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"I want to start a dialogue"
Interview with Árpád Schilling
1st May 2009

Árpád Schilling, the artistic director of Hungarian theatre sensation Krétakör, is among the recipients of the 11th edition of the Europe Prize for New Theatrical Realities. Culture.hu interviewed Schilling in Wroclaw, before the award ceremony.

To what extent is Hungary present on the international theatre scene?

They know about us Hungarians. The productions of the Katona József Theatre are known around the world, performances created by Tamás Ascher, Viktor Bodó, Kornél Mundruczó and Béla Pintér travel frequently throughout Europe and we are known at international forums. Gábor Zsámbéki was a leading official in the theatre union that is awarding me this prize for years. Before me, our Baal performance at the Odeon Theatre in Paris in 2000 opened the door for international recognition.

Where does this prize place you now?

If we look at the list of recipients - Josef Nadj, Anatolij Vasiljev, Thomas Ostermeier and the rest -, then it is quite a high plateau. If it helps us continue our work, then it may even be useful. But I would like to emphasise that this prize is granted in recognition of the joint efforts of a troupe. Of course, it also a great pleasure to me, who established and directed this troupe.

During the professional discussions about your work in Wroclaw, you sharply criticised public life in Hungary, stating that the freedom of speech overrules the right of human dignity. Yet, it is the freedom of speech that allows your performances to go uncensored.

It is one thing to ridicule someone for the way they behave and it is something quite different to wish somebody dead because of their origin (or for any other reason). I think this is evident even for a mildly intelligent person. Let anyone say whatever they want, but when in an actual case we look back and it clearly shows that the person had nothing to say really, they only publicly expressed a basic instinct, then it should make us think. Of course, I am not making a call to amend the constitution; I do not want to restrict the freedom of speech. Those who abuse the power of freedom now will not feel, think and act differently even if they are restricted by law. Coexistence is not a smooth affair in Hungary today. Perhaps, the situation was not much different in the past, either, but I did not live in that age, so it did not disturb me.

You also said that you have increasingly turned your attention from working with the actors to the audience. Does this mean that you are turning your audiences into active citizens of state?

If I have people sit in a dark theatre for two or three hours and have them watch what I think about the world, then my aim is certainly not to shape the community but to address an already existing community. People only like to open up when they feel equal. So when we say that we bear a responsibility to the audience, then we are seeking an opportunity to utilise the mutuality offered by the theatre. I have transcended previously used forms because they were incapable of getting audiences go beyond expressing their opinion. I want to start a dialogue between the theatre and the audience, and if this fails then the responsibility lies on the former.

You have said that your former troupe may once again materialise. On what basis?

Like at the very beginning, when we were thinking together, working together as friends and we did not allow our existential safety to gain priority, but all played for stakes. In hamlet.ws and the Apology of the Escapologist (which Hotel Labor is a part of), direct contact with the viewers is unavoidable, which requires more personal involvement from the actors. In The Seagull, viewers would not interrupt the play to ask what the actor was thinking, but this is possible now. And the actor must be able to make a relevant answer, which involves disassembling the limits of the role, in other words building a link. This is not the kind of challenge that every actor wants but those who like to be involved in these kind of things will certainly find me.

You are saying that this new type of work requires more personal involvement from your actors. Is that not a little anachronistic?

It is not about being anachronistic, but rather a matter of good taste and intelligence, which has always been anachronistic. Exhibitionism without meaning is always distasteful for a real artist but expressing reflected personality is a complicated process and, at the same time, a basic requirement -- where the limits of the latter lie is still an aesthetic and moral problem of the current age. What I can see today is that usually a lot of minor things are proclaimed as uniquely great and the respect for authority is scarily excessive. Hundreds of thousands of fearful people are expecting some kind of divine order from above and if nothing comes then even a loud neighbour will suffice to show the meaning of life. I will not be able to bear responsibility for my words as long as I do not face up to myself. That's what I think about personal involvement and being up-to-date. If I was inspired in my work by loud successes, then I would be directing Three Sisters, for which it is not necessary to make efforts to demonstrate personal involvement.     

By the way, doesn't this type of theatre also make critics' life more difficult?

It depends on what a critic thinks of his or her work. It would also be possible to professionally reflect on this type of theatre if there existed a common professional approach. Various forms of theatre also require various forms of reflection, as far as critics go. But of course I do not expect even a minimum level of professionalism from those everyday people who post their opinions on the internet. To my great surprise, some have written more serious reviews of the Apology of the Escapologist on the Krétakör blog than critics used to do about any of our performances. Perhaps the internet will simply exterminate unprofessional criticism.

What can theatre do in the current crisis period?

It can proclaim that the crisis is not economic but cultural, which expands the problem instead of narrowing it down. The origin of this crisis is not from yesterday, its roots suck the energy from the ground of civilisation. Theatre, if it ventures to think in terms of community forms, has the capacity to help interpret human dignity, freedom, solidarity and hundreds of other notions. The type of theatre invented to entertain Louis XIV should have been put in the museum already in 1789. It is not too late to say even today that we are not out there to entertain the kings but to reflect on ourselves. With unreflected minds, you can do nothing more than fight wars, and it is impossible to live in a democracy at such intellectual level.   
  
March and Picnic with Krétakör

The Apology of the Escapologist project will conclude on May 1 and the troupe will hold a march to celebrate in style. Everyone interested will be welcome in the courtyard of the former headquarters of pawnshop chain BAV at 12 Kinizsi Street at 10 am on May 1. There will be no entrance fee but the organisers ask everyone to bring along something that they want to get rid of. After collecting the objects, the entire crowd will move to a nearby spot and turn a piece of asphalt into a park. There will be a picnic and lunch will be served to those exhausted from their work. Participants are advised to wear long trousers and brimmed caps. Work gloves will be distributed at the site. Blankets and camping chairs should also be brought along for the picnic.