Bonnie Marranca : It’s up to every new generation to create its own institutions, critical discourses, and working methods.”

American Director Paul Bargetto talking to Cristina Modreanu about Theater & Community
martie 14, 2018

Interview by Cristina Modreanu with the occasion of the first edition of Bonnie Marranca’s essays  translated into Romanian.

 

You coined the term “theatre of images” in one famous essay (1977), which is included in the book introducing your essays to Romanian readers. Can you say more about the context in which you observed that the visual dimension becomes prevalent on stage and about the three directors you chose as examples?

The theatre of images idea was evolving in my thoughts while I was a graduate student at the City University (CUNY) Theatre doctoral program in New York City. I was also a critic for the Soho Weekly News and I was seeing a lot of performances at that time. I am now talking about early and late 70s. The book was completed in 1976 and published in 1977. So, I was able to bring together in my work the traditional historical background that I was studying as a student as well as the new theatre that was evolving then and which challenged the canon. The new experimental theatre focused more on performance than on dramatic literature. We didn’t studied avant-garde performance at that time, even in New York where this was all around us. But, I was seeing a lot of new visual art, video, and dance as well as the avant-garde theatre performance downtown.

The people that I chose to organize my thoughts around were three artists who exemplified this new direction – Robert Wilson, Richard Foreman (Ontological-Hysteric Theater), Lee Breuer (Mabou Mines). Their work suggested to me the first really big move in the theatre away from having theatre founded in theatrical traditions and ideas exclusively to a theatre more interested in visual arts and dance. The theatre of images was not anti-text – in the book “Theatre of Images” I analyze the texts of three works of these artists – but it broke away from the hierarchy of the text to recognize many more languages of the stage, such as image, technology, performing space. It was very influenced by the new dance of Trisha Brown and the Judson Dance Theater but also Merce Cunningham, new music by Philip Glass and John Cage, new ideas about conceptual art, poetry, film. So this term suggested itself to me because the image was so prevalent rather than simply listening in the theatre to the story of a text.

How is it today? Is the theatre of images still present and important?

Let’s look at it this way: for example we still have work that might be very absurd and existential in a kind of comic, alienated way, but we no longer talk about “the theatre of the absurd”. We still have theatre very dominated by the image, but we don’t use the term theatre of images to define it. Theatre and the image is much more defined now by ideas about media and performance. The influence of this 70s direction in theatre has already been absorbed in the performance vocabulary and performance styles.

You also added important ideas to the discussion about interculturalism – ideas included in this new book. Looking back at all cultural interactions in the past decades, why would you say interculturalism was important (especially in the 80s)? In what ways would you say it has shaped contemporary culture?

That is a challenging question. Interculturalism is a term we don’t use as much anymore, as we evolved towards globalization. But at one time interculturalism and the thinking about it was very dominant in American theatre theory, as well as ideas about theatre anthropology. It was more of an awakening to the mixtures of cultures, styles and techniques, philosophies and social processes that were very influential in the theatre, particularly under the impact of the anthropologist Victor Turner and of course Richard Schechner’s writings on performance theory. Richard Schechner is more central to the thinking about interculturalism and performance that anyone else in the US. His interest was very much rooted in Indian techniques and training. Interculturalism had to do with the incorporation of ideas about performance and training, audience and space that came from outside the Western world.

As it originally was elaborated in America intercultural theory had limitations – for example, the lack of fully incorporating Japan in the discussion about interculturalism. Particularly in the visual arts Japan was so close to the American avant-garde in the adoption of minimalism, conceptual art, happenings, Fluxus, and also the impact of Bunraku puppets on so many of artists, such as Peter Sellars, Meredith Monk, Robert Wilson and Anne Bogart. In terms of teaching, training and creating new productions it became natural to look beyond American psychological realism to incorporate much more thinking from outside Western theatrical concepts in order to expand the thinking about theatre. It was also a moment of cultural studies making great inroads into the university, a move away from ethnocentricity, with too much of a focus on Europe; there was also a turn towards the “Third world”. Augusto Boal and his political theatre was also very important, and he still remains so…

In terms of the impact on culture I think this comes more from globalization, but the impact of interculturalism on theatre artists has been significant. But as I said we moved from talking about interculturalism towards a totally globalized world. This makes us think a lot about culture, particularly in terms of local versus global, how work travels, and also about the loss of specificity and cultural identity due in part to the proliferation of international festivals and art fairs – so much of the work around the world now draws from the same springs.

It was argued that interculturalism’s arguments have become reductive and its practices and analysis demand attention to the ethics of exchange and difference and also to relationships of power. Still, you edited together with Gautam Dasgupta a book with this title – Interculturalism and Performance. Writings from PAJ. Is interculturalism a concept still functioning in the post-colonialist, post-global discourse?

The book, which was published in 1991, was an extension of a special issue of PAJ on interculturalism we had published in a few years earlier. It became a foundational text and it is still used in the curriculum. What we did in this book was to make sure we had pieces on music and others that also dealt with dramatic literature. We also had a dialogue with Edward Said, the well-known author of Orientalism, which had such an impact on the appropriation of ideas, styles and the construction of other cultures by the West, the particularly pernicious effect of that on the construction of the Middle East. The amazing thing is that Said was a wonderful pianist and music critic as well and he said in the interview how his musical ideas on polyphony also extended to his thoughts on the mixture of cultural voices. He also spoke about the fact that he no longer believed in having an English Department, a German Department, a Russian Department in the universities, but rather we should have more Comparative Literature departments. He was also an opera lover and some years earlier had written an essay on the premiere of Aida in Egypt, which is a very good model for theatre history.

In Interculturalism and Performance we made sure that many different cultures were represented – American Indian culture, what was called the 4th world, the Samic people from Nordic countries, also Africa, the Ta’siyeh drama of Iran… We really tried to get a mixture of topics that had not been so preeminent in the previous interculturalism writings as well as providing a critique of the term.

In the Romanian edition of your essays we included writings about a couple of figures highly regarded by Romanian theatre – Pirandello and Chekov – as well as about others almost unknown on this stage – like The Wooster Group and Meredith Monk. Why did you choose to write about these personalities, what interested you most in their works/as much as this can be encapsulated in a few words?

If I take Pirandello or Chekov for example, I should say that I have always been interested not only in avant-garde performance but also in dramatic literature. My publishing house – PAJ Publications – is one of the major English-language publishers of plays in translation. Many years ago we published some of Pirandello’s early plays. I don’t like to put avant-garde performance against drama; as a theatre person I am very interested in writing. I have always been interested in Pirandello and I felt that his ideas about performance and reality, and the public versus the private realm, and also his radical ideas that anticipated deconstruction and the post-structuralism theories, where always very attractive to me. Plus there is a character in an early play of his called “Marranca,” so I used this as a starting point for my essay. Pirandello gives the counter-argument to some of the ideas about the social and about the performance of the Self in everyday life that has been put forth in contemporary performance theory and theatre anthropology. I believe that the basic argument in Pirandello concerning the ontological, the whole question of being, is very different from the more anthropological view of the social, which more or less celebrates the performance and ritual elements of the existence of ordinary people. What I was claiming was that Pirandello shows the tragic or negative aspects of constantly wearing masks, playing roles and being influenced by the crowd or by the social group. It’s a question of the ontological versus the social emphasis.

 

With Chekov I did something different in that essay which was to write about him as a gardener and about his philosophy of life, his attachment to nature, the earth, manifest in his love of working with plants. I was also interested in other elements of his work and life, and the way characters speak to each other in the plays, the quality of Chekov’s voice—that is why this essay is based on voices and includes Chekhov’s own letters. I wanted to give another view of him through his stories and his plays that is not a sentimental version of Chekov.

In fact, both essays are experiments in essay form. The Pirandello essay is in titled sections that I wrote separately and in no particular order, taking different topics that I wanted to explore, such as Pirandello and photography, or relating a visit I made to Agrigento, in Sicily, to see his local landscape. I spread them on the floor in my living room and put them together in an order that seemed right for the essay. For the Chekov essay I mixed in my comments about Chekov with fragments from letters to him from many of his contemporaries and his own responses, in order to intermingle his own voice with mine.

With Meredith Monk I have a long association looking at her work and writing about it. She is a phenomenal artist, a director, a composer, a singer, she creates movement for her pieces, she is a filmmaker. I wrote about her work because I am interested in artists with kind of an ecological perspective, in that their work can take place in different ecological climates. So I have written about several of her pieces, as her vocabulary, her deep spirituality, the ecological aspects, the technical, high level of her work always interested me as someone who is moving in a different direction for today which may signals where work can evolve in the future, especially in a spiritual sense. I think that some of the most interesting creations today move in this direction and it is a kind of a counter-weight to the proliferation of media images in theatre that don’t seem to carry a lot of weight but are there simply because they express contemporary reality in some sense.

An experimental text was also the one about The Wooster Group.

Yes, for that one I created a text built around the concept of the dictionary. I have seen all the company’s works since 1975. I like to devise a different form for each of my essays. Sometimes I do write essays from paragraph to paragraph, but usually I like essays that give me more space – space for arguments, contradictions, for thinking in my writing. What I did with the Wooster Group essay is to go alphabetically through a list of concepts, starting with the idea of the “Anthology” as a guiding principle in the company’s approach: how the cutting up, quoting, redistributing of texts and images from the world archive serves as a  model for the new design of information.

I guess this also reflects my interest in music and in a certain kind of lyricism and poetic writing, as well as an intimate way of writing based on the voice rather than complicated text—the difference between hearing or reading a text. So with Wooster Group I also chose very specific quotes from the actors, designers and other members of the company, rather than only the director Elizabeth LeCompte. I used these quotations and interview excerpts or notes inside my essay, a process that created a dialogue with my own comments. It is constructed out of the notion of polyphony, a panorama of voices that opens up the essay as a landscape. In this form, it allows me to go back and forth and write about different topics in a contrapuntal way, topics such as ecology, spirituality, imagery, religion, medicine, pedagogy.

This kind of writing also mirrors the working process of the group based on collaboration. All the voices are very important in the work of this particular group.

Exactly, this is a good point: it mirrors the sense of the process, the open style of their works and the idea of collectivity and collaboration. What I want to say is that I’ve always more or less adopted for myself the same freedom of experimentation of the artists I wrote about. I took it for granted that I was part of that.

This is a lesson for anyone writing about arts. Can you say more about your writing process?

Talking about my process of writing, I must say it takes me a long time to write an essay, it could be a couple of months even for a short piece; it took me a year to write the essay about Gertrude Stein, almost a year Pirandello. In research I always keep reading and reading the original works – not so much criticism on them – and I also take a lot of notes on lined loose-leaf paper. If, for example, one of my topics is comedy, I’ll put all my notes under this section, if language is another topic I’ll have all my notes on that topic on a single page, with different kinds of notes on dozens of topics. To begin an essay I usually leave my apartment and go to New York University library to have a lot of space around me and a big, big table to see all my notes, and start writing. In the days of the typewriter I used to write first by hand on paper, then rewrite and then type. Now I am writing on the computer but still my notes are hand-written. I write different versions –maybe 9 or 10 versions – and in the end I correct each one on paper too. Actual writing down is still very close to me, very hands-on and there is a direct connection. Finally, an essay is finished when it seems it wants to leave me and to live its own life in the world.

What amazed me about your writings and made me want so much for them to be translated is exactly the fact that they are very creative writings, with an original, unexpected form, proving the art critic can be an artist too. What do you have to say to those who are trying their hand at doing that? What qualifies one to be an art critic/an arts writer today?

You know, it’s very interesting you raise this question. I’ll first go back a couple of decades and say that when I published my first collection of essays in 1984 I called the book Theatrewritings as opposed to, say, Theatre Criticism. And this was something new among theatre critics. By that time I had been already writing seriously for more than 12 years for many different publications, including as I already mentioned, as a critic for the Soho Weekly News, a very interesting downtown arts and culture paper. At that time I looked upon it as writing rather than criticism. By that I meant I took the sense of connecting with literary writers and poetics. I didn’t see it as criticism, I wanted my work to be looked at it in terms of the wider world of writing, so that it could be experimental, it could have this quality of freedom and expression. I thought of it as writing.

Having said that, it’s interesting you raise this question today. I think there is a resurgence of interest in arts criticism right now. There have been a series of recent articles discussing what does it mean to write about books in the age of twitter, blogs, Facebook and Amazon where a lot of writing online is just a form of self expression, not edited, not checked, not saying a lot. Daniel Mendelsohn, one of the best critics writing on performance, literature and opera nowadays has just written a critic’s manifesto on the New Yorker blog mentioning how important the role of the critic for the education of readers is.

There have been also recent memoirs of writers and artists, like myself, who came of age in the 70’s which is probably the last time in New York there was a highly discriminating audience interested in essays about the arts (people who can make fine judgments and values rather than just liking everything). There is the sense that we’ve lost this highly informed audience. And we’ve lost the authority of the critic in an age when anybody can go online and post their opinions. But opinions are not the same as really informed thought. What I see now are voices in magazines and online calling for a return to a more thoughtful, educated point of view, less self-promotional and marketing-driven raves where everyone “likes” a certain book, for example, and no negative comments are allowed.

Is serious, in-depth art criticism still working in this age of new media – blogs, social networks and so on? How do you think is the critic’s profession affected by all the changes in means of communication?

As a publisher I am very concerned about that because what we publish is the physical object of a book. I’ve not yet published e-books because we don’t have a large, commercial audience. PAJ is published in a digital version which is full-colour online and it is mostly read online rather than in print. Some blogs can have a bad impact on the writing of essays. I realize this is the way things are going, and this might be the future, and maybe things will improve, but for now there is too much information and not enough critical thinking. I like understanding differences between things. But I am all for and I really promote different kinds of writing. Going back into the early 80’s I was creating “image-essays”: they were different kinds of fragmentary commentaries with photographs that were designed on the page so that one didn’t read them as conventional pages. They allowed me to experiment with the space of the page, incorporating my new thinking about the text and the image. Now I want to extend this to the web. Personally I think a lot of web pages are so “literary” and people have not created a new language for reading on the web.

Speaking about the future, one of the issues you are interested in the past years is art as a new way of understanding and interacting with the world – intertextual, intercultural and intermedial. In this respect you coined another term – Mediaturgy. Can you say more about that?

Mediaturgy is a concept that I was developing in relation to the turn in the theatre towards so much use of media. It is an extension obviously of the idea of dramaturgy, in the sense of attempting to understand how image functions in a work. Mediaturgy can be a methodology of composition for the artist or a way of understanding work by a critic. But it is more or less connected to work in which media is not used merely as part of a narrative but is embedded in narrative. It is the design of narrative. The work of John Jesurun and also the work of The Builders Association, to take two examples, are using digital technologies to explore “live presence” and “mediated presence” in a performance. This way of working helps to explain the concept of Mediaturgy.

Observing for such a long time the stage at home, you witnessed the street interventions of Living Theatre and Bread and Puppet, Open Theatre the environmental theatre of Performance Group and now you can see how another generation of artists is responding to global crises. How would you say should art respond to historical movements?

It is always difficult to make any prescriptions about what art should do. But it seems that one direction is certainly more site-specific works, more getting out in the streets, working with communities, more public art as well. In the visual arts world we are seeing images projected on buildings, combining video and architecture. In the US several critics have remarked on the turn towards the social. I am not saying all art is political or all art should be political. There are many ways to reflect contemporary reality. In the drama in particular I think that rather than a dramatic literature which deal so much with relationships and psychology – stories that are like television now – I would prefer to see a much more radical turn to a very private, intimate experience that develops a sense of the interior life of dramatic characters to reflect how we live in the contemporary world. That would require a whole new thinking about character and human speech and behavior. I find that very few American plays reflect contemporary reality beyond the superficial acts of everyday life. Visiting Romania, Germany and Poland recently I was struck that so much of the work I saw had to do with the idea of Europe, national identities, minority identities, the history of a particular country, current politics. These seem to be central themes.

And as you said in Timisoara in a debate the artists’ attitude should move from lamentation to imagination…

Yes, I think there is too much mourning and lamentation and replicating crises of a global scale in individual dramas. It’s not a question so much of reflecting reality in its precise terms but the use of the imagination to reflect reality, but in a more subtle way. Someone like Witkiewicz wrote highly imaginative theatreworks and yet he dealt so much at the same time with totalitarianism before WWII. Someone like the contemporary Alfredo Jarr treats contemporary subjects with a sophisticated art vocabulary, such as his minimalist anti-war piece on the Rwando genocide. So we shouldn’t have only direct political statements, though this might be the case in documentary theatre, but works that can be political and meaningful even in the choice of certain forms. Take, for example, the recent case of the Russian group Pussy Riot: the way that the band members used in their statement the term “so-called” at their trial:  it is sarcasm alluding to the use of the same term against Joseph Brodsky when the Soviet authorities referred to his “so-called poetry”. Using this ready-made language was also very political, because the term “so-called” has a history in being used against people charged with “hooliganism” who are considered subversive.

What I am saying is there are many, many subtle ways to create an artistic vocabulary. In today’s world we are super-saturated by so much imagery and information, that I think there is a turn in the artistic world in wondering: how do we turn away from this overload of images, e-mails; how much do we need to know about everything in the world? There has been an international movement of slow food for some decades now, and I want to think about something that can be called “slow art” – I think about my journal as a slow technology. I am attracted to this philosophy of slowing down, trying to pay more attention to things and people.

 

I believe Robert Wilson was on to that a long time ago with his slowness. In our own time there is the rise of interest in durational performance. I was recently at the presentation given by Marina Abramovic at the Marina Abramovic Institute she is starting in Hudson, New York, 125 miles from New York City, in the Hudson Valley. She spoke a lot about this. Also, Meredith Monk talks about pulling back from all the hyper-information and overload and slowing down to really experience life. Now, maybe this is a generational thing, but if we begin to look around we can find other manifestations. Everything is always there in front of us, it just depends on what everyone is looking at, as Gertrude Stein always said.

Personally, I am very serious about finding ways to be more present, more attentive, which is also what John Cage was doing with his silent pieces. So, now with the centenary of the birth of John Cage, we are again thinking about these things: silence, or being connected to the world, not turning away, not being distracted, but learning how to be more fully present. These things are important for me as a writer and as an editor, because I’ve always been interested in discovering what people are not looking at and then moving in that direction. A journal not only reflects what people are thinking and talking about, but it also should try to lead the way for new ways of understanding. That is why in the 100th issue of PAJ, published at the beginning of 2012, I chose to have as main topics such themes as “Belief” and “Being Contemporary,” and I asked artists to reflect on these topics in this panoramic landscape of 100 voices in the issue.

In the editorial article of the 100th issue of PAJ – a Journal of Performance and Art, there is an image I will not forget: the image of two PhD students talking in a Downtown coffee about a new arts magazine they want to edit. This magazine is PAJ, which you started editing together with your husband at the time, professor Gautam Dasgupta, 35 years ago. What should a critic do – and what he/or she CAN do to help the artists of his/her time find their direction/way/path in terms of innovation, experiment and research? How can his/her voice contribute to the conversation and why is this important?

Arts criticism is very important; sometimes it’s all that remains when the art work disappears. Arts criticism has always been very important to me, it gives me an opportunity to explore how I think about things and how I understand the world. Also, I have found that artists very much appreciate the in-depth writing about their work. But I am not sure about the effect of critics on artists; I believe criticism has more an effect on the audience. But in other subtle ways it may be helpful to the artists as well: a piece of criticism if well written and published enters the curriculum, the history of the form, and it can become an important part of documentation.

One of the main concerns now is for the construction of performance history in the post-war world in New York and the intertwining of different types of art. So, in a way what we have to learn about this past is contained in the writings of serious critics. We’re missing that to some extent today because so much of the criticism only occurs in the theoretical jargon of the academic field and sometimes becomes unreadable. I am more drawn to serious journalistic approaches and forms of independent writing rooted in the art itself, whereas now in the American theatre situation, we have a great deal of writing about theatre that derives from theatre theory rather than from the art. Since scholars now tend not to write monographs and histories of institutions or single volumes on an artist or movement, the absence of such scholarship has created a real problem in terms of trying to construct theatre and performance history.

But isn’t PAJ such a useful map of the past decades with all the articles written about new voices?

Yes, it is. And it is very interesting to see that many people we were covering in our journal in the 70’s are still here and preeminent on the scene. It is amazing how they managed to have long careers without compromising and still doing what they wanted to do. For me, one of the great joys of being an editor has been to see this work of the avant-garde which was ignored by many of the establishment critics, by the university, theatre and galleries and to see how that their work has become the basis of performance history—starting with the work of John Cage and his personal struggle to bring modern ideas to the public. He is now recognized as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, while he started out with the most terrible time trying to get his work heard, along with Merce Cunningham. It is a great source of pleasure to be a part of this history.

With PAJ we always wanted to reflect an erasure of borders between art forms and also never to set one generation against another, as we were all fighting for the same things. I am happy I’ve been able to do this for so many years and I’ve lived to see how it’s all coming together for our 35-year celebration. But I am not standing still. I am starting a new series of small-size books, called Performance Ideas, recognizing the total erasure of borders between art forms. Also, this year we moved towards having podcasts and more video and audio on the PAJ website to reach new audiences in the 112 countries with subscribers to the journal; and we have lots of plans for a special focus on the Middle East in PAJ, and on the current directions in new music and opera, dance and text, text and visual arts, and so on. PAJ is really my life work and it’s connected with teaching and writing, so I am very thankful to have a voice in the making of performance culture in New York.

And as we speak, in the next issue of PAJ the first Romanian play will be published.

Yes, I am very glad we are publishing Bogdan Georgescu’s play ROGVAIV, which I saw in Timisoara as a member of the jury for the new Romanian drama festival. I was really thrilled to see so many productions and to meet Romanian theatre people. I am coming to Europe very often but I’ve never had the opportunity to come to Romania until now. Since over the decades in the journal and in our book division PAJ has published so many plays from the post-communist world when I came back home I thought about the plays we will publish next – we always have a play in each issue – and I chose to publish Bogdan’s play because it is relevant for our international audience and in particular to American readers. It will come out in US in January 2013 and I hope it will also reach a large international audience via our website.

What else did you discover about Romanian theatre while in Timisoara?

I discovered that many of the problems and concerns are the same in the American theatre or theatre elsewhere in Europe. In fact, there are two theatre cultures existing in many countries now: we have a more establishment theatre connected in America to the regional theatre system and to Broadway and off-Broadway, while in Romania and Europe the state and national theatres represent established institutions. These theatres promote classics and a certain kind of acting training and institutionalized principles about how the space is used, what a play is, how long a performance should be and so on. And then, we have another culture, which has proliferated since the 60’s in the West and was part of the subcultures in the communist world, now flourishing among the young people who want to break away from the old system. People have new ideas about the actor and the use of text in the so-called postdramatic theatre, and they have different needs in terms of space, acting, directing and text and media. This is very problematic: there is a certain audience who wants a new kind of work and another audience who wants the same old familiar traditions of state theatres. The same situation exists here, in New York; there are many people who never go to the experimental theatre and many who don’t go from that theatre to Broadway. Theatre is a very conservative form. The same is true for the music audiences, though not for visual art or dance.

It remains to be seen what will happen with performance, which is now recognized as an organizing principles of the 20th century and one of the major art forms of our time. Certainly the art world has moved towards performance, but a long history of theatre and theatre theory has shown that theatre was very resistant especially in political cultures confronted with censorship. Because of this live connection with the audience and because of the nature of the allegorical bodies on stage, theatre has always been a type of dangerous, subversive form.

But the coming together in these past decades of dance, video art, sculpture, theatre and installation is inescapable now, and this is the future of any type of progressive thinking about performance. It will come to countries all over Europe, but it’s up to each new generation to create new institutions, new critics and new ways of working. And they must do it on their own, it’s their obligation. It’s very difficult but this is what happened in the American theatre too. Creative people will always find a way to bring their voice to the culture.

And in the end, I want to ask you two questions you asked Susan Sontag in an interview in 1977:What do you expect for when you go to theatre?And: What should artists do now?

I have to say that even though I love all the arts and I can go to dance one night, to a gallery another night and so on, when I go to theatre I don’t want necessarily to be entertained. I want to go to see a high level of thinking about the art, about theatre itself, and also I want to see a certain type of virtuosity. I realize in some performances there is a very studied kind of amateur acting and I am open to different styles of performance, but I don’t want to see a reflection on the level of magazine writing or television. I would prefer to have a real experience, something inspirational, philosophically meaningful, or a work of beauty, or something very dangerous and dark. I want an experience that may not be very accessible; maybe it’s mysterious, difficult. I want to come out feeling that I spent my time in a meaningful way even if I am not able to say what the meaning is. I want theatre to be something different from everyday life, so I am not very interested in pieces simply reflecting reality or crises that we all know about by reading newspapers. I want an alternative kind of thinking and imagination. And I don’t want to watch how the spectators become the actors; I am not so interested in audience participation.

And what should artists do now?

I think artists should fight restrictive cultural policies, I think they should demand more of their audiences, I think they should have a dialogue with intellectuals and with people outside of theatre. They should be true to their values and be more uncompromising and be more resistant to the system and try to find ways to change it. Theatre people need to do this. With regard to the visual arts I would like to see students and younger artists less concerned with careerism and fitting into the art market, and more thoughtful about how can they change its worse aspects. There is a lot of nervousness on the part of students right now about how they’re going to fit in, and have a career. I have always believed that everyone should try to live a life doing as much as possible only what they value and what they think is meaningful and important in life. After all a life work is around 50 years now, so it’s important not to always go along with things and try to fit in, but fight more for your own principles.

I also believe in the search for new forms, there are so many ways in which artists can make a difference! So, I don’t care what kind of art they should make, for me it’s more a question of the values that surround that artistic practice. All of this is a kind of eco-system also, which is connected to a larger cultural system – institutions and the world of criticism and audiences and the universities, and so on. I see it all in a very organic way. That is why I took for myself the freedom to experiment in my writing because I saw myself as part of this dialogue and eco-system.

Which explains the title of the book: Ecologies of Theatre. Thank you for the interview!

New York, 12th of September 2012

photo credit: Andrzej Wirth