Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Interview with Andrew Morrish 10/3/2003

Old interview, but some beautiful wandering thoughts on performance and politics, conducted in the comfortable environs of the Rose of Australia Hotel in Erskineville as the rain poured down outside. This was supposed to be research for my thesis, but never made it in anywhere in the end. I love this conversation, and miss Andrew working in Australia - he was a continuing inspiration.

AM: what can I help you with David?

DW: I just wanted to have a brief conversation with you about improvisation, because I’m very interested in ummm improvisation, obviously, and you, Andrew Morrish are the guru of improvisation…

AM: Scheisser.

DW: No pressure.

AM: No pressure. No we gurus don’t feel pressure. That’s how you know guru, ‘cos you say ‘oh you’re a guru’ and they say ‘sure’ they don’t say, maybe?

DW: The thing that I’m interested in at the moment, well there’s a couple of things – your description of the ‘Rushing for the Sloth’ [a monthly improvised performance event in Sydney] as an engagement with openness and presence and I’m very interested in those notions, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve become very interested in the notion of uncertainty, and the radical uncertainty of improvisation. What is a radical performance act now, and I’m starting to think sort of well it one that’s undecidable, that’s uncertain, that’s in a real state of flux that can’t be easily reduced to ‘well this is what its all about’.

AM: In a real way, the potential for that lies in any form, I don’t reckon its necessarily more likely to happen in improvisation than anywhere else, because there’s always a certain discrepancy between what you think you are doing and what other people think you are doing, as a performer anyway. There’s always that. So there’s always a degree of uncertainty and when I think about that in improvisation… I don’t think… as you know I promote the idea of self deception as a fundamental aspect of training really, so I certainly imagine I know exactly what I’m doing when I’m performing. I live in the world of certainty in that sense, even though I’m not certain what material might come, but on a moment-to-moment basis I’m always trying to be as certain as I can. So this is really a position of self-deception in a way – you create one idea so that another can emerge. There’s this idea that I use that is the idea that the improvisational moment is like the totem animal of a primitive tribe, its a little deer. If you direct too much attention to the deer, it’s never going to come anywhere near you. You actually have to get on with something else and the deer might get curious and come close. But the minute you go ‘hello deer!’ it runs away again. So it feels like that too, you have to distract yourself with certainties so the possibility of maybe something which is not totally known or controlled can emerge. I think that does emerge from a state of absolute confidence that everything is ok, for me anyway in my experience of it. I think these things interact in really interesting ways. I think you do have to convince yourself of…I’m sorry, not you, there’s no you… I convince myself that I know exactly what I’m doing. That means I don’t need to put any energy into planning my material. So sure, I don’t plan my material, but in the act of improvising…. I’m pretty much feeling very confident.

One of the hardest things to perform is indifference, because how can you be fully committed to presenting the idea that you’re indifferent? And it’s a bit the same with uncertainty which is if you going saying ‘I must be uncertain’ then what does that mean? At one level I could say ‘are you sure you want to be uncertain’? And you go ‘YES, I’m sure I want to be uncertain’

DW: And therefore you are certain…

AM: And the consciousness of going in going ‘I will be uncertain’ will produce a certain kind of material, so it almost seems its one of things that best achieved by not directing yourself at it, its actually you distract yourself towards another place. And I find myself teaching that; I’m continually telling people exactly what I want them to do. In my classes people have the experience that they are always completely certain about what my expectations are, and the tasks are completely concrete – I want you to do THIS. I just don’t tell them what the material is, I don’t tell them what the content is, I don’t tell them what to do it about. And so most people go I’m completely certain this is what I’m supposed to be doing. So I do think there’s a level of distraction in improvisation for me the idea of distracting myself is an important one. And another one is trying to overwhelming myself, trying to do too much is another great idea; trying to do an impossible combination of ideas that can’t actually be done because I don’t have the skill to do it. What I love about that is that something else happens that’s actually more interesting. So there’s an overloading principle, a distraction principle and these are kind of the ideas….

DW: I am very interested in this idea of the impossible task too, that’s a really nice one. I do remember you talking about it once; I think was after an impro that I did for one of the Sloths… maybe it was a Taming [the Sloth - a training session]. You told me that what I did was impossible. I think it was trying to pick myself up through the air…

AM: That’s right, yes. I remember once, it happened to be a German student…

DW: Because everything’s German at the moment…

AM: It’s a bit thematic, everything European… So I said: ‘Speak convincingly in Spanish’ to this German woman as an improvisational score, and she just looked at me and said, ‘I can’t do that.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ And she said, ‘Because I can’t speak Spanish’, and I said ‘Well neither can we’. I don’t actually imagine that you will be able to magically speak Spanish, what I wanted was for you to be so committed to the act of trying something that’s vaguely like Spanish, that something much more wonderful might come into that space as you attempt to do something that’s actually not possible. So its very close to that self deception principle; its to give yourself something that’s not possible to do, but do it with all the goodwill you could imagine, and if you like, at a complete level of certainty and confidence that you’re doing it, even though you know you’re not, if you want to. So in a way, there’s a first level of talking about improvisation, but I do think you do get very quickly to a level where the conversation becomes about notions of paradox and all the philosophical sophistication that arises from that, that very quickly, once you’ve kind of done the first principles of what improvisation is, you end up, especially I find this as a teacher, but I’ve also found this as a performer, that you’re talking in paradoxical terms, and immediately I go this is a more interesting place to be. But at any one moment within the paradox, I am completely certain of one of the contradictory elements of a paradox, so its not like I go…I don’t think a response to that is the dithery position. You need to be completely certain about the choice, but you know you could have made any other choice and it would be equally as good as long as you were equally committed to it. Dithering I try and not encourage. This is why if you take uncertainty as a score, it’s a bit like performing indifference. It could lead to you becoming, working in a dithering mode, of the audience going – he is not certain. Which I don’t think that is this uncertainty that you’re talking about is about. It’s not an attitude of going…

DW: …I don’t know what I’m doing

AM: And I just think that finding language that points at those particularities of meaning is kind of quite important.

DW: I guess where I’m heading with this idea of radical uncertainty, as a principle not necessarily of a mode of performing – I’m not performing indifference, I’m not performing uncertainty – its just that the work…OK, this is two examples of what I’ve been working with and have been talking with another colleague with… we’re on the bus, and we’re talking about three different performances, classics from different areas. One is Don Giovanni, the Mozart opera verses Cosi Fan Tutte, another Mozart opera, and the reason why Don G is OK, because all of these morally very shaky things go on in that opera…and I’m not valorising opera as an art form here, I’m just talking about things in that…the moral universe becomes uncertain. Why are we enjoying this man doing horrible things? But it’s OK, because in the end, certainty is restored, you know, he goes to hell, he’s taken to Hell, he goes to Hell, and he is judged, and made to pay. So that’s why Don Giovanni is OK. It’s certain in its moral and ethical convictions, it’s certain. And we can feel that our principles have been reinforced, in the way that you were saying in the last Sloth that I’m glad there’s a crisis so I can feel righteous again. Because I was uncertain, and now I’m…

AM:…I’ve got something else to be certain and righteous about…

DW: Because I know I’m right…

AM: …On this one.

DW: On this one.

AM: Absolutely. It’s very clear.

DW: The thing I liked about the implication of that statement is that you’re not just saying that ‘I think I’m right about the war’, you’re saying ‘it makes me feel right about everything. The great crisis of the left is that Communism has proved to be a completely and utterly totalitarian system, an impossible task to make the liberation…it didn’t work in practice. That doesn’t mean that it can’t work in practice, but the fact that it didn’t is such a, you know, a pulling of the rug, the rug of certainty, out from…

AM: There’s still plenty of communist local governments in France. And you can go there and get, well not free, but very cheap lunches for the community every day…So, yeah. Sorry, I’ve interrupted your flow about certainty and uncertainty…

DW: No, no, no, I was just sort of raving really.

AM: Certainly. It’s interesting really, the other part of the self-deception it’s… is like, you know, having spent twenty years trying to be a good improviser, and now feeling like I am a good improviser, and then going, well, what do I have to say? That question hasn’t come up so often as I’ve worked through this other form of self-deception called becoming a good improviser. But know I find myself drawn to making statements at certain times. You know, going what is the purpose of what I do? And, like you’re kind of alluding to in a way, I think there is a kind of a, I wouldn’t call it radical, but certainly a subversive element to choosing to perform improvisation in the way that I do, so that feels like, I guess, a consistent message, which is – what are those other people doing with all that time? You know, if I can whip up this piece of theatre for you right now, in a way that seems to enliven all of us for the next twenty minutes, what are all those other wankers spending their time doing? That’s hopefully a question I would like to think of occasionally. So there’s that, there’s kind of the politics of choosing improvisation as an act, as a message, but I’m also at a point now where I’m asking, …the Maxwell Smart position- do I use it for good or for evil? I’ve noticed, in my longer pieces over the last two years, a tendency towards a moralising kind of content, content about a moral stance, in different ways, and this troubles me enormously. Because when it happens, you go: I am old enough and mature enough to know that my views aren’t that special that I deserve the forum to express to people my political views. It’s not the contract really. And just like there was a time where I wanted to tell coherent stories in improvisation, and I’m going hang on, sit down and write it and have respect for the form. And surely improvisation points at the possibility of a less conventional form being more interesting, and if you’re going to do a more conventional form, then do it properly. So I have this question about this moral and ethical kind of element that coming into my work; at a certain point I feel smug about it, or I feel pretentious, and I go, really, if you want to talk about those things, you should be writing about those things. There are better forms for that. So, this trend is of concern to me. I wouldn’t say that I worry about it, but its of interest to me that its coming, and nearly always I have that moment of making the statement and then within the piece questioning my right to have done that.

DW: Which is actually the thing that interests me about improvisation as being something being uncertain, in that sort of, moral ethical sense, because, for instance, I’m talking about, just because it’s the most recent performance of yours that I’ve seen, you had a few rants, some of which were completely ridiculous. Actually all of which I hope were completely ridiculous…your dark German phase, should we say? But what you do really, through improvising is that you question what is OK? I can say whatever I like, because there is a contract here between me the improviser and you the audience, and I’m going to ask lots of questions. About myself, about my own material, with a commitment to openness, with a commitment to engagement, …

AM: I had this moment in the last season of Gosh!, which I have three of the shows on video, and I hated that season myself, as a performer, and it took me a long time to watch the videos, but there’s one moment in one of them where I go, on this issue – I seem to have started picking on minorities. Convenient ones, you know, asthmatics. The night Robyn Archer was there I started picking on asthmatics. And I said, hang on, I’m the biggest minority out here. Because in a way I do feel there’s an underlying reassurance for me at an ethical level, which is what I’m actually doing is not convincing people of my view, what I’m actually doing is exposing my prejudices. And in the end I think whatever it is I say, if it reflects upon anyone, it reflects upon me. And people go away and think, there’s a guy who hates asthmatics. They might say that. But what they’ll probably think is that there’s a guy who’ll say anything to get a laugh, and that’s closer to the truth anyway. So whenever I do that kind of material there’s often that edge of rant in it, and I don’t actually feel like I’m being persuasive; I actually feel like all I’m doing is exposing an aspect of myself and also sometimes daring myself to say things that I don’t even believe, just as a challenge, as a performers challenge, go can I get away with saying this, will I go too far and alienate the audience? So its all quite local in the end, all of that.

DW: Its interesting - how can I go without alienating the audience – so much of your stage persona is love me, love me, here I am, love me! Here I am, I’m your best friend!

AM: And you’re my best friend, and where will we go tonight? And things like that…you know, and it’s the same as…I like a bit of lemon juice in the meal every now and then, and I do like it to go – he can’t say that! When I performed in Berlin I did this thing, I started doing this thing about dead German choreographers, of which I know about three, so it was a little bit short…I had to stick in a little bit of Isadora Duncan, just to help, and that was all good. And then I started saying, I’m not going to talk about Sascha Waltz, because she’s alive, and I sill want a career, you know. And I said to the audience: do you think its good that I’m just picking on dead people. And they said: no, it’s not good. And I could see every single German going: no that is not good. And just a few minutes ago we were all laughing, and that was not good. So there is always a moral uncertainty to every certainty. If you would. Certainly I have it. Certainly whenever I put out a statement of my own value I go, what’s on the other side of that? What is on the other side of that? I did a piece with Tony the other week when I was kind of accusing the audience of being gratified with my ability to play in the worms…of my own material. And I said to myself: look, Andrew, of all the people you know, you’re probably the one who has the most positive regard for the audience, and actually what you just said is quite cynical about an audience. And so in the piece I went into the whole idea of disdain for the audience as a persona that I never usually feel. But whatever it is it seems to me…and I’m not Jungian in any way, but whatever it is in any way, there’s always another side. There’s always a dark side to every light side and vice versa, and I’m very interested in getting lost between those two things. There’s something I wanted to say about…you’re talking about certainty and uncertainty but there’s also this thing…a relation, a shift I’ve had in my own understanding of the world that I’ve really only had in the last five years is this relationship between knowing and not-knowing. Which is kind of close to this idea, and as someone trained to be an educator, a primary school educator, I thought education was about things I was certain of, things I knew. Because I was teaching basically, things I knew. How to spell, how to count and all of that sort of stuff. But I’ve changed my model through teaching improvisation. Maybe what education’s about is creating a situation where people can stand to look into…stand on what they know to look into the dark space of something they don’t know, and that education’s actually supporting people in that place, and that learning is actually about what you don’t know instead of the way I was brought up and educated, which is about what you do know. And I think that’s something, in the conversation that we’ve had about the nature of improvisational performing. I can make a list of all the things that I do know, when I perform, all the things about which I am certain, and their role is to help me face the things I don’t know. And so I’m actually right in that, looking to support myself in the space between knowing and not-knowing. But, like a lot of these things, I don’t actually think you can be there without having both present. You can’t be unskilled. To be an improviser, its about uncertainty, but you bring your skills and experience to that place. You can’t be in the uncertain place without having some certainty to support you to be there. If you like, it’s equating trust and risk, the intimate relationship between those two things. Like you can’t take a risk unless you know you can stand up and you’ll be ok or whatever it is. And it’s right in that zone. So it’s about both of the things, it’s not about one or the other.

DW: Excellent. That’s fantastic.

AM: Openness and presence? C’mon, you got time? You haven’t? You haven’t. You haven’t got time for openness and presence.

DW: Well, I always have time for those kinds of things, but I have to go to a soccer game right now.

AM: It’s been called off, give me a break!

DW: It’s indoors, unfortunately.

AM: The roof’s leaking. Well OK then, bugger off!

Interview with Natalia Koliada, producer, Belarus Free Theatre, 17/1/09

I conducted this interview with Natalia Koliada during her company's visit to Sydney in January 2009, and it was used as the basis for a feature article in RealTime. I thought that the interview was quite fascinating (not least for the company's apparent focus on celebrity validation, and for the ineptitude of my interviewing technique), and so transcribed the whole thing. For more about Belarus Free Theatre, see here. Other articles about the company can be found here. Reviews from the Australian tour of Being Harold Pinter can be found here, here, here, and here.

This seems to have been a very successful tour for Belarus Free Theatre. So what kind of reception do you think you’ll have when you return home?

[interview begins but recorder has stopped]

[repeating from unrecorded discussion] All the actors have been fired from their other jobs…

Yes, this is one of the main that they’ve used before against us, so for example, if we go, it was our French tour, and there was a council of Minister of Culture on Free Theatre, and there was a decision to fire a few of our actors while we were touring in France. Then it happened last February in London, when two of our actresses they lost their jobs by backdate. So while performing in London… [recorder stops again]

So, ah, the last one it’s a case of my father who was fired from the Academy of the Arts, and one of our actresses. This is one of the ways that they show that there is oppression.

So it’s economic punishment?

It’s economic and they want to show us that they know about you, and they could stop us doing everything right away. So its important for the authorities to show that there is oppression. They do it very successfully, because for… it’s very complicated when you have family, when you have small children. When you get fired you cannot get any other job in our country. So what will happen next we don’t know. It depends on level of meetings here, because we still plan to meet with Cate Blanchet and to make this video appeal – it was done with Mick Jagger – so this the support we need for the whole country, not for us personally. But when we meet with such people, usually we get arrested.

Right, OK.

But we understand this. As I’ve said many times already, he have a very great teacher, who is Vaclav Havel, who told us we need to speak very loudly and openly in order to stop dictatorship. Otherwise we would just prolong this dictatorship. So this is what we’re trying to do, and we hope for the same level of support here in Australia as we got in the UK from the British actors and musicians. So we never know what can happen to us. We understand that you could lose job, you could lose education, you get beaten up, get arrested, go to jail, different types of repressions.

It’s like the torturer in… I’m not sure which play it is, it’s the one before Mountain Language…

New World Order

New World Order. The two torturers say, “he doesn’t know what we can do to him, or what we could do to his wife”. Or by extrapolation, what they could do to your family, or… take their jobs away. I mean the thing that’s quite beautiful about the Pinter that you guys use is the arbitrariness of power’s exercise – we’re going to exercise power because we can.

This is absolutely true, and when we read this piece New World Order, one of the recent plays of Harold Pinter, its like they do not do anything to him on the stage but there is an essence of violence in just words. Just two scary people. And this is what the Belarussian authorities do, they do a lot. They come to the point of torture when they kidnap and kill people, this is when we have in our country too. There are political enforced disappearances.

It’s very frightening to imagine in this context.

But it could… we never know when it comes to that point. For example, when we have the presidential elections I was walking with my husband every morning to walk our dog, because I had a hundred percent fear that I would never see him again. So it’s a constant feeling that we have. But we agreed silently that we need to stop [being] afraid of something, otherwise we would just stop work. ‘co if you in the fear of something all the time, you cannot change anything. Only if you are able to stop the fear inside of you, to overcross this line of fear.

In terms of the work the Free Theatre Belarus does, how do you begin making the work? For instance, something like Being Harold Pinter, though this is far from all that you do…

We were start with Belarussian plays. That was the main idea, to promote contemporary Belarussian plays. Everyone from official side says that there are no…

Ah! There are no plays! Prove them wrong.

And this is what we decided to do with my husband. He received royalties from Moscow for his play, and was called Here I am, and received many awards outside Belarus, but it is not possible to produce within Belarus because he the author is not recommended for production in Belarus. And it was not about politics, it was about life philosophy, how a person lives his life. But it is prohibited because of his name. And we started this theatre on his royalties. Then my brother started to help us from the States, because he has political asylum in the USA. And Vladimir Scherban, who is the director of Being Harold Pinter, he joined us in the month from the moment when we started. And it was 4.48 Psychosis of Sarah Kane…

I’d love to see what you guys did with that!

It’s a fantastic piece! Tom Stoppard said that this is the best Psychosis he ever saw. He saw many performances. He saw in Minsk underground in a small café, and one journalist from Time Magazine, he was at this performance too, he said “I didn’t believe that at 10 o’clock in the morning we would have 120 people in a small café, and Tom Stoppard is sitting in underground in Minsk watching Psychosis of Sarah Kane.” It was just amazing for everyone. So each topic you choose, it becomes prohibited. Whatever you choose, it’s not possible to talk [about]. It’s everything. We have like alternative system of education that we organise for young people, a small group because we teach only underground, and we discovered 16 taboo zones. It’s like you choose a topic and its prohibited, you cannot talk publicly on this issue. So we decided that we needed to explore it every time, one of the taboo zones. If it’s possible, we do many explores at once. For example, we have performance, its called Discover Love. Its about our friend love story, and she is the godmother of our younger daughter, and her husband was a businessman who supported opposition, and he was kidnapped and killed together with his friend who was vice-speaker of the parliament.

Then Zone of Silence, it’s a trilogy that we created especially for the European Theatre Prize – we got a special mention last April. It’s… Zone of Silence is Belarus. That’s why we came [up] with this name. We started with personal stories of our actors. They tell what happened in their childhood. And then… Its called Legends of Childhood. The second part is called Labours. The actors received a technical assignment to go to the city and find people from normal lives. And the last part is Numbers, Belarus in numbers without any words. So its… and Discover Love was done in support of European Convention Against Enforced Disappearances. So we started the big global campaign in support of this convention. So it’s a lot. We try to choose all these topics. As for Being Harold Pinter, I believe you already read it, because it’s the same story everywhere. So, it was the advice of Tom Stoppard, and it just took a while for us to get all those translations. But of course when we read it we understood that he [Pinter] understands us better than many people who live in Belarus. So it was absolutely direct contact, and besides we got his support when we started to write [to] him and ask him for author’s rights, as we did with Simon Kane, who is the brother of Sarah Kane. So we receive all of these permissions all of the time. So I don’t know what to tell you… Probably, you just ask me what you’re interested in, because…

I guess I’m interested in… I liked hearing about the kind of starting points for some of your other works other than this. So I guess I’m, what I’m interested in how do you approach – so you choose a topic that’s forbidden, that can’t be spoken about. How do you then begin working on it? I know you were talking about giving the actors an assignment to find particular kinds of stories of normal people, but I’m just interested in the kind of aesthetic strategies you have.

This is absolutely the main point for us, because when we organise the theatre, we decided that it should be aesthetic opposition first of all. If we have a high standard of aesthetic opposition then we have, we could change aesthetically a society, and when we have such an artistic product then we could attract more attention for political changes, if we have an artistic voice. So this was the main aim for us. As for performances, all of them done absolutely different ways, but mostly actors need to show their ideas and their thoughts on pieces that they receive. So for example if they read plays, they should present the ideas. Its very important work of actor, because we don’t have a lot of scenery or costumes, so we decided that we needed the main impact from actors, if that’s correct to say. So for rehearsals – Being Harold Pinter was rehearsed in ten apartments, just move from one place to another. For example, Generation Jeans performance that we just presented at the house of Vaclav Havel in Prague. It was already the second time when we presented at his house in Czech Republic. It’s about transformation from Soviet Union time when jeans and rock music were prohibited, so it’s prohibited now in our country. We hope if there is a revolution, it will be a denim revolution, so if young people wear jeans and jeans jacket –

[Points out that both of us are wearing denim jeans and jackets] We’re matching!

Yeah! They get arrested and go to jail, if it’s before the election campaign.

Wow, that’s interesting, because Tom Stoppard recently did his play Rock’n’Roll, which was about…

It was the most interesting. He came to us and he asked Nikolai, who is my husband, he said “what are you writing now?” And he said, “I’m writing Generation Jeans.” And Tom Stoppard said, “I just finished Rock’n’Roll.” And they started to share what they wrote, and it was the same idea. It was music, jeans, and Czech Republic. Because in Generation Jeans, Jan Palach, the Czech student who burnt himself in the main square against the Soviet tanks, so he is a legendary person in Czech Republic, for Czechs and Slovaks. So when they shared ideas, Stoppard said, “now I understand why I am here.” So it was the same thoughts at the same time.

Absolutely. So this Generation Jeans performance, it was only rehearsed in my husband’s mind. It was not possible to find facility for this performance. It’s a monologue – it’s called a monologue for two, monologue for actor and DJ. So it’s a strange genre, but… And we have a DJ onstage with Nikolai performing, and everything depends on the music. So its like dialogue between music and words and, so it’s one of our most famous performances. Generation Jeans and Being Harold Pinter. Zone of Silence and Discover Love, these are two recent performances. The new piece is, its called Eurepica – that’s Europe and epic, one word. Eurepica. This is our own word that we made up. Eurpica dark challenge. So the idea is make new European epic. It will not be nice. At all.

No it certainly hasn’t been a very good century for Europe!

We believe that besides problems with our governments we will shake other European governments. So we invited 14 playwrights from all over Europe, besides Russia, Turkey, the USA as an influential neighbour, and Belarus as the last dictatorship in Europe. So they write, all these playwrights, they write on the main challenge of his/her country. So it’s a new European epic with original music that is written by, like a neo-classic [composer], his name is Sergei Netsky, he lives in Germany. And it was an attempt to write a new European anthem. So what will happen in the end, we don’t know but we understand that… we hope to give a push for Europeans to think about themselves, because they do not know about each other at all, as it’s appeared to us when we started to travel. It looks like everything is happening inside the borders of each country, not for the whole Union. And when there are such problems as Belarus – this is, we think that this is the main challenge for Europe because for the first time in the European continent history, this continent could become free from dictators. For the first time in the whole European history! Because for today there are only two continents that are free from dictators – Australia and North America. This is it. So Europe is still under dictatorship, which is our dictatorship. So is what we want to say, and we want people to think. And, actors they present again all their ideas on the plays. Many, many, many ideas. And then if our director Vladimir Scherban, who is directing this performance, and we are, Nikolai and me who created this conception and idea, we need to find the piece that could be developed. And of course the main role on directing is Vladimir’s, merging all of it.

A lot the work seems to be very much about the very specific bodies of the actors and their voices. So, when you talk about the actor’s ideas, that would seem very much… I mean the thing I like about this work in the terms of this Festival; the kind of antithesis of this work in the Festival is kind of Robert Lepage’s Lipsynch. Now all the ideas there are about objects. We have an idea, and we’ll build something very expensive, and we’ll use it. And there seems to be, at least this was my experience of the work, there seems to be a real paucity of ideas. There was an attempt to use technology as a way of kind of dealing with a lack of ideas. I since saw the show today for the second time, which was good because I didn’t have to watch the subtitles so much. Your work seems to focus very much on the immediacy of the actors’ bodies, their voices, their relationships in space with each other and their proximity to an audience…

This is the main. This is the main thing for Vladimir as the director of the performance, and Nikolai and me as producers. I wish you could come to us, because then you would understand all of it, because actors are the main. The connection with the audience, this is another side, the main side of it. So the actors – it’s one coin, actors and audience. Both sides of it. We don’t have light, so we have just one lamp like this at our house that we rent for rehearsals, and sometimes we don’t like to make it that we should use it for performances. There is a small wall with a broken part between two rooms, some part for audiences, some part for actors. So it’s direct connection all the time. So when we started to travel our work, the actors said they don’t see the eyes of spectators. “It’s so complicated for us, they don’t have this communication with us”. I mean we just said, “Probably you will like performing in real circumstances”. So it’s difficult for them to get used to real theatre light. This is very important for us to have this communication. This is hundred percent communication and contact with spectators. And actors they are the main, we just don’t have… And I think even if you have better conditions it’s interesting to continue by working through the actors. I mean, we love all the technology. We love Robert Lepage, but we will continue by working with actors. We met with Robert Lepage one year ago in Thessaloniki, and he received this European Theatre Prize, and we invited him to come to us, but his schedule is very overloaded I believe. And he said: “To me, it would be very interesting to come and work underground because it would make my environment wider.” So it’s very to good to hear this for us, because not many people are saying that to work underground is opening in some way.

Sometimes restrictions actually force you to be more creative in order to find solutions, and you seem to have many restrictions!

It seems very often… we have meetings with our journalists from all over the old and they say, “You know, when you are old, won’t this be one of your best memories?” And I say, “I dream of the time will come, and it will be my best dream.” I mean, we are so tired with so many situation of political stress that we have in my country I’m not sure that we will get to old years.

Well I hope that you do. I feel like I could talk for a long time, but I’ll just ask one more question.

Ask as many as you want.

Well, you guys have got to have a break! You set up the Belarus Free Theatre to work against the dictatorship in Belarus. What would happen if your work, and the work of other activist, and other pro-democracy activists around the world and within Belarus – what happens…

What happens next?

What happens next? If the President is forced out of power and a real democracy takes the place of that regime, what would happen for Belarus Free Theatre?

First of all, all the presidential candidates, they are our friends… very good ones…

So, a ministerial post?

So I’m sure we will have a fantastic theatre in the centre of Minsk.


And the time will come when we will organise the Minsk Festival, and we will bring the best examples of world theatre to Belarus and start to educate the Belarusian people on the world theatre, because people are hundred percent isolated. They don’t know what’s happening in the world. From our side we try to do it by performing world plays, and there are many people who write to us and want to bring their performances underground and show audience. But it’s small audience. Even if we perform very often we cannot make it for the whole of Belarus because very often we are restricted. So we are waiting for this time when democracy will come. Hopefully all of us will be alive when this time will come…

Alive and not too old!

And not too old, yeah. So we know it will be another start up. And we know that each country needs Free Theatre. Even if we move somewhere else before we get older! So I believe even very stable and democratically open society needs such a theatre as Free Theatre. We are ready to go and work in different societies. For example, now we’ve doing our first documentary about arts and politics. It will be called It Lasts. So we start from our situation, this is the last dictatorship, but ‘it lasts’, so it continues. It means that we want to go to Zimbabwe and Burma and meet with artists who are doing this sort of, like Cuba, who try to make their artistic jobs in their environments. And from another side we started to record interviews like Vaclev Havel, with Tom Stoppard, with Mick Jagger, hopefully we will get some Australian people who will help us with this, so we want to show the strength, and we want to make it for artists, by artists. And we want to show that only art will change the world for better.

[…] And have you had some good dialogues with local artists, with local audiences?

We haven’t really had the chance… we really want to do the same stuff we did in London, when all the British... I don’t know if you know this, but we did this really fantastic gala event in London. It was presented by Harold Pinter. I showed this video on the first night.

Yes, I remember seeing it.

And at the last part of the performance, when the actors read political letters from political prisoners, our actors exchange with the British actors. And the British actors were reading all these letters from Belarusian political prisoners. Alan Rickman, Kim Cattrall, Diane Rigg, Richard Wilson, Henry Wolf… so it was just a list of them. And absolutely, it gave to our actors one year of life, because they, they got such support. And as for the whole Belarus, all the actors they made video appeal, saying lonely Belarus in Belarusian language, and send in support letters, like Belarus should be free and democratic, and we should continue the fight and we’re with you. We put it on internet site in Belarus, as we did with interview with Jagger and Tom Stoppard and Vaclev Havel and Harold Pinter before. And internet site, servers just collapse, because people were downloading this information and sending to each other and saying if we have such a support, we could continue our fight. So we do want to get in contact – I don’t from the list of those people we have from the Sydney Festival, we see Cate Blanchet and we hope to contact her. We know that there are many Australian great actors, but we don’t know how to contact them, like Nicole Kidman, Russel Crowe. But I believe its not a… so we just don’t know how to get to them.

If you get to Cate, she might be able to tell you how to get to the other ones.

Yeah, yeah, like Nick Cave. Unfortunately we have to leave tomorrow, because we know if we went to the island we would get him. So we need these video appeals which support not the theatre, but the people in Belarus.