Tic-Tac-Tucutac-Tiki-Taca-Tuc-Tuc - Interview with actor-director Zoltán Balázs / 2003

I finally decided to call Zoltán Balázs. I rattled off who I am and that I want to interview him.

„Okay -he said- and why are you sad?”

Finally, we’ve talked next to Bárka, in the Amphitheater. He was coming from the rehearsal of the Three Sisters, which of course lasted longer than expected, and he was heading to Szkéné, where his directing, the School for Fools was played that evening by the Gypsy Theatre, Maladype. Before the beginning of School for Fools, you ask the audience to settle down and not to disturb the actors, who are already kneeling on the ground, rumbling right and left, singing in several parts as we enter the playground. Is there some kind of warm-up before the performance, and if so, what does it consist of?

- Of course, it is. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to start a performance, which starts with a strange ceremony, the last supper. Twelve hooded fools are sitting around a translucent table, waiting for the Master to appear. The actors need to create the inner silence so that they can create a mysterious, closed medium from which the personalities can open up during the performance. They need to feel each other, trust each other, and pulse with all their nerves. That’s why after a short warm-up, I tell them over and over again what to pay attention to because the initial state must be created.

- The performance is in three languages: Latin, Gypsy, and Hungarian. Weren’t you afraid the audience wouldn’t understand?

- As strange as it sounds: no! But my environment and the actors who didn't work with me in my previous directing, Jacques, very much so. I think these are well-founded fears since the Hungarian acting is based on verbal groundings. I’m more interested in metacommunicative acting, where actors can’t rely on certain stereotypical gestures, movements, where they have to look for the expressions, that go beyond the meaning of the spoken language. If I fit the music to the word, it’s like the boy is creating his father, not the other way around. It's very important to me that the non-verbal unity of word and music can meet in rhythm, dynamics, and power. But for this, you have to look for the special world of the pieces. Ghelderode is a special writer, it is no coincidence that he is not frequently played in Hungary- we have to rethink this.

- Did the actors understand the text? Did you first make them read it in Hungarian?

- Not half! First, I went through it with them in Hungarian so that they understood exactly what they were saying. But during the reading rehearsals, they were reading it in Latin and Gypsy in parallel with Hungarian. It was important to make it clear to everyone that this was not gibberish, only two completely different but authentic languages. If I had to direct the School for Fools in Hungarian, I would do it very differently, in a different system. Of course, it could have been only in Gypsy, but I came up with the Latin, because I needed the cold musicality and constructed grammar of a dead language represented by a high level of culture, in comparison to which the temperament and liberating music of the Gypsy language is instinct itself. Originally, I wanted to work with one of the ancestors of the Gypsy language in the first scene, and then gradually get, with its modifications, to the Gypsy language spoken today. This didn’t work, it is full of unpronounceable sounds, and it would have been too complicated. I chose Latin instead, which is the same thing.

- Latin and Gypsy also function as some kind of music in the performance. A mutual acquaintance of ours told us that he had typed in your dissertation, and everything got lost. And you were remembering only the conjunctions and the melody...

- Yes, as I mentioned, for me language is a very important individual piece of music. Brook experimented for a long time with creating his language, a kind of “gibberish”, which was later called “orghast”. So basically, no one could understand it and later it turned out that everyone could. I don’t think I’m following Brook’s path, but I’m interested in this kind of acting. Is it possible to speak on stage the way the bushman's do: “catcatcatcatcat” (with a click of the tongue), and the audience would understand it? And not in a way of “oh, such interesting music”, but they would presume the thoughts of the actor as well. These are stations, I don’t know the answer, I will find out in the future if I am right. There is a very deep layer of communication, and this is what I am looking for. The Gypsy theaters’ environment is very suitable for this, but for me, the Hungarian language has the same melody. This is why I directed Mihály Babits’s The second song, where all the lines are written in Hungarian alexandrines. This is a constant introduction to the language... But the unarticulated speech of the mute, the skin, the body, the eye, the wind... they all speak. Once, for example, as a child, my parents left me home with my sister while they went to have fun. We should have slept, but of course, we didn’t, we were waiting for them to come home. Then we heard my father coming with big strides and my mother was running after him: “tuu, tuu, tuu, tuu, clip clop, clip clop, clip clop”. It was music... It has been in my ears ever since. Somehow, I’m looking for this kind of music. Even in the School for Fools.

I feel that the spectators are very reactive to this. Colors, stillness -which is still a continuous movement and the actors have to be present very intensely within this to happen- mean something different to everyone. And each figure is set with very subtle, small shifts at the very beginning so that when the right moment comes, they can split into thirteen parts. There is for example the deaf-mute fool as a knocking beetle, the other is playing with feathers, the twins are arguing with each other, and this is their communication. I don’t believe in classic figure-making. Robert Wilson says that if you have to play an old man, no matter how old are you, it is enough to shake your head for every “a” letter from the text, your hand for every “k” letter, for each “b” letter your foot trembles. This repetitive sequence of movements suddenly begins to live, and you will see an old man in front of you as he is ticcing, shaking his head, having a tremor in his hands, and meanwhile, he says the text in a very accurate way. This is not presenting a character, this is also a transfiguration, but differently. This is very serious acting that requires a very serious concentration.

It is a strange thing, actors hardly get used to it. They feel it is extremely tiring and mechanical. Overall, however, everyone has its place and role in it, and everyone shines individually, although it is a collective work, which is very important to me. As an actor, I miss this, and as a director, I want to make this happen. It’s a great joy when your partner gives you the rhythm in time and you can connect to it.

- You are not a big fan of the Stanislavski method...

- I stick to my childish stupidity, and I don’t know why... I believe in fantasy, in something between Stanislavski and Meyerhold. Did I get scared and I ran away or I ran away and got scared?

I’m interested in the unexpected metamorphosis. I want to break through cause-and-effect boundaries because it is hard to find a more illogical, unpredictable nature than man. Both in terms of behavior and language. That’s why I’ve chosen Ghelderode. He was very impressed by the strange, surreal dream world of Bosch-Bruegel, where for example, Folial, the Master, as a metaphor for dinner is a natural phenomenon. In the same way, the process - in which the Latin question words: Quid? Quo? Quod? Que? Qué? turn into an unarticulated croaking of a council of arguing frogs- becomes a natural transformation of language. Or through the modification of the gypsy word va (yes) an unstoppable flock of angry dogs is born (va, va, woof, woof, woof). Well, this is what I'm interested in!

Japanese theater is my kind of example, where the body, the eye speaks differently, and this communication reveals or covers something completely different. I think real emotions are always visible on the face. For example, you like a guy but you can’t express it, it will be in your eyes, that you are crazy about him, while your body is in control. If they hurt you, and you can’t show it, you shed a tear, but meanwhile, your body stays still, and you will try to say something as if you were okay. In our case, verbality is the strongest means of expression. What and how we say it, it is the way it is. I don’t believe in this. The “trinity” of body, eye, and speech is what is exciting because it has a secret. This is the hardest thing, actors get stuck in it, but I try to get them on this path and there are some, who succeed. For example, Bözse (Erzsébet Soltész) succeeded, although everyone was a little concerned about how to cover her up in a way that the spectator would not suspect at the beginning that she was a woman. I didn’t want to cover her up, I just wanted her to be an interesting mixture of a man, woman, old and young human being. Several actors who have seen the performance told me that they would love to come to my training. Many people crave this, I think mainly because of the community experience, the joy of playing together. They want to be there as the fourteenth member.

- How long have you been rehearsing?

- For two and a half months, including nights.

- That’s a lot.

- Not really, because what the actors did in this amount of time should have been a half-year work. We were rehearsing intensively, I drove them, they didn’t have Christmas, they didn’t have New Year’s Eve, there was nothing. It is very difficult to coordinate actors from thirteen places. Plus, a lot of different people play together, yet if you ask me, this is the main strength of both the performance and the Maladype Gypsy Theatre.

- You have completely rewritten the ending.

- At the end of the piece, Folial says while whipping the disciples, that the essence of art is cruelty. This was the theory of Artaud, but now, saying it out loud, sounds funny. Okay, art is cruel, and so what? There is no freshness in this, no life. For me, cruelty means something different. For me, when the girl finds her father frozen in blood, she decides to give up her virginity, her youth, everything that is herself. She turns herself into her father. She plays this role for years. She makes the greatest sacrifice that a child can make to preserve the image of the God-Father. At the end of the performance, when she asks, “Do you want to know the secret?”, she reveals a double secret. On the one hand, she reveals her identity, that she is a girl, which is aesthetically and in itself a cruel thing, that someone assumes its identity. The other is that the walls fall and the windows become visible, and through the windows, you can see the illuminated Danube: there is the secret, it is gone, it floats on the Danube, just like the secret of all art, and catch it if you can. After that people have a hard time moving. Many said they could watch it for hours.

- The School for Fools has a strong element which is the scenery. Judit Gombár created the set of this and all the other performances. What is your relationship like, how can you work together? You must certainly have very strong and definite things in your head...

- Indeed, but we create the system of the performance together form the start. We move further little by little and discover the essence of the piece through a common mental ping-pong. Just like I do with my playwright, Judit Góczán. It is very important to me to think together with my fellow creators. I could never work by telling my ideas, publish my work and then we will meet again at the play acceptance. I like it if we figure out every moment of a future performance together, but of course, this is not always that simple...

We wanted a closed space for the Fools, so it will be a surprise when it opens, and it turns out that beyond the walls is the real-world that the fools have always wanted. That’s why we designed a concentrated set that works functionally, but at the same time thinks further another space. That’s how the walls were born, and that’s how the actors got on the walls. It can be very difficult to navigate on the steps mounted on the walls, but this adds another dimension to the performance, as the actors perform not only in space but also in-plane. It evokes for me the angelic greeting of a Renaissance painting or the worship of Mary. You see the performance from a completely different perspective. If you have both horizontal and vertical planes, the center can always move. I love the mobile space. Judit is quite brave when it comes to scenery. This is very important to me. It may be something stupid, but if you don’t dare to try, that is cowardice. I don’t have time to be a coward. My life is very short, I hope it will be a little longer than I imagine, but it is still short.

- Why?

- Never mind, I'm a fool. But how it is, and as long as it is, I want to live my dreams with the people who believe in this, in this work process, this line of thoughts, and in me.

- When you start directing something, how much is it already in your head and how much does it evolve during the rehearsals?

- I have it, in inches. I can’t bluff. I can’t even have normal rehearsals. I like to tell during the reading rehearsal where the performance will start and where will it end. I need to know the direction of it, I need to see a great structural system. This is the lonely thing in directing, it is very lonesome. Only you can see it from the beginning to the end. Of course, we try out a million variations. I’m in favor of the rehearsals, but we always have the piles.

- Then you don’t shape your ideas with the actors, they have to submit to them...

- No, this is not true. The actor is a co-creator, but with his imagination. It is always important what they think and what they feel, but if there is no system in which they can think, then there is only sauntering and wobbling on the stage. And then they lean on a door, put their hands in their pockets, slide down the wall and start using clichés. I will not allow this. If the actor is constantly trying to find his place, he becomes more convulsive and sets off towards some lie, but if there is a system in which he can move, he has security, he puts himself at ease. I like to keep everyone on stage from the beginning till the end because they can only go through something If they have a duty there. I'm a mosaic-director. I put the performance together by moments, I don’t let a sentence go on until it sounds the way it should, because if it’s good, then the next one will come almost automatically. If I skim over things to solve them later, it will stay that way and this can’t be undone or recovered. That’s why I finish with the performance at the last moment. For example, in the case of the Fools, the dress rehearsal was the first time we performed from the beginning to the end. Of course, this kills the actors, but it was that time the performance had been ready the way I wanted it to be.

- How would you feel if you were being directed?

- If I have a good director, you can spread me on a slice of bread, but you could do that if it was a bad director as well. As an actor, I come up with a lot of suggestions, I like to try something out in many ways. There's a problem if, after sixty variations, they don’t say that they want the thirty-third one. One does seventy different variations and gets tired and doesn’t feel like it anymore. But if they say that this was good and interesting, let’s move on from that, then I can move on. I desperately need a director, but as an actor, I am never a director, because I know how important it is for me as a director to have my idea come true.

- Could you direct yourself?

- No, I would not be able. You either play or you direct. I’ve only seen one person who could do it: Woody Allen. But only because he made a movie and jumped in and out. It suits him well; he is such a strange personality.

- Do you always watch your performances? Do you make changes along the way?

- Yes, because very little depends on what makes a performance a good performance and what makes the other one less good. Your responsibilities need to be kept awake. There is always a discussion after each performance. They’re not very fond of it..., but I think they find it important now. I don’t believe that after you perform, everything is good, it has been done and you do it again; it softens and it gets worse, it becomes pointless.

- Are you always nervous before the performances?

- It’s always a disaster because I live every moment of it and I get excited about everything. It is terrible, I sweat, unfortunately, it comes with directing, and this is the part I don’t like. I’m already nervous about what will happen during this evening’s performance.

- Are you going to direct the Maladype actors in the future?

- I wasn’t planning to, but they asked me to be their artistic director, so they are trusting me. Maladype is going in the right direction in becoming a company, but this has to be consciously built and maintained.

The next performance, which I will be directing is Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen, which serves that purpose. I would like to talk about the Roma Holocaust because it is not or very rarely mentioned. Maladype has to take one step, and The Kitchen is a very strong company-building piece. They have to pay close attention to each other. It requires very complex acting, just as musically and mathematically accurate as of the Fools. Every glass, plate, teaspoon, pot has a rhythm. I would continue on the path I started with Jacques but it will be a more concrete story with very strong characters.

- You will also direct in Bárka. Will it differ from the Maladype? You know them...

- Yes, I didn’t even want to take it, precisely because I'm an actor there. But in the next season, I will be doing more directing than acting. I will start here with Weöres’s Teomachia, and then I’ll go to Beregszász, I won’t be in the next performance. It does not work that one day I play with my partner, and the next day I give him instructions. I asked to be a guest. I’m not going to be here as an internal member who directs a bit. I will rehearse here as hard as I would do everywhere else. It won’t be like “oh, I know Spulnika”, or “you are so sweet”. I thought about this. But the management saw my performances and felt I would be great for this theatre. We will see if they regret it.

- You are always directing, acting, rushing from place to place, do you have time for other things?

- I have, for the things I want, but..., I don’t know, they are somehow related. I do different things, but each of them is theater-centric thinking, creative process. For me, thinking is a pleasure, it is the same experience as a spiritual or physical trance.

I like to read, to walk, to make love. There is nothing extra in me unfortunately, I have two ears, one nose, and two eyes. I am just like anyone else. The acting is good for me because I don’t have to worry while sitting on a little bench just like a director.

- Aren’t you afraid as an actor?

- Yes, I am very scared, I mean not always, just before a task. Even now, for example, I feel completely untalented as Tuzenbach in the Three Sisters.

- Bérczes said you were really good in it...

- Yeah, I know, others say it too, but that’s not how I feel. I feel it inside what else could be there, or where should I get. I’m such a torturous type, something will come out of it, I hope. I trust the director.

- Have you always been sure that you have something to do with the theatre?

- No. I wanted to be a clown, I ran away with a traveling circus, they brought me back, my family wouldn’t let me. The circus has been very important to me ever since because it has a risk. I try to transfer this risk into the theater. It would be nice if something would be a matter of life or death. This is not a spasm, a terror, but an internal responsibility. I couldn’t think of anything else, once I wanted to be a biology teacher because I was in love with the biology teacher, and I was touching all kinds of snakes, frogs, beetles. I think the biology cabinet was the richest at that time. This was my only non-artistic bypass. I don’t know, that’s how it turned out to be...

Borbála Sebők, Criticai Lapok, 2003

Translation by Brigitta Erőss