Discovering the mundane - Interview with Zoltán Balázs / 2009

Is it really possible to play in the theater? The way children play: riskily, dangerously, even full of failures - fragile? To what extent do panel sentences define the work? We talked about this with Zoltán Balázs, the head of Maladype, who also spoke openly and enthusiastically about what keeps the company together and from where they will start now.

- What are you up to with Maladype now?

- To Platonov. Now is the time. I feel that through this we will be able to rethink and redefine many of the issues that have already been raised in our previous performances. It might be a kind of aggregation of these.

- Why, what can be aggregated now?

- Primarily the relation to the philosophy of the company, the game; how can you really play in the theater? The way children play: riskily, dangerously, even full of failures - fragile. During rehearsals, we examine how to interact with a material where everyday conditions are as accentual as in Platonov. I like its unworkedness, its rawness. I am interested in how we can articulate in our own language the kind of personal existence that these Chekov figures together represent. Chekhov's stories always start much earlier, the characters' relationships are determined, and their present is already quite tangled. In Platonov, in addition to generational problems, a young man’s fervent, vehement critique of the world, his environment, is so sharp that it is suitable for processing by a company that is constantly striving for redefinition. In the self-definition we find the enjoyment of the game. This means throwing away what we have already won once without any problems; but let’s not forget the experiences that were still new yesterday.

- What does this restart mean?

- Pleasure. The pleasure that puts the actor’s whole personality (especially his spirit!) under test again and again. I think Maladype’s actors are pretty prepared for unexpected situations and are able to question themselves at any time. This is also evident in our relationship to each other and to the audience. After the performances, we have a direct and regular dialogue with our viewers at the performing venue and on our website (blog, guestbook). Many times they come to us unexpectedly at the base, which is an everyday and direct field for various programs: conversations, screenings, debates. Our space in Mikszáth Square has become a homely place for constant interaction. We want to represent quality with our work, to talk about ourselves personally and “primitively”, but it is important that we do all this “relentlessly” towards ourselves and others - perhaps in Artaud’s view. What exactly the concept of “relentlessness” means interests me a lot lately because I have a growing feeling that we are extremely forgiving of each other. We're doing compassionate theater. We have been forgiving with the actors, the spectators, as they are with us, the critics with ourselves and with us. There are no analyzes, no real and lively dialogues. Panel sentences define our theatrical relationships like “no problem, it’s good, you’re wonderful, and then it’ll get better”. These simply leave no room for raw and unworked communication that can make the speaker and listener fit to reorganize their relationship. We need to make ourselves fit for these dialogues, and also to accommodate the unexpected definitions of what our spectators are saying about us and with us in the evenings. I want us (Maladype) not to be merciful to ourselves, to others, or to the theater we represent.

- To what extent did the fact of rehearsing King Ubu in front of an audience contribute to this? What experience did this process bring with itself?

- We were struck by how playful and open the spectators are and how much sincere attention means to them. It was not a drama in education program - or an “we will show you the theater of the future -” project, but an exciting, high-quality meeting between civilians and actors who became “more and more civilian” as open rehearsals progressed. This has greatly contributed to King Ubu’s premiere not being a red-lettered, special event that should be considered a final, branded production. Because that's usually what happens. As soon as a rehearsal period is over, “the show” comes. I hope that won’t be the case with us. Wherever I worked, after a while I felt that although the staff was professional, the actors were working with pleasure, the visuals were fantastic, or the music was good, but something remained false. The reason for this is the invisible fourth wall that consciously separates all from the spectators. I got into trouble with the regular situations designated by the theater spaces, so I started looking for the irregular opportunities provided by the non-theatrical spaces. I made an attempt to rediscover the mundane because reality became foreign to me. I love the base because life infiltrates; I hear people talking or singing on the street, I see the sky falling, when it starts to rain, and I also see the actor in daylight. It is far more vivid than anything that mimics or prepares for it. We experienced this during the rehearsals of King Ubu.

- It has happened so many times that actors have grown on the head of their leader and this has turned the balance within the company upside-down, as everyone was expecting solutions and security from the leader. How can you maintain the attitude you are talking about?

- It has many components. If I weren’t a company leader and asked if I wanted to be that, I think I would answer no. I see an artistically serious perspective in it and it makes me happy, but financially it is the uncertainty itself. It was difficult to learn because the various tasks involved in leadership - artistic, pedagogical and financial - had to be accepted. One must constantly improve oneself and ensure the long-term development of one’s employees. The same goes for actors, as it is essential that they test their creativity and talent continuously and consistently - preferably in a meaningful and bold form. It is also possible to commit a crime against an actor if you do not see the long-distance runner in it and try to exploit his talent as quickly as possible. Then you can become like the self-destruct CD in Mission Impossible.

- To do this, you need to find partners, which can be quite difficult.

- One possibility is that I shape the lives of the actors self-contained indeed, dictating the pace to them and expecting them to blindly pursue the goals I have set - sacrificing their talent on the ‘company altar’ - but I can also choose to look at them as partners and I see their thoughts as a manifestation of their personality. Fortunately, I work with actors who not only understand and value what we think together, but are free to represent everything that underpins the operation and philosophy of our company - discovering the broken moment. We can never go without doing everything we can for a scene, but it still didn’t come together if something we were all prepared for and expected so much wasn’t born that day... Uncovering this moment in public is the actor’s personal task and extremely intimate commitment.

- Are new people coming to the company?

- Yes, two girls and a boy.

- Why?

- Because I considered it important to have two new girls join the company. Of course, I didn't call anyone until I was absolutely sure that they were what Maladype needed: Erika Tankó from Timisoara and Judit Ligeti Kovács from Zalaegerszeg. Specially talented, sensitive actresses. Zénó Faragó, with whom I worked in Ulysses in Timisoara, also joins the company. Seeing his relationship with work and theater, I felt it was his place.

- What kind of season are you planning?

- At the beginning of July, we will hold a work-presentation in Zsámbék from Platonov, and then the summer break will start. At the end of August, we will be renovating Leonce and Lena and Egg(s)Hell. New members will be included in these performances. In the middle of October, we will officially present Platonov, and then Sándor Zsótér will start rehearsing The Marriage of Figaro at the Base. I’m also happy about that because the actors don’t have to wait long to work with him again, as he recently made a successful Lorenzaccio with us. It is a special pleasure for us that we managed to win Mari Törőcsik as a guest actress for The Marriage of Figaro. Then we present chapter Inferno from Dante’s Divine Comedy in Trafó. In this, Ilona Béres joins us again, which I am extremely happy about, as I had already worked with her at Theomachia and I was impressed by her adventurous spirit even then. I want it to become an all-arts production in which we can involve singers, artists and dancers too. From the beginning of November, in parallel with the season, the film director Zoltán Verebes, known as Pater Sparrow, will start working with the company, expected until the end of April. This will be his first theatrical work, but he can rehearse it easily, without any restrictions. I think a pretty bold and exciting season awaits Maladype.

- After 20 years, you went home to Transylvania to direct Ulysses. You "wandered" for exactly as long as he did. Why did this happen?

- When we moved from Transylvania at the age of twelve, where I left my family, my friends, my first love, I had nothing left to lose. That is why I later started hitchhiking everywhere in Europe. In the meantime, I was admitted to Szentes, the drama department, from there to Avignon, then to the Conservatoire, then back to Budapest, and from acting to directing. Then came Maladype, the Bárka... Meanwhile, one half of mine remained in Northern Transylvania, Maramures, at the age of twelve. I think I’m still sitting there at the train station and waiting for myself back. If I walk my way, I will meet Zoli Balázs again and we will get away together. That’s why it never occurred to me to return home prematurely. It took me twenty years, just as for Ulysses: but that certain "big moment," the "awakening in Ithaca," was missed. I was shocked that no excessive euphoria had taken over me in Timisoara. It was the most natural encounter in the world with myself and those who reminded me of my childhood world again. There I also found two young European-minded people who had moved from their Ithaca home to the lesser-known island of Ogügi, to Budapest, to Maladype.

- Are you going to teach again at the university?

- Professor János Meczner would like me to teach in his class, puppetry, continuing everything I started with The Mikado at the time, but knowing our season plan and personal schedule, it won’t be too easy... Sure, I’d be happy because the puppet genre impresses me and it would be good to bring up a generation of puppetry actors who finally have self-confidence and don’t think they can only be interesting behind the puppet-screen, giving their voices only to the figure. If teachers are working on this, I will be happy to contribute to it.

Berta Tóth,, 2009

Translation by Zsuzsanna Juraszek