As Marek Kedzierski plans another multidisciplinary and international celebration of Beckett, the Samuel Beckett Society asked him about his hugely ambitious and successful 2017 fail.better:beckett@111, and to find out what he has in mind for his new venture.
Marek Kedzierski is a writer, critic, translator and theatre director with a with a particular critical interest in a variety of major figures in 20thcentury art and literature such as Thomas Bernhard, Alberto Giacometti, Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois, Harold Pinter, Robert Pinget, and David Mamet, as well as Samuel Beckett. Among other works, he has translated Watt, Malone Dies and The Unnamable as well as a selection of Beckett’s plays into Polish and staged various of these productions, including Endgame and Happy Days.
After meeting Beckett in 1981, he maintained contact with him throughout the 1980s and was invited by him to attend his rehearsals and co-adapt the text of Company for radio. Kedzierski describes his meetings with Beckett in his text Brushes, the first part of which was published in Beckett in Conversation, “yet again” (A. Moorjani, D de Ruyter, S. Houppermans eds.) Brill Rodopi 2017.
He subsequently befriended Barbara Bray, the BBC radio producer, critic and translator who had played a major role in Beckett’s intellectual and private life. Kedzierski helped Bray write a personal memoir of Beckett, unfinished due to her passing in 2010. Kedzierski’s conversations with Bray, recorded from 2003-2009, have been translated into several languages, though they still remain unpublished in the original English. In 2013, Kedzierski, together with the Paris-based photographer/film maker Piotr Dzumala produced a 50 min. documentary on Barbara Bray, Rue Samuel Beckett, first shown in 2013 at the Happy Days International Festival, Enniskillen.
He has organized and co-organized several festivals in Europe and coordinated various productions around Beckett which put together plays, readings and adaptations of prose works. Theatre festivals include: journées beckett in Strasbourg 1996, Beckett in Berlin 2000 at Akademie der Künste and Hebbel-Theater, ”transpositions” in Cracow 2002 and 2006 at Villa Decius and Laznia Nowa Theatre, Beckett in Zurich at Zürcher Schauspielhaus 2006 as well as fail better: Beckett@111 in 2017 in Freiburg, Germany and Trondheim, Norway.
As a theatre director, he has staged productions of works by Beckett, Bernhard, Pinget, Gombrowicz and Borges, in Poland, Germany, the U.S.A., France and Sweden.
He lives in Freiburg and Paris/Nice.
Feargal Whelan: Marek, you mounted a wide-ranging and multidisciplinary festival which coincided with the 111thanniversary of Beckett’s birth, fail.better:beckett@111. Can you describe how that came about?
Marek Kedzierski: When, in April 2016, we set the dates for the future festival, one thing seemed clear: that there would be little, if any, competition, and that we would probably be the only three theatres world-wide to celebrate Samuel Beckett’s odd anniversary in 2017, his hundred and eleventh. The only event, despite the unique occasion, given the beauty and the perfection of the number. Three digits, thrice the Beckettian figure ONE. And our goal was to marry the trio of the arts: music, drama-theatre and visuals. Ménage à trois. No coincidence. Where none intended.
Moreover, the future festival was to have a tripartite organisational structure as it was to be held in three countries. After its inauguration in March in Freiburg, Germany, it was to be presented in May in a slightly modified, smaller format in Trondheim, Norway, then travel to Cracow, Poland in late 2017.
We were a group of Beckett aficionadosin Freiburg, including Raimund Schall and his Theater Zerberus, who took on the organisational burden, with myself in charge of the programming.
I had dabbled in Beckett festivals a number of times, beginning in 1996, in France, with journées beckett in Strasbourg (and later also, on a smaller scale, in Paris in 2008: Quelques mots sur le silence, which I mention because of Barbara Bray’s participation, her last appearance in public), Germany (Beckett in Berlin 2000), Poland (Cracow’s transpositionsfestivals 2002, 2006), Switzerland (Lange Nacht zum Becketts 100. Geburtstag am Zürcher Schauspielhaus2006), Sweden (at Helsingborg’s Statsteatern 2009 where I escorted Rick Cluchey) and the US, for the centenary in Atlanta in 2006. While those events featured, for the most part, guest performances with stalwart players of notoriety such as Martin Wuttke (Berliner Ensemble), Serge Merlin (L’Odéon), Giulia Lazzarini (Piccolo Teatro di Milano) or Rick Cluchey (San Quentin Drama Workshop), the idea for 2017 was, instead of a panorama of recent major productions, to have a festival of openings, with an accent on new productions or works created specifically for the occasion.
As to the readers’ and audience’s attitude towards Beckett, a quarter of a century after his death, his work has securely passed the test of time and been proven to remain one of the pillars of post-WW2 literature and theatre. On the other hand, while it is no longer at risk of falling into oblivion, precisely because of this status, there is a danger of it becoming confined to the museum of drama, of being reduced to stand for his own epoch only.
Since the Strasbourg festival twenty years before, the situation had changed. As to the readers’ and audience’s attitude towards Beckett, a quarter of a century after his death, his work has securely passed the test of time and been proven to remain one of the pillars of post-WW2 literature and theatre. On the other hand, while it is no longer at risk of falling into oblivion, precisely because of this status, there is a danger of it becoming confined to the museum of drama, of being reduced to stand for his own epoch only. If it is to continue to be perceived as something which addresses the issues and the concerns of the present time, it would have to be proven in action.
FW: We have seen a growth in Beckett festivals in recent years which, some of which are defined by the location in which they take place. In your case, the focus seems to be primarily on specific aspects of the work. How would you describe your particular vision for the festival?
MK: Beckett attracts new generations by his message and his form. As to the message, it has to do with what Peter Brook calls “the honest vision” of the world, a set of statements on the human condition, explicitly uttered or implied in his work. The human condition remains – roughly – unchanged; however, certain artists through their works, hit the nerve of time, not only in their epoch but also hundreds of years thereafter. Authors like Shakespeare secrete models which catch on because, as Barbara Bray has put it, they pluck at the heartstrings of people. If it is Beckett’s honest vision which plucks at our heartstrings, then it happens because of the form in which he addressed the “issueless predicament of existence”.
As to the form, curiously, it becomes increasingly evident that there are points of convergence between the Beckettian poetics of harmony in disharmony (which he employs, out of his conscious philosophical conviction, not necessarily to the same aims) and the development in the syncretic theatre of the continental innovators Castellucci, Ostermaier, Warlikowski and such likes. I particularly mean a widening of the theatrical perspective to include a variety of sister disciplines, and the use of electronically-generated and reproduced image and sound, something with which Beckett experimented well ahead of his time. From this point of view, Beckett’s work better fits into the current performance aesthetics than it did during his lifetime. Since the 1980’s, the language of the theatre has been greatly diversified and has opened itself to the technical inventions of the digital age and to all that has come with it, the change in the audience’s mentality, sensibility and habits. It has become more syncretic and multi-layered. As to its appeal, also emotional appeal, it heralds the kind of uncertainty and fragility which differs greatly from the 1950’s. Beckett’s late work, in particular, convincingly rhymes with the present: if not its trends, then its tendencies.
The major established houses in the guise of London’s Royal Court or National Theatre, Paris’ La Colline or L’Odéon, Berliner Ensemble or Vienna’s Burgtheater do stage his major four (Godot, Endgame, Krapp’s Last Tape and Happy Days), at times with spectacular success. Rarely anything beyond. In my view, however, it is the late work which needs to be re-discovered and to re-establish itself. Especially that it is in them that Beckett’s theatrical vision crystallized in terms made possible by his practical involvement in staging. It was only after Endgame that the playwright could systematically incorporate into his texts his own experience from the production process. After working with Billie Whitelaw on Not I, for example, he stopped insisting on the presence of the figure of the Listener on stage. And the experience with Whitelaw greatly deepened his awareness of the complexity of the actress’s task.
It was only in the digital age that many of Beckett’s ideas and choices became do-able without unduly straining the actors or demanding the impossible from the technicians. I remember observing his directing Was Wo (What Where) at the TV studios in Stuttgart in 1985. He sat patiently waiting for hours while the technicians meticulously tried to correct the image on the screen to soften the sharp images. At present, such things can be swiftly accomplished by digital means in a routine way.
Since his radio plays in the late 50’s and TV productions in the 70’s, his texts for performance suggested a kind of collage, the juxtaposing of music and image with performing. To show it in action became my goal in programming the festival.
FW: I believe you organized two smaller events which helped with the formation of fail.better:beckett@111?
MK: Before preparations for the large-scale festival, I had been toying with the idea of a two-day event principally focused on the theme of Beckett and music, something in the guise of my evening Wäre ich der Steinway (If I were a Steinway), dedicated to the musical affinities of Thomas Bernhard. It opened in 2014 in Mainz, Germany as one of the Südwestrundfunk broadcasting company’s series “neue musik”. It involved a performed presentation (more than a reading) of the Austrian writer’s text The Loserby actor Marin Schwab (Burgtheater Vienna), interlaced and interspaced with performances of Bach, Maurizio Kagel and two new pieces by Kirsten Reese of Berlin and Alwynne Pritchard, a British composer living in Bergen, commissioned for the occasion – all played by pianist and piano “activist” Klaus Steffes-Holländer. Pritchard’s work could best be described as syncretic form which combines instrumental playing with bodily activism on the part of the instrumentalists, physical performance and audio-visual effects. A kind of staged music as a hybrid form.
After Thomas Bernhard, I wanted to pursue the musical path with Beckett in whose work music undoubtedly plays as important role as for Bernhard and who has inspired even more distinguished composers such as Luciano Berio, György Kurtág, Morton Feldman, Philip Glass, Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, Heinz Holliger, Hans Zender, Pascal Dusapin and Georges Aperghis, to mention just a few. A prototype of Beckett@111, modelled on Wäre ich der Steinway, called Words and Music, was planned to juxtapose theatre and music, the latter represented by new works and “classics” of the above-mentioned composers. I thought of winning Aphergis for the project; a little too late, it turned out, as he had just put on his new Beckett piece for Strasbourg’s Musica festival in 2014. So, beside Pritchard, I asked Equadorian-born composer Mesias Maiguashca, whose opera based on J.L. Borges’ story The Cell I had previously directed at the Warsaw Autumn New Music Festival. So, the nucleus of Words and Music was created, with three works by Pritchard and Maiguashca to be written and presented at the venues in Freiburg where he taught and composed, and in Norway, not in Bergen but in the romantically septentrional city of Trondheim, home of the musicians who would first perform Pritchard’s work at the Teaterhuset AvantGarden there.
When I was about to draft the rough programme for the theatre & performance part of this small-scale festival in Freiburg and Trondheim, I became acquainted with Raimund Schall’s Theater Zerberus and first met the new head of E-Werk. Jürgen Eick assumed the management of the venue in 2015 and was in the process of preparing the first season of his own programme. He happened to be a Beckett admirer and offered us the venue for an entire fortnight in March 2017.
FW: Did you have specific goals in mind for how the work might be received at the overall festival?
MK: We wanted to show the validity of his oeuvre for present-day audiences, but not in a simplifying, journalistic way. We wanted to convince especially younger viewers that his way of perceiving the world applies also to the here and now. We wanted to present his texts multilingually and let it resound in several languages. And last but not least, we wanted to emphasize Beckett’s importance by presenting new works which show the impact of his inspiration on contemporary writers, directors, artists, musicians and intellectuals.
Our goals were summed up as follows:
The quest. Instead of a museum-style commemoration based on established models, we proposed an exploration which sets free energies and brings Beckett close to today’s sensitivity, even at a certain risk.
The educational aspect. To teach and learn, privileging the experiment. Not one-way communication but searching together.
Translingual and cross-cultural, going beyond compartmentalization. Aiming to transcend the fixed schemata of national tradition, language, genre, medium etc. To demonstrate how his work, while remaining “roughly” the same, varies from language to language, from genre to genre, from written page to stage to screen, from music to the visual arts to word, from radio to TV/video/acoustics.
Echoes. To juxtapose Beckett’s own works in one breath with those inspired by him.
With such an agenda in mind, in March 2016, we embarked on establishing a list of participants and a more detailed programme. Most events planned belonged to one of the three main categories: Beckett-inspired music, theatrical productions presenting his texts, and accompanying events. The latter, in co-operation with Freiburg’s Literaturbüro and the Kommunales Kino, comprised a photo exhibit, a video installation, and an “academic” contribution with discussions and filmed materials. For the musical part we commissioned two piano trios by Pritchard and Maiguashca and electronically reproduced music with video by the latter. The theatrical part, apart from three versions of Not I, in German, Italian and English, included a new production of Catastrophe in German and what we entitled “Come and Go variations”, a threesome presentation of Beckett’s shortest drama (not counting Breath), conceived as a kind of workshop with three actresses, from Germany, Jamaica and Poland, each directing the other two, and acting together with them, in her own language and according to her own concept. In this way, here too, as in the three Not I’s, the differences in acting styles would necessarily come to the fore. Not to mention the differences in sonority of each language, something that I was particularly interested in demonstrating in and by the festival, as it evidences to what degree the “materiality” of the physical act of speaking acts on our nerves and becomes a veritable “speech act” on the audiences’ perception, and thereby opens the door of perception for the audience of which they usually remain unaware.
The original contribution to the Freiburg evening, not written by Beckett but inspired by him, was a brain child of Theater Zerberus’ founder Schall, together with his long-standing collaborator Joe Killi, a musician, video artist and philosopher and the Brooklyn-born Muneer Fennell, a black jazzman, a “Thelonius Monk of the cello”, dancer, and martial arts master. My suggestion to title this part Cabaret métaphisique was accepted with the spelling modified by Killi, Cabarett Métaphysik, in keeping with his Dada inspiration. The show combined dance, pantomime, recitation, instrumental music, audio collages live and recorded, video sequences and, last but not least, the participation of the whole group of martial art performers. All was organized around the theme of falling and falling down, the basic concern of most of Beckettian personages both in prose and drama, which, of necessity, involves other body positions: as Mouth from Not I states: “standing, sitting, kneeling, lying” as well as many others. The sound and visual components were juxtaposed with another of Beckett’s ultimate subjects, that of the words, which, spoken, written, typed, projected by beamers, resounded in the audience’s eyes, ears and souls. I encouraged the idea, well aware of the importance of the basic body positions and thinking of Bruce Nauman’s well-documented exploits, or the more recent work of Antony Gormley.
FW: Can you tell us about the final programme and how the performances went?
MK: By November 2016 our programming had been adjusted a few times, principally due to scheduling difficulties. It turned out that the work on the Polish chapter was not to begin before September. Nonetheless, Szczesniak was on the team, and I had fruitful discussions with her about the set for the white Catastropheand, above all, on how to structure the space of E-Werk for the whole festival. Meanwhile in Norway, Pritchard began to work on a new composition and rehearsed with the musicians from Trondheim. In Freiburg, we scheduled rehearsals for Catastrophe in January and, above all, started developing Cabarett. We named the Freiburg contribution Fail Better: Catastrophe, Cabarett Métaphysik and Not I, the German version. Its dress rehearsals and its premiere were scheduled during the first week of the festival. The other productions of Not I, in Italian and in English were to be presented the following week. The English version was a guest performance of Brenda Bunyum’s staging at Emory University in Atlanta with Park Krausen. The Italian Not I was to be my new production with Silvia Costa. I simultaneously rehearsed my new productions, the version with Silvia in Italian and the one with the Swiss-born Fabienne Trüssel in German, partly on Skype or via FaceTime.
On Monday, 28th February, we were given two sets of keys which open all doors in E-Werk and the construction of the venue according to Szczesniak’s and my design started immediately. Two very intense at the Freiburg venue followed. Tuesday evening the set was practically ready for the first dress rehearsal of Fail Better. The black curtains covering the walls had been removed from the main part of the main performing space, the mirror-audience had been set up with white wall above it, which was actually a giant screen onto which videos and images were to be projected from both sides. Behind it extended, some seven meters deep, the space we created for the two Not I’s, a rectangular area the width and height of the main stage, a room capable of accommodating 80 persons who were to stand during the performance. The black curtains were not removed; behind one of which a scaffolding was placed, 2,50 m high with a platform for the actress(es) to stand and a banister for them to feel safe while performing the play in total darkness. As to the lighting of the Mouth, rather than an external spotlight, we chose a “light machine”, a device mounted on the head with a flexible tube attached to it which ended with a single LED bulb projecting a concentrated pool of light directly at the mouth. The audience were instructed to enter the room and wait unawares of what expects them, above all from which side the performance will take place, only to be surprised when suddenly the lights go out on forceful whisper and the actress, who a few seconds later would move aside a corner of the curtain by herself in order to show the Mouth.
Yet another space was created by removing curtains hiding the underside of the audience tribune. A typical scaffolding to support the rising, it formed a veritable jungle of metal pipes, assembled in rather bizarre patterns, and was to become the venue of a video installation and the stage for the readings.
By the time E-Werk’s technical staff were about to finish setting up the space, I was taking our Italian Mouth, Silvia Costa, back to Freiburg’s central railway station, to bid her farewell. Having had been engaged to work in Munich with Romeo Castellucci during our festival, she came from Venice just for two days to rehearse and video-record Non io. The filming took place in another part of the building, the so-called Kammertheater (chamber theater stage). We produced several versions, trying out different shades of black and white make-up for her face. All attempts were filmed in single takes and later compared. It seemed that the best by far were those in white. The decision to present Non io in white on the huge screen immediately after Fabienne Trüssel was to deliver her text on the black set in black, came almost as self-evident. Simon Brossi, the young cameraman who did the video recording, had a week to edit the material and to position the image of the red lips on the video frame in accordance with their movement and to extend the mask to the edges of the screen.
The Saturday premiere of the German contribution and the vernissage of Turkish-Swedish renowned photographer Lütfi Özkök’s small exhibit of Beckett’s portraits, entitled Minnesbilderna (The Images of Memory), officially opened the festival. The guest artists hadn’t started arriving until the following Tuesday. Meanwhile, at the Kommunales Kino cinema, my 50-min. documentary on Barbara Bray, Rue Samuel Beckett, produced for the Happy Days Beckett Festival in Enniskillen 2013, was shown, its first screening in Germany, followed by a discussion, in presence of film co-author Piotr Dzumala and NotIactress Park Krausen, who had known Barbara Bray.
On Tuesday, the musicians moved in to prepare Wednesday’s music marathon: Maiguashca and Pritchard with two piano trios from Trondheim (Alpaca Ensemble) and Freiburg (Monstein Trio) performing the commissioned works as well as their other related compositions: Maiguashca’s Lindgren for one cello and the tape, Pritchard’s performative short Vitality Forms and an hour-long Hospice Lazy. All in all, five hours of avant-garde music, including the aforementioned performative activism.
Thursday’s programme at E-Werk began in the bowels of the audience tribune with the vernissage of The Eyes, an installation in the dark on screens using three beamers positioned among the metal pipes projecting greenish images by Karl Dunér of Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre and his collaborator Tomas Boman, inspired by the end scene of Beckett’s Film. It was also an hommage to Rick Cluchey, who lent his voice to the reading of Beckett’s last text what is the word (I taped it with Cluchey in Helsingborg back in 2010) from which excerpts were taken. Afterwards, the E-Werk main stage was given to Academia. Dr Mark Nixon (The Beckett International Foundation’s president and Associate Professor at the University of Reading) delivered in English his very informative lecture on Beckett and Germany and discussed in his impeccable German with the audience and Katharina Knüppel who moderated the meeting on behalf of Literaturbüro Freiburg. Later that evening, Walter D. Asmus, Professor Emeritus of Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hanover, Beckett’s long-time assistant and collaborator who was the Festival’s Special Guest, presented a perceptively weighted lecture combined with a sensitive personal testimony, and subsequent talk with me, moderated by Fabienne Trüssel. The audience listened to both parts of this quiet evening in deep concentration. A truly needed moment of calm on the eve of the longest night of beckett@111.
FW: What was the idea behind ‘the longest night’ or the Lange Nacht?
MK: The idea of “Lange Nacht” was to bring under one roof in the space of an evening if not all the works presented during our fortnight at E-Werk, then at least all of the festival’s new contributions. Should some viewer be able to come to Freiburg only for one day and have the will and the endurance along with cognitive faculties to stay alert to all that happened between 4:30 p.m. and midnight, we did not want to deny him or her the chance of doing it. The Friday night fever started in the bowels of the audience tribune where, after the short run of the Dunér/Boman installation The Eyes, the stage was given to Watt and Mrs. Gorman, or, to be exact, to Rainer Sievert, a German actor from Paris and the Alsatian Paul Schirk, engaged at Dijon’s Théâtre National de Bourgogne, who both read about the fishwoman’s passionate love episode with the title hero of Beckett’s Watt. Although they by no means played Watt and Mrs. Gorman, it was a staged reading in the sense that both actors accentuated the complex permutations and enumerations of the narrative with minimal gestures and bodily changes. The inherent theatricality of this presentation was rather due to its dramaturgy. The passages which might have appeared to form a dialogue, read alternately in German and French, were in fact identical, and so the reading belonged to the category of a pseudo-dialogue, a purely Beckettian dialogue of the sonorities of the two languages, and of the different modes of stage articulation of the text as well as the different physicality of each actor’s performance. Which to a degree exemplified the differences in how a German and a French actor would typically go about their stage business.
The evening then moved from the stage beneath to the stage behind, where the black version of Not Iin German with Fabienne Trüssel live was followed by the white version (with the one-metre-wide mouth) on the giant screen with Silvia Costa in Italian. Then the audience moved to the tribune for the musical part of the programme, the instruments waiting on the set. But before it started, Park Krausen, barely visible, planted in the dark behind the Steinway, delivered the English version of Not I. When the musicians from Norway, Marianne Baudouin Lie, Siegrid E. Stang and Else Bø, and the British composer, to the sound of the last whispered words of the Mouth, moved in with their torches, the American actress became part of the performance around Pritchard’s piano trio We, three. After a technical intermission the piano trio by Maiguashca Reading Beckettwas performed by Antonio Pellegrini, Gabriele Maiguashca and Franziska Stadler, followed by the video screening of the composer’s Hearing Beckett with Joe Killi’s imagining.After a technical break to remove the grand piano and to build the new set, Catastrophewas played by Raimund Schall, Tjadke Biallowons and Petra Müller-Stolz in Szczesniak’s white design. Then the next trio of performers moved in, all in identical white trousers and blouses but different colour scarves to present their “Come and Go” variations. The original plan of showing three parallel versions unfortunately had to be postponed in favour of the two variations. First, Jasmine Tutum’s take, with herself, Park Krausen and Cristin König from Berlin in a not immediately decipherable language and with gestures drawing heavily from Jamaican folklore, then the second version by Cristin König, in the form of an animated film according to her script and in collaboration with the video artist Heiner Franzen and the composer Friedericke Bernhardt. While the Tutum variation seemed to privilege the language of gesticulation of old Jamaican ladies, König’s version explored childhood fantasies and the hypothetical content of the three Beckettian personages’ youthful dreams at Ms. Wade’s pension.
The last part of Lange Nacht, Cabarett Métaphysik, was preceded by a one-woman show by Jasmine Tutum, the Jamaica-born, Dub poetesse, jazz chansoniste and dance performer educated in Japan and France. In her strong voice and dressed in what seemed to be a vague copy from Bob Fosse’s Cabaret with Lisa Minelli, she began her aesthetic trompe-l’oeil with a deceptively smooth echo of the film, only to quickly slip into Beckett’s minimalism (in keeping with the poetics of the thus opened Cabarett Métaphysik), literally throwing into the audience the words from The Unnamable, pivoting around: “I am the tympanum, on the one hand the mind, on the other the world, I don’t belong to either.”
After such a diversified Friday, Saturday, forcibly, had a somewhat subdued, more chamber-like character. We presented the Zerberus production, adding two things: The Not Itrio was presented in German by Fabienne Trüssel, in French by Claire Aveline (reprise of my Paris production of 2007) and in English by Park Krausen. Aveline performed at the same spot on the scaffolding as Trüssel; she joined in with her initial whisper in French during the exit whisper of Trüssel, who moved aside to make room for her “double”, who literally replaced her. The third Not I resounded immediately after the end of Catastrophe. Krausen replaced the Protagonist at the final black out and began her monologue on the same white plinth draped from head to toe in a white djellaba. It was on this white blending with the white stage that the half-light spilled from the precisely defined spot on the actress’s mouth.
The last scene of the festival was a mute sequence of several bodies dressed in black falling on the grayish stage, the clôture of Cabarett Métaphysik. The final image of the Freiburg celebration of Samuel Beckett’s 111th birthday.
FW: What about the other two parts of the joint project: in Norway and in Poland?
MK: En helg i hyllest til Samuel Beckett(a week-end in tribute to Samuel Beckett) had a compact format. A sequence similar to that in Freiburg was presented on two afternoons/evenings, and did not include Cabarett Métaphysik, Mesias Maiguashca’s piano trio, nor the French Not I. However, the British-Norwegian contribution was extended to also include a longer musical performance by Alwynne Pritchard group and the first screening of her video interviews on the subject of Beckett with children from Trondheim! A group of them, aged 5 – 12 reacted to… how should I say? Beckettian motifs, visual and acoustic, with their own words and… facial expressions and body language. Rather entertaining videos! And it was amusing to see how the children, mixed with the adults in the audience, reacted not only to their own videos but also to the other performances into which the screenings were embedded. In a somewhat Beckettian mise-en-abîme, we adults could watch the children watching themselves, then observe them as they watched Beckett.
The Teaterhuset Avant Garden offered a much smaller, black box-type performing space, and shorter rehearsing time. With the help of their very efficient technical staff, however, the programme unfolded seamlessly.
Trondheim’s University Professor Emeritus Sissel Lie held a lecture on Beckett in Norwegian; the announced audience discussion – they had rarely, if at all, witnessed theatrical experiments of that kind – never materialized. It was merely out of their shyness that they remained silent, I suspected. This was confirmed at the end of the day (as it was still light at midnight) during the lively conversations that took place at the theatre bar where artists and audience mixed freely.
Trondheim is a beautiful city with its astounding gothic cathedral, a stone structure not unlike Chartres rising in the midst of small wooden buildings painted red, typical of small towns in Scandinavia.
Alas, as of now, we have not been able to mount the festival in the other medieval city, Cracow, which had been originally planned for beckett@111. For organizational reasons, due to conficts of timetables and finances, the Polish part had to be postponed. It is still in the cards, however, and may be on the table in 2019.
FW: I believe you are in the process of preparing yet another meeting around Beckett.
MK: It’s not easy to let go, especially as the Freiburg festival has opened new avenues – or trails – of exploration, in our minds, in my mind. It would be worthwhile to see whether it was worth our while to mount something in the guise of what you might call ‘a wide-ranging and multidisciplinary festival’.
In June 2017, after returning to Paris from Trondheim, I teamed up with actors and artists whom you might label Beckett aficionados, and the idea was born of developing another event on the Freiburg model, this time based principally in France.
I remember sitting at an outdoor café with Thierry Bosc on a murderously hot evening, waiting for the performance of our actress friend in the beautiful and minuscule Théâtre de l’Île Saint-Louis. Thierry, an actor of astounding range who had played Vladimir and Hamm in the acclaimed productions of Godot and Endgame at Théâtre de l’Athenée, was working on the staging of Company with the veteran director Jacques Nichet. We were leafing through a copy of the Minuit edition with markings penciled by Beckett for Pierre Dux when the latter rehearsed the text in 1981. What if we gave Company a companion piece, preferably a prose text written way before, to show how Beckett’s prose, while undergoing a radical stylistic change, remains the same in its core. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Thierry smiled. Malone meurt?
The production which we were to attend was a Marguerite Duras piece produced by a Japanese director; so inevitably we started musing on Beckett in Japanese performing practice. And it occurred to me that such an approach would inject of new creative energy, setting new perspectives, something which makes the search fertile.
FW: So, what can we expect from you in 2019?
MK: Most of the subsidized theatres in France announce their repertoire for the forthcoming season during the preceding spring preceding, meaning that we can hope for funding in 2019/2020 at the earliest – which of course coincides with the 30thanniversary of Beckett’s death. The title of that project will be: Beckett: The Fourth Dimension.
FW: Although it will no longer be his 113th birthday.
MK: True, if you mean the month. But if we were able to mount something between 13 April and December 2019, alors entre la vie et la mort, we could have both. I haven’t given up the initial idea of celebrating his birthday in the spring. Having no funding for new productions nor for inviting existing ones on a regular basis, we can nevertheless organize something on a smaller scale in mid-April. And I’ve found a very good theatre in Paris which to my mind would be a perfect venue for such a birthday party. Formerly a site for producing sets designed for Parisian stages, it serves as an ‘atelier de création théâtrale’ where actors, performers, visual artists and musicians work on their current projects and give them public performance of the ‘avant-première’ kind.
We could invite artists and theatre companies engaged in working on Beckett and give them the possibility of presenting their work, completed or still in progress, as a part of this commemoration. I am convinced that, if not financially gratifying, it would be a terrific opportunity to exchange views and ideas, creative and intellectual, and profit from a diversity which lies at the core of this project.
We could invite artists and theatre companies engaged in working on Beckett and give them the possibility of presenting their work, completed or still in progress, as a part of this commemoration. I am convinced that, if not financially gratifying, it would be a terrific opportunity to exchange views and ideas, creative and intellectual, and profit from a diversity which lies at the core of this project.
We would welcome original, dynamic, labour-intense productions, preferably light-weight in terms of décor and technical requirements, aiming at setting up new avenues or widening the hitherto explored ones.
[Note: This is a direct appeal to companies who may be interested in taking part to contact Marek directly at email@example.com]
FW: What exactly do you mean by dynamic productions?
I mean, in harmony with our Heraclitean conviction. The most fascinating aspect of Beckett, contrary to the clichés cherished by many, is that he does not offer a frozen vision of the world. It is fluid and changing and never a whole. His texts in their form abound in tentatives and conditionals, which makes him strikingly modern to us. He has foreseen what today’s art is up to: a lack of conclusiveness, repeating variants, fissures, and the omnipresent pause.
FW: What do you specifically have in mind by the title ‘The Fourth Dimension’?
MK: The Fourth Dimension, in the briefest explanation, refers to the fact that, to my mind, Beckett`s texts, notably his late ones, as enigmatic and incomplete as they may first seem, illuminate each other in an extraordinary way when presented together. Their mutual rhyming and echoing creates a new dimension in which the audience/the readers can gain more insight into his – and our world.
FW: What form do you think would allow you to open ‘new avenues’?
MK: As to the form, it could be anything that goes off the beaten track, not overstepping the red mark of using Beckett as a pretext or an occasion to further something which is disrespectful of his texts. As to the contents, there are so many areas to be discovered, or explored…
FW: For example?
MK: The Beckett-Giacometti connection, exploring the path of what they both shared, how their minds converged and in what they diverged.
FW: Yes. I suppose the most obvious example of their rapport was the fruit of their collaboration at Théâtre de l’Odéon in 1961, Giacometti’s tree for the production of Godot.
MK: It was a kind of clôture. They met before the war but Giacometti never belonged to the inner circle of Beckett’s friends. Their rapport goes well beyond their biographies and beyond finding affinities in the vaguely existential flavour of their work and in the minimalist contraction as they developed their mature style. On the level of their biographies, more interesting than merely establishing the history of their encounters (though in itself a fascinating subject!), is, for example, the zeroing in on the period just before WW2 in an attempt to better understand the nature of the radical rupture with what characterized their work prior to it.
FW: A bit abstract, that…
MK: Too general, perhaps. What I mean is that both Giacometti and Beckett turned away from what they had practiced before, with quite promising results. Especially in Giacometti’s case: he enjoyed considerable success as an important member of the surrealist movement yet decided to turn his back on Breton. Similarly, Beckett needed emancipation from Joyce and, more so, from his Joycean ambition to be the “knower and can-er”. What they both realized was that, no matter what happens, they were ready to follow their impulse, which was to do away with… literature!
FW: Do you think they shared a common impulse beyond this ‘destruction’?
MK: … to be faithful to their task of simply concentrating on what they see before their eyes! Yes, it sounds quite simple but was not simple at all. Later, in 1951 I think, Beckett wrote to Georges Duthuit: “I spent a fair bit of time wandering round Montparnasse (…) with Giacometti, subtle in a granite-like way, all stunning perceptions, very well-behaved underneath it all, wanting to render what he sees, which is perhaps not so well behaved as all that, when one has the ability to see as he does.“ I think this fits perfectly well to Beckett’s perception of how he saw his own task as well. But I don’t want to be too abstract again: If we scrutinize the Beckett-Giacometti connection, we should look closely into the nature of Beckett’s interest in art. The late 30’s is the period in which he was most systematically focused on art. He kept in touch with artists who belonged to Giacometti’s circle, visited the same museums and galleries, yet his perspective on and his sensitivity to art was markedly different.
FW: In terms of the festival programme, what are you planning?
MK: One example. I’ve recently discussed a project proposed by Virginia Marano, a young art historian from Italy turned performer, and her collaborator Béatrice Lachaussée, a French-German opera director, assisted by a stage designer and a video-artist. What they have in mind is a multimedia evening with sound and visuals, both virtual and live, of which the vantage point are two works: Giacometti’s La Place and Beckett’s TV play Quad.
FW: We look forward to the final programme and we will follow it closely on the the Samuel Beckett Society website. Many thanks and the best of luck with it all Marek.
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