Blesok no. 28, September-October, 2002
Theatre Reviews

Shishkov – Synthesis

Jelena Lužina

    Thinking for the concepts of (as first) the Symposium, and then of (as second) this monograph publication[1], on the acting mastership of Risto Šiškov, a mastership that in relatively short period of existence – barely 20 years (since 1962/64 until 1984/86, when he plays his last roles), I did insist on – at first – to determine what issues, the team that had to realize this project, didn’t want to work on. Determining – in advance – our goals (to offer as much as possible various, but concrete and exact scientific-theatrological argumentation/explication of the position and the status that Risto Šiškov build for himself in the newer Macedonian theater, film, TV and radio history…), I confined the frames – at first – what all of my co-workers accepted as a strategy by which they did their studies:
    That we will deal exclusively with a clear and firm, scientifically and methodologically “provable” and “measurable” elements, elements that do structure (make, shape) the so-called Šiškov Phenomenon.
    To talk like this – cold, rational, with distance, exact – of the fluid, ephemeral, highly emotional phenomenon as the acting performance is, maybe isn’t that much complicated as it is unusual, (at least here and now). Our whole theater science and critic, suffers from the lack of the factographical/scientific knowledge (above all of the lack of methodology), therefore – in the equal reciprocity – from the surplus of the – mostly – non-argumented and shallow) emotionality. Even besides the fact that, recently, this multi-decade-lasting “suffering” do decrease – because (in spite of all!) some different critic and scientific approaches do affirm in this part of the world, and those impose some more serious theater analysis – on the theater, especially of the acting performance, still are (mainly) based upon the personal impressions and upon the emotional/aprioristic determinations (“for” and “against”). Even the (on the surface) most ambitious kinds/forms of the theater studies, structured (sometimes) in whole books, aren’t any exceptions.
    The whole – until now – writings on Risto Šiškov is a superior example of this “powerless” scripture standard.

*   *   *

    Maybe exactly through the careers of the three Macedonian top actors we should determine and  evaluate the three key levels/phases of the development of the Macedonian acting performance mastership:
    The first one is Petre Prličko, the iconic omen of that initial, intuitive – ethno-beat – and still completely mimetic phase of the Macedonian Theater history.
    he second one is Risto Šiškov, a paradigm for the phase that chronologically followed, and it will be quite insisting on its own education, understanding it as the only modus through which the art will be transformed into the real art; this process of self-forming will function in the way of imposing and maintaining, adopt and practice the affirmed acting methods, namely, the famous system of (understandable, which other) Stanislavski; Šiškov and his actor’s generation, by their method, factually belong to that great school/tradition;
    The third one is Nenad Stojanovski, a synonym of that phase which will dramatically impose – not only some different sensitivity, but also some very different understanding of the theater (as an art, and as a media, as well) – this level/phase will affirm the so-called imaginative acting, the one that the American pedagogue and director Michael Chekhov describes as an ability/capacity of an actor to imagine (and not to relive) the role he ought to act.

*   *   *

    The legendary stories, as the literature theory claims, are the oral narration forms with the religious-fantastic content; the exuberance of the supernatural elements and situations encloses them near the form of the fairy-tale; the basic intention is to amuse, not to educate or cognize; the basic way of expression is very picturesque – images illustrate the ethical norms and principles; the characters are somewhere between the profanity and the heavenly forms, but without the clearly drawn line between those two.
    Here somewhere – in the exuberance of the supernatural elements and situations, between the profane and the heavenly forms – we keep looking for and we find the stories-metaphors-allegories-legends of an actor: the film/theater writings (our critics and scientists, etc.) almost until today didn’t learn how to describe/interpret, except with the phrases as “extraordinary gifted”, “highly creative”, “quite interesting”, “expressive”, “robust”, “masterful”, “top”, “extraordinary”, “great”, “ingenious”, “fantastic”… In one of those allegorical observations, which dared to go most far, we could find the describer who overcame all of the others: by him, Šiškov is “a fountain on the stage”!
    Of course, such irrational and (for the theater science) completely irrelevant stories-metaphors-allegories-attributions-legends either can’t confirm, and even less can prove WHY all, even those most strict theater researchers consider Risto Šiškov (with every right) as one of the most significant Macedonian actors of all times. And, what’s even more important, can confirm their “opinion“ with any rational arguments.
    Preparing the Symposium and the book on Risto Šiškov, the theater-researchers from the Institute of Theater Studies of FDA [2] were very aware of their ungrateful job/task:
    Namely, insisting on gathering, evidencing, classifying, analyzing and comparing all the known and available facts/elements/arguments from the civil and authorial biography of Risto Šiškov (but exclusively and only the concrete, scientifically/methodologically checkable, exact, “provable” facts/elements/arguments), and all that in order to – FINALLY – to define his important esthetical position in the history of the Macedonian theater, film and in the Macedonian culture in general, those decided and knew that some of their findings and conclusions would inevitably come to the collision course with many of the (above-mentioned) fairy-tales and legends.
    As all legends, those also – the contemporary ones – for and about Šiškov, has its own keepers and supporters and sentinels, which is quite understandable, and even nice, in some way. But it becomes very problematic when one tries to explain the relevance of Šiškov to some new generations – some different generations whose structure of material sensitivity and of the thinking models are significantly different from those to whom even Šiškov himself belongs. That’s often a case even with his contemporaries, co-workers, friends or enemies, or with the contemporary sentinels and interpreters of the fairy-tales and legends on him.
    For the skeptical, a priori doubtful generations today, as for those who are yet to come (and they would probably be even more skeptical toward the legendary genres), the naked syntagma Šiškov – the Magnate of the Macedonian Acting would hardly be enough alone-and-by-itself. From my own pedagogic experience, I know that – even – its inevitable thesis/claim nature automatically provokes resistance. The attributions as “great”, “ingenious”, “top”, “fantastic” or – God forbid! – “a fountain on the stage”, are being commented (by the young individuals) with a cynical smile. Twenty-year old boys who don’t accept anything for granted, boys that have never saw Šiškov “alive”, but only in those eleven feature films (the most often screened at the official/state/national/holiday occasions), or in some of the (very few) preserved four or five TV-dramas (filmed before some thirty years, more or less), most often react with fierce criticism on the kind/model of acting he practices. Their reaction is quite understandable: in the meantime – from his last roles until today – many things changed, not only in theater, but in the film practice also, and even in the pedagogy which is appreciated in the schools specialized in acting.
    To interpret Šiškov they way it should be done – as a magnate of the Macedonian acting, but also as a protagonist of the one of the three key phases in the development Macedonian acting, because that’s what he is – we should lean on the key research method upon which the theater science is based on – “as itself“, the method of reconstruction. Namely, in order to understand WHY Šiškov should be understood as one of the most important Macedonian actors, protagonist of the one of the three key phases in the development in the development of the Macedonian acting, we should carefully reconstruct not only the context in which he plays not only during those already twice mentioned most productive years of his career (1966-1979), but to do the same with the general context of his civil and art biography also.
    The affirmation of the so-called “New Historicism“ – the American methodology school, which approaches towards the so-called past in a very different and more complex way, and which became especially popular in the period of the last decade – for the theater science opens additional possibilities for more thorough reconstructing of the contexts which it deals with. This book, especially in some of its parts (Third Part – Memories; Fourth Part – Facts, but also in the great number of the texts of the Second Part – Analysis), tries to achieve exactly that: to actualize (relativize), the subtle separation/difference between the fiction and the facts. The story of Risto Šiškov should be placed between these two “extremes”.

*   *   *

    What kind of an actor was Šiškov?
    Educated by the principles of the Stanislavski theory school, or by the particular variant of that school that was practiced (as a method) at that time at the Belgrade Academy, Šiškov thoroughly rules its two most essential methodological postulates: the acting/creative sense of oneself and, of course, the widely known and famous process or reliving. His professional ethics and esthetics – since his first steps that he has done at the scene of the Yugoslavian Drama Theater in Belgrade, until the last ones, the steps with which he had to conquer and overcome the repugnantly non-functional (“hostile”) space of the so-called New Object of MNT
[3] – constantly leaning, namely, upon these two “wonders”. Even more: Šiškov deeply believed the acting is possible (good, “true”, “great”…) only if it does emerge as a result of the appropriate and intriguing/productive/inspiring combination between the creative sense of oneself and the famous reliving.
    What are we, actually, speaking of?
    We speak of the subtle (and quite complicated!) method by Stanislavski that was thought to awake and/or inspire and the creative potentials of the actors and to motivate to really create (and not to imitate).
    In order to be so – namely, the actors to create and not to imitate – Stanislavski believed that in should be created a complex interlacing of the “external” scene conditions in advance, as: after the process of “input” within the actor, he will feel/relive their reality, the actor by his intuition (but also by his imagination – with awaking his own system of the emotional memory) will “discover”/“find” the way he should react. The director – further on – doesn’t have to lead the actor any further. The actor – by himself – will guide himself, accordingly his own actor’s and creative sense of oneself.
    In the so-called “system” of Stanislavski, the art of presentation and the art of reliving are precisely differentiated. the first art – or we should name it as skill? – factually conveys the knowledge and skilful application of certain quantum of gestures, facial gesticulation, voice intonations and body movements, which (during the performance) simply combine according top the actor’s sense of himself. Stanislavski describes this with the syntagma “actor’s sense of oneself”, implicating that – if it’s a matter of creativity at all – it’s a creativity of the representative, mimetic, imitating, low level. A creation that can be a skill, but hardly an art. that’s “that condition when oneself founds himself on the stage, is obligated to externally show what doesn’t feel internally”, namely that “spiritual and physical division between body and soul, which actors feel and relive during the largest part of their lives: by day since noon to 04:00 PM at the rehearsals, and at night since 08:00 PM until midnight – during the actual performance in front of the public, almost in daily bases” (Stanislavski, 1979:276).
    The art, of course, can and should be something essentially different. Something divine and extraordinary, something that should be the goal of the theater (as a medium) in the whole – with no matter if we do that as an actors, directors, drama writers… or just as an audience. In the theory system of Stanislavski, the mean through/by which the divine can be reached, the extraordinariness and the verity (creativity, art…) is described as a mutual conditioned syntagmas “creative sense of oneself” and “the art of the reliving”. To reach/relive the “creative sense of oneself” – and with that, to divide the art from the skill – the artists must go through the specific psychological (psycho-technical) process of reliving.
    The Stanislavski himself, insists on this complicated and (inevitably) mystical process to explain (in all of his three books) as a process of imprinting of the drama character and the person of the actor, and their consequent and mutual interlacing within the actor, and their “pass over” into a completely new upper-creature. This upper-creature presents a completely new reality, which exists only during that few critical hours of happening/acting of the theater play “as it is”. Therefore, that reality can’t be either the drama character (let’s say: Mendelj Krik), neither the actor that plays it (let’s say: Risto Šiškov), but some strange psycho-technical combination – certain upper -persona! – which we can name as Šiškov-Krik (or maybe it’ll be more accurate if we name it as Krik-Šiškov). The actor (Šiškov) gives to that upper-phenomenon his body and his intellectual-affective-will material. The drama character (Krik) conditions the structuring of that material whole – its final (creative) transition (“translation”) into a new knowledge. That new knowledge Stanislavski interprets as a specific structure, built of thoughts, emotions and desires which are common to all people. In order to be as much explicit as he can in the interpretation of the new knowledge, he invokes the music composition: every composer has a material of only the seven tones, but he can combine/restructure them into a new and original art deed. So, consequently, every actor that interprets Mendelj Krik – even he bases his interpretation of that character upon his own human material elements (those that are conditioned by this specifically and unique structured persona dramatis, made by Isaac Babel), because in order to create, one must combine the parts of his own intellectual-affective-will material – during his stage-existence as a new, unique upper-person, with which he will completely identify himself. That’s why no other actor in the wide world couldn’t play the Mendelj Krik the way Risto Šiškov did!
    Even it’s based on not more than ten theoretical principles (if-would, imagination, stage attention, relieving of the muscles, the feeling of truth and faith, emotional memory, reliving…), the Stanislavski method isn’t easy to learn, and even less to be practiced on daily bases. Highly demanding, that method is acceptable/appropriate only to those actors which – besides their imagination, intelligence, will, personal culture, physical and mental ability, dedication to their profession, persistence, unlimited faith in what they work… – have also that rare readiness for permanent work upon themselves.
    As Constantine Sergeevich Stanislavski preaches himself, this method can be practiced only by those actors who are ready not only to fulfil their profession, but also to live it in every moment of their lives. The actor-artist can be only the one who intensively recognizes the world around himself, and isn’t different in any way from it, and who is firmly situated into the social environment and can lead (within it) a “consisted, interesting, nice, various life, a life which excites and elevates” (Stanislavski, 1989:294). the true artist can’t be neutral toward the world around himself. he mustn’t suffocate/repress his passions, nor to oppress that “inner flame” possessed by those rare (chosen) men – because that flame is what makes them artists.
    It’s interesting that even Stanislavski – that sovereign “high priest” of the stage realism! – doesn’t forsake this mystical, metaphorical, inherited by the Romanticism syntagma “inner flame”!
    Šiškov, I think, feels that as his own personal life credo. Even he never formulated as clear as Stanislavski did – at least I didn’t succeed to find any so explicit formulation in any of his numerous interviews in which he was explaining his own poetics (that can be also a fault of those who were putting down his explanations – the interviewers!) – Šiškov firmly lived that famous (“egocentric”) theater and art principle of Stanislavski – “I am”:
    “I am”
in our language means that I’ve put myself for the center of the imaginary life conditions, that I feel present within them, that I exist in the imaginary life, in the world of the imaginary things, and that I begin to work/act as it is really me – with a sense for the full responsibility” – wrote Constantine Sergeevich (Stanislavski, 1989:99).
    The every episode, not only of the actor’s, but also of the civil biography of Šiškov constantly gives the arguments in tribute of his permanent/continuous reliving, namely of this emphasized (“egocentric”) way of living. At the theater stage, in front of the film camera, on the street, in the bar, at home with my family, in the newspapers …
    The “I am” – position he chose to represent, personally and professionally, since his high-school days (his high-school professors wrote “he stands on his points, if he’s right“ – undoubtedly, that “I am” position surely was highly demanding, very difficult and not easily defensive. Especially in an environment like ours, small and narrow (narrow-minded): small theater, small town, small cinematography, small relations/distances (starting with the urban ones and ending with the inter-human ones)…
    Whether – in some different and “wider” circumstances – life and professional destiny of Šiškov would be different?
    The science, mainly, doesn’t prefer to deal with assumptions. Not even in this “clear case”.

1. Stanislavski, Constantine Sergeevich, 1988, MY LIFE IN ART, Zagreb, Cekade
2. Stanislavski, Constantine Sergeevich, 1989, THE WORK OF THE ACTOR ON HIMSELF I, Zagreb, Cekade
3. Stanislavski, Constantine Sergeevich, 1991, THE WORK OF THE ACTOR ON HIMSELF II, Zagreb, Cekade

Translated by: Petar Volnarovski


1. Because of the space limitations, we had to do a small redactorial cut in this text, but only in the Shiskov’s biography segments. The integral version of the text can be found in printed/published form: “Šiškov” (monograph), by group of authors, assembled by Jelena Luzina, FKT “Risto Šiškov”, Strumica, 2002
2. Faculty of Dramatic Arts


3. Macedonian National Theater

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