Powerplay, Ice Cream, Rape and Expression

INSTED: Young Directors Meeting


‘Where the fuck am I going to fit in this world?’ That’s what actor and student-director Nikolei Faber from Denmark wonders out loud. He believes most modern theater is very archaic. ‘We are hiding behind conventional theatre that has nothing to do with society today.’  Today, the young and international directors of INSTED meet four Dutch directors. 

‘Powerplay is very important to me.’  Director Suzanne Kennedy displays power on stage, but also powerfully directs her actors. ‘Actors are oftentimes very frustrated with me, as I take everything they learned away from them.’ Kennedy does this, because she wants to question all the conventions ruling theatre. ‘I just don’t trust emotions’, she admits. When you ask an actor to say something without emotion, they find it very difficult. She doesn’t trust language either. ‘When an actor says: “I am Hamlet”, what does that mean? Theatre is such a strange setting.

Moderator of today, dramaturge Berthe Spoelstra, defines Kennedy’s work as ‘hyperrealism’. Kennedy herself explains she is always investigating what she sees: ‘I try to put questionmarks everywhere.’

Questioning conventions, powerplay and reality. The makers (and performers) Suzan Boogaerdt and Bianca van der Schoot, forming a duo together as BvdS, base their work on classical plays, but translate and interpret them until the traditional play isn’t recognizable. Sheer reproduction is not their intention. ‘We might piss off some Chekhov fans.’

And they did. During the performance of Three Sisters one person shouted out: “Chekhov will turn over in his grave.” They laughed: ‘Oh well…’

The traditional play helps them to work with images that have become cultural heritage. They freely change and interpret them, creating completely new theatre and challenging conventional stagings. The traditional texts only function as basic material. ‘The existing text is not the only truth,’ they say. And when it does convey a truth, it’s often very male-minded. So, Boogaert Van der Schoot eliminated all the male characters in Three Sisters because: ‘We think women should take over the world.’

Their other performances involve political statements as well. In Martha loves George, inspired on Albee’s – ‘What was the original play called again?’ – Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf, they use their own dissatisfaction about speaking out loud about everything. ‘In the sixties, when Albee wrote, it was very important to speak out about everything. This, we think, has gone way too far. Everything has to be said. Albee’s play entails an anti-populist sound: not everything has to be spoken about bluntly, without ambiguity.’

Paradoxically to their constant dialogue, Boogaerdt and Van der Schoot prefer a very physical performance. Director Thibaud Delpeut has a different approach. Before, he studied clinical psychology, and is inspired by the psychological past and the historical context of his characters. Together with Ivo van Hove (Toneelgroep Amsterdam) he wanted to stage the classical play of Antigone. But at night, he could’t sleep. The story of Kreon and Oidipous had to be involved. Not surprising, since his work often  involves family stories (he directed All of my sons, from Arthur Miller), war and violence.

Why war and violence? ‘Because I don’t understand it.’ In preparation of Night, a performance last year, about two artists during civil war, he bases this playtext on testimonials from the Yugoslavian War Tribunal. ‘These testimonies are so detailed, they’re like filmscripts. One night, I was reading a reportage about rape, while eating ice cream and I just thought to myself: why am I doing this?’

‘Why am I doing this?’ That’s the question the Danish actor and director Nicolei Faber is asking himself. But it’s not just a personal question. More so, he wonders what the theatre world will do, now production houses are closing.

He understands why: ‘Theatre is not developing. Makers choose to reproduce an existing play, they hide behind existing texts that have already proven to be succesful.’

He has seen it before, but came to this conclusion while watching Medea at the ITs Festival. ‘Why do we have to see this again?’ Many makers don’t seem to develop their own scenic language. That is why he finds Boogaerdt/Van der Schoot and Susan Kennedy so inspiring. ‘They don’t reproduce conventional theatre, they’ve truelly found their own way of expressing themselves.’

There’s not one right method of expression, Faber stresses. But expression is a natural thing to do. In Denmark, all the production houses have been closed. It frightens him that the directors that inspired him today, all got the opportiunity to find their own ‘scenic language’ there, and that he will not have this chance. I have a family to support.’

But theatre should not be made out of financial need, but artistic need. How to defend this necessity? ‘It’s logical that people don’t want to pay for theatre they don’t like to visit.’ Faber has worked as an actor for a few years, but he felt the need to do something. ‘I will be stubborn’. Just like theatre will be.

Though he is inspired by the INSTED meeting, he still wonders ‘where the fuck he will fit in this world.’ The questionmarks remain. But as theatre is at its best when conventions are broken – the questionmarks should be embraced.

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