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Posted on Sat, Mar 10, 2012 : 5:33 a.m.

UMS presentation 'The Andersen Project' is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen, but isn't for the kids

By Jenn McKee


Ex Machina's "The Andersen Project," presented by UMS

In 2005, the Danish government commissioned innovative Canadian theater artist Robert Lepage to write a play that would mark the bicentennial of Denmark’s most beloved writer, Hans Christian Andersen; the result was “The Andersen Project,” a production coming to Ann Arbor courtesy of University Musical Society.

But if you’re envisioning a show packed with wide-eyed mermaids, ugly ducklings, and a little match girl, you’ll be in for a shock. (The show is for mature audiences.)

“Disney adapted these stories for children, but in real life, Andersen didn’t like children at all,” said Yves Jacques, the star of Lepage’s one-man show. “He just didn’t deal well with children, in part because he was an ugly man, and children would laugh at him. So Andersen was more telling serious stories about himself, in a way, and one of the characters in each story is a version of himself—that’s what Robert felt, and what he wanted to do with the show. … So you really do understand who (Andersen) was by watching the show.”

Lepage’s “Project” focuses on a Canadian rock songwriter who’s unexpectedly commissioned by the Opera Garnier to write a libretto for a children’s opera. Arriving in Paris, the songwriter finds that his living quarters are in a building that’s also home to a peep show in the city’s red light district.

Inspired by Andersen's Parisian travel diaries, “The Andersen Project” explores unraveling relationships, personal demons, the thirst for recognition, and compromise that comes too late.

And although “Project” is a one-man show, that one man, Jacques, wasn’t involved in the show’s development process.

“I took over the show in part because Robert’s got special way of creating his shows,” said Jacques. “He’s playing the part at the beginning. He uses the acting as a way of writing, because he improvises the show.”


”The Andersen Project”

  • Who: Ex Machina, presented by University Musical Society.
  • What: Canadian theater visionary Robert Lepage’s one-man show, starring Yves Jacques, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen.
  • Where: Power Center, 121 Fletcher.
  • When: Thursday, March 15 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, March 16 at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, March 17 at 8 p.m.
  • How much: $24-$48. To purchase tickets, visit; call 734-764-2538; or visit the Michigan League Ticket Office at 911 N. University Avenue.
During this creation process, Lepage experiments and edits the material while also trying out different set and technical elements.

“He stops when he’s done with it and doesn’t want to play it anymore,” said Jacques. “And then he’s able to give it to me or someone else to play.”

Jacques has, for the past 10 years, performed in another Lepage one-man show, “Far Side of the Moon,” as well as “Project” for the last five years. So although the Montreal-based actor has, along the way, worked in several films and plays and television—in Paris and elsewhere—he’s also necessarily become used to holding a stage by himself for two hours.

“When you’re on your own on stage, the audience becomes your partner, which is very special and very intimate,” said Jacques. “I like that.”

One of Lepage’s trademarks, though, is the use of stunning, cutting-edge visuals, which adds an extra layer of complexity for Jacques.

“As an actor, you really have to be in the right place at the right time,” said Jacques. “It’s one thing to appear on a black stage with a black curtain. … But with a show like this, you have to be really respectful of the technical side of the show. Also, I feel like I’m a part of the technical side of the show, in a way, because you have to be very precise in your movements. It’s like being part of a Cirque de Soleil show or a Broadway show. There are so many technical devices surrounding you.

“But then the show will go the other way, too, and have something simple, like an actor working with a shadow, where you only have a lamp and a shadow on the wall, like people would do in the early theater. … It’s humbling working in a show like this. It really makes you understand that acting is not the only thing you can use to tell a story.”

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.