“Manuel d’exil” is based on the novel of the same name by Velibor Čolić, who found himself in a refugee camp in Rennes in 1992. A writer and deserter from the Bosnian army, he applied for asylum in France. Knowing just three words of French – Jean, Paul and Sartre – he was compelled to reinvent himself; 23 years later he compiled his “manual of exile” in French without recourse to his mother tongue. His tale, subtitled “How to successfully master your exile in 35 lessons”, brims over with grim irony, self-deprecation and poetic prose. Standing alone on the stage designed by Sylvie Kleiber in a production by Maya Bösch, actor Jean-Quentin Châtelain powerfully intones this dizzying, radical and yet highly personal refugee story which encourages us to reflect on situations that are both absurd and tragic. “Manuel d’exil” premièred in autumn 2021 at the Théâtre Saint-Gervais and was shortlisted at the Swiss Theatre Encounter 2022.
Maya Bösch was born in Zurich in 1973 and lives in Geneva. A Swiss-American dual citizen, she studied stage directing at university in Philadelphia (USA), specialising in political theatre, and subsequently worked as an assistant director in New York, Brussels, Geneva and Vienna. In 2000 she set up the company sturmfrei in Geneva, where she frequently works on contemporary texts by, among others, Heiner Müller, Peter Handke, Elfriede Jelinek, Sarah Kane, Marguerite Duras and Mathieu Bertholet. As artist, director and curator, she explores new forms of theatre and art. She received a Swiss Theatre Award in 2015, and was described at the time as “alert and multitalented”. Jean-Quentin Châtelain also received the award, in 2016, as an “acting phenomenon”, while Sylvie Kleiber’s turn came in 2020 when she was recognised as a “set designer to the avant-garde”.
‘Manuel d’exil’ is a monologue with multiple voices that explores the experiences of a man in exile through the medium of theatre. As he recounts his personal story, he immerses his audience in the broader context of the migrations and other dramas that countless human beings undergo. This complex piece brilliantly combines the performative, scenographic, audio and literary dimensions within a tireless artistic quest on the part of its creators. The award recognises a work that achieves the difficult task of linking topical content to bold and relevant means of expression.