Blesok no. 26, May-June, 2002
Time of the Moment
(selection of Mina Shpela Krstevska, translated by Elizabeta Bakovska)
On National Theatre
In his intention to stress the need of theatre aesthetics, which will not result from the impeccable diction of the actors from abroad, but from the actors who stutter but they do it in their mother tongue, Augusto Boal, the Brazilian theatrologist, says:
“In the developing countries it was a must to take the theatre capitals as a model and goal… The actor was not allowed to be influenced by those like him; He dreams of a company of the so-called educated viewers. He intends to integrate the traditions of others, not expressing his own. He takes his culture as a divine message, and he himself does not utter a single word.”
Later in his explanation that theatre should always match the aesthetic needs of the recipient, that is, each audience wants plays that confirm its vision of the world, he says that:
“The cradle of the epic theatre would be unimaginable without their thousands of proletarians, and the castration and anthropophagi of Tennessee Williams, without New York. I would also be absurd to stage Brecht’s Mother on Broadway, as well as the Iguana Night before Berlin Trade Union.”
Boris Zingerman in his book “Jean Willer et all” gives material that corresponds to Boal’s view. Zingerman says:
“Antoan, fearing the expansion of the Russian theatre in 1923, more specifically fearing the Camera Theatre of Mayerhold and Tairov’s plays, said: Unless you stop the enemy, there will be no French theatre, and our plays will become German, Russian, Black.”
What does this say? It is clear that the theatre is not only a carnival and holiday but also a mechanism. A mechanism of the play ritual whose provenience, national habitat, nationality, we can determine. What does that mean?
It means that its immanent task should always be pointed out:
to be the island in the archipelago of islands;
to fit the local theatre aesthetics;
to build an emotional contact with the audience.
In his book Labyrinths, Bora Drashkovic says: “The play wealth is the genealogical tree of a people.” The same thing can be said about the theatre, and add that “theatre trunk rings are multiplying, the tissue matures in the space”. It matures, and why? So that the people, not alone, but with their hardship and loneliness can enter that matured cell and feel it. Feel it as an encouraging crowd, as the breathing of the closest kin, and keep quiet in one’s mother tongue. There is no man who does not enjoy when he sees his double on the stage and when he hears from the double himself his own name or his nickname. There is no man who does not want to live his destiny via his double.
The theatre can have open windows to the world, but it must have its fireplace where the fire will speak about the specific issues of the matter that releases the heat…
In his strategy on national theatre, Georgio Streler says that the creation of a national theatre is among other things susceptible to the repertoire. This means that the theatre organizing itself as a national one obtains a clear image of what should exist and what it should express itself through. Thus, it imperatively responds to the tasks stated: to go back to classics, to use the modern things, to turn towards itself. Addressing theatre literature it creates an instrumentarium for its aesthetics and idea orientation, that is, it helps the free expression of dialectic principles.
So, what remains as a conclusion in the determination of the national identity of the theatre?
Stressing the elements that comprise it:
theatre play must be a mechanism that will support the experience of the theatre via an emotional contact;
the audience who will feel the relation to their own even in the roughness of the language;
playwrights who build the conflict on the national interest.
Non-Professionals on the Stage
Reading the book Shakespeare by Anthony Burgess, I was captivated by the part that can be understood as an interpretation of the word professional. According to Burgess, the term professional has two meanings:
First, to prefer the things that are done for money.
Second, it is contents where the meaning and endeavor towards perfection are reflected.
Both meanings of the term professional are reflected in all time intervals of the artistic and cultural development of man. But, the example that the author gives in the book speaks about the period of Elizabethan-Jacobinian drama.
Despite the fact that in the period stated the characters of the play were performed by actors-fans, they were not prevented from doing their jobs professionally, and they were professionally paid. Namely, the guild that had its influence on the selection of parts of the Bible, and then their staging, also had money to pay the actors of the theatre.
It is known that the Blacksmith Guild for the “Birth” play in 1490 rewarded the actor in this way: The one who played God was paid 2 shillings; the one who played Herod was paid 3 shillings and 3 pennies; the one who played Judas-Devil was paid only 7 pennies.
So, as one of our well known directors would say: In a non-professional situation, everybody (actors and Guild members) acted very professionally.
In Burgess’s explanation on where this division of money came from it states: “The role of Herod was very important and for its fulfillment, the actor was asked to have a high-pitched and loud articulation.”
This brings us close to the conclusion that the actors in an Elizabethan-Jacobinian drama were rewarded on two basis: importance of the role and the passion, meaning, that is, craft invested in it.
So, those who held a mirror in front of themselves for a longer time while they were looking for their reflection in it, that is, those who knew more and put passion, clarity in their articulation, also took more money.
“the way of acting also”, says a theorist, “is inherited, as it has bit of the trade as well.”
After such a description, I often wonder: What have the today’s actors inherited when Schiller’s statement “There are no bad roles for good actors” or Schepkin’s “There are no small roles, only small actors” are all Greek, and they refuse to play the Devil in “Birth” not because of moral of aesthetic reasons, that is, the mouse of the adapted fable Cat in Boots? Or, what have the actors who suffocate their stage capacities on behalf of the business as bakers, carpenters, glassworkers, grocers, sandwich maker inherited? It seems that theatre teaches many things, even the skill of taking money without work.
The word professional only has one meaning for these actors, and it is reflected in taking money even for things undone.
Having and not having – three and a half. Playing God, Herod of the Devil-Judas or not, he gets his material satisfaction at the end of the month (salary) that confirms his status as a professional.
For how much longer? Until a Guild appears that will know what to order and for how much. Until they all realized the Old Testament proverb –“Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel”
Everybody who deals with theatre has a model in his head. So says a theatre director in one of the neighboring countries.
The thing said would be even more explicit if we add, everybody who deals with theatre but also has a shaped character, personal qualities and intellect that separates him from others. Otherwise, dealing with theatre would be an equivalent of shedding crocodile tears and making cheap money.
The definition completed like this gives me the right to believe one hundred percent that most of our theatre people have a theatre model in their heads.
That this is the case I am convinced by many things started, heard, directly said that concern the essence of our theatre.
So for sure a theatre director and a government official had a theatre model in their heads when they told a big stage manager when they found out that she was working in a small theatre in the province: “You know what you are doing, that is, why are you working with those idiots?”
The stage manager remained confused by the lamentation of the two theatre admirers and she started apologizing that she did not intend at all to poor them hot water in their necks.
After she also got reproaching looks, the stage manager realized that in the country she was working, the small theatres, should remain small and unsuccessful at any price, especially when compared to the falsely large ones.
On those insulted by the small theatre I want to tell that it is not those who inflicted the offense that are guilty, but their model in their heads and they should repeat the lesson that says: “Only an exceptionally prepared person who is exceptionally in love can stand in theatre.”
That everybody has a model in his head is proven by the fact that two of our important theatre big sharks (of institutions or generations of theatre workers) nap in some of the political covers and wait for political protection to express their concern with the theatre and offer models that nobody, in fear of nothing else, would wish to destroy.
The theatre models also exists in the heads of those who have the status of cockroaches and they hide, break their heads whenever the lights goes on, and nobody can see them for years, except in days when they came with their cockroach appearances to get their salary, warm meal supplement and travel expenses.
Of course, there are theatre models also in the heads of the actors who publicly on the stand, in theatres or in city transport, say or write something: For years since the independence of Macedonia, the actors indifferently observe how Ministers of Culture change monotonously without leaving traces behind, the theatre directors keep on being appointed by the political parties in power, the theatres continue to sell tickets to trade unions and schools as a mode of their survival, and the university professors keep on having high salaries, without taking any responsibility for their former students taking ten times less money.
The theatre model also exists with the theatrologist Risto Stefanovski, who would say in a conversation: “It is not the provincial theatres that are the problem in Macedonia, but the theatres in Skopje.” The provincial theatres should be helped (only not in the way of the two theatre officials reflected in the sentence – Why are you working with those idiots?) and the Skopje theatres should be rationalized.
What do I know, Jirgy Menszel would say.
I don’t know whether I should say what I know, instead of expressing this theatre model, for which I do not have a single crocodile tear to support.
Who Killed the Theatre Critic
I don’t believe when somebody proclaims me the smartest as in the story where the empire had bad wheat one season, and the bread made of it could turn all people mad; the next year the wheat was good, but for one man only. He was selected as the smartest by the king and his only task was to remind the others in the kingdom that they were mad.
In no case would I believe that I could be the one who is selected to move among the people and ask them about their harvest or remark on the futile soil.
It is hard and shameful for a person to feel the smartest in the country, even when the budget is filled in by export of bananas only. Imagine that you have the task, to constantly persuade the people that they are mad, forgive me, simple or just un-smart.
Still there connotations do not prevent me in my intentions to sometimes take a walk among the people and talk with some of them about what I am interested in most. So, let’s talk about theatre.
Just couple of days ago I asked a nice actress why she enrolled at graduate studies, that is, why she wanted to be a Ph.D. in theatrology. Her nice smile and her half closed eyes through which the sky shone blue gave me the answer. The young actor whom I also asked: Why do you want a Ph.D. in theatrology was no less confused.
Those same days, maybe at the same walk, a journalist told m: I know of a theatre critic who would like to become a Ph.D. in theatrology, but he does not meet the conditions. He has written a lot about theatre, but theatrology seems not to be it.
It was enough for me to accept that we do not have theatre critics, they are either quasi or they know everything, and they do not need any education. With the honest exception of couple of them (one from the given number is already retired and has no obligation to write), we do not have theatre critics.
Now there is the question why?
First: because they have lost their neutrality, and became theatricals rather than critics.
Second: because they do not have the conditions to become critics, that is, they do not have a medium. Look how many newspapers, TV and radio stations there are in Macedonia, and how many of them publish theatre critics.
Third: because they have found better, more perspective jobs.
Fourth: simply because somebody has killed them. Shot them.
Somewhere in the west, maybe in America, some theatre critics say: The critic should not feel that he is a part of that theatre community. She should stay aside from the theatricals. His critic should be written with clean hands, as a matter of fact, it should be virginal. The critic should be similar to the people who stand in front of the magazines and do not tell the buyers which goods are good or bad, but they inform them what goods and of which value are sold.
The critics should transfer the love to theatre to the audience, but not presenting themselves as theatricals, but as creators who have an independent side, that is, as people who move along the same river bank with the audience. The critic should have an autochthonous work in the theatre world, where the audience will fully believe.
When a journalist who deals with theatre once called me and invited me to participate in a TV show of hers, I immediately accepted because I thought that we would discuss theatre, the only thing I knew. But when I got the information, something similar to what I had gotten for the other theatre critics, that is, that they were in friendly relation with some theatre feudalists here, that they go around the country and abroad with them, and they feel as theatricals, I realized that nothing would come from the show, because the journalist, as Dusko Kovacevik would say, is seemingly alive. Simply somebody shot at her, he killed her as a critic, same as all the other critics in Macedonia.
This is why we do not have criticism in Macedonia. The theatricals too calm, the so called theatre feudalists, self proclaimed for smartest in the theatre world, kill a good critic per day.
Umberto Ecco, the big erudite, writer and intellectual, in his diary says: “Parody fits me most and I don’t have to fear that I will exaggerate”.
Daniel Harmes exaggerated in his parody for sure, that is why he was killed in Stalinist prisons, but Ecco lived in a different time. At the time when irony and cynicism in expression entertain more than they fear. That is why I and many others have read with pleasures, and will continue to read the diary of the man with sharp mind and X-ray look. What Ecco writes down is what happens to him, in everyday life. So, topics are different, but the tone he articulates them with is identical, sharp and cynical.
In his note entitled: “How to organize a public library” he gives the model of an ideal librarian. According to him, the ideal librarian should limp so that the process of opening the card with the book list, going to the basement and returning lasts longer. Those, whose task is to reach the shelves higher than eight meters are recommended that the hand they miss is replaced with an artificial one or a hook. Those who do not have either hand are recommended that the supply of book is done by teeth.
The entertaining approach to topics of Eco made me ask myself a similar question. The question is: How should be the ideal actor today?
This question, avoiding the humor of the answer, would be answered by the one who does not now the ways of theatre: The ideal actor should first of all be: impudent as Michael Chekhov in 1912 when he went to the audition before Stanislawski. There was nothing of an actor in him. He was short, too thin, he was deaf and he had a rusty voice. He had many shortcomings, but he had the guts (prudence) to stand in front of the great Stanislawski. This same person who does not know the situation would say: The ideal actor should be defiant and keep his word in theatre art. He should be polemical, a man who does not recognize another type of dialogue during his repetitions.
Bit the connoisseurs of the theatre events, those who characterize the current day theatre as what Gorky told about his time: “Everybody until the last man is involved in the whirlpool of the reality messed up as it has never been messed before”, see the ideal actor as a handicapped person. He has to be handicapped, so that his handicap is seen not in the dislike of the audience, but in the stop to all communication with it. If this is not so, then how do we justify the actors who take their salaries, and they do not appear on stage for years, they have not had any communication relations with the audience for years.
The handicap of today’s actor is reflected in the working hours as well, His working hours are close or identical, even shorter than the working hours of the handicapped persons.
His handicap is also visible in his relation to the Ministry of Culture as well, with his superiors. Because of his obvious shortcomings, he bows his head, bend his spine and becomes headless and spineless. How would you otherwise understand his indolent view on the national program on theatres, where there is such a cacophony as the theatres in Macedonia have never seen before. Our people would say even a donkey laughs. On one hand, there is a discussion on democratization, decentralization in culture, on the other all the national theatres are closed in a city of three hundred thousand citizens, (if Skopje people do not believe me, let them count themselves).
Their handicap is also reflected in the fact that they always accuse the others for their limping on the stage, their rusty voices, their short size, their lack of talent, least the fate, most the directors, playwrights and audience who at any case do not know what they want.