Blesok no. 45, November-December, 2005
Intracultural Theatrical Dispersion
or On Recent Macedonian Theatrical Matters
I could have entitled this text “On the Ideal Theatre of the 21st Century”, which would have been more simple. However, by defining the theatre as ideal, I would have had to consider it from a superior position, which is not my objective. Therefore, I remain within the framework of the above title, and I will refer to the ideal theatre later, as part of the logical solution of the equation Intracultural theatre or a model of the theatre for the new millennium. In the beginning, I should explain why I use the phrase intracultural theatrical dispersion or, more precisely, the concept of dispersion, a term adopted from physics, to which I ascribe theoretically referential semantics. Starting from the idea of intraculturalism as an idea for the identification/recognition of sameness between cultures and the need not to allow its ‘globalisation’, I propose its dispersion/diffusion everywhere, and especially by the theatre, whose intraculturalism is powerful, visible and recognizable. In order not to turn this concept into a lifeless and dull admixture of more cultures, I would like to focus in this text on its dispersion and explore it further within the framework of a global constellation and contextualisation.
As in the good old fairy tales, so in out theatrology, every idea has its magic, mystical and formulaic beginning. If in the tales the matrix begins with “Once upon a time…”, then in theatrology the beginnings of the story of intracultural theatre can be discovered in the ‘exotic’ study of theatre anthropology. It is one of those numerous scholarly theatrological disciplines which, as its father Eugenio Barba would put it, provides us with a series of small and useful pieces of advice as to “how theatre is made.”
Intracultural theatre is one of the subjects or, more precisely, one of the emanations of theatre anthropology.
Provoked by the title of this conference, I chose for my subject (in coordination with theatre anthropology) a phenomenon new to scholars, called INTRACULTURAL THEATRE.
What is intraculturalism, what are its basic coordinates, how is it defined, determined and explicated? These are the questions with which my game with intraculturalism begins.
Therefore I begin my text on intracultural theatre as a game, a game which is multi-layered, multi-dimensional and multi-faceted. I do this because by playing with the idea of the culture we live in and of the art we create, a culture which is multi-cultural and, I would say, poly-cultural, we should search for its roots in game theory. In this text, the game is the model for the establishment of the theory of intraculturalism. As the prominent Dutch philosopher Johan Huizinga puts it, “the game is older than culture since, regardless of the fact that the term ‘culture’ is insufficiently varied, it always involves human society; animals did not wait for the humans to teach them how to play” (Huizinga, 2003:85). I make this digression on the game intentionally because my purpose is to clarify the explications that follow.
The theatre is a kind of game. Both the theory of the theatre and theatrology set the rules. This could be only one of the perspectives on the phenomenon of the theatrical work of art, which is in this context essential and indispensable. This text is aimed at defining the concept of intracultural theatre situated somewhere above multicultural and intercultural theatre, its potential application to the Macedonian situation, the elaboration of the idea of the ideal theatre and the possibilities for the exploration of intraculturalism in the Macedonian theatre. Although this appears to be a wide subject, I believe that it deserves more than one text in which it would be explored and elaborated.
In order to make the approach to the concept of the intracultural theatre less elaborate, I would first like to draw attention to the basic ideas concerning the multicultural and intercultural theatres. These are the initial coordinates of the research that preceded this text. The beginning of the game involved consultations with a number of researchers of this phenomenon and authorities on this subject. The elaboration of the idea, the theory and its potential application are the result of my discussions with them and of my playing with texts, studies and books by a number of relevant authors consulted.
The game began with the essay “The Grammar of the Feet” in the collection entitled Way of Acting (1985) by the famous Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki, in which he quotes an opinion with which he himself does not agree; he gives an account of how he eventually decided to form his own troupe in which he could put into practice his ideas about the theatre. According to the opinion which he had to confront throughout his long career, in a particular period of world theatre history, plays could be performed only within homogenous cultures (and these are few, if any); according to that claim, this was due to our not being familiar with other cultures. To Tadashi Suzuki, and not only to him, but to the large family of other supporters of his idea, cultures are not homogenous, they are polyphonic. Polyphonic cultures contain the characteristics of the native culture from which they originate, but are consumed only as a whole and therefore sound as a polyphony in which the chaos of polysemy is replaced by an order of links between cultures, i.e., with interculturalism. In order to alleviate the theoretical explication of the intracultural theatre I take as my point of departure Suzuki’s opinion that it is not important to perform plays for homogenous cultures, but that it is of vital importance to explore all these cultures so that they can become our and familiar, and not unknown and strange.
The investigation of most of the cultures that are in our focus from the aspect of artistic creation, theoretical elaboration and their dissemination into theatrical works of art can be carried out from a number of perspectives, such as those of multiculturalism, interculturalism, transculturalism, intraculturalism, etc.
In one of the dictionaries of theatrical theory intraculturalism is defined as a specific philosophical and aesthetic perspective of the system of culture which involves the inclusion and activation of various cultures within a single concept. Unlike multiculturalism, it is a condition in which various cultures must, of necessity, come in touch. (www.mactheatre.edu.mk/Novi prilozi/Rečnik na teorisko-teatrološki termini /interkulturalnost).
Therefore, in multicultural performances, native cultural signs exist simultaneously, one by the other, and do not interfere, but represent a ‘politically correct’ exhibition of poly-cultural values. It is a theatre whose original idea is to transfer the values of other cultures without becoming familiar with them, without observing them and then transporting them from one culture to other. This stands in contrast to the intercultural theatre, which the dictionary mentioned above defines as the theatre focused on the search for obliterated and subordinated national traditions with the purpose of achieving a theatrical style in which the neglected origins will be given an opportunity to struggle for a better position in their relation with ‘external influences’ (www.mactheatre.edu.mk/ Novi prilozi/Rečnik na teorisko-teatrološki termini /interkulturen teatar). More precisely, the intercultural theatre involves studying, exploration, adoption and exchange between two or more cultures, and that can be easily identified. The intercultural theatre is a theatre of explorers, mainly theatre directors, to whom other cultures are a challenge which they tackle in order to get to know better their own culture.
So, where does the intracultural theatre come in? The idea of intracultural theatre is in direct relation with the intercultural theatre. On this occasion, we will observe it as the site where the elements of the native culture are explored, studied, elaborated and analysed in the context of other cultures. The process is irreversible. This means that we do not take other cultures as a starting position to get to know ourselves better (intercultural theatre) but we perceive our culture as a possibility for something universal, something which is not monocentric (as we could arrogantly put it, our one and only) but a culture which is ours, which is mine and which has the same elements as the majority of word cultures. This does not involve depersonalisation of the native culture, but a creation of a polyphonic culture based on Eugenio Barba’s principle of similar principles – different performances. This idea is very practical due to the ritual and magic roots of the theatre and its generally accepted syncretism. This is so because the theatre is in its very nature varied, polyphonic, dependent on various factors and thus, per se, more available to exploration within the framework of various cultures. The theatrical performance consists of a number of participants, each with their own culture or, if they belong to a homogenous culture, each with their own understanding of the concept of culture. The intracultural theatre explores its own domain and exhibits the results of such research during the performance. The exploration of the intracultural theatre is always the logical consequence of the intercultural theatre. Therefore my text, too, is in correlation with the subject of this conference.
The intracultural theatre is a specific form of theatrical performance which is focused on the detection, observation, elaboration and, above all, artistic creation of the homogenous elements of a culture in relation to polyphonic cultures. This does not mean that the elements of different cultures are reduced to a single one, but that they are studied and accepted by several different cultures as the same. I would like to clarify this statement with a simple example. If in a theatrical performance the director’s concept is focused on the placing of the signs of is native culture on the level equal to that of the cultures of other participants (actors, stage designers, costume designers, musicians, stage hands, etc.) then his production will be intracultural. Of course, it must be preceded by the exploration of the issues of intraculturalism, an act which is required in order to introduce the awareness of intraculturalism.
The intracultural theatre is the model of the theatre of the 21st century. This is so because of the constantly growing possibilities of communication. We are speaking of the global Internet communication which is not closed within the three walls, with the audience watching from the perspective of the fourth wall of the traditional stage box. This is the theatre of the ‘new kids on the block’ who share their fast thinking with the members of all world cultures and who present their own culture as part of the global world culture without ‘clipping its wings’; on the contrary, they grow new wings in order to surmount the obstacles more easily.
If, as Bonnie Maranca puts it, in the last decades of the 20th century interculturalism was a state of mind or way of working, then intraculturalism will be a way of life and a state of mind and emotions in the new age. In fact, I will take a radical position and say, ignoring political correctness, that the intracultural theatre is the model of the ideal theatre of the 21st century.
The concepts of the intracultural theatre and the ideal theatre of the 21st century are interconnected and intertwined. Antonen Artaud’s concept, or better said, vision of the theatre probably lies somewhere between these two concepts. If the intercultural theatre is the theatrical model and basis of the intracultural theatre, then Artaud’s vision of the theatre as cruel, basic and artistic can be freely assumed to be the basis of the ideal theatre of the 21st century.
These concepts should be linked in a number of ways in the domain if interculturalism as well. When I speak of the ideal theatre of the 21st century, I have in mind one of the possible directions in which the theatre could develop. I do not want to sound radical, but I have in mind breaking the ties with certain traditional chains of lethargy which characterize the theatre we live in today. Therefore, the intercultural theatre is a proper point of departure in the consideration of the intracultural theatre as the ideal theatre of the 21st century.
I would not like to enter into philosophical disputes over what the ideal theatre could and should be like. I only believe that it could be best defined as the most probable kind of theatre and a theatre which is the most appropriate for the basic theatre nuclei. It is ideal NOT from the point of view of the theoretician/critic/practitioner, but ONLY and SOLELY from the point of view of the THEATRE. In brief, we should have THEATRE FOR THEATRE. I would define it in the simplest terms with the help of Peter Brook’s images of immediate theatre or Jerzy Grotowski’s poor theatre. Both of these respected 20th century theatre directors (and much more than that) provided us, theoreticians and practitioners, with the foundation for our consideration of whether it is possible to create an intracultural theatre as a model for the ideal theatre of the new age.
In this context, I would like to refer to a view which is in the context of my considerations expressed above, a view based on quite contrary principles. Writing on the reasons why he decided to edit the book entitled Acting (Re) Considering: Theories and Practices (1995), Professor Phillip B. Zarilli from the University of Wisconsin articulates one of the ideas on the mixing of not only cultures, but theory and practice as well. Although focused only on acting, the collection of essays was to me a textbook from which I extracted the threads for weaving the concept of the intracultural theatre. In his General Introduction, Phillip B. Zarilli states the following: There are many languages and discourses of acting, each of them written/spoken from a single point of view. Theoreticians often talk to theoreticians, practitioners only to practitioners. Very rarely do they talk to each other… He concludes by saying that, from this point of view, theatre-making is a means of socio-cultural practice. As such, it is not an innocent or naïve activity separate from or above or beyond everyday reality, history, politics or economics. (Zarilli, 1995:1)
And that is the beginning. The main word is communication. The basis of every communication is exchange. If in the intercultural theatre it is important to travel, adopt and exchange, then in the intercultural theatre it has already been done and only superstructure remains to be added. On the basis of the awareness of the sameness between cultures (since, as Edward Said puts it, today’s society is polyphonic) the consideration of the intracultural theatre should be placed within the framework of the native culture. Theory is always better consumed if it is practically applied and therefore I would like to elaborate some examples from the Macedonian theatre.
Since the first part of the title of this text refers to the exploration of recent Macedonian theatrical matters, I would like to deal with this part of the story as well. Macedonian theatre people rarely ‘tackle’ intraculturalism. The examples are few, and must therefore be cautiously explored if an at first glance subtle, but ontologically radical difference is to be made in the treatment of the ‘varied cultures’ in contemporary Macedonian theatrical practice. The examples are often related to non-institutional performances and are frequently led by the idea of creating complete theatre whose poetics is in correlation with the person who manages the institution. In order to develop the idea of intraculturalism, there must be an awareness of the creation of a complete work of art or Gesamtkunstwerk. I feel free to claim, from the position of a young neophyte who has gradually been discovering intraculturalism in the Macedonian theatre, that few directors are important in its actualisation. Of course, this form of artistic expression also takes place within the context of the 'directors’ theatre'. This manner of theatre-making is still relevant and useful. One of the directors I have in mind is more focused, among other things, on the research and study of intercultural theatre, while the other still works within the context of the idea of intraculturalism, although he does not impose it on the manner of work of his theatre. These examples are interesting, because they are examples of two different ways of interpreting intraculturalism. The man who likes to research, travel, exchange and interpret things with deep insight is Vladimir Milčin. In his exploration of the theatre he is not exclusively focused on a specific period important to his poetics; here I have in mind several separate, but not random examples of intraculturalism. I would like to refer to some of his productions, but before I produce a list which would obscure things rather then explain them, I would like to mention that I have studied Vladimir Milčin’s productions on a number of occasions, primarily in my MA thesis entitled Macedonian Post Modern Theatre. Yet intracultural theatre, too, can be analysed as one of the attributes of Post Modern theatre because we are dealing with classification according to two different criteria (theatre poetics and practice in correlation with spatio-temporal contexts). Milčin begins his exploration of intraculturalism with the play Skici od predanieto Kainavelsko, based on two collections of poems by Slavko Janevski, Evangelie po Itar Pejo and Kainavelia, performed by the actors of the Kaj Sveti Nikita Goltarot theatre. This performance was an example of researched intraculturalism in accordance with the then relevant explorations of renowned director-travellers. However, this play is not intracultural in terms of theoretical determinants. Milčin’s second great step in the exploration of intraculturalism – naturally not a direct one, but the result of certain personal efforts in the creation of a self-aware and organized theatre – are the plays Kaluđerički tišini by Slobodan Šnajder (Bitola National Theatre, 1987), Spiro Crna by Blagoja Risteski Platnar (Vojdan Černodrinski National Theatre, 1989) and Krik by Blaže Minevski (Macedonian National Theatre, 1991) and, among others, Derviš i smrtta by Meša Selimović in its two versions: in 1985 on the stage of the then Theatre of the Autonomous Province – Albanian Drama in Priština, with Istref Begoli in the role of Ahmed Nurudin, and in 2003, on the stage of the Albanian Theatre in Skopje, with Refet Abazi in the same role.
In the plays directed by Ljupčo Gjeorgievski based on patterns from traditional Macedonian folk life (Begalka, 1995, Makedonska krvava svadba, 1999, Parite se otepuvačka, 2002) an implicit interest in the exploration of the native culture can be detected, as well as its presentation in the context of world culture. However, it should be noted that in these performances intraculturalism, which is in its embryonic form, is the result of the director’s personal affinities.
The director to whom I would like to give special attention is Rahim Burhan and his Romany Pralipe Theatre. Dr. Jelena Lužina, who has studied this theatre on a number of occasions, raises the question as to what kind of theatre the Pralipe in fact is. Her reply is highly useful for the objective of this text: In terms of its ethnic/cultural and linguistic affiliation, this theatre is Romany; in its organization, it is extra-institutional/alternative; it is directors’ theatre according to the theatrical model that it follows and according to the poetics that it builds and promotes; according to its scenic/theatrical expression, it is authentic; it is Macedonian in its origin; at present, it is German, according to its location; it is intercultural in terms of its approach/attitude to every authentic tradition (not only Romany, but primarily Romany); it is international in its mission… (Lužina 2004/www.mactheatre.edu.mk/teatar tekst/Teatar na drugite jazici-Interkulturalen teatar). Explorations of this type of theatre have resulted in a complex body of material on the basis of which the foundations of intracultural theatre can be laid, and which includes the following elements:
– a guru director around whom the theatrical troupe gathers;
– the troupe functions as a brotherhood;
– the subject of research is the personal native culture in correlation with world culture;
– the results are shown, again, through the performance.
Although this model has been familiar since the time of the greatest directors of the 20th century, such as Stanislavski, Meyerhold, Brecht and Grotowski, it has also been practiced as the model for the creation of intracultural theatre. On this occasion, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this text is, in its own way, a primary confrontation with this phenomenon from the theatrical point of view.
The two performances of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding by the Pralipe Theatre, in Macedonia in 1973 and in Germany in 1991, can be seen as a case in point. The director’s personal account included in the Research Report on the 35th anniversary of the Pralipe Romany Theatre prepared by Rusomir Bogdanovski is a most impressive testimony in this regard. The entry on Blood Wedding runs as follows: RATVALE BIJAVA (Blood Wedding) by F.G. Lorca; first performance: 1973; language: Romany. We have already rehearsed at the Youth Cultural Centre. I made friends with Iso Rusi. He backed us there all the time. We stayed at the Youth Cultural Centre from this performance until the new version with which we came to Germany. It was sheer courage to dare translate the play into Romany. At that time very few writers wrote in Romany. To us, as Romanies, it was of great importance to speak in our language on the stage. But regardless of that, I took great care over every detail in the performance. Krum Stojanov, the actor from the Drama Theatre, made the stage design. He even gave me a small-scale model of it. I was holding a model in my hands for the first time! He even came to the rehearsal! We made the stage design as best as we could, and on the publicity poster was Krum Stojanov’s name as stage designer! The difference between this performance and the second, except for the stage design, acting, stage metaphors and the play with props, is precisely in the radical cuts. I always search for a sort of unity between the Oriental and European theatre from my own point of view. I give it a kind of interpretation of my own, there is no recipe for it. The play with the props is very important to me. We made the translation together. I never work alone on the translation. I always ask someone to do the first version. (See Research Report for the project Intercultural Theatre: Theatre of Differences, entry 220.127.116.11.)
I quote Rahim Burhan in full since the account that he gives of his practical work can be used as the basis for a theoretical elaboration of the issue of intraculturalism. Firstly, we have here a specific culture, that of the Romany people, in whose genetic code the gene of nomadism dominates, and non-belonging to any state, nation, or system. Secondly, their theatre performed a play by Lorca, a specific poet who belongs to the Spanish culture and whose concept may be close to that of the Romany culture since it is characterised by the basic emotions of Eros and Thanatos – emotions of passion. The Pralipe Romany Theatre worked until 1991 in Macedonia as an independent and alternative theatrical troupe gathered around its guru Rahim Burhan, to whom theatrical creation is an emotional construction, a personal commitment, intuition and talent. Here we do not have a case of conscious exploration which is based on scholarship or guided by familiar theoretical instruments. Here lies the significance of the rich experience of this theatre. Both Rahim Burhan and Vladimir Milčin create a radical change in the theatre and search for its intraculturalism from the position of gurus. A committed and direct theatre, as Peter Brook puts it, requires a leader, someone who can feel the theatre and can situate it within a context from a personal point of view.
The purpose of this text is not to marginalize the work of other theatre directors in the Macedonian theatre, but only to point to the possibilities of offering a perspective for a new theatre in the context of new world trends, not only in the theatre, but in culture in general.
The examples discussed above indicate that intracultural theatre can be explored in the Macedonian theatre as well. However, it should be emphasized that we are speaking of an exceptionally subtle way of life where a distinction should be made between a number of traditional images of the theatre and manners of acting, bearing in mind, at the same time, all aspects of the fashion in which a theatrical performance is created. Potential researchers of the intracultural theatre should consider the following elements:
– it has been confirmed as the theatre of the new age;
– it is part of the ‘directors’ theatre’;
– it is guided by a guru director and develops into a troupe/brotherhood;
– it explores the native culture and places it within a network for the purpose of comparing it with world cultures;
– it explores the sameness between the native and other cultures;
– it studies theatrical anthropologists;
– it develops as a personal and emotional creation of the director and the troupe.
Even in its embryonic stages, the intracultural theatre emerges as a possible site for the exploration of a number of forms in the context of polyphonic cultures which have created the theatre of the new age. The Macedonian theatre, too, can join the network of new theatrical forms perceived as superstructures in relation to the basic monocultural dimension. The purpose of this text has been to give an impetus to and elaborate on intraculturalism from a ‘naked’ theoretical perspective which could pave the way for wider research. If we want to define the place held by intracultural theatre, I would say that, physically, it is at the top of the pyramid formed by the monocultural theatre (base), multicultural theatre (first level) and intercultural theatre (second level). This does not imply literal assessment of the respective types of theatre since we are talking about art, and not a sports competition. However, this is a kind of theatre made of emotion, insight, passion and personal exploration. It is a theatre which corresponds with the times and technical potential. It is a theatre which constantly re-examines itself because the time in which it is created does not stand still, but moves and is measured in bytes. This is not a manifesto of the new theatre, but the personal view of a theatrologist of the direction in which the theatre, the ideal theatre of the new age, is going.
Obviously, the actors will do the rest!
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1. I first encountered the term polyphonic culture in an interview with Edward Said (Orientalism,The World, the Text and the Critic, Musical Elaborations) in which, replying to the question concerning one of Peter Brook’s productions, he says that it was a performance based on the concept of polyphonic cultures. I believe that this term is more than welcome for the objective of my text. Its beginning can be sought in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, where he discusses tragedy in the context of polyphonic cultures._____________________________________
2. As part of the project Theatre of Differences: Intercultural Theatre (Institute of Theatrology at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Skopje and FIOOM) research was carried out of the cultural variety in the Macedonian theatrical practice. The conclusion was as follows: “The ‘multicultural’ productions adopt elements from other cultures in different ways (manner of acting, stage and costume design, make up and gesture, music and choreography.) In contrast to intercultural productions, in these examples, the heritage from other cultures is not part of the performance; instead, these elements merely simultaneously exist/co-exist on the stage. The tendency to manifest the relation to the Other remains on the level of getting to know each other, information and determination, and not on the level of cultural exchange or correlation between the native and other cultures (See Research Report on the project Theatre of Differences: Intercultural Theatre, FIOOM, 2004)._____________________________________
3. The theatre Kaj Sveti Nikita Goltarot was founded in the Monastery of St. Nicetas the Goltar near Skopje in 1970. It was an experimental theatre company formed on the principles formulated in the manifesto “A Project for a Theatre” whose authors were V. Milčin, S. Unkovski and M. Pančevski. They performed only one play, Sceni od predanieto Kainevelisko, a dramatization of two collections of poetry by Slavko Janevski. This was the first theatrical commune of this type led by a guru director, which searched for its own form of theatrical expression through experiment. (See Teatrot na makedonskata počva: Enciklopedija/Hronologija 1970).
4. I have written on the phenomenon of the dervish in Vladimir Milčin’s productions in my unpublished study “Za dervišite vo pretstavite na Vladimir Milčin”.
5. Lorca’s Blood Wedding was the theatre’s third premiere.