Being avantgarde among the classic and classical among the alternatives - interview with Zoltán Balázs
Zoltán Balázs, the leader of the Maladype Theatre spoke about his silence in the past few months, about the past and future of the company and about the situation of independent theatre makers.
Zoltán Balázs, actor, director was awarded with the Sándor Hevesi prize for enriching the international reputation of Hungarian theatre at the Hungarian centre of the International Theatre Institution on the World Theatre Day. The artistic leader of Maladype Theatre is a permanent guest at diverse festivals and theatres around the world not only with his own company but also as a director. He directed in the US, France, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia and he is a returning artist in the very strong Romanian theatre scene.
On 31st of May 2018 the Odeon Theatre from Bucharest presented the contemporary polish writer Elżbieta Chowaniec’s Gardenia directed by Zoltán Balázs. As an actor he appeared in the title role of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Theatre World International Theatre Festival in Brno, Czechia. The one man show based on Viktor Kravcsenko’s memoir I Chose Freedom after Washington has a debut in Subcarpathia, Southland, Highland and Transylvania; a documentary recorded the journey entitled Freedom Tour. Besides all these he represents the independent theatre makers as a member of POSZT Advisory Board. He shared his thoughts about national and international invitations, the tale of the way to happiness, the vocational questions about the independents and why did not give an interview in the last months.
You directed in several Romanian theatres, but in the capital city for the first time. How came the co-production with the Odeon Theatre of Bucharest into being?
I get in touch with the Odeon Theatre through the france based Romanian author, Matei Visniec’s visional absurd, the Dada Cabaret. The theater’s last leader the well-known actress and theater principal Dorina Lazar wanted to show the Dada - which had huge professional and public success - adjusted to the Romanian actors. Finally her purpose didn’t fulfil due to programming difficulties, but thanks to the meanwhile evolved personal and professional relationship I got an invitation as a director for the first part of the season 2017/2018. Few days before the contracting Dorina Lazar was unexpectedly changed to Cristian Sofron, who contacted me after his registry, by my surprise. The invitation went for the performance within FabulaMundi Playwriting Europe international project, and as an upshot in the end of May the Odeon Theatre presented the Gardenia by Elzbieta Chowaniecz in my direction.
You are regular guests with your company, the Maladype Theatre of remarkable international festivals. For example the Great Sound in the Rush performance will be presented in Armenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. Why are the Maladype performances so wanted?
Principally maybe due to our individual theatre language and non-conformist trait. On the other hand the years of professional presence on national and international theatre festivals and forums, where in the course of the last years from Iran to America many people remarked those specific processes which are typifying the Maladype’s incessantly renewed theatre view and works. For us the concentrated work, the intense coexistence of the actors and the constant communication with the audience is very important. The strenght of our actors is the linguistic conformity, the resilience and impovisation which reacts in real time to the events in the common space with the audience. We have both classic and contemporary, multidisciplinary and non-verbal productions on our repertoire and out of this the festivals with diverse topics can find a Maladype-production interesting for them. There is also an advantage that our company has its own creative method developed by me, which can be presented in the frame of acting workshops during the festivals or guest performances.
Recently you appeared in the title role of the Richard III by Shakespeare on the Theatre World International Theatre Festival in Brno, Czech. What is special in the direction of Sándor Zsótér compared with the other running Richard III performances and how was it received by the bohemian audience?
Unfortuantely I didn’t have yet the chance to see neither the one in the National Theatre or in the Radnóti Theatre so i can’t compare them, but I am sure that the are three very different concepts and acting in the three theatres. In the concept of Sándor Zsótér the most liberating for me was the throw away of the medical aids and the capacity to recognize the relative truth of the sober game leader. In our show the execution of Richard’s programme is possible by the economical and vivid acting where I can go through the sensitive experience of thinking with players - who had grown up on Sándor Zsótér’s theatre and - who represent the focus, style and proportion on a high level. As a player the chalenge is the direct infiltration under the skin of the inabriated royal court. We played the show for almost 40 times, but the duets of Lady Anne and Gloster, Elisabeth and Richard or Richard and Buckingham were never the same as these scenes need diffenret intellectual modulation every time. I believe that our unconventional Richard III perforamance arrouses the interests of international festivals due to its intimacy, the energy of the minimalistic acting, the diverse and dynamic music and the concept which creates new accents in Shakespeare’s classic. After our guest perfomance in Brno in May it will be presented at the Shakespeare Festival in Bitola, Macedonia and at the Shakespeare Festival in Neuss, Germany.
You renounced many interviews recently among others about yout Csongor and Tünde direction. What was the reason of your silence?
I simply considered ridiculous in the middle of the me too campaign to meditate on the alternatives of finding happiness in Vörösmarty’s Csongor and Tünde and to explain why was it important for me the two title roles to be played by one actor - Ágota Szilágyi - for the first time in history of the play. The majority of directors may have considered relevant the molastation issues with the topic of finding happiness, but for me this topic is much more sensitive and complex to bring it down to the mud-slinging. Nobody or only a few would care why mixes my direction László Sáry’s contemporary music with János Jammal Fekete’s beatbox effects and why did I choose László Kéringer tenor to play the androgynous role of Mirígy. Shortly as Vörösmarty’s hero I looked into the fountain and remained speechless for a while...
What was your goal when you cast Ágota Szilágyi both for the male and felmale main role?
I was interested in the Male and Female personality-model melting into each-other, the surface where the double conciousness creates a reality with its own system. Ágota Szilágyi is a creative personality and through her wonderings in diverse roles she became able for this self-unveiling. Her strong verbal and vocal knowledge guarentee the succesful execution of this unconventional adventure. It was special to observe how she finds Tünde and looses Csongor and other way around during the rehearsals, and the spiral of the double role finally appeared in her acting and it was a relevative experiece for those present. The performance had good reception by the audience and profession both in Gyula and Budapest, Ágota Szilágyi was even awarded with the Lajos Őze-prize for her acting.
In your previous statements the performance doesn’t offer solutions but a creative accounting. From where did you started and what is your aim in your career?
I seek the lowest common denominator in my works which connects the seemingly alien contents, thoughts and motivations. In the Csongor and Tünde I tried to find those imaginary spaces where the causes and effects got a new meaning and the routine can loose its stability. As Odyssey or Faust or Peer Gynt or even Csongor I also pursue the experience of the journey and with every of my new works I’d like to delay my arrival.
A special poetry and a uniqe vision describes your directions, your scenery doesn’t fit the diverse actual theatre trends but your works are still in the centre of professional and public interest, with the gastro language they get epicureanism. What is the reason of your desire to depart from the canon?
I never was concerned with the theatre trends and expectations, from the beginnings I walk my own path and with my reprobate partners who came with me on this special expedition I seek the answers for those questions which are the most relevant to us. My directions did not fit the canon neither when I put the unusual pieces of Ghelderone, Weöres, Genet, Maeterlinck, Hörlerlin or Wyspianski and I did not thought about the trends when we created the Büchner’s classic Leone and Lena’s 25 scenes in four variations or the Ubu King with four players between newspaper bales. I did them this way because I considered valid. I am a lucky person since besides my own company I have the chance to work in other theatres as well, and during my works abroad I get familiar with diverse cultures of theatre-making and thanks to these I could stay away form closed theatre mediums. During the years I had the chance to try myself in several genres from the prose through the opera till the puppets and slowly I managed to by-pass to be put into boxes. Currently we have Shakespeare, Vörösmarty, Genet, Lagarce, Weöres and László Sáry on our repertoire. Being avantgarde among the classics and classical among the alternatives mean some kinf of exclusivity. And to create for epicureans is a great honour and responsability in the same time.
Your manifesto based on Victor Kravchenko’s I chose freedom had a tour which was documented by a film crew. What is the concept of the documentary movie airing soon?
The Kravchenko project started four years ago and had several fazes and it definately was born under a lucky star. The obtaining of the rights, the translation, the publication under our own power, the succesful scenery, the Kravchenko-case passed to pupils with disadvantages, the American and transborder tours including my birthtown, Máramarossziget all prove that it was a worthy work by the sponsors, professionals and the Maladype crew who helped my commintment with Victor Kravchenko from the firs moment. The concept of the documentary investigates the complex case of pure recollection, personal freedom and responsability in an enviroment where the basic human rights and democratic values are in danger. It is a true acting challenge to transmit the story of Victor Kravchenko at these venues. The one hour movie’s main idea: you can’t build a reality on lies.
You are a member of the POSZT Advisory Board as representing the alternative scene. How do you consider the board’s work?
In the Advisory Board I represent the independence (as La Fontaine’s Un independant) where among with the other members of the board we debate the actual and future tasks of the POSZT festival. Certainly we often discuss the situation of independents. The long term solution of these won’t be solved by this Advisory Board, but every suggestion is truly considered which aims the representation of experienced or fresh independent groups at the POSZT contest and/or off-programme. By my experience these debates lack the warefare between the tribes, these are led by professional aspects and we all seek the opportunity for every opinion that find its space for the diverse creative claims.
The evaluation of the annual operation projects are public. During the past years many questions concieved of the project system and several important theatre groups articulated their displeasure about the curators decision. You quit the Independent Performing Arts Assotiation with your company. What was your complain about the IPAA and the curators?
Most of all about the fact that I did not felt represented by the association in any way. And behind the curators decision I couldn’t observe any real result, professional history, operational strategy, plan or suggestion regarding the future. In my opinion the operational budget is awarded wastefully with a year by year changing hectic attitude which is not compatible with the companies with domestic and international results (which are recognized every year by the curators themselves) which are only a few: Forte, Káva, Kerekasztal, Maladype, Pintér Béla és Társulata, Proton and Studio K. The publication of the curators this year draws attention to the independent theatre’s anomalies, which consist as an accentuated part the proposition (since many years) to create “a category for the companies with big history and a stable and calculable operation who are not able to be accentuated due to their independence from the local government, but in their numbers they are often equal.” They also ask to “make it possible for these organizations to apply for three-year budget with an annual account for the proper computability and progress.” I totally agree with the suggestions and I consider them topical and reasonable, but as the leader of one of the concerned companies I dont understand that with the considerable difference in the awarded budget why those divide the significant actors of the independent scene who accentuate this operational strategy based on the Polish model and urge the accentuated category for the companies above-mentioned. What is the cause that since years we are granted 12-15 million less by those decision-makers who perfectly know what added difficulty is for example in the life of the Maladype to sustain our own venue or the lack of technical crew and infrastructure. Every aware professional knows that compared with other companies behind the Maladype there isn’t an institution or organization which would finance the basic terms or everyday expenses and it is totally inexplicable why are they keeping us on a peep and why aren’t the professional aspects deciding the destiny of the viable companies. The imponderability of this situation evolved since many years proves that the majority of the companies doesn’t see the annoucements neighter as a possibility of reaction.
It seems that you constantly return to a starting-point, as you redefine yourself, your creative visions, your theatre. A few years ago your succesful repertoire was reset and rebuilt. Today the repertoire is again full of internationally recognized pieces. How do you evaluate the 2017/2018 season and in which direction would you like to navigate the Maladype Theatre in the next years?
Since many years the main approach of the Maldype is the standby. Thanks to this status we always were a company which is able to recreate itself. Into our researcher attitude fits The Balcony by Jean Genet as well as the Louis by Jean-Luc Lagarce which were the premieres in the season. By the words of Tadeusz Kantor, one of the most complex theatre-maker “there is another entrance, a poor side door which is not too elegant moreover it can be ridiculous but through that the art could sneak in...” I think that I should take it serious and hunt up this entrance, open it and leave it open for those who seek the constant development with me.
It’s time to find those responsibly thinking people in the theatre profession and in the state apparate as well who are able to think in terms of perspectives and contexts. With their support I would like to realize some of our old artistic and structural ideas which could broaden the current borders of common thoughts about the theatre embedded into the “traditionalism” and could examine the actual intentions of the theatre on professional base.
Last but not least I would like to guarantee for the Maladype - which turns 18 in the season 2019/2020 - to treat it as an adult, in such way as condigned with the undertook and finished aims, national and international successes and results in theatre and theatre-education. I don’t want the wrongly informed “well-informed” (MGP) narrow “elite” to determine the coordinates of the structural background of our art progress and to continously feed our contiguous defencelessness. I would like a standard and long-term solution with cooperation and common countenance of those who are principally concerned in the problem and are capable of productive cooperation in the favor of professional continuity and calculable functioning.
Zsolt Oláh, szinhaz.hu,26. 6. 2018.
Translated by Brigitta Erőss