and politicians. No, don’t ask me to explain what the names of these rare birds might mean. I won’t say another word.


Grand Magasin, Complete works

If one day, a well-advised theatre or festival director commissioned Grand Magasin for a retrospective in the form of an anthology of their works from, let’s say the last 25 years, we would see that these players have been peerless in their capacity to grasp and travel through their era, to grab it by the scruff of its banality, polish the mirror of its tautologies, extract the substantive marrow of its mundaneness, and share all of it with us, in all modesty and in all simplicity, on a stage.

Les Déplacements du problème by Grand Magasin at the Théâtre de la Cité Internationale[/one_half_last]

Theatre Contemporain


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Grand Magasin

Playing with description and fiction

Interview by Clyde Chabot



When and how did you meet?

Pascale Murtin: Pascale and Francois in 1982, after both abandoning their short pasts as dancers which had allowed them to meet the year before. We met at Phoenix last century and decided to spend the 21st century together.

Francois Hiffler: Pascale Murtin met Francois Hiffler in 1981. That exact same year, Francois Hiffler met Pascale Murtin. This happy combination of circumstances encouraged them to found Grand Magasin in 1982. Eighteen years later, they met Phoenix Atala, who around the same time, made their acquaintance. This new coincidence forced them, in 2001, to march forward together.

Phoenix Atala: Pascale and Francois already knew each other when I met them, since Grand Magasin began in 1982. At that time I was actively preparing for entry into 1st grade. I therefore met Grand Magasin in 1995 and all three of started working us in 2000.

How have you been able to keep your artistic relationship alive for so long?

F.H.: It’s mainly because time passes quickly.

P.A.: It was not so long ago.

P.M.: We won’t risk asking the question for fear of abridging it. We’ve asked ourselves that question from the beginning, which has allowed us to continue asking it every year.

What do you feel you’ve broken with?

P.A.: I do not feel I’ve broken with anything.

P.M.: Do we have to name names? In generaI, people who offer up stunning images charged with understated references that the audience recognizes despite him/herself and the great emotion that overwhelms him/her.

What motivates you?
PA.: The possibility of making shows exactly how we think of them or how we’d love to see them. Since the result is always right at the limit of satisfaction, it makes you want to continue. It motivates you.
P.M.: Sometimes finding a way of saying things that changes our way of seeing, sometimes seeing a way of doing things that changes our way of saying things, sometimes laughter.
Why do you get up in the morning?
F.H.: The morning light, the sound of the alarm clock, the desire to drink coffee, street noises, an important appointment, etc.
P.A.: For breakfast generally.
P.M.: For the butter.


How do you develop the text of your shows? Before or during rehearsals?
P.M.: At our table, with a sheet of paper, a pen and lots of Liquid Paper, where flies come and get stuck: on the sheet, and very rarely on the floor.
P.A.: The shows are written entirely beforehand, and are written in great detail. They are not the result of improvisations. Everything happens around a table. We discuss, first, then we jot down the ideas that seem most sensible, funny, interesting. Finally, after several hours, days and months in this situation, the show begins to take shape.
Of course, little by little, we also think of our ideas spatially, but the basic actions are so simple (sit, stand, go right, go left…) that there’s no real need to rehearse them, since they are actions that everyone, including us, practice every day.
F.H.: We first write the texts, scores with words and actions, and then try to execute them in time and, space. During these tests, it generally appears that modifications are needed. We make corrections, we try it again a few times and so on, until we are more or less satisfied.
What is the nature of your writing?
P.M.: There have been moments in the past where we have written sketches in the countryside of an urban character.
F.H.: I do not understand the nature of this question.
What inspires you?
F.H.: A sentence overheard, daylight, the sound of the alarm clock, the desire to drink coffee, street noises, an important appointment, a paragraph I’ve read, an annoying show in a theatre.
P.A.: Everything that happens within eye or earshot is a source of inspiration: a newspaper lying on the ground, a construction site at the end of the street, our neighbors’ music. The fact that we perceive all these things and how we perceive them is also a source of inspiration. It is the amount of time you spend being attentive to something that makes it inspiring.
P.M.: Our mother tongue, its misunderstandings, the repercussions it has in life, the homonym synonyms that one day gave us synhomonymes, its paradoxes as well as its tautologies.

What degree of permeability do current events have for you?
P.M.: Our own permeability, the fact that we are obliged to be contemporary.
F.H.: Our permeability to current events is so strong that it passes through us without any leaving residue behind. Curiously, however, most of our concerns are sooner or later relayed by the press, publishing, advertising.
In what way is your writing current?
P.M.: Insofar as it is not apocryphal.
P.A.: Because we are writing right now.
F.H.: The postmark on our manuscript proves it.
What is your most complete text and why?
P.M.: Laurel and Hardy at School because it saw itself as a Socratic dialogue on hostility or rebellion against the elements that surround us and the difficult, though comic, adaptation of the human race to its environment.
What is the function of text in your shows?
P.M.: The language is powerful. Its evocative power is such that it allows us to describe what we do or not do to explain what we should have done. It allows us, to act in total contradiction with what we are saying or even to refrain from doing anything. It helps us to present, to represent ourselves, to represent us, to the point that it can replace us. Fortunately, it still needs us to express itself.
P.A.: The text often comes in to nullify or confirm an action. It allows us to direct the viewer’s attention to what I’m doing, what my neighbor is doing as I speak, or what I’m not doing. For example, if I close a toolbox, I can say: I’m closing a toolbox, but I can also just as well say: I’m not opening this toolbox, nor sitting, nor getting up, nor reading the newspaper. All these formulations are true, they nevertheless do not seem to describe the same event.
F.H.: The text, on the one hand, has a musical role and, on the other, of criticism – to confirm or contradict – what is being shown. Without this constant sanctioning by the text, our shows would probably be of no interest. The purely visual aspect of our services, while polished and pleasant, remains very poor. We try to separate the scenic tableau, the scenographic image, and try to attain a paradoxical form of invisible spectacle in which, under surroundings that are nevertheless colorful, it principally calls out to the spectator’s imagination and intellect. Language has this power: it is known.


What is the nature of your stage work?
P.M.: Matching the gesture with words by sometimes putting the cart between two horses.
How much do doubt and incertitude play in your creation?
F.H.: A lot. With only very few skills in the various sectors mentioned (music, dance, writing and pronunciation of a text, etc.), We need to start again from scratch every time with only our sole ambition as our weapon.
P.M.: It’s the point of departure of our projects. If we were certain we would reach the goals that we set for ourselves, we wouldn’t even try.
Is there an element of improvisation in your shows?
P.M.: Very little, unless randomness is the main theme.
F.H.: The amount of improvisation is virtually nil. However, there have been occasions where we give ourselves several formulations of a sentence in advance, for example, with the flexibility to choose the moment when we will pronounce it.
We have also instituted, for the “5e forum international du cinema d’entreprise,” (5th International Forum of Corporate Films) the GAME OF PROFESSIONS, which consists of players taking turns and freely articulating a list of occupations that are not their own.
P.A.: It is reduced to a minimum, for example, in the 5FIDCE, where the only improvised scene is the game of professions where the rules are so simple that the improvisation is relaxed: it’s a matter of enumerating all the trades we do not practice. I am not a baker, I don’t work on railroads, I am not glazier … It’s a way of evoking realities that are more or less distant and exotic while still remaining in the realm of self-description.
What are you looking to achieve? Do you sometimes achieve it?
F.H.: We seek to create shows that we would like to watch. Perhaps sometimes we reach that.
P.A.: We often like to say that we’d make an invisible show. There is a scene in 5FIDCE where we say that we haven’t always made the best choices, that there must probably be an ideal situation in which we would not be there, in the process of saying these words, and each of us begins to describe everything he/she is not doing while doing this very action. I give a folder, and I say: I will not give this folder. I give a second one, I say: this one neither. I think denying what we do at each step makes the scene disappear at the same time people are sitting there, watching it.
P.M.: Thinking out loud. Finding logics that we never suspected existed. Discovering mysteries in obvious facts, and delighting in it.
What has been your most complete show? Why?
P.M.: Every new show. The last show always leads to the next one.
Could one of your goals be achieving the most radical reduction in terms of representation?
P.A.: Yes.
F.H.: The word Representation has numerous accepted meanings. It is often used and rarely defined. If Representation means “evocation by various means of a thing, a state or an event which is not truly present here and now,” it’s true that this is an issue which we constantly return to. We constantly oscillate between the feeling that it would be impossible or vain to talk about something other than what is happening right here and now, in this precise moment, and the desire to tell stories, to string scenarios together. Therefore, back and forth between the joys of pure description of the present and the allure of fiction.
What is the nature of the relationship you offer your viewers?
P.M.: If we are succinct enough in our presentations to make them resemble demonstrations or instruction booklets, the viewer can practice a bit of mental gymnastics with us which is rather pleasant and funny, and even informative.
P.A.: It is difficult to assume what the viewer thinks, or how he/she is reacting. But the shows are designed so that the viewer’s attention is always active, so that he/she will create the links between such and such a scene with us. A bit of an effort in terms of memory and prediction are asked of them.
The principle behind the shows is to start off where the viewer’s knowledge is equal to ours, and to use whatever we have on hand to build a plot, a speech, a demonstration. This is why we do not refer to books or films that the audience might have seen to understand our message. That is also why we often resort to repeating certain passages, or even looping (in order to create a communal memory) as well as self-referencing.
F.H.: A privileged relationship.
What is the function of theater?
P.M.: To enable minds.
What is the most accurate piece of feedback anyone has ever given you on your work?
F.H.: (Feed)Back to square one.
P.M.: The death of the subject.

Movement / Future

What have you not yet written?
P.A.: I don’t think I have ever written this particular sentence. But, I guess I have now.
P.M.: A play.
What will be the subject of your next creation?
F.H.: I’ll tell my life from A to Z in order to probably realize that, at the end, I haven’t said anything at all.
P.M.: Retrieve memories that are so forgotten that they could belong to someone else.
P.A.: As for me, I’m writing a movie on the theme of incoherence.
P. A. / F. H. / P.M. / C.C.[/one_half_last]