“99 perfumes” is a play with 99 characters written by Genevieve Flaven and inspired by the stories of workers from the perfume industry in Grasse. It is the first time the 99-project theatre device is applied to the experience of working and it is exciting! Genevieve reports.
It all began in Grasse….
Last year, in October 2018, I met a historian from the city of Grasse who mentionned the extended knowledge of scented materials that the inhabitants of the Region gained and passed on over the years. Indeed, the region of Grasse is dedicated to fragrances since Catherine de Medici reign and generations of Grasse residents have been cultivating, processing and composing scented materials since the 16th century. The unique ability of Grasse residents to smell and remember fragrances seemed to me a powerful approach to make the portrait of their community. By a happy coincidence, the skills related to fragances in Pays de Grasse was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage once month later (November 2018) and it reinforced my intuition.
I then met the team of the International Museum of Perfumery of Grasse (IMP) and explained the concept of the 99 project and the application I intended to launch in Grasse. The Museum had an abundant documentary fund including records of ethnographic interviews conducted in 2004 with former employees of the Perfumery. The idea of 99 Perfumes was launched….
At the heart of the “Living labour”
I received the audio files of the interviews in July 2019 and listened to 140 hour of testimonies to write the first version of “99 perfumes”, a play with 99 characters inspired by the stories of pickers, chemists, accountants, brokers, boilermakers, electricians, managers or perfumers of Grasse. I sought to capture not the volatile essence of perfume, but the reality of the work exprience and to draw a sincere and sensitive portrait of a community by little touches made of individual and shared stories, at times ordinary, amazing, funny or touching.
This is the first time that I apply the 99 device to the reality of work and according to my first readers, it’s exciting! I realized how deep the experience of work was. Indeed, work occupies a central position in the definition of one’s identity: it creates a sense of social utility, provides a sense of recognition and even accomplishment or causes a lot of suffering. But it is critical as well to shape social relationships. Because what happens in the workplace – oppression or emancipation – happens as well in society.
With the new play “99 perfumes”, I’d like to share the experience of work of these employees that is the part of themselves that they engage, the intelligence that they add to the prescriptions, the intimate familiarization with the reality of a task, the obstinate confrontation of the body with the tools, technical objects and rules, the interpersonal relationships that frame their job ….so that “it works”,
What will happen next?
This text will now provide the inspiration materials for a series of writing workshops that will take place this winter in Grasse. High school students will write additional stories that resonate with these voices from the past. With their contributions, I will then compose the final version of the play “99 Perfumes” and transform those individual stories into a polyphonic play that could then connect with a larger public and remind the centrality of work in society.