anyes noel

Maieutics of the arts: how Anyès Noël sets free bodies and words 

17 minutes

Anyès Noël delighted the crowds with Fouyé Zétwal, the short film tribute to Guadeloupe that she co-wrote and directed with Wally Fall. The comedian lends herself to the game of interview and tells us about what nourishes her art, her passions and her commitment.

“Finally I see a comedian and not a student.”

These are the words that mark. The words that reassure. Words that give confidence and confirmation. Anyès was 18 years old when she passed her baccalauréat L with an option in Plastic Arts and Theatre. Anyès is an actress. She knows it, she has always known it and that day, the words of her examiner resonate in her like a truth that can no longer be denied.

A passion is not a choice. It is fire. A call from the soul.

Anyès grows up in search of freedom. Her parents try to give her and her siblings an education that is decolonial long before the term became a hot topic. They want them to be close to their land, Guadeloupe. They celebrate a strong, proud and upright Caribbean identity. But above all, they give her the space to express her artistic temperament. Anyès has a need to tell. To tell the nation of Guadeloupe and to speak to its people.

Anyès met the theatre at a young age, at the pivotal moment of adolescence. For the first time, she grants herself a sacred space where she can simply be. 

“It clicked for me. It allowed me to get out of myself, to put down that complexed adolescent body and become who I wanted.”

The aspiring actress found an unspeakable passion in theater, simply uncontrollable, that she decided to invest her commitment in.

But let’s go back to this baccalaureate exam. Anyès is evaluated on Et les chiens se taisaient by Aimé Césaire. Playing the role of the Rebel, she gives a more than convincing performance declaiming her devotion to the cause as an augury to her own militancy. Besides, Anyès likes to quote the author who precisely put the words on what she tries to accomplish through the theatre. 

“My mouth will be the mouth of those who have no mouth. My voice, the freedom of those who sag in the dungeon of despair.”

Anyès Noël quoting Aimé Césaire

If the choice is clear, it is not made without doubt. The French scene is tragically monochromatic.

“I wondered if it would work. If I would have my place. But it was my teacher who reassured me.”

So Anyès flew to “Métropole”, where she took a degree in Cultural Mediation and Communication in parallel with the Nice Theatre Workshops – a lifeline meant to guarantee a stable future if theatre didn’t bear fruit.

After her bachelor’s degree, she decided to try the Cours Florent, which she entered in her second year by audition. 

“The director, Mr. Florent, told me that I already had a good level. He wanted me to take the Conservatoire Supérieur d’Art Dramatique exam as well!”

The ambitions of the director of France’s most prized dramatic arts school may have taken her by surprise. Anyès, who is also preparing a Master’s degree in Performing Arts, feels the weight of her obligations. She will not finish the master but her career takes off.

The young comedian then confronts the world of professional theatre where she does not only deepen her acting, but lives through roles that build her.

Acting, a cathartic descent

For Anyès, acting is a descent. It is the moment when the conscious Anyès sinks, dissolves and lets herself be invaded. She leaves the place to this character never quite her, never quite far from her.

“You can’t quite take it off. Before I go on stage, I don’t eat, I don’t drink. I’m in creation mode. I have a character to wear and I can’t pretend it’s me… so I give it space.”

By definition, the theatre is the place to watch. As far back as Ancient Greece, people flocked to the doors of amphitheaters in order to be spectators of the self. The plays are a proxy for drama, adventure and morality. It is the society that tells and exposes itself. If the theatre has radically changed since its first beginnings, its power of catharsis continues to attract an eclectic audience.

But catharsis, this process of intense liberation of the soul, does not belong only to the spectator. On stage, through the characters she constructs, Anyès expresses and exorcises her personal tragedies.

She learns of the disappearance and death of her brother as she begins the production of Jean-Luc Lagarce’s J’étais dans ma maison et j’attendais que la pluie vienne, a play that strangely echoes what she is going through. In the role of the Second, Anyès is a sister desperately waiting for the return of a missing brother who will never return.

“I am creating this character with everything that already resonates within me. I was unable to grieve for my brother because I’m in Haiti at the time and it will take several months to repatriate his body… and until there is a body, things seem a little distant. The play helped me to be inside, to exorcise. I couldn’t repeat the text without crying. And at the same time, I told myself that I had to live it fully because I had to control myself on stage. In terms of catharsis, it was not bad. I think a lot of my roles moved something in me.”

One can invent words in poetry. Césaire did it, so I don’t see why I couldn’t!

“Writing in my family was a way to exorcise. My father would tell us that if we couldn’t say things, to write them down.” 

Anyès began with poetry around the age of 10. She tells her story, expresses what she feels… a process she still maintains today.

“There are things I can write very quickly, in less than two hours, texts that I can post on social networks. Sometimes it comes out and it works. When something goes through me, I don’t think too much… kind of when I’m writing in a notebook while hiding. It’s very sensory.”

Anyès describes her writing as intuitive, in connection with a feeling, with the mastery that agitates her entrails. It is an almost mystical experience coming from the depths. And this is perhaps where the cathartic experience differs radically from that of the theatre. 

“Depending on the director I meet, there are things that, inevitably, I won’t be able to express because he or she remains the decision-maker of the final result.” 

A compromise that the actress accepts without rebuff for the love of the verb.

“At my own level, loving the words, the text… I’m from that school that respects a text to the comma. I will try to understand this comma. Maybe it’s because I write too…”

It’s the milestones she imposes on herself in the theatre, she takes them away once the pen is in her hand.

“… I know why I put a comma, why I decide to put a period when there is no need for it a priori. That’s my freedom. One can invent words in poetry. Césaire did it, so I don’t see why I couldn’t!” (laughs) 

However, Anyès does not neglect the laborious maieutic that writing can be.

We think of the arts in general as a means of freedom, but we forget that we have to deal with certain things first. Maybe acting allows me less freedom than writing, but writing can be very painful. Releasing certain things, it can be very painful.”

Fouyé Zétwal: taking time to hold on to the stars

When Anyès and Wally Fall embarked on the making of Fouyé Zétwal, it was a project conceived as a reverie between friends that was supposed to be produced and delivered almost in one go. The reality will be quite different.

The two friends and artists share a vision: Guadeloupe is being drained and is gradually filling up with the silence of those who leave it. The process is long. Arduous. What was supposed to take only a week will take months.

“It took longer than expected. At this point, I am returning from Haiti after the death of my brother. I was still dealing with my grief and most of my friends were in France. I needed an escape. But I have no regrets. Lateness is never a coincidence.”

Fouyé Zétwal‘s message is one that is close to her heart. Guadeloupe is suffering and we are struggling to contain the bleeding.

For the artist, it is time to recognise that the current model does not work; that we must take the time to build ourselves by and for ourselves within the larger framework of the Caribbean. 

“Even Aimé Césaire, who was a supporter of departmentalisation, realised that it did not work. It would be interesting to get to know each other differently. We have difficulties with unity, but that’s because we were built in division.”

Give us back our country, we’ll build it ourselves!

Anyès Noël

It is a real blind spot to be unable to appreciate the community of those who arrived in the Caribbean tied up in the holds of the same slave ships. The xenophobic disdain that is readily accorded to Haiti would be coloured differently if one embraced a Caribbean perspective that recognises that none of our sister islands are truly free from the imperialist and neo-colonialist grip of the West. Instead, a cruel, ideological and superstitious response is heard. Haiti, cursed country.

The Haitian experience

Anyès, who was fascinated by Black history from an early age, spent many years in Haiti, an island that has also nourished her art.

“I followed the road that the wind blew me. The Caribbean being a space that it seemed important to me to invest. I dreamed a lot about Cuba when I was a child, but I stopped in Haiti, two countries whose history holds an important political uprising. I learned a lot about their history, their culture and their traditions; about the complexity of contemporary societies shaken by great dates and a political context that rocks daily life. It’s alive, it’s human, and human is what touches our crafts as artists… so it can be very emotionally charged when you don’t act with awareness.”

In Haiti, Anyès takes her time, observes, does not impose herself and is grateful for the welcome she received. There, she wants to create spaces that promote change through art, to work in unity beyond simple gastronomic or musical pleasures. Yet the artist is sorry.

“I have failed. At least I will have laid the groundwork and the future will tell.”

Haiti is also a spiritual experience for Anyès, who is interested in voodoo, whose mythology seems close to her in its deities, in its philosophy of life, and which reminds her of an upbringing steeped in superstitions carried by her grandparents. 

“I discovered who my great grandparents were by doing genealogical research and I think that it is the way Guadeloupe has evolved in its history that makes us not know more about voodoo.”

So much is said about Haiti, about voodoo…I’m curious and in awe.

Anyès reminds us that there is no good or bad voodoo – that the vision we impose on this practice has deep Judeo-Christian roots where evil exists outside of the self. Both poles exist within each of us. 

“I’ve met a lot of voodooists and I’ve taken things with restraint. I would have a hard time being initiated. I have to build something by and for myself, but I also believe that an initiation can be self-imposed away from constraints and texts.”

Anyès continues to build herself through her art and as she has returned to her native Guadeloupe, she takes stock. 

“It’s important to go home. I have things to deal with myself, with my family’s memories, the sordid things you carry without meaning to… but it’s also very beautiful. You shouldn’t judge.”

By her own admission, Anyès admits that gender relations are an obsession and that she has a passion for the cause of women on whose behalf she is a virulent spokesperson. But above all, she wants to be an agent of change – a change that requires embracing our history and its material and immaterial realities. 

“Slavery is inscribed on generations. I learned that with epigenetics. These traumas that we don’t know the origin of… it’s all in us. We must detach ourselves from what our parents were, keep what is important and do differently with what they gave us. We also learn a lot from children who are much more open to the intangible around us. Children feel so many things that we don’t care about. We don’t know what the soul has experienced.”

Eminently Caribbean reflections that lead to an inevitable question: how would Anyès tell the story of the Caribbean?

The desire – if not the need – to create carries Anyès who cannot stay in place for too long. 

“I don’t know if I want to be on stage any longer… probably because it’s also saying with one’s emotions. I feel more like saying my words than those of others, more like carrying my projects. I want to leave. I carry Guadeloupe in me. It is Guadeloupe that built my passions, put the first seeds… all that remains in the same triangle. There is Guadeloupe, the Caribbean and Africa and I want to create a new triangle. More beautiful, more luminous, more healthy.” 

Follow Anyès on Instagram @anyesnfactory