Blesok no. 44, September-October, 2005
I Found My Way and I Will Continue to Follow It
Interview with Bajrush Mjaku
The actor needs a mirror in which he will see his reflection, without twisting the mirror if the face that he sees in it is not to his taste; was this the reason that you work Gogol’s Diary of the Madman on the small man, clerk Poprishchin as an independent production, escape from the institution?
Then I was an actor with 30 years of experience. But, it comes from much earlier, so I should go back in time when I managed since the 90-es to push for projects in the Theatre that meant a lot to me and which I was convinced would work. There was BAAL with Brezovac, a play with which we were the first ones from Macedonia who opened the doors of the staged in Europe, then there was King Lear with which we went to Cividale in Italy, but also to the first post-war MESS festival in Sarajevo that was becoming international, and then to the Bonn biannual festival with Bones that Come Late and then we also went to Riga with this play. Let me also mention my plays with Dritëro Kasapi as Euralien of Goran Stefanovski, a script for a theatre project with 50 actors and 13 directors, an order of Intercult from Stockholm where we played a duo play with Refet Abazi, 20 minutes long and it is still remembered in Sweden, of Hotel Europe based on the concept, scripts and dramaturgy of G. Stefanovski also, for a European theatre project of 9 directors from Eastern Europe, which was realized in the production of Intercult from Stockholm, and the festivals of Vienna, Bologna, Bonn and Avignon, where we played The Albanian Room with Arta Muchay. Then I met Ivan Popovski, we had more time to talk about work as well, about my wish to play Poprishchin from Gogol’s Diary of the Madman. Watching his work on the Russian Room of Hotel Europe, I interested him in working together, thinking, maybe naively, that he lived in Moscow where Gogol lived and that we would find a common language for work together. And now, about the mirror that you mentioned. The mirror is the theatre, and I also call the director a mirror. Although I had some friends of mine offering me “hey, you work on monodrama, learn the text and we’ll come to tell you this or that…”. I don’t think that this is the way to work on monodrama, which is the most difficult genre for the actor, according to me. The actor has to have a mirror, to have the man who knows how to deal with the actor – the director. Practically, even before the armed clash in Macedonia of 2001 I had started the preparations on The Diary… and I worked Poprishchin alone. I worked alone for two years; there was no day that I would not spend at least an hour on Gogol, Poprishchin or his problems. With Ivan, that is with the Hotel Europe team we went to many places – one month in Vienna, in Avignon, in Bologna, in Stockholm and two weeks in Bon. During all of this time I tried to drag Ivan in the cooperation. He accepted in Avignon.
This joint work with Ivan was a miracle in 2001, some people even condemned that an Albanian actor and a Macedonian director worked together, and practically then the cooperation that has been confirming for four years in continuity started: the play has been staged in many placed, you won awards together?
The time that we started working together was the time when a war was being waged in Macedonia. It is true that we had telephone calls from my side and from his. Ivan was told: you came here from Moscow and you want to tell us how and with whom to work here. Even in my theatre almost nobody could understand that that time was the time to have such a theatre play.
You say that those who have hatred for a drink were shown the way, the road that we have to follow, by this play?
Yes, you said it correctly, the road that we have to follow. It is an illusion for each of us to live separately, forgetting that we have a lot in common. Even the air that we breathe is common; we have to live our lives together, although even nowadays there are people on both sides who say that everybody has to close himself in his circle. I have already said once that I have passed that time; I live and I work in a different time – I move forward with the time.
Another time for you is also the Children Theatre Centre (CTC) – Skopje, which has officially started to work in its own space and with its own audience since last year, with an idea to create young audience that will one day be the audience of the theatre, but also for the audience to mix: now the Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish and Roma children together follow a single play at one stop – sitting next to each other, and for each one of them, depending on the language of the show there are subtitles in their mother tongues?
I received the invitation to be part of CTC by Dritëro Kasapi and Refet Abazi later. The idea was born during the Kosovo crisis and after the children mainly returned to their birth places. We continued with the project Street Stories, where we established mixed groups of children – Albanians, Macedonians, Roma, Bosnians and Turks, in order to have them spend part of the day together. We determined a Macedonian or Albanian who had their own project a program that they will follow. This turned out to be very good. Until then they also grouped in the classrooms. After a month, these children were together; they went to the movies, theatre, for a walk or played, not making any difference about who they were. So, we made it. Then there was the idea to establish/register CTC and find a facility. My idea was to ask for Napredok cinema. Although we spoke with the ten director of City Cinemas Aco Dukovski we did not find a common understanding with him. We thought that it was enough to just enter there because there was a stage. However, after we applied with the Macedonian Government and we had the facility, there was a new problem. When the City Cinemas left the facility, the director had ordered the workers to demolish it. It was demolished just as the Serbian soldiers/policemen demolished a facility of another country. But they also did us a service: we had to think how to find funds to demolish what was left and build what we needed.
This facility now works, has its program, production, has an audience of various nationalities, but there is also the idea that the theatre as a subject becomes part of the curricula at the national level. On one hand, there is less and less audience in the theatre; isn’t this another big battle?
There are still people who think that we can not create together or that in CTC there should be no mixed audience at one play, without being happy with this act and come and see how each of the children follows the action in their mother tongues. Let me repeat: if the play is in Albanian – there are subtitles in Macedonian and Turkish, if it is in Macedonian, there are subtitles in Albanian and Turkish, and if it is in Turkish, there are subtitles in Albanian and Macedonian. There are also such parents and teachers, principles of schools who do not bring the children at CTC plays. But the ones who came once come again. After we started with our own production, there are plays in various languages as well: Cookoo Bird is a play in Macedonian and it already has ten performances, in Albanian we have The Sponge and the Straw and it had 25 shows, Photographs is in Macedonian and it has 4 performances, and Sky without a Frame is played in Turkish…
You did not answer to what extent the idea of CTC to introduce theatre as a subject in the school curricula will help the theatre.
Children will be interested, and they are the only future theatre audience. We are sure that we will interest them, we will also interest some of them to choose theatre as their profession, and others will enter as trained audience.
People from the theatre today claim that theatre is in dark tunnel – where is the way out?
Being in the tunnel myself, I try to come out of it precisely via my work on my independent projects. What is an independent project? It does not mean that we are independent – we are very dependent. I am still dependent although I have registered my own company. I depend on the money; my father had not left me money to make my own theatre. So, I depend on finding a way to apply, interest institutions to give me financial support, starting from the Ministry of Culture and onwards. I have always received some money from the Ministry, but the independent projects in this Ministry do not have their deserved place. The funds are symbolic and one can not make a play out of them.
What did you do with this money?
I used part of it for the participation at the Theatre-Space festival in Istanbul this summer.
Who is more important in your profession: the actor or the director?
The actor, of course. The actor is the one who from his soul gives what means life to the stage. Although he does it together with the director, still the director of the play hides somewhere at the actor is the one who is alive in front of the audience and the people who watch him, judge. It depends on the actor whether the audience will applaud, support the play. But still, only with a joint work of the actor and director, including the author, one can reach the wanted success. It is clear that there can not be any success if I am not a human first of all before being an actor. And there is no result if as an actor I work with a director who is not a proper man, because it is clear that we’ll clash and we’ll not achieve our goal.
You receive invitations to festivals easily and often, but you always have a problem with the money and how to reach a festival destination?
In September last year I applied with the Ministry with the invitations that I had received fro 2005. From these festivals I only realized the invitation to Sarajevo Winter, the Festival of Monodrama in Kiev and the Theatre-Space Festival in Istanbul. This year I also lost the official competition of the Cairo Festival with Father, and I did not manage to participate at several other festivals, I did not go to Yerevan with the Diary of the Madman… This is a loss for the country, because I represent the theatre achievements of the country in the best way with these plays. There has to be a way in the Ministry to have the budget for these projects that do not go as tourists around the world, but to present the theatre achievements of the country. One should not allow that any theatre or any play or project goes around the world. One man should not decide on the money for these tours, but a group that will make the selection on who can represent us outside, The best example is what they told me in Kiev: the festival had it sixth anniversary this year, and I won the first award as Poprishchin with the Diary, while there had been plays from here visiting for five years, but I don’t know which ones and why.
The fate of your Father and Diary of the Madman is strange – they are played much more outside than at home?
Unfortunately, they are played only outside. One evening the writer Ilhami Emin met me and asked me when Bajrush Mjaku will visit Skopje. I live here, I create here and it is very difficult to organize the plays. Of course, not with respect to the audience. I am always called by Albanians, Macedonians, Turks who ask me when they can see the Diary of the Madman or Father. The Diary had its 35th show in Kiev, and Father its 22nd in Saint Petersburg. We have agreements with the teams for the two plays for ten shows each, and now we manage for all others.
How does it go, how?
What we receive from the festival where we play is divided among the team. I participate with my family budget with every visit abroad to what the Ministry gives me.
Is it the reason why some people of the theatre give it up, become MP-s, advisors, ambassadors, presidential candidates?
Huh… This shows that we are good at everything. We are smart! Let’s be serious: there are two categories of actors in theatre – those who like themselves in the theatre, and not the theatre in themselves, and those who knowing that they are no good at it look for a way out. They run from theatre because they are convinced that they have nothing to give to it. The other position gives them the possibility to earn much more – 4 sessions in the course of the month, at the City Assembly level is a full actor’s salary.
This autumn is full with visits abroad, and you also prepare a play – you as a director and two more actors; is this a new kind of work?
I have never thought in my life that I should run from my profession and do something else. The directing is not new for me and I’m not doing this play because I’ve imagines that I can be a director too. We agreed with my colleagues Vebi Kerimi and Sefedin Nuredini by chance that we can work on the text of the ZOO Story by Edward Albee; Vebi plays Jerry and Seydo Peter. Because I support the ambience theatre, I make the project outside – in an ambience. If it is a ZOO story, it should be in a park, and that is why we chose the area of the theatre yard. But this does not mean that I’m starting to work in directing. No, I’m an actor and I will continue as long as I am convinced that I have what to give to the audience.
Last year you were in Paris with the Diary and Father; there were remarks that Macedonia will be presented by an Albanian play within the Days of Albanian culture, and this month you played there again?
The days that were organized in Paris, at L’île-Saint-Denis municipality last year. I was invited to play my two independent productions – Diary of the Madman and Father. This year this event is organized for a second time, as Week of the Albanian Culture. The organizers, who addressed their municipality for funds, were told by the Minister of Culture for this municipality, who is an artist and was happy with my two plays, that they would get the money if the Diary of the Madman comes again and that he would see that I also play another municipality. Knowing that I would have problems with the finances and that I have to find a way how to reach Paris myself, this is an amount of 4-5 thousand Euro, knowing that I would not have the financial support of the Ministry of Culture, I proposed that the Albanian Theatre from Skopje goes to the Week of Albanian Culture with the dance theatre play Towards Oneself. I sent a DVD and there was a man from the organization of the Week who came here. So, I played the Diary on 7 and 8 October, and Towards Oneself was played on 10 and 11 October.
You did not clarify the remarks that you represented Macedonia at the event of Albanian culture?
That’s not true. That was a Week of All-Albanian Culture where artists from Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo participated. And if the people think that Albanian culture is in Albania only, I have nothing to say, because that culture lives in this area too, it has its history and its achievements. However, I think it is my big success that there are people who share my opinion.
There was also a problem at the Theatre-Space festival in Istanbul, but then there was a great honor as well – to play again and close the festival?
The problem was that I applied for money with our Ministry that is in charge of it, and especially because of the fact that I was not supposed to go as a tourist. I had the invitation of the artistic director of the Festival, and I had a negative answer of our Ministry. Then I had several meetings with the Minister and he finally decided to give me some participation. But, there were three plays from Macedonia – Hasanaginica from Bitola Theatre, and Azisname from Turkish Theatre. There were 28 plays from the whole world, which means that there were 24 countries that participated at this second festival, which is at a very high level both with its program and its organization. I was surprised with the fact that after we played the board of the festival and its artistic director invited me to close the festival with Father, that is, play it again at the closure of the event.
You also already played twice before the audience of Moscow – last year and this year?
Last year in Moscow, on 12 and 13 March, at the Workshop of Piotre N. Fomenko, where there is also Ivan Popovski, we played Diary… I want to say, remind of a wish of mine: as much as I wanted to play Gogol’s Poprishchin, I dreamt of playing it in Moscow.
I’ll interrupt you: Moscow is also the dream of the sisters Olga, Masha and Irina of Chekhov’s Three Sisters?
Yes, but the difference between Bajrush and the three sisters of Chekhov who dream of arriving to Moscow id big. They never came to Moscow, and I did, knowing that Gogol is an author that has been played many times in Moscow, but great actors. For me, it was a huge provocation for an actor of this area, from the Balkans, to play in Moscow before the theatre audience there, before all those people of the theatre. That was not only a big responsibility, but courage also. Now, I can say: I’m not afraid of anything.
Go on with the second visit this year?
This year, in September, within the Days of Macedonian Culture in Russia we played Father in Moscow at the Mayerhold Theatre before the audience that remembers me with Diary… from last year, and in Saint Petersburg where the audience does not know me on the stage of the Theatre of Comedy and Music at the beautiful setting of the Small Stage. I think that there we played the most correct version of Father. Based on what they saw of heard, I was invited to participate at the Festival of the Monodrama in Saint Petersburg next year with the Diary of the Madman.
You did not mention the awards, they missed you here and you won them abroad?
The Diary has had four awards so far: at the last year’s festival in Priština I won the only award for the best actor, and Ivan Popovski the only award for directing; then the second award in Fier, Albania at the Festival of the Actor, whose amount is a good 3,500 Euro; then the first award at the Kiev Festival this year; in Oteševo I won the award Actor of Europe, and when I heard what I was supposed to receive there I was very happy. I was told that my biography should be published within some UNESCO activity, but nobody called me so far. Father won five awards at Vojdan Černodrinski 2004, one for directing, two for acting, design and for the play as a whole.
I said that when we started to work the Diary of the Madman we wanted the play to have its opening at the Festival of Chamber Theatre Risto Šiškov in Strumica. When I started working on Poprishchin, I through of Šiškov, his energy. I had him in my mind when we worked in BAAL of Brecht that also did not participate in Strumica because of the requirements: the play had more than six actors… I was really mad when I was not awarded for Poprishchin. I was aware, it was in 2003 and there were some hot head that an Albanian can not and must not receive an award in Strumica. Next year we went with the Father and the same thing happened again. But I learned that one should not go to a festival to receive an award, one should go to this one for the wonderful audience in Strumica. I accepted to be the selector because I thought that I could change something.
Do you think that you managed to change anything?
No, and that is why I called my selection for 2005 accidental. Why? Because I put nine shows out of the 12-13 registered on my program, so I had nothing to select. There was no place and room for a selector, but I also have my dilemma. I think that the physiognomy and the character of the festival do not correspond to what Šiškov the actor was. I think that the acting of Šiškov is insulted because he was not an actor in chamber theater forms, he was an actor, let me not say with what. I claim that this festival has to change its face, criteria, not to be a festival of chamber theatre, but a festival of the actor, or the acting. The second problem, which is very important, is that none of the theatres in the country shows any interest in this festival. Not a single play is made with an idea that it will be played there, like they do for the other festivals: Vojdan Černodrinski, Ohrid Summer, Young Open Theatre…
Does that mean that you only played a new role – a selector?
No, my view is clear: I endlessly respect the audience because they respected me as well. I wanted to see what I could do for them and for the late Risto Šiškov. I wanted to support the opening of the festival as an international one, but with strong actors. Nothing came out of it in the end. The strange festival jury awarded an actor that was also my favorite – Vasil Zafirčev in the Last Man, Last Woman, but only until I saw all the other plays.
Let’s finish with your life outside theatre: at home you have the six women of your life: your wife and five daughters. Do you feel blessed among so many women, and when do you find the time for them?
Ha-ha. Yes, a lot. My family, my six girls, are my constant impulse, my strength to be successful in my profession. How much time I spend with them, how tied I am to my family, they know the best. But I also love the women that I meet outside home.
(Conversation took place on September 16, 2005; and parts of it after B. Mjaku returned from Paris)
Bajrush Mjaku's web site: www.bajrushmjaku.com
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska
Being involved to show the way of work and high performance with your own example is your existence, it means going a bit before your time; have you discovered those that shall follow?
Yes, I work a lot. But I haven’t found partners for this co-operation yet; I’m still looking though. I keep on trying to gather people around myself whom I consider thirsty of work, and even thirstier of success. Unfortunately, I haven’t found such people so far, because everyone starts from his own personal interest, or most of them are locked in their own streets, convinced that only there they should be the main guys. I think the opposite: I have crossed my street long ago, I’ve gone far away, and this is for no other reasons but searching for life. What I do is for no other reason but because of my urge to search for life.
This life, torn between the Albanian Theatre, where you’ve been for 33 years, visits to other theaters, having your own independent projects, and working with the Children’s Theatre Centre in Skopje, isn’t it too hard for an actor and doesn’t it seem to you that you want too much?
In order to survive, you have to try them all to find what you want. I don’t want a lot, I want what is mine and what I think I’m capable of giving. I have found these two things in my independent project. It is no accident that these independent projects of mine are at a high level and they found their place; I also managed to interest other people with them. However, even those that I’ve made interested often in return say that I do it for myself only, whilst nobody thinks of the effort and the energy that I put in it. This is because the actors here are used to being satisfied with little, unfortunately; I, however, even after these results that I’ve achieved at various presentations and festival centers in the world think that I’m still at some beginning. Nevertheless, I know that I’ve found my way and I should continue to follow it.
You started this process intensively in 2001, when you prepared The Diary of the Madman. Does it mean that the previous 29 years on stage were in vain or do you consider them a preparation for what you are practicing today?
They were not in vain for sure, and they were certainly a preparation. Since 1979, with the plays then – Great Water by Čingo, A View from the Bridge by Miller, or Mice and Men, which were followed by I, Halil Garia, then Bundle and a number of others, such as Pahintika in a Dream, Rain in Uertomonto, Hamlet from Dolna Mrduša, Sauna, have been plays that made me think and be convinced that I can continue looking for what can not be found in an institution. Although we were much more organized at that time, we were more obedient because we lived in a different time, another system, where we also knew how to be scared – something that does not exist in this time of false democracy, where nobody is afraid of anybody, nobody asks for any accountability from anybody, and that is why we are in this situation. As Albanian Drama we managed to open the doors or participate at festivals at the level of the former Yugoslav federation in the 8-es: we went to MEES in Sarajevo for three years in a row with Bundle, Pahintika in a Dream and Rain in Uertomonto, or at Steriino pozorje with I, Halil Garia. Then the door opened and the theatre people from other former Yugoslav centers started thinking, finding out that there was such a theatre in Skopje, and it should also be present in other centers.
This theater, as well as others, is now in crisis; where shall the actors, who are the biggest victims of this crisis look for the guilt?
I know that actors are responsible too. But, one man is always to blame, and we know who is the man in the theatre – the one who manages it. Up to the 90-es there was some kind of order in the theatres: there was an artistic council that would not allow the manager to have free hands and do what he wants without being accountable for it. Since the 90-es nobody holds anybody accountable, and this is especially valid for the Albanian Theater, although we also had big successes at that time. For example, the BAAL play, which we performed on 23 stages and festivals around Europe or Richard III. However, since nobody in the country holds the man of the theater accountable, the theatre sinks.
Are you forgetting then that you were the first man of the Albanian Theatre in 2003-2004, then called the Albanian Drama at the Theater of Nationalities?
No, I haven’t forgotten. I was and I tried to do what I was convinced should be done, and I gave up. But, let us not forget that I managed to have 9 new plays staged in 15 months. At that time I also made Father as an independent project. So, in 15 months I managed ten theatre plays that was and still is impossible at the Albanian Theater.
You speak of quantity, but what about quality, and which of these ten plays do you consider a good theater play?
Here: Nobody can say that Towards Oneself is not a play that has all qualities. Then The Dervish and Death has all qualities, Neighbors is also a show with all qualities, School for Modern Women – if not on the top has the middle that is very important for me in the theatre.
However, not only these but other plays as well are shown in front of a relatively small number of audience, expect at the opening night. Does the audience not know what good theatre is?
No, I’ll repeat: if I managed to have so many plays in 15 months, I also managed to increase the number of audience in the theater. In this way, I want to say that there are no real managers who think about the audience that is the main player of the theater. In my theater there are no plays now. Even those that I staged and had 20-25 performances per year are not played. Maybe there are financial problems due to which I also left the managerial post. There are many inherited debts in that theatre that nobody, the Ministry of Culture of someone else, have the desire to cover and start from zero. This year, the Theatre has 55 years of its existence. I don’t think that one should start from zero and without any obligations to the former collaborators, but the budget that is obtained should be directed towards the basic business – production. I also think that after each 10th performance there should be a new contract made with the actors that are part-timers. The last actor who was employed at the Albanian Theatre was 20 years ago. So, there is a big vacuum, besides so many young graduated Albanian actors who graduated from Faculty of Theatre Arts in Skopje, Tetovo University, and Tirana and Priština. They walk around the city and can not even try to tell us that they deserve to be on the stage.
You are often with actors, with the relatively young ones that are already growing old; has their dream on what an actor is, on what they were educated about, already disappeared?
I’ll start with myself. Several years ago I had a big interview for the main daily in Stockholm. The journalist asked me: after so many years of work in the theater, after so many characters that I played, have I found my place in it? My response, although then I had 29 years of work in the theater behind me, was: as a young man, I was convinced that I was the best actor in the world. Now I know that only my head is somewhere on the stage looking for its place, and I still haven’t found mine. What do I want to say? Unfortunately, this young generation of actors that obtained their degrees are convinced in themselves that they are actors, not knowing that acting is proven on the stage, must have lost their hope to become actors. Years pass by. The first generation graduated almost a decade ago and some of them have not even reached a supporting role, not to mention a big one. They must be convinced inside themselves that they are actors, but to confirm their qualities, someone has to think and provide for them what we have to provide, and that is a job. I think that it is not enough to only open schools. The ones who open them should think about how these people will be employed; prove themselves that they can live from this profession as well. Nowadays, it is impossible.
It is a difficult and complex work?
During the Kosovo crisis, I became a diabetic because of my nerves. As an actor and man who wants to work on his profession only, and not with nonsense that the others before me had to bring the theater in this position, it is clear that we all need a lot of work. As for everything that is good, one needs work and clear idea.
To what extent can culture, together with the theater, change our awareness for common future?
There are also positive examples of us who deal with the arts; we are the ones who go before our times and show the way to the others. Of course, those who are capable of following us. However, we have to be persistent, not to go back, and only go forward and forward. I am the one who wanted to make a play with Ivan Popovski and Slobodan Unkovski for example. These are plays that have presented the country outside its borders and will continue to do so. For me, they are the people with whom I was sure in what I was working and what we were working. So, we have the experience together that one can and should work. The others should learn and change their opinions. I know that not much can be changed with this, but an attempt can be made so that some people come to their sense. It is the most difficult with them because these are mainly people who don’t want to come to their sense at all.
Well, you yourself prove that one can not live only on the theatre one works for; so, for the young ones – have they missed their train?
Unfortunately, they think that they are in the car that is somewhere. However, not only that they missed the train that runs with the time and the years, they should also know that this profession asks for a complete involvement and continuity without which you can not keep your energy needed for the stage, You need big energy for the stage: physical, psychological, internal, external.