In June this year, at the National Theatre of Cluj-Napoca, the rehearsals for the production The Tempest by W. Shakespeare, directed by Tompa Gábor, began. The production will have two previews, the first on Tuesday, 24 September 2019, and the second on Sunday, 6 October, while the official opening takes place on Friday, 11 October, within the ninth edition of the International Meetings in Cluj, set this year under the topic "Together". You can find more about the preparation of The Tempest for the stage of the National Theatre of Cluj, from the interview below with director Gábor Tompa, scenographer Carmencita Brojboiu, and actor Marcel Iureș, who plays Prospero.
Director Gábor Tompa has reached his fifth production on the stage of the National Theatre of Cluj, after King Lear by W. Shakespeare (2006), The Bald Soprano by E. Ionesco (2009), The Aureliu Manea Trilogy by Aureliu Manea (2013) and UbuZdup after Alfred Jarry (2015).
Eugenia Sarvari: At the beginning of the rehearsals, you told the actors that the rehearsals you yourself attended for Liviu Ciulei's The Tempest, have left a lasting mark on you. Could you tell us more about that?.
Gábor Tompa: It was a huge chance for me then, I got my biggest lesson in directing. Because our professor from the third year had a very serious family problem, Mr. Ciulei took over, so we talked a lot and we went to his reharsals for The Tempest, at Icoanei Gardens. Ciulei was the scenographer of the production as well. And it would be one of the outstanding scenographies of Romanian theatre: a platform in the middle of a blood sea. The platform was "bolstered" by elements depicting all arts, and theatre stood on top of them. On the same occasion, I witnessed George Constantin playing, and he remains my favorite actor for his almost propless ability to convey his thoughts with extraordinary accuracy and force. Ciulei viewed Prospero as a scholar, and, in fact, made him in his own likeness: he himself was an architect, an actor, a theatre and a film director, a scenographer, and, in a way, even a stage poet. He was the scholar able to dismantle the world through modern technique. And all of these took place in 1979, when his vision had an avant-garde dimension. Of course, mankind had witnessed two World Wars, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the arms race, but despite all these events, Ciulei envisioned for the future something that now can indeed happen by the simple press of a button. Then, the spectre of world destruction was looming in front of us, in time, while today, it stands besides us, in space.
E.S.: You also mentioned during rehearsals that you regard Shakespeare's The Tempest, among other things, as a treaty about the duality of the world.
G.T.: It also deals with the duality of the human being. There is an inner struggle that takes place not only inside this character, but inside any other character as well. None of us is born good or evil. We all have equal chances. That is how God made us. But it's up to ourselves and our fate to make the most of this potential. Although he himself has been a victim of tyranny, Prospero is forced to become a tyrant. Anyone of us could go down the same path ... From this perspective, the play has a profoundly Christian message. There is no other way to grasp it. It hints at the supreme commandments of love and forgiveness. Prospero ressembles Hamlet in the strong desire for revenge that triggers them both, but also in their mutual respect for art. However, Hamlet wants to find the truth, and not necessarily to enact revenge. Prospero, on the other hand, is endowed with a talent, with a sort of magic. He establishes a relation with occult forces. His actions are shaped by many possibilities and strata, and we should take into account all of them. They should be assumed, somehow, and kept inside that specific mystery which, probably, nobody could decipher, not even by digging deep into one's own personality. So, we should keep in mind that several strata overlap inside the human being. How can we master our own thoughts, our own spirit? How do we make use of them? How do we exploit our talent? Prospero oscillates between a childish state and extremely wise, mature views. The tempest presents him with a great challlenge. It could be an outstanding achievement, and he sometimes lets himself carried away by this idea, and by the sheer force of his creative talent.
E.S.: I often watched you during rehearsals. You showed tremendous energy and seemed to enjoy a lot playing Prospero's part. Are you actually Prospero?
G.T.: (He gives a big laugh) No, no, no! These personal references matter and are definitely interesting. Every one of us is, in a way, Prospero, and Caliban, and Ariel, and Trinculo, and Sebastian and so on. The whole world is in this play. But what matters to me is this attempt to find out where did everything start to go wrong, after everything had been given to us in the beginning. We all got a childhood, innocence, friendships. These core elements of humanity give equal chances to all of us, even if some of us are born poor, and others rich. Where does the malfunction occcur? That is the question. And the question is if some things can still be fixed. I would say this is where the basic role of theatre comes in. Theatre constantly calls for transformation, for introspection. The Bible, which is the most dramatic and substantial book, doesn't always identify the chosen ones with the good ones, on the contrary. A prostitute can be chosen. Deep inside, everyone knows, or admits that we are made of the same mould. It is our responsibility (as well) how do we shape that mould later on. Otherwise, we are basically part of the same big family, and not just from a biological point of view. We are all God's children.
Shakespeare's The Tempest marks scenographer Carmencita Brojboiu's eighth collaboration with the National Theatre of Cluj, following the productions The Overcoat after N.V.Gogol and Mihail Bulgakov, How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients by Matei Vișniec, King Lear by Shakespeare, The Aureliu Manea Trilogy by Aureliu Manea, UbuZdup! after Ubu in Chains and other texts by Alfred Jarry, Mein Kampf by George Tabori and Agnus Dei by John Pielmeier.
E.S.: When you made the setting of this tempest, did you draw upon your own "penitence" time - as you called it in an interview - spent while studying geology and geophysics? That "immaculate space of memory" you mentioned in the first rehearsals, when you explained the scenography of the production - what does it actually mean?
Carmencita Brojboiu: There is a huge difference between working with rocks deep underneath, and this incredible challenge that is scenography, which projects ephemeral spaces. This clean, clear, immaculate space of memory and conscience stays at the opposite end of the earth and its dark sides that I explored for just a short span of time. The only element reminding me of that time is the stone that one of the characters is holding at some point, and which is projected on the walls. I sometimes wished there were meteorites and stones that did not exist on the Earth. This would be the connection to my current work, in the fact that I could learn, then and there, to address people in a direct manner. I think this helped my work in scenography, it made, for instance, my technical standards more precise. That would be where my geological "penitence" has led me to.
E.S.: Come to think of it, the sea also belongs, in a way, to this space...
C.B.: In fact, the images of the production create a feeling of the unknown, or of the danger brought by the unknown. I remember an experience from my geological stage, when I descended tens of feet below, on very narrow wood stairs, in a very narrow space. It was at Leșul Ursului, in the city of Gura Humorului. That was my first descent in a well through channels twenty five or fifty meters long, about seventy centimeters wide, and irregularly dug into the stone. I was holding a lantern that went off because of the dampness left in the walls by the mineral deposits. You got the impression you went down, straight into the abyss, and you had no idea where you would stop... The gaped stairs made you go down fumbling. The only stable element was the wall you could lean your back or elbows against. I remember that when I reached the horizon - that's how the mining space was called - the tension had already made my muscles seriously sore. In those moments I thought that this is what it feels like when you go down deep underground. Into the inferno. Long time after, I was haunted by that shadow of the unknown, by the feeling of sliding away and not knowing what you touch. The danger is usually connected to the unknown. Every new place alerts your attention, troubles you, scares you. At the same time, every new place gives you new perspectives, new expectations. Sometimes even hopes. You know, while I was watching the rehearsals, I suddenly realized no one has actually seen Prospero's island. Nobody knows what it looks like. In fact, Caliban comes straight from the depths of the earth, from the fear I was telling you about. He comes from that very well that I went through long ago. It was cold, moist, but also suffocating there.
All these things came to my mind when Gábor Tompa shared with me the idea of an immaculate space of memory, like a clean slate on which theatre, or Prospero's magic, to be more precise, could be projected. The deeper we got into the atmosphere of rehearsals, the more I realized that the island is theatre itself where Prospero makes his own theatre within theatre. He is some sort of god, director, scenographer, composer altogether, and is surrounded by unseen spirits - Ariel and the godesses. I don't want to fall into abstract theory, I only try to express what I feel now at rehearsals. It seems to me that the spirits and Ariel and Prospero are all unseen. Perhaps Caliban is the only concrete, real character on the island. In a way, Prospero forges his own theatre, his own cinema from his imagination, his desires, projections, phantasms, but all of them fall apart at the end of the play, once Prospero leaves the space and returns to the real world. However, the island and every beautiful thing in the story will come back to life everytime the play is performed on stage.
Four years ago, when I worked at The Cherry Orchard in Maribor, also with Gábor, the playwright George Banu talked about the futility of a library. He said the library is about to become extinct in the modern world. In a similar manner, the utility of theatre has been questioned for decades. Prospero could be seen as the artist that takes refuge into theatre and makes his own theatre because he needs it so much. As I see it, as long as Prospero needs theatre and this island of theatre, theatre itself will probably live on as well.
Actor Marcel Iureș returns on the Cluj stage after almost twenty five years. He made his debut on this stage in December 1978, in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. He would play here unforgettable parts, in The Persians by Aeschylus, Outside, in front of the Door by W. Borchert, As You Like It by Shakespeare, The Labyrinth by F. Arrabal, and finally, the last on the list, Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot.
E.S.: You played quite many Shakespearean characters throughout the years, from Melancholy Jaques, to Richard the Third, Richard the Second, Hamlet, and here you are now playing Prospero. What does Prospero mean to you?
Marcel Iureș: It is definitely a challenge. But I do not know yet what he means, because he hasn't come yet to the surface. Meanwhile, I waive my arms, I shake a leg. We might come upon a cave, or a crevice. I really don't know. That makes the play fascinating, the fact that you don't know what is going to happen. It's a perpetual game of ever-changing mirrors, meanings, impressions. Shakespeare provides a huge range of meanings. It is, of course, tempting to simplify things, as well, especially when you face such incredible richness. But Shakespeare makes you resort to all sorts of means. If you are lucky enough to catch the given meaning, then you have to make good use of yourself. You have to actually be on the stage. Which is quite hard to do, at any age, and no matter how much experience you have. This magnificent, superb fiction puts you through a lot of experiences. One thing is for sure, though - I don't start from the idea of the great creator, the mighty force that makes the planets go round and pulls the strings of fate. Not at all. That's the beauty of acting. You are welcomed to pretend in every way. You enjoy this sort of kaleidoscope, but you also feel its pressure, somehow. You are asked to be precise and to make a choice. Otherwise, we live on a stormy sea in this profession, we climb these cultural mountains, which sometimes give us all sorts of temptations. But once you reach a certain age and level of experience, you find the normal measures of yourself as a person, and of the cultural mountain you are climbing on.
E.S.: You are now playing a magician.
M.I.: The part is written by Shakespeare. Gábor Tompa, on the other hand, views Prospero as a magic device that tries to discover things about itself, abot the world around, about the world in which he has lived and where he has to return, cleaner. He has to adjust his return relationship from an ethical and spiritual perspective. The huge convention that frames everything clears up at the end, reveals itself in edge lights and hall lights, and says: "That's it! I can't go any longer. The show, the art, the magic are over. It's your turn to say what you think!". Shakespeare's work is incredibly cohesive. "Try not to hold me down here, it's pointless now". You simply cannot live feeding on an illusion. We enter what now? You say so? What do you think we enter once art and magic are over and... Perhaps we enter another illusion. Where we play characters in something that we don't call theatre. That is what Shakespeare's mirror points to.
E.S.: You met many outstanding personalities thorughout your career. How did they shape your soul, what influence did they have upon you, what did they change inside of you?
M.I.: It's hard to put things in a coherent narrative. You cannot express how deeply something has affected you, because even your body regenerates constantly, if it's healthy. Think of the bone's metabolism, adds somebody. You can say then if you changed for the better or for the worse. It depends on the person, on the context, if you are able to perceive things, and to what extent. We can't go too deep inside this phenomenon which remains hard to explain. You can't explain how you create your role. I don't think anybody can, in full honesty, to explain how to play Hamlet or Prospero. Therefore, I find it very hard to answer in a sentence or a set of sentences, and say that the many roles I played made me better, or that some of them made me tense and left a lump in my heart. Or that, on the contrary, they cured my fears. I see myself as part of a small family of individuals who live their fears and weaknesses, as well as their glory moments. I think acting ressembles life because they both lack definite conclusions. Whichever his domain, the artist can't reach any conclusions. You can't verify on your own if what you did on the stage helped anybody, just like you can't be the transfixed witness of your own life. You can, however, witness the conclusion of your life. I don't care in the least about conclusions: who understood what, for whom it was useful. One of my grandparents used to tell me: "Do good in life, boy, as much as your brains and your heart help you to do that. Then squeeze the good in a cloth and lay it by the side of the road. Don't you dare look back to see who took it!" And then you find peace. I found it indeed from that point of view. I don't believe in any kind of posterity. No actor can believe, since he has no other backup than the spiritual support of the spectators. He is perhaps only backed by photographs, before they turn yellow.
Material realized by Eugenia Sarvari