Interconnecting passageways - Interview with Zoltán Balázs / 2010

Zoltán Balázs has been the artistic director of the Maladype Theatre’s ensemble (formerly Maladype - Theatre of encounters). The team, which originally employed actors of Roma origin, recently underwent a total transformation. Today, it means something completely different, both to the profession and to the public.

- When we were talking four years ago, you mentioned that your performances are stations of a longer process, and in your head you see only one work of art, after a long time in the future. The Wyspiankski’s Acropolis was the next step, then you made The Tempest, Leonce and Lena, Egg(s)Hell, King Ubu. The Faust in the Budapest Puppet Theatre, The duchess of Malfi in the National Theatre, The Vampire in France and in Szeged, and now The return of Ulysses in Timisoara. Is every performance a part of the process? Can we talk about continuity at all, or with the transformation of Maladype did the continuity break too?

- Maladype has transformed, but the process that had already begun was not interrupted. With new members and elan we are heading towards that performance I told you about. My trips to other theatres and ensembles are strengthening this process too. For me it is really important to have the opportunity of moving away from my own and usual sphere sometimes. On the one hand, to ensure that Maladype actors do not become “victims” of my permanent presence, ambitions, or the intensive, to my excessive attention, but to have a chance to breathe, to take in fresh air - I am thinking here of Claudio Collova and Woyzeck, Zsótér and Lorenzaccio. On the other hand, I also need a sense of distance to see more clearly and precisely what my path is within Maladype, or what the ensemble’s path is. I think that those staircases the ensemble walks on, lead directly to that performance, which interests me for a very long time. For all of this we needed the transformation, preceded by a three-month rehabilitation period.

- Are you thinking about your accident?

- Yes. It happened at the Bárka, before the premiere of Seagull, during the rehearsal week. I fell, I was paralyzed on one side, so I had surgery in a few days. I rested at home for three months.

- Why was a complete overhaul necessary? Has the Theatre of encounters exhausted? With the exception of three actors, you have replaced everyone, you have signed new members, and with Leonce and Lena - although you say it is part of the process - you have changed direction.

- We did not become exhausted, but it was time for reckoning. We had to choose between two options. Either Maladype ceases to exist - the company was in its seventh year, and I have to admit that those were right who said it was a turning point - or it is able to redefine itself, put its operation in a new context. We chose the latter. As a result, I felt that the piece being made, Leonce and Lena, was no longer of interest to me in the traditional one actor-one role variation, especially after specific interpretations of previous Leonce and Lena performances.

- Are you being ironic now?

- No, many memorable, good performances have been made of this piece.

- How much of the change of Bárka played a part in the transformation? While Maladype fit the profile of the theater led by János Csányi, somewhat we can say less about that considering the following directorates. I am also thinking here of the Csányi – Róbert Alföldi and then the Alföldi – Zoltán Seress switches.

- Thanks to the several changes of the directorate and the special situation of the Bárka-company, which has been always forced to redefine itself, the capacity of the Bárka has really started becoming narrow towards us. Although Maladype has become an important part of the theater’s life over the years - there has been a constant professional interest in our performances and we have been able to bring in an audience that has come specifically for our performances - our position was still limited to a kind of landlord-tenant relationship. It wouldn’t have been a problem if our rehearsal pace and schedule did not become so different from the host theater’s over time. More and more often, the image of Maladype was mixed with the Bárka’s, and we were not able to create the necessary conditions for building our own company in the long run. In the meantime, we have created significant co-productions, which have provided an opportunity to work together with some actors from Bárka and for the demanding, generous implementation and stable financing of these performances at the same time.

- How do you feel, were these successful businesses?

- Many did not like Empedocles. It was a favorite of spectators receptive to sophisticated, theatrical delicacies. The same stands for the School for Fools, Pelleas and Melisande and The Blacks. However, The Tempest was a surprising success even among those who had so far sharply rejected Maladype’s earlier performances. However, Maladype can be defined as a real company since The Blacks. The actors who had already worked with me or came then - among those only the Fátyol Girls, Kamilla and Hermina are the members of Maladype today - asked me to continue to work together. Initially, we worked under difficult circumstances, yet we saw a serious opportunity in the process that had already begun, which in the meantime had made us committed to ourselves, to each other, and to what had happened on stage. In proportion to this, the need to create a strong background that can provide security for actors and a long-term perspective for the company has also increased. We all believed that this could happen under the suitable circumstances. Faith, of course, worked like adrenaline for a while, but then more and more things had to be secured around us. And that required sobriety... It was a constant problem for me to run the company, build it in a planned way, create the living conditions for the actors, and pay consistent and in-depth attention to their work and personality, but I knew if I couldn’t structurally strengthen Maladype, I would let the last seven years to remain as an “enthusiastic amateur” venture, a pleasant and kind spot in the memory of Hungarian theatrical life.

- Why did you choose Leonce and Lena to move on?

- Because I wanted to talk about our company. Its past, present, and of course its future; about change, the limits of our identity, the nature of our theatrical thinking, and our common relationship with the play. The piece is suitable for it, it is no coincidence that in recent years it has been found by several independent companies, such as the Krétakör.

- A few questions ago I interrupted you saying that you weren't interested in one actor-one role variation...

- Indeed. I am interested in being able to select the variation of the day from at least a hundred scenes in one evening. This is also good for the actors, because the unusual task keeps them moving both physically and mentally, but the attention of the spectators also increases.

- You offer spectators the opportunity at the performance to choose which variation of a given scene they want to see. For what reason?

- Thus, the spectator is also in constant training, one has the opportunity to test his or her player mentality, to enjoy the coincidence and the unexpectedness of the birth of the moment. And the art of the moment - which is the theater itself - should not be blocked, confined to unnecessary limits. I felt that if I only had one variation, I would essentially “get away” with the solution. I wanted the performance to pulse, to shape the spectator.

The spectator was previously an observer of our performances. The event one attended was a kind of ceremony. Particular time management. As an outside observer, one could immerse oneself in his own privacy at any time, and only on exceptional occasions could we learn anything about the intimate events that took place in one as a result of the performance. Today, I believe that the intimacy of the spectator and the intimacy of the actor are common. If the spectator’s personal thoughts and feelings remain unspoken, put in a “box”, if one cannot go out, intervene or express an opinion, the actor is left alone and deprived of the opportunity to react immediately to the spectator’s comments and to offer immediate change for oneself and for the spectator.

- However, this kind of presence also requires a different kind of concentration on the part of the actors.

- Very different. When I decided that I wanted to go down this path, in a new environment, with new actors, I also decided that I needed to create a new relationship with the processes needed to implement it. I didn’t want us to take ourselves “seriously” or believe we had become “terribly important”. The main philosophy of the company became the game. It’s a childish, naive sense of game: an honest game fueled by imagination, self-forgetfulness, unexpectedness, or risk. I wanted to discover the moments of the fading, the bubble, and the feeling of “just lose it”. How to exist with a loose and open mind, to be easily present and play without the actor having to “state” himself behind the scenes or “turbo-charge” his emotions, or “go deep into” himself, or to various “doping substances” which will help out his creativity that day. Creativity alone is valid, to publicly discover its responsible nature and to play with what you don’t know where it leads - That interested me terribly. And interests me now. There can be no such thing as an actor not noticing when someone moves, sneezes, or playing on his phone during a performance. An actor has to hear it when the siren of an ambulance goes outside. If all of these are ignored, the actor’s attention is closed, his presence is false, and his concentration is limited.

- What do you actually expect from your actors?

- For example, I want to know if the actor understands the common goals or just fulfills them. I don’t believe in “acting performance,” acting as an actor. I believe more in the “human” actor.

- More specifically?

- I’m more interested in men than in actors. I think that someone is exactly the kind of an actor as he is as a person. The reverse is no longer true. If shopping and rehearsing are equally natural for an actor, then I think we are in the right direction. If, on the other hand, he feels that he has a "production" waiting for him in the evening, where he has to "act", to "form a role", prepare for or focus on a certain task, with the exclamation "oh, I just have to show my best shape!" ”,“ Oh, it’s been ages since we last played that performance! ”, or “Oh, I sholudn’t make a mistake!” then the direction is wrong. I don’t want actors to feel theater as a weight and a task. I don’t believe that actors have to get in an ecstatic state for something to happen in the audience as well. I want to establish a clear, human relationship with the audience, in which the spectator’s role and task can be just as important as ours, human actors.

- And did you find your people?

- Absolutely. King Ubu, for example, was my old plan, but I knew I would only do it if I had actors who had a special human quality and were able to perform it. I wanted clowns, great, dangerous clowns overflowing with vitriol. I found what I was looking for in these four boys.

- Ákos Orosz graduated from the Zsámbéki – Zsótér class, and Zoltán Lendváczky from the Meczner – Csizmadia class. Ádám Tompa was a student of Lukáts and Jordán, he has been a member of the company for four years. What should we know about Zsolt Páll, known from György Pálfi's film?

- He is a strange figure. A traveler. An Ulysses. He started from Târgu Mureş, visited America - where he studied acting - and then lived in Sweden for a long time and played there in a company. Kamilla met him when they worked together on I’m Not Your Friend and brought him to our performances. There was joy and serenity and some natural strength in him. And I was looking for an actor with that personality. I’m glad he stayed with us, he has a stable place in the company. Just like the others. Ádám, Ákos, Zoli, Kamilla or Hermina are all independent, valid personalities who boldly and freely represent their opinions and ideas about the world. Dedicated, talented playmates in the joint game.

- You once mentioned that you longed for a smoky, sigh-like performance, and that’s how Egg(s)Hell came - which is perhaps the most difficult performance of the company.

- A difficult, well-structured performance. It is based on practices that constantly shape the image of the performance. How actors can put these exercises and different games together according to their mood and creativity that day is always the beauty of that evening. I didn’t want it to be more than a joyfully spent hour, but I wanted them to rediscover the combined possibilities of body and spirit, each other, and self-connection. The Egg(s)Hell speaks of the relationship between man and woman with its cunningly simple means. Anyway, it is a bit like Leonce and Lena, just without words. The complexity that works through the actors’ attention could only happen again and move on from what they experienced in Leonce.

- Did you suggest the multiple Woyzeck- multiple Marie lineups In Woyzeck, directed by Claudio Collová?

- No. Claudio had this old desire and felt that based on the process he saw from us, this was the most interesting solution for him. Of course, I was happy with the idea because he came across something that also bothered me, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t at least two actors or actresses in the company to whom Woyzeck’s and Marie’s full roles could have been given on their own. I saw Claudio’s directing in Stuttgart and I found his way of working so sympathetic that I thought his personality would be good for the re-formed company. It really happened that way, the actors really loved it. It happened to become a serious, very good quality performance, I was sorry we couldn’t play anymore, but then it didn’t find its audience yet. Meeting Claudio was very important to Maladype.

- The rehearsal period of King Ubu was an open process in essence.

- From start to finish, for two full months. With this, we also tried to increase the scope of everything we have been working on together since our transformation. Not in quantity, but in quality. The attention, dedication and personal thoughts of the audience must be earned. You have to do it for it. It would be good if our theater could grow old with its audience and in a few years we could think together about the changes we might have brought about together.

- You also got your own base, which is an apartment theater at Mikszáth Square...

- Where we can finally work, talk, organize programs according to our own schedule, philosophy and mood - freely. We are not dependent on dates, appointments and other performances. This is good. What I’ve talked about is all part of the transformation, kind of like interconnecting passageways.

- In addition to you, there is another defining figure of Maladype. From the very beginning, Sándor Zsótér has been following the history of the company, he has directed several times for you, the two of you are talking about your performances all the time.

- He taught me as an actor at the University of Performing Arts, we worked well together in Richard III.. By then, I was heavily infected with Wilson, Vasilyev through my experiences in France. Then when I applied to directing, he kept watching my exams, criticized, commented them, we argued a lot. Because of this, the constant communication between us has become more and more natural. It turned out that the taste was common, but the formal world and the means we use are very different. He doesn’t have a permanent company, I don’t know if he longs for that at all, but the fact is that with each production he directs, he tries to create smaller “companies” over and over again. Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he doesn’t, but there’s an actor everywhere who can represent him. These are amazing quality, self-identical actors. It has always been important to me to have people of similar caliber as partners in my own company. Maybe that’s why they were able to do such a fantastic performance together from Lorenzaccio.

- You came back from Timisoara a few days ago, where you directed The return of Ulysses. I still remember, you told me, you didn't want to leave Transylvania, to this day you pout at the train station of Maramures Island. How was the return?

- After exactly twenty years, I returned to Transylvania as Ulysses to Ithaca. I came and went by train, I spent a lot of time at different train stations, and it wasn’t easy because that particular experience on Maramures Island burned itself deep into my nervous system. I won't forget the scream of the locomotive. It was an account of myself about where I am heading at this moment. I think that's exactly where Odysseus was when he returned home. Everything is foggy, everything is strange. After the rehearsals, I wandered a lot alone and it was hair-raising to see how a city was destroyed, how traditions disappeared, architectural styles disappeared without a trace, how well-known spaces became truncated and miserable. Yet I was at home among mine, whose humanity has not changed at all, who can still rejoice in the arriving and feel sad about the departing.

Orsolya Kővári, Kritika, 2010

Translation by Zsuzsanna Juraszek