Volume 16 Number 3
Hopscotch Theatre
01 June 2003

'La Marelle' is French for hopscotch, one of the oldest children's games still in use, going back to ancient Greece and beyond.

'La Marelle' is French for hopscotch, one of the oldest children's games still in use, going back to ancient Greece and beyond. It's an appropriate name for an unusual Christian theatre company that's been touring Switzerland, France, and sometimes Belgium and Holland, for the last 21 years.

At the heart of the venture lie the conviction and calling of André and Edith Cortessis. It is supported by an association with some 250 members and the Reformed Evangelical Church of the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland.

André was born in Egypt, with a Greek Orthodox father and a Swiss Protestant mother, and came to Switzerland as a teenager. He met Edith through youth activities of the Protestant church. Their first taste of theatre was taking part in evangelical shows of songs and sketches in holiday camping sites. But they soon became involved in an attempt to bring greater professionalism to 'religious theatre'.

Their approach is based on 'sharing, not proselytism', they say. They want to let their audiences make up their own minds, to stimulate thought, to challenge, but not to pressure. As Edith says, 'God has to touch people's hearts, as he wills. We want to contribute to a better world, but we can't save people's souls.'

A new play every year, since 1982, plus extra plays sometimes at Christmas and Easter; a new tour every year; nine months a year spent largely on the road, with rarely two nights, two performances, in the same place. Most often, they are booked by local churches. Their tally now stands at 3,126 performances, to a total audience of 290,768.

Where do they find the energy and enthusiasm to keep going? 'The public still want us,' says Edith. Sometimes their local hosts turn out to be the third generation of their fans.

This season's play is Max Havelaar, the Dutchman from Sumatra. Max Havelaar was the title of an epoch-making Dutch novel (in the line of Uncle Tom's Cabin), published anonymously by a colonial civil servant in 1860, but it is now the name of a foundation that works to encourage fair trade (see Lead Story). The play deals with fair trade and Europe's colonial past, and its tour is supported by fairtrade groups and NGOs.

The next tour, starting in September, will break new ground for the Cortessis- Edith has written her first play, on God and the Internet, aiming for a younger audience. André will be driving the truck with all the equipment, setting up the improvized stages, handling the lights and sound. La Marelle is still on the hop.
Andrew Stallybrass

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