Questions for Alin Neguțoiu and Andrei-Cosmin Stancu
The poem present here in the programme bulletin has this one line: „this performance is an attempt to run away from home.“ We mean that in both a literal and in a figurative sense. We, as young artists, feel dissatisfied with our home country’s cultural aims. We are trying to find spaces that have the potential to flourish our creative impulses instead of barely keeping them afloat. Survival is possible anywhere. Accomplishment is only possible when you make sacrifices. (Think of the young bell-maker in Tarkovsky’s Andrey Rublyev)
The figurative home is a set of values that all humans living in the 21st century are educated by. A conditioning. A zeitgeist. We are attempting to contradict this zeitgeist, to try and deny a small precentage of the influence it has on contemporary living.
Each theatre in the Face to Faith project had a particular lens through which faith was to be investigated. We found that Divadlo Palmovkou’s lens was the one closest to our interests: faith stripped of its home. A deteritorialized church in which we worship new prophets.
Because the Czech Republic has a world famous tradition of multimedia theatre, we thought it best that a performance that features the online world so closely should be proposed to a cultural space that can provide the energy, the artistic and technical know-how for what we were aiming to portray.
We felt that it was incredible in the sense that it is impossible to believe. We felt the pressure of having to turn our ideas into actual physical representations that communicated our view of the world. We felt joy. We felt good to have our endeavours listened to and validated. We felt excited. We felt scared. We felt good.
The original team had a playwright who wrote our very first draft and then co-wrote parts of the following drafts. There have been significant artistic differences. The closer we got to the essence of the performance we were trying to map out, the more different the routes we wanted to take were. In the end we decided that the playwright should leave the team and I should focus on the task of writing out the text.
Significant jumps were made. In terms of structure, the play that is now staged is very different from the initial versions I worked on. In the process of trying to align the structure with Eisenstein’s montage of attraction theory (which was an important tool for both the multimedia scenario and the dramaturgical structure) I have gone from entirely naturalistic pieces to entirely post-dramatic pieces.
Eventually, because love kept showing up in all versions of the text, the decision to try and adapt the most well known love-story started to make sense.
The romeo&juliett2022 staging shows an apparently very thin connection to the original. Shakespeare becomes a simulacra. We don’t see an adaptation where Romeo and Juliet are real in 2022 because almost nothing is real in 2022. Instead, they are characters in a story, in a well-known story. A story that is copied so many times it loses its colour. It becomes a hollow shell. It only maintains its status in the world through its fame. And it is used as a selling point, as a seducing tool exactly for the fact that it has fame.
We encounter actors that play characters that play well-known characters. A simulacra that is eating itself.
The concept is based on the work of a few writers and thinkers of the 20th and 21st century.
David Foster Wallace said that being an atheist is impossible. That we always worship, even if we don’t worship deities. But we can worship vanity, money, beauty, intelligence. The subject that worships never feels they have enough of the worshipped object. The question is what did humanity choose as the object of worship in the 21st century?
Neil Gaiman wrote about the power deities have when invested with faith. The more people believe in a deity, the more powerful it is. So how powerful is the 21st century object of worship?
Jean Baudrillard wrote about simulacras. About copies of copies. Copies without originals. Is our object of worship authentic or is it a copy of a copy? Are our personalities authentic or are they dictated by millions of years of genetic and socio-political coding and advertisements and marketing? What about our online personas then? Are they authentic or are they copies of already conditioned impulses and instincts?
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about hell. Hell is other people. Hell is being interpreted as an object on which other pass judgement and acting according to the others‘ judgement. But that was a century ago. Is hell still other people? Or is hell simulacras? Are we acting authentically or are we acting according to what other simulacras think of our simulacra?
We have chosen the set design to be as immersive as possible. We are all inside a church, a space of worship that is deteritorialized from its normative objects of worship and used as a shrine dedicated to a new belief. The church is a synthesis, we only see the structure of it. The geometry is simple and geometrical. It is devoid of colour. All color comes from the video material.
Inside the church, information surrounds us. There is no possibility of exit. The screens become guards and the structure of the church turns into the structure of a cage.
There are characters who control. Dressed in white to match the space of worship, the space they control.
There are characters who are controlled. They are the stained glass of our contemporary church. They are a collage. Constructions made from bits and pieces that are added together.
The screens have multiple functions: they serve as indicators of the characters interior struggles, they paint metaphors, they serve as tools of manipulation. They can even come to life if necessary.
The translation did not have a significant impact on the staging concept. However, it forced us to admit that humanity is, at least for now, still necessary. The A.I. that worked on the text could not understand the context as thoroughly as a human being would and thus we found ourselves constantly re-examining the context and the language. We had to deconstruct and re-construct the language until it made sense. Sometimes we ended up discovering entire new meanings behind the words and phrases due to the non-human gaze that handled the translation for us.
Overall, the convenience of the translation process gained a terrifying aspect to it. We saw how arbitrary language can become when it is handled by a consciousness that isn’t human.
The words cyberpunk and science-fiction have been used to describe this performance. Although we don’t disagree with the given names, we don’t particularily see it as bearing the most important characteristic of a cyberpunk story: a specific time-frame in humanity’s future. The performance touches topics that are contemporary and, hopefully, also universal enough to transcend the year the title mentions.
In „The Life of the Mind“, Hannah Arendt describes canonical works of art as having the conscience of existing as part of a series. That means works of art and artists that are aware of an existing past and that look towards a possible future. This present, constantly rooted within the tension between the past and the future, is the essence of theatre. Because of its ephemereal nature, theatre is probably the most human art. It is chained down by space and time like a dog. The only way a chained dog can be free is if it is aware of the chain and does not try to break it, but instead chooses to have dignity and not force the chain to hold the dog back.
Thomas Ostermeier quotes Bertolt Brecht to speak of a New Realism, a theatre that is not about „man in his essence, but man in his present“. A theatre which reacts to contemporary times. A reactive theatre that mirrors, comments, contradicts, as opposed to an active theatre which attempts to impose, to change, to dictate.
Hamlet directs a play that mirrors an already existent reality in order to get Claudius to recognise himself and re-think his past behaviour. The play is called „The Mouse Trap“.
Our vision of theatre can be found, still gestating, at the junction of these examples.
Although they are in utter oposition, the works of Jan Fabre and Thomas Ostermeier are the biggest influences I feel from the theatre world. Two major works to which I constantly return for study and inspiration are Fabre’s „The Power of the Theatrical Madness“ and Ostermeier’s „Hamlet“.
Another significant influence is the Dead Center theater company and the manner in which they can not only reinterpret classic work but also devise new one, blending humor, philosophy and very powerful theatricality in their work.
Because there isn’t enough space to list all of my influences I will also list other (but definitely not less significant) artists that had or have an important impact on the way I view my work and life in general: Roberto Bolano, David Foser Wallace, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Mikhajlowich Dostoyevsky, David Wojnarowicz, Don Delillo, Toni Morrison, Kathy Acker, Virginia Woolf, Milan Kundera, Ocean Vuong, Forced Entertainment, Raul Coldea, Adrian Iclenzan, Thomas Bernhard, Jean Cocteau, Kobo Abe, Sarah Kane, Sergei Eisenstein, Eugenio Barba, John Cage, Wim Mertens, Death Grips, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakira, Run the Jewels, Glenn Gould.
As far as ideas go, the most important aesthetics I align myself with are postdramatic theatre and epic theatre. They are both two paradigms of theatre that I believe are in tune with present times and can together form a contemporary theatre language that speaks to an audience that is always torn between Netflix, cable television, YouTube, advertisements and films.
Minimalism is the most important art form that influences my work. Within minimalism I feel most attracted to the „Light and Space“ movement artists James Turrell, Robert Irwin and Larry Bell. The movement focuses on the relationship between humans, space and light. This influence is especially tied to my predilection to immersive spaces.
Actors are creators. They are artists. They are not only messengers, but interpreters and translators of our ideas. They are the essence of the stage. When working with actors I believe the most important aspect is describing and then discovering all the nuances every scene offers.
The role of the actors in our concept is not any different than the role that actors have in any theatrical staging. Perhaps the only addition is the fact that their humanity is in direct contrast to the screens‘ indifference.
Anything can gain the status of the deity when invested with faith. In the 21st century, where God has become a mere shell and humanity is left with the energy to believe but no object to invest said energy with, we are left pointlessly believeing in anything that seems to give us a compass or a bit of comfort. But if faith means removing skepticism from a narrative, what is there to make of the narratives that dictate our day to day life if we don’t question their validity? What is there to make of the alternate reality we created and began confusing it with actual reality?
Perhaps mentioning most contemporary dangers (lack of depth, consumerism, post-truth, climate change, increased isolation disguised as communication, war, pandemic) is futile; hopefully we are all already battling them in our own ways.
One challenge that I think is overlooked is that our online presence has turned our entire life into a panopticon. A prison in which guards are not necessary because we choose to openly show every single one of our activities, falsely believeing others are interested in watching them. It has gotten to a point where everyone is so busy posting that does not realize that others are also too busy posting to actually engage with what we post.
Experience has lost its impact and value because it is doubled by our constant need to represent it to others. We post our travels, our wins and losses, our love-life, our bodies, our thoughts (which are hardly ever original or interesting) and actions. We choose to leave out the boring and not sexy parts of life. We believe the other lives we pretend to see are as interesting as claimed so that others believe our lives are as interesting as claimed. It is as if we feel obligated to prove we are living life instead of actually living it.
Loneliness is probably inherent to our condition as human beings. It’s birth is synonymous to the birth of humanity. So the cause isn’t new, but that which deepens and multiplies it is. Technology has made it so that the illusion of us always being surrounded by someone or something is almost entirely believable. Almost every human space is riddled with images and sounds that prevent us from actively thinking. Try to spend ten minutes in a room where nothing happens and no screen is turned on and no music is playing. You start to hear your thoughts. What happens when we don’t like what we hear?
As far as solutions go, we think it’s dangerous to be prescriptive. The human battle with loneliness is still on-going. But perhaps it doesn’t have to be a battle. Andrey Tarkovsky advises young people to try to be on their own as much as possible. To try to turn their loneliness into solitude. Maybe that’s the solution. Sublimation.
Any answer to this question can breed doubt. Although hope seems very far away or even inexistent if one tries to consciously take a look outside, hope is by definition found in potential. And humanity still has potential because humanity still has choice. Hope is there because our capacity to decide is still there.
History is filled with changes that terrified our species. We did manage to survive all terrifying changes. Although change takes places incredibely fast in today’s times, we have no choice but to try and still believe humanity is intelligent enough to face and control life’s indifference and our self-imposed sabotage. A future exists. The question is if that future will still hold the idea of better possibility?
Metaverse is an attempt to play God. It is an attempt made by a person and a company that has proven time and time again that they should not have power or trust from the people that use their services. It is a cowardly attempt at constructing a „better“ universe, one that is easier to control and maintain. But before creating a better universe we should first look at the one we already inhabit and ask ourselves if it is okay to leave it behind in the state that we brought it to.
The act of believeing and its result, faith, can materialize separately from religion and that is the most interesting aspect of the Face to Faith research project. Humans need to ascribe themelves to a narrative that transcends the human condition, to something bigger than ourselves. This need and the capacity that stems from it are both an excellent tool and a horrible leash. We think that being able to have a cold, detatched look at what faith can be is essential to avoiding tragedies from our history or avoiding new ones.
The only main obstacle we found working at Divadlo pod Palmovkou has been the language barrier that can, at times, become frustrating.
Aside from that, it is a space filled with nothing but joyful, professional and talented individuals that make working in theatre an absolute pleasure.
Our experience at Divadlo pod Palmovkou can hardly be a generalisation about working in the Czech Republic. The main differences we can discern, however, between working at Divadlo pod Palmovkou and our previous experience in Romania would first of all be how professional everyone (technical crew, management, artists…etc) is.
What’s more, we have noticed a larger production team than Romanian theatres usually have.
The most important difference must be being able to rehearse with dramaturgs present. Every decision becomes analyzed more thoroughly and with greater care and devotion to semiotics. Having extra pairs of eyes that accompany you in a rehearsal process is extremely valuable.
Although we are planning a few projects back in Romania (a performance about the Romanian-Hungarian town of Târgu-Mureș; a performance inspired by the Romanian author Mihail Săulescu; a performance based on a play entitled „Revolt, she said, Revolt Again“ by Alice Birch) we are trying to find other opportunities to work abroad, outside our country of origin.