Zakia Ahasniou

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When did you have the epiphany to become an actress / playwright?
I can’t say it was an epiphany. I like to say that it grew on me. I started doing theater when I was 8 or 9 years old but it was just for fun, after school, and I kept at it for a couple of years, being in the school plays and taking improv and drama classes whenever I had the chance. I really decided I wanted to make a living out of it, or try to make a living out of it, when I first came to Paris on a student exchange. I was staying with a girl whose mother was an actress. She was such an impressive woman, so touching, and she made me believe that it was possible for me to do this. She brought me to so many plays. She really inspired me to go all the way and not to be scared of really committing to it.

What can you tell us about the differences between theater and acting in Montreal, in Paris and in Algiers?
Well, what I can say about this is naturally tainted by my experience in each of those cities, which are very different. I’ve been a drama student in Montreal. In Paris I was a student, but I was also trying to work and make a living and I’ve never practised theater in Algeria. I think the main difference between Paris and Montreal is the theater tradition. Canada is a really young country compared to France and that makes a difference in every domain. France has a great, immense theater and cultural tradition. In Canada we are creating it as we go. We don’t have the Molières and the Racines. Our most famous author, Michel Tremblay, who defined Quebec literature especially in plays, is still alive. I think this lack of tradition allows us, and probably forces us, to create our own identity, yesterday but also on a day to day basis.

I remember what you told me a year ago about your own plays, you are essentially and existentialist. You are an absurdist.
Well, I co-wrote one play with two other actresses. We had to do this exercise for school in which we had to write a small bit in a chosen genre. We decided to work with our absurdist fiber and make a totally randomly absurd play which we called ‘Il pleut toujours les jours d’enterrement’ (It Always Rains on Wake Days). The play opens on one widow standing still who’s quickly joined by two others. They’re in front of the tomb. They don’t know each other but they quickly learn that they can’t leave the cemetery. The whole point of the play is to understand how can they leave without knowing why they are there. What we love about this play is that every viewer leaves with a different idea of what actually happened in the play.

And what do you like in the absurdist movement?
I like how they perceive the world as being totally absurd and how they translate the world in a more absurd way, pushing each situation to its extreme. It’s funny, but also awkward. It forces reflection because you know that what is happening in the play is very accurate and actual but they make you see it differently. What is accepted by everyone is shown or said in a way that it is no longer acceptable and the line is so fine that it’s hard to see why you accepted it in the first place.

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If you could change one thing about Paris or the region of Ile de France, what would it be?
The bureaucracy! That is the first thing I would change because it is totally spoiling my experience here. There’s always something that has to be taken care of. It’s like that for the French, but being a foreigner, it’s a whole other story. I honestly think the French bureaucracy is a reason why the economy is so bad. It’s a joke but not that much because, as I understand it, any paperwork goes through the hands of so many different people, so many different levels of hierarchy. There are so many copies of this proof of address and this birth certificate going around… it must cost them a fortune to maintain that kind of process.

You are tricultural at the very least. What does that feel like?
Schizophrenic at times. For example, I have a French accent when I talk to French people. When I pick up the phone and call my mother I switch to a thick Quebec accent. When I talk to my dad, who’s Algerian but lives in Canada, I have this mixture of French, Algerian and a Quebec accent. That aptitude is great and helps me blend in a lot, but if I sit down with a French person, a Quebecer and an Algerian… I’ll feel really confused and I won’t be able to speak freely.

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Jeff Berner has been an active fine art, portrait, editorial and multimedia photographer since 1968. His work includes hot-air ballooning, portrait assignments, ocean-going yacht racing, open-heart surgery, book and magazine illustration, and travel photography. He has received a number of awards, including two consecutive portrait prizes from Life magazine. His other photography ranges from nature studies to surrealistic "Dreamspaces". He has been a member of the international conceptual/performance art group, Fluxus, since 1965. His photography is found in private and several museum collections, including The Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and Musée Pompidou (Paris), and has appeared in magazines, such as Omni, Life, and Psychology Today. Berner has also photographed extensively in Europe and Beijing, and has just completed his most recent book, Creative Loitering in Paris, a photo-illustrated book about the people of what he calls, "the biggest small town in the world." His Paris exhibitions have included his uniquely surrealistic "Dreamspaces," in October-November 2003, at Aux Fous de l'Isle; and his reflections of Paris, "Flânerie Créatrice à Paris," at Paris Historique (The Paris Historical Society), in April-May, 2004. In 2006, his “Dreamspaces” were exhibited at Barclays Bank, boulevard Saint Germain; and in 2007, they were exhibited at Cinema “Studio 28” in Montmartre; and his "Flânerie Créatrice à Paris" photographs were shown at La Commanderie du Clos Montmartre, where he has been a chevalier since 2005. In December 2009, his impressions of Paris and his “Dreamspaces” were shown at Café le Select, in Paris. Berner is the author of numerous books, including The Photographic Experience (Doubleday/Anchor); The Nikon Touch Photography Guide (Bantam Books); The Holography Book (Avon Books); and The Innerspace Project (World Publishing). His books have has also been published in Chinese and Swedish editions. His photo-illustrated articles have appeared in each issue of Montmartre a la une magazine, in Paris, for the past several years. Some of his titles can be purchased through Amazon.com. Berner's photomontage "Dreamspaces" were used in his photo illustration and design for Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk: The Mystery of Life (1978, A&W Visual Library, NY), a study of Zen and the sense of beauty, by Jeff's late friend, Alan Watts. Berner has taught at the historic Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design, San Francisco; at the Volcano Art Center on Hawaii's Big Island, and annually at Esalen Institute, Big Sur California, from 1990 through 2000. During that same decade he was an active high-tech and branding brainstorming consultant to Silicon Valley companies including Apple Computer, Sun Microsytems, Atari and others. He also spoke annually at Macworld Expo, San Francisco and New York. From 1965-70, he also created and conducted avant-garde art history courses, "Astronauts of Inner Space" (A Survey of the European Avant-Garde, 1880 to the present) at the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco Extension Centers (as Extension Instructor in French Culture); and at San Francisco State University's Experimental College, and in 1967 at the San Francisco Art Institute. In his spare time he created “The Lazy JB Ranch,” a miniature diorama that was exhibited for two years in the early 1990s at The Museum of Miniatures in Los Angeles, and at Paris’ only folk-art museum, Halle Saint Pierre, at the foot of Sacre Coeur, during November, 2011. His continuing avant-garde art collecting efforts include “Aktual Art International,” shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1967, as well as at The Stanford University Art Gallery that same year; and as a major part of the permanent Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota collection, “In the Spirit of Fluxus,” in 1993; and elsewhere in the USA. He lives full-time at Atelier Berner, on rue Lepic in Montmartre (Paris), with his painter wife, Azar, making occasional forays to their home in Marin County, California.