Performance-architect from Italy - Interview with Claudio Collovà / 2007

Claudio Collovà, a director from Sicily but working across Europe from Milan to Bucharest, held a two-week Woyzeck-workshop for the eight actors of Maladype Theatre. The collaboration, which is both physically and mentally exhausting, but which, according to the actors, is extremely fruitful, can later lead to an independent performance.

- Do you work with your own company in Palermo?

- Our company, the Officine Ouragan was founded twenty years ago under the name of Cooperativa Teatrale Dionisio. That’s a long time, nowadays only five from the founders have remained members of our team. Our performances are categorized as experimental theater, although I don’t like that label. We have always been interested in the theoretical approach of theater. As with the Woyzeck-workshop here, many of our performances don’t just emerge from the text of the drama, but are inspired by other branches of art. We will soon be performing in Rome with a performance inspired by the works of the photographer Francesca Woodman and our close emotional connection with them. The text of our performances often comes from poetic works, other times we use my own writings, and in the beginning we were also interested in dance theater.

- How and when did you meet Zoltán Balázs, the leader of Maladype?

- Four years ago in Stuttgart, where we both attended a Büchner-workshop. I had been already working on Woyzeck, and he’de been working with Leonce and Lena. The end result of the two works became radically different, but it was clear that somehow we think similarly about theater.

- Why Woyzeck? The piece still interested you after Stuttgart, and in addition to the workshops, you also made an independent performance of it.

- Indeed, since then I have continued the work in Italy, and two years ago we presented the whole piece at the Teatro Garibaldi. More precisely, we presented what happens when every sentence of the piece is uttered from the mouths of three Woyzecks and three Maries. When I found Woyzeck, I knew it would take a long amount of investigative work to uncover the deepest layers of the drama. In the meantime, the emphasis shifts and I get closer and closer to the final performance. The situation was similar to The Waste Land or King Lear I had directed earlier. I haven’t finished with the last performance of Woyzeck yet.

- Can the new emphases be explained by a change in your thinking or the influence of the actors?

- A Lot of changes are due to the actors. I am very open to their ideas. It’s not necessarily their verbally expressible thoughts that excite me, but the extra that they add to my instructions as an actor, all of the things that through they are able to surprise me.

- At the University of the Performing Arts, where you were rehearsing, I saw a much-flipped Bacon album. In addition to photos do you use paintings for your performances?

- Yes, Bacon has pictures that give me the perfect answer to the questions raised by Woyzeck. Previously, when I was working on one of Ghelderode’s pieces, Bosch’s work was a similar inspiration. Sometimes texts have a similar effect on me: I recommended my piece Heritage to Magritte, the text was inspired by Enzensberger’s book The sinking of the Titanic, and the syuzhet was fed by Joyce’s Ulysses. Thus was born the Magritteian Odysseus, who wandered the ocean with the sinking Titanic.

- Let’s turn back to Bacon: how do you get from painting to theater?

- During my research on Woyzeck’s schizophrenia, I came across images of Bacon, which then evoked certain physical shapes, sequences of movements within me. From here, the next step was to call a lot of Woyzeck and a lot of Marie on stage.

- At the rehearsal, you talked about bricks instead of scenes. What is the point of the difference?

- Instead of building a logic-based narrative system, I ask the actors to make bricks during the rehearsals, from which we will build the performance together. Instead of a pre-recorded interpretation of the text, we move forward in very small steps, which can be influenced by many things during the work. The true weight and meaning of sentences are always born at that moment. We throw a lot of from the ideas away, but some are built into the wall. The advantage of this method is that the unused but carefully thought-out elements are as useful to the actor as those that will end up in the bricks. In Budapest for almost a week, more and more bricks were built without any connection being established between them. In the second half of my stay, we’ll try to put these next to each other and then stack them on top of each other.

- Today, you worked on just a few lines only: the detail of the scene in which Woyzeck notices a pair of earrings glistening in Marie’s hand. Could those few minutes end up as bricks in the finished wall?

- Yes, it is possible, but more importantly, we wandered around the issues of persecution, escape, detachment from Woyzeck, which can help us in other scenes as well. Today, for example, I felt it was important for the four male actors to hit themselves while telling this passage of text, so we get the effect of Woyzeck’s punches are snapping on Marie. Because of my method, several of my critics used to accuse me of not caring about the text at all. I still don’t believe in the sacrament of the written text, but today I would rather say that the text is important in creating the world of the performance.

- Although you thoroughly exhausted the members of Maladype during the rehearsal, yet they did not give up, they started over and over what you had asked from them. Is it easier to work with a team in which the members are accustomed to each other?

- My job is much easier because they know each other well. Today, it is hardly possible to meet actors who are connected so closely: if they benefit from my stay, primarily they will do it as a group, not as individuals. And if all goes well, not only can they use what they’ve learned here for their Leonce and Lena show, but later I might be able to stage a Woyzeck with them as well.

Tamás Jászay,, 2007

Translation by Zsuzsanna Juraszek