Everything in this popular Niçois actor’s early life pointed to an artistic career, and yet it took him a detour of five decades to get there.
Growing up in an arts and culture loving family is one thing. Having a beautiful and flamboyant Great Aunt who as a lyric singer performed all over the world, including in front of such notables as Al Capone and Emperor Hirohito of Japan, is quite another. It’s therefore no surprise that Lucienne Defrenne, the “Reine de la Chanson Française”, became the shaping influence on young François Cracosky, instilling in him a love of the performing arts. But it would take decades until that love would bear fruits.
Born in Deauville in 1963 and surrounded by music, books, and theater all his life, François developed an interest in the arts early on. Inspired by his mother Nicole who passed on her passion for culture, especially literature, to him, and his father Bernard who as a radiologist had found the perfect way to combine a solid professional career with the art of producing images, François was sold on the art of filmmaking.
And there was another artistic discipline the adolescent adored – theater. He, who as a teenager felt extremely ill at ease, discovered that slipping into someone else’s skin helped him overcome his painful awkwardness. Taking drama classes throughout school proved to be the winning recipe not only as an antidote for his shyness but also to live out his love for the stage.
Yet, becoming an artist was the furthest thing from his mind. Fascinated by all things maritime, and equipped with a strong work ethic, he did his military service in the marine corps and for a while even considered a career in that field. But then someone turned him on to the nascent industry of computer technology, and that became the field he eventually went for. And soon enough, François embarked on a comfortable, solid middle class life: advanced studies, a good, steady job, marriage, fatherhood…life rolled along nicely.
Initially François kept playing theater as a hobby, realizing that whenever he did, he felt happy. However, his wife was much less comfortable with his favorite pastime, and he therefore eventually abandoned it. Fast forward 15 years….. the couple split up, and taking up theater again was the very first thing François did the moment he became a bachelor again. Still, with the sense of responsibility characteristic of him, his tech job kept playing the lead role in his life – working hard and doing things well is something that has always mattered greatly to him.
Yet, a few years later François felt ready to create his own theater company, Volte Face. “My baby!”, he says with the kind of smile only a proud father is capable of. And immediately, he started wearing several hats, as actor, director, manager, and theater coach. His first productions, Alain Ortali’s Homme Au Bord de la Crise de Nerf (with Christine Baccot), and the Chevaliers des Roches Rouges’ cloak and dagger piece, L’Ecole des Lames, were well received, and pretty soon caught the attention of one of Nice’s most notable stage directors, Patrick Zeff-Samet, well known for his infallible instinct to spot and polish talent. And François’ performance impressed Patrick so much that he promised to consider him for a role when a suitable one came up.
However, juggling a fulltime professional IT job and a theater company at the same time – and being a perfectionist at both – turned out to be too much in the long run, and François received a wakeup call from his body in the form of burnout syndrome. The time had come where he needed to make a decision, and he asked himself, “Where is your place?” But he already knew the answer, it had been inside him all along: Theater.
So he first took a deep breath and then the plunge…. quitting his well-paying daytime job and throwing himself fullheartedly into an uncertain future on stage. To put his fledgling career on a solid foundation, he kept taking acting, directing, camera, and voice classes with big industry names such as François Cotrelle, Peter Tournier, and Noël Casale. The latter would leave an indelible mark on him: Playing Shakespeare’s Othello in Noël’s stage directing class, François felt for the first time ever what it meant to truly inhabit a character, to be someone else. “That sent shockwaves through me,” he reminisces.
His hard work should soon be rewarded when in 2013 Patrick Zeff-Samet made good on his promise he had given François a couple of years before, and directed him in Les Fourberies de Scapin. “Working with Patrick was an extremely rewarding experience. He tortured me… but in a good way. He was looking for things deep inside me that no one had ever looked for… and found them. If he believes in you he won’t let go until he gets you where you can go,” he remembers.
These two experiences – Othello and Scapin – both profoundly reassured him on his path he had taken, “Yes, I am really capable of doing it!” And the name François Cracosky has since become a staple in theater in and around Nice.
One of the hardest working and most versatile actors around, François has played no less than eight pieces in the past year, including such audience favorites as Tartuffe et le Roi, Cuisine et Dépendances, Les Conjoints, La Visite, La Vérité, or Inconnu à Cette Adresse. When you’re on stage in a different play almost every night, how do you keep them straight, we want to know. “You enter in a kind of a bubble. It’s like having different compartments in your mind, impossible to mix them up. When you are in your loge preparing for your performance, hearing the audience coming in, you slip into your character’s skin…. you become him. There is that moment where your stomach is in knots because you are scared to forget your lines or to goof up. But as soon as you step out there, you are in a different world, floating ten meters above the floor, and nothing else matters anymore,” he describes his feelings.
One of the great passions Francois’ work allows him to indulge in is touring, which he has been doing ever since he first created Volte Face. Adapting to different stages and environments, improvising, playing in villages to audiences that may not be used to going to the theater, is something he sincerely enjoys. “That’s real life, and what theater is all about”, he says with his broad smile that lights up his entire face.
But while the summer festivals are still in full swing François is already getting ready for the 2014/15 season. On his menu, “Le Vent des Peupliers” by Gérald Sibleyras at Nice’s small but classy Théâtre du Bocal, once again collaborating with the omnipresent Patrick Zeff-Samet, who on this occasion will be his stage partner under the direction of Danielle Majeur.
“At age 50, I now finally feel I have found my place in life. I have made sacrifices but I have also never been so happy,” is François’ résumé of his path through life which eventually took him where Destiny had tried to nudge him all along. He took the long way home, yes – but “home” is not a place to rest and relax but the launch pad for new beginnings. He will continue to work as hard as ever, to do the best he can, as he has been used to doing all his life, true to his leitmotif best expressed in the George Brassens song “Le Mauvais Sujet Repenti”, “…sans technique, un don n’est rien qu’une sale manie...”.
Pouring all his talent, heart, blood, style, and artistic sensitivity in his theatrical work, the applause François reaps is well earned….both for his work on stage and his courage to change his life midstream, when the muse simply refused to stop kissing him.
All photographs courtesy François Cracosky