The Submarine

The motionless traveler , the title of a show by Philippe Genty, could be a fair summary of what happened at La Gaité Lyrique for 48 hours … Sixty-two volunteers were locked up without any means of communication with the outside world. and any measure of time.

This collective experience was imagined by Michel Reilhac, director of the Arte cinema, inventor of artistic events in the dark, former director of the Théâtre National de Chaillot and former director of the forum de images.

Present with the group of volunteers for this “suspended time” he was assisted by Charlotte Poupon, specialist in confinement, Bruno Masi, journalist, and Laurence Giraud, choreographer. There was also a doctor on duty and a manager for contact with the outside in case of emergency.

It is necessary to underline the remarkable cooperation of Gaité-Lyrique with this almost new experience. In 1971, a group of artists had already locked themselves in a hangar in Nanterre under similar conditions but the initiative had ended very badly because of the use of toxic of all kinds.

Toxic point here: tobacco and alcohol were forbidden, only the package handed to the volunteers contained a small vial of alcohol with a toiletry kit and a logbook. The sixty-seven people in all had two toilets and three sinks. To avoid marking time with meals, sachets of freeze-dried foods were available at all times. The real difference with a submarine was the space, which was quite large since the group had a large, permanently lit theater room and two annexes, one of which was reserved for sleep, which many women quickly colonized.

These 48 hours of life were interspersed with dance or hypnosis workshops, film screenings and a meal in the dark in the middle of the afternoon! Participants also had to fill out questionnaires designed by the journalist. Paradoxically, in the absence of a temporal reference, the sleep / wake rhythm was respected, favored by the time of the beginning of the experiment around 11 pm, inducing sleep quite quickly for most of the participants.

The feeling of hunger, too, has guided the lives of “submariners”. In fact, few people have lived in a really offbeat time. The group was very wise, probably because of a certain socio-cultural homogeneity: no conflict, little anxiety linked to confinement. Only four participants left, three of them because of an estimated lack of artistic activities, and one because of an impression of isolation. Among these “submariners” were composed, many couples and some groups of people who knew each other, which seemed paradoxical for an experiment that was planned as individual.

Boredom was the first complaint voiced, which some made up for by hypersomnia. Michel Reilhac found that “our experience of time was linked to the experience of others, which reveals the strength of the collective”. And each individual experience has been conditioned by collective behavior: “our relationship to time,” he says, “is not so different from our relationship to others.” One of the beautiful images among others to remember this adventure: Michel Reilhac made a proposal for abandonment, and the group then formed a guard of honor and carried from one end of the room to the other each some participants.

As Puck says at the end of the Midsummer Night’s Dream : “On that, good evening to you all. Give me all your hands, if we are friends and Robin will show his gratitude. ” A few minutes later, it was 18 hours, this sunny Sunday evening and the submarine then reopened to the world.


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