Here we have master’s degree courses almost every week! – Interview with Simon Jáger

In September 2018 Zoltán Balázs, the artistic leader of Maladype Theater hired seven acting graduates from the University of Arts Târgu-Mureș.

The „FIVE GATES” methodology will be jointly developed by him and the young actors. The three-year program is intended to embrace such talented entrants, who can place the general processes of theatrical understanding into new a perspective. We talked with Simon Jáger, one of the Junior members about the era-specific theatrical-methodology concept, the complex theatrical and talent care/support program, about the possibilities, opportunities and difficulties of a graduate actor, and about his path of life.

You have been working with Zoltán Balázs for over a year. In November 2017 he had been invited to the University of Arts in Târgu-Mureş as an instructor, where he directed the nonverbal performance, August. What kind of new approach did he take as a director? How was collective work? In 13th of January 2018 was the premier of August, since then you’ve attended numerous international festivals, won prestigious awards. How did we get to the point, where we are currently on the TRIP Ship, which became in the season of 2018/2019, beside the Base, a very important location of the Maladype Theater?

We have met Zoli in our final year at the university. Back then we used an entirely different working method compared to András Hatházi’s, the director with whom we previously worked, and with whom we had put together a piece based on texts written by us. While with Mr. Hatházi we experienced a freer, a more informal rehearsal, with Zoli the rehearsals were more detailed, more precise, in-depth working processes. It was very interesting to notice how he is transplanting a thought or a concrete recognition from a conversation from conception to practice. We have read and analyzed Bruno Schulz’s short stories several times, to see what they mean to each and one of us, what they move in us, etc. Since we haven’t been working with Zoli continuously, considering the fact that he had international directions and his performances at Budapest, he gave us individual and collective tasks. He even asked for a short story based on our childhood experiences written by each and one of us, a text similar to Schulz’s stories. In this way, Schulz’s world and our memories slowly came together. In parallel, we have been learning movement pieces and movement sequences from different improvisations.

Which are surpassingly important in this performance because you are not using text...

During the rehearsals, Zoli decided not to use text.

So, this was not part of the concept from the beginning?

Basically, it was clear from the beginning that we would not insist on the Schulz language style, but it only became apparent to us, when we started to work –we’ve put together the performance in 28 days– that we won’t be able to represent the periodic styled text in terms of quality and formality as we would like to. So we ended up giving up on verbal expressions. The premier in January had a great impact on our teachers and on many actors from the National Theater, who came to see the performance. With Zoli’s intervention we managed to go to various festivals as well; besides Romania and Hungary we have been in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. I have to say, that we got positive feedback from everywhere. One of Zoli’s important gestures, which I love, is that after every performance we have a meeting with the audience, where they tell us –in the form of an informal conversation– what did they experience during or after our performance, what are their thoughts. I find it very useful because it can be a lot to learn from, to improve and change.

Can it be called a physical theater?

I don’t even know what is the exact equivalent of this because it is not a dance theater, nor a physical theater, more like a nonverbal performance based on motion.

In which it is also very important the interaction with the audience, how it gets through.

Yes, there is a sort of intellectual interaction with the audience.

When I talked with Zoli, he told me, that you all are fresh and open-minded, innocent in a good way and you function really well as a team. It is a big deal, that he hired almost an entire class of graduate students.

During our years at the university, our team spirit became very strong. We coalesced. For the second year of Master’s Degree we became a team! Therefore, we do not have any problems that would hinder or complicate collective work. We are able to work smoothly and this means a lot. In this particular situation it is specifically helpful, that we are here for each other, we encourage each other.

What was it like, when Zoli announced this opportunity? Did he tell you in advance that he has such a concept, and he would like to effectuate it, but it will be difficult because of the lack of resources?

It was almost the end of our year when he started to tell us about his new project...

Can you tell me something about the FIVE GATES concept, method?

Zoli’s concept provides professional help for those, who would like to find a way back to the essence of theater making. He has chosen us for this long-term research. He was looking for collaborators, who are adequately open-minded and want and are willing to work in the FIVE GATES program. From the outset, he has precisely formulated his ideas, but he is currently exploring with us its practical aspects; during these three-years, we shall be covered by the obligations of confidentiality and professional secrecy.

Would you complete the following phrasing I know? „The FIVE GATES program wishes to support talented entrant actors who would put the general processes of theatrical understanding into new a perspective. By the primary acquisition of the new method, as the modern artist of the future, they will be able to make use of the artistic and professional fastidiousness and the specific practical knowledge, which will be needed over the course of their professional career in creating links between old and new knowledge.” Here were mentioned many things, the new perspective of theatrical understanding, the modern artists as opposite to the old ones, while bridging and exploiting the link between old and new knowledge.

Yes, I can quote Zoli, who in regard to the idea of „human-actor”, used to say, that actors forget over time, that they were once humans and only after they have become actors. Somehow this refers to a return to humanity. We are puzzling out questions, such as how does the creator, as a mediator, relate to the theater, which is a thinking, breathing creature with an independent personality and will? How is he using his personal creative energy and how does he assign this to the real issues of the theater? It is simply that we are trying to be more theater conscious people and to systematize, understand our ancestors’ knowledge, give further consideration to it and last but not least, apply it.

If the goal is to return to the theaters substantive origins, objectives, from where are we going back? What is the situation nowadays?

Nowadays, in the theater many creators, bearing in mind their own self-interest, are becoming increasingly distant from the essence of the theater. The internal matters and artistic goals are no longer significant, instead what matters are the entertainment, profit and star-making. It would not necessarily be a problem with all of these, but these estrange the people from the sensitive processes in dealing with the theater and from the complex understandings of the real subject matter. We should somehow get back to this understanding, and the involvement in the FIVE GATES program, under the leadership of Zoli, is an attempt to make it happen. Hopefully, this will happen in the next three years and even further, depending on our improvement. I think it is very important, that the program can be applied not only to the theater but to other branches of art as well.

So Zoli contacted you to join this program, as a test group, whose members are at the same time active participants and framers of the program. When he introduced his offer, did he say that it is currently working on the terms and conditions, and he is expecting you in the Maladype Theater for a minimum of three years? How did you react? How did you experience that? How come that all seven of you said yes?

It was the end of May, and we had our performance at the Istropolitana Festival in Bratislava. After the performance we had the meeting with the audience; Zoli asked us to stay for a while because he wanted to tell us something. There he outlined the concept of the FIVE GATES and told us, that he would count on us as the test group because our collective work was flourishing, and we were inspiring him. I would have accepted his offer right away! He gave us a period of two weeks to decide. We pretended to think about it, but I’m sure, that all of our answers would have been yes right away. I’m very pleased, that this is the way it had happened and as a career entrant I find it a wonderful opportunity to participate in this research program. It is fantastic individually, but with a team, to whom I’m particularly committed to, it is truly a rarity. We have also become members of the Maladype Company. In April, we will be playing together with the senior members, who are valuable both professionally and as people as well, in Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy performance. In addition, we have our FIVE GATES related occupations, from which at the beginning of the year we will host a thematic open day in which we will talk about our acquired experiences for those who are interested.

You went from Győr to Târgu-Mureș. If you hadn’t had this opportunity, would you have still come to Budapest, would you have tried, was this your dream?

I wouldn’t have come without any concrete opportunities, I’m not that type of person, I like to organize things in advance. We would have probably figured it out together with Brigitta Erőss (also a Maladype junior member), with whom I have lived together for three years, and have been engaged for one year, where we would go in the future.

Your father is András Jáger, an actor of the National Theater of Győr. How did his vocation affect your choice?

Of course, it had played a big role. I’ve been growing up in the theater, I also played as a child in a performance, which fascinated me and opened a new world in front of me. I spent a lot of time in the control booth, the sound booth, the rigging-loft and the whole theater atmosphere infected me. Then, at the end of my high school years this passion disappeared and I prepared for becoming a mechatronic engineer. I was also interested in real-sciences. I was admitted at the Széchenyi University, mechatronics major, but I’ve never even started it because instead I attended the media moderator training in Győr. This was all because they did not accept me at the University of Arts in Budapest, Kaposvár, and neither Târgu-Mureș. Afterwards, I don’t mind starting university one year later.

How do you manage your relationship with Brigitta at home and in the theater?

I think we can handle the two things in place, we are co-workers and partners at the same time. We discuss everything, and we can help each other during a rehearsal as well. Whatever we learn, we can practice it together, and after the meetings with the audience we share our experiences with each other at home.

How do you give your feedback to Zoli, what is the convention? How does he incorporate these into his studies?

He is constantly writing his study, but liaises with us. We have different tasks and there is a constant dialogue between us. He considers us as partners, and he integrates our common recognition straight away in the next phase of the program.

This is very rare, especially for young people!

Yes, this is a very good method and indeed rare. What we do is a very democratic theater-making model based on specific theatrical thinking. Zoli is really interested in what the actor thinks, and he integrates our ideas into the process. His curiosity towards us is constant.

Tell me more about your instructors who also participate in the FIVE GATES program, what specific training do you have?

Kornél Mogyoró, a percussionist, improves our rhythm knowledge and musical hearing four hours per week. These are tasks, that are always new, challenging, and they stimulate improvement. It has been only a few months and during this time we progressed a lot. I’m pleased that after university we still have the opportunity to learn new things. Here we have Master’s Degree courses almost every week! We are working with Ágota Szilágyi as well, who is one of the members of the company, and she introduces us to the Alexander technique.

What should we know about this technique?

The Alexander technique is a theater technique based on posture and a method of learning how to use your body more efficiently. This technique was developed by F. M. Alexander. With light guiding touch, we raise awareness about the constrictions, smaller tensions in our bodies. We find these, we clear our body from it, and then we can use our body completely, whether it is voice training or endurance. Furthermore, the boys from the junior group have speech class once a week with Kata Huszárik, who is also a member of the company.

Why do only the boys have this class?

Most of all because we are fewer than the girls and beside the everyday tasks of the theater that Kata has to fulfill, she has little spare time. Beside this, we also work with the TaoMamik, Zita Csányi and Györgyi Illés, with whom we are working with the mixture of elocution and Tai Chi. This is speech and motion as well, and the purpose of this special combination is to be able to use our body and voice the best way and as precise as possible.

They pay keen attention to all of you within the FIVE GATES program, which is not common in the traditional nor the alternative theaters.

This is truly unique. The objective is to be transmittable over time.

Do you have such and ambition to teach later?

Yes, of course! I hope that in the next three years I will be able to master the essence of the FIVE GATES program and can pass it to those, who would like to and can do something for the theater.