The starry sky is the limit – Interview with Zoltán Balázs / 2008

Born in 1977 in Cluj-Napoca, the award-winning actor-director Zoltán Balázs has once again found common ground with the audience: breaking away from the traditional theater, Georg Büchner’s play, Leonce and Lena is a special experience for the spectator. Anyone who has seen the play could say that he could experience a feeling in which the theater as a concept has risen to a more flexible, organic level.

The director and artistic director of the Maladype Company is an interesting and distinctive figure in the “independent acting”; it is true, this sounds a bit ambivalent in his case, because the director’s “vision” which breaks with the traditional dramaturgy constricted in frameworks, floats somewhere indefinitely in the atmosphere of art. I had a conversation with Zoltán Balázs about Leonce and Lena, about choices, dramaturgy, and non-existent boundaries.

- The premiere of Leonce and Lena was on May 9th. What are your feedbacks and experiences?

- For me, the premiere on May 9th was not the real premiere, from the company’s point of view the official premiere will be in Thália in the fall, we just had to hold the performance at Bárka due to our prior contract, so this is the explanation. For many years, there was always a date that determined the performance, but for the last one and a half, two years I’ve decided that no external constraint can overcome work. I want to create a process and if this is a two years’ work then it’s a two years’ work, I don’t care. So this kind of closeness and pushiness of the structure cannot determine me. So I rather considered the performances at Bárka to be public rehearsals, of course in the noble sense of the word. But to answer your question, the spectators are coming back, I’ve seen familiar faces for the fifth time, and that’s a very good thing, in the end, that’s why we do it.

- So then it’s well received by the audience.

- Yes, I think very well.

- And how much are they involved? Are they active?

- Sometimes too much. At first, they might be passive, but they get into it. This changes and this is what’s good about it, that every night the audience is different, and sometimes different scenes appear, so the texture of the piece is always renewed. Our main test is when we will be going to high schools, to young people, to an unknown ground, where are no people from the theater. So it’s going to be very different, more organic, and more elaborate.

- Where did this idea come from? Is this a unique initiative or are we talking about an existing genre?

- I can’t say this, I don’t think that I reinvented the wheel, I’m sure there is something like this, there was a striving. What I believe is that Leonce and Lena does not turn up at different independent companies by accident. There are several reasons for this: one is that the topic is very close to the theater, so you have to be able to formulate the method of working collectively, the coexistence, our relation with the theater and ourselves. And Büchner represents this potential, the theme, and its formulation very strongly in the piece, so we have nothing else to do, but to undertake it. That’s why I have used the piece in a fragmentary way. I did not sell it as a non-unified, well-dressed story, but I've tried to assume the aspect of the scenes itself. Of course, the story is not that complicated, but the emphasis is on the solution.

- Can the same thing, what you’ve done with Leonce and Lena, be done with other pieces?

- There are some, but this is not suitable for all of them. There are pieces you can be sure of, but Pinocchio is not a good example.

- Did you choose from several options? Why did you choose this?

- I knew I wanted to do this. Our company has just been reorganized, college students and an older actor, Zsolt Páll has joined us, and to start the season with new energy and impetus, the company needs to organize its collective taste and thinking on a very strong basis. And this way of acting and the piece is perfectly suited to unite, unify, bring closer and sustain the company in the long run. And besides this, Leonce and Lena, beyond love, which is evident, is about exciting topics.

- Have you been planning to do all the possible variations once, as a sort of a record?

- Absolutely, it's necessary. There’s a marathon planned, so we are doing something in which the audience brings a cold meal and it’s going to last two days. So we start at night, let’s say about 10 o’clock and with breaks, I think we get to the beginning of the first act before dawn, but certainly not to the end, then a little rest in the morning and we start in the afternoon with the end of the first act and we might finish it at dawn the next day. By the way, this is already being prepared at Zsámbék. I'm sure it's interesting for the spectators to consider all the scenes because they are very excited when they are watching one scene to see the second and the third as well. Many would watch all four, but since the story has to go on, there is a sort of selection.

- Let’s talk about props. Bamboo sticks have ingeniously shaped both the objects and internal visions. Where did the idea of using a bamboo stick come from?

- I have a scenic designer, Judit Gombár, with whom I have been working for seven years, and we come up with everything together. I came with something myself, she did too and finally, the whole came together. We do everything together, so I don’t know where the idea came from, what came first, the egg or the chicken. It just simply is, and thank goodness it works well because I didn't want it to be ruined, that one brings in an ashtray, the other one chair the third one a curtain. So there is a single object, which is the bamboo, and through this everything can be made and formulated.

- As a director, you participate in the performances and you inform the audience. Didn't you think about taking a role in the piece?

- No, by no means. Only Woody Allen could do that on film, that he was in and out and he was brilliant in both parts. On one hand, I am sure that the trust of the company would lower If I, like a squirrel, jumped between them, because after a while seriousness would disappear in what I say from the outside. If I do my job inside and out, what are they adjusting to? And I don’t want to perform and at the same time to observe them as a director. As an actor, I did what I had to do, but I never thought of performing in my own company, nor would I, because the two tasks are different. And I want to do this seriously so that there is a process so that I have the insight and I am accountable for that I see.

- Does this piece have a developmental process?

- It has. The starry sky is the limit. Just think about it, you can't figure out what kind of variations come together that night. There are one hundred scenes, and many of them do not appear two or three times, so we have to go over them by ourselves. Conditioning the piece is an important task because if you put together a fifteen-scene performance, you have to constantly maintain that as well, you have to innovate it. Here, the actors have a great internal responsibility, but it’s also my responsibility when we are maintaining the performance.

- How long did you rehearse the piece before the performance?

- For two months. I know it seems like it was half a year, and it could have not been bad at all, but unfortunately, it was only two months, because of the Bárka, which allowed us a state theater type of a rehearsal. Of course, we've been rehearsing at dawn, at night, whenever we could, in the restroom, in the hallway, in the garden, everywhere, but, if I could, I would have been rehearsing it for one year. We've been going through these two months very intensively, and this is the result, thank goodness, from which I can see that the energy of a very concentrated company can be recognized on stage, and I think this is the most important thing.

- The company had moved its inhabitancy from Bárka to Thália, what was the reason?

- We have been at Bárka for three years, and this is a lot of time to be in one place. So if there was no Thália we still would have left. But fortunately, Thália offered this opportunity. An independent company works at a completely different pace than a theater that has a rehearsal from ten to two and six to ten, so the rehearsals are placed within definite bounds. If I want to rehearse at three in the morning, I have to ask for permission, which was acceptable, because they were helping our work. After all let's not forget that we were a very strong profile for Bárka, that they being able to show us was good for them and us as well, because we had an infrastructure behind us. However, we were thinking about how we want to continue. We did not think that we could do it under the same conditions as before, but luckily in Thália we have a separate place, a rehearsing room, studio, we have more elbow room. And more importantly, we have fifteen performances this month while at Bárka we had only six.

- When will be the companies’ new premiere and what will it be?

- On September 27th and 28th in Nitra Bolero will be premiering at the International Festival, which is based on a Ravel musical composition - I don't know what to call it - maybe a movement theater, gesture theater kind of piece that will introduce a new side of the actors. While in Leonce and Lena their physical preparedness was obvious, this will be an improvement of that. I wanted them to work on classical music, which is pretty much missing from the theaters, it is usually left out. I think it's important for an actor to work with classical music as well, I've been using operas in my previous directions, but now let's focus on Ravel. Of course, there will be five Mallarmé poems, so it will be neither dance nor theater, but somewhere in between, a series of etudes. Maybe that's the best I can describe it.

- I've seen you in the Seagulls performance at Bárka. Will you be still performing there?

- No, because I won’t be home for a month, I'll be in France and I think it's unworthy for the theater to wait for me with the Seagull. It is better if someone could replace me from their own company. Besides, my schedule for the next year is unpredictable, on one hand, I have Maladype, which is the most important, I have to direct abroad, and after that I have Faust, so it will be a full schedule, I can't guarantee to agree on two or three occasions.

Zoltán Kristóf,, 2008

Translation by Brigitta Erőss