Image: SME Archive, Marko Erd
A Conversation with Júlia Rázusová
Júlia Rázusová and I covered a range of topics as we ran around the busy Andrej Bagar Theatre with son and daughter, trying to find a quiet place to talk about her exciting year of searching for the five plays featured in Divadelná Nitra’s Slovak program. She also discussed the direction her country’s theatre is heading, as well as her own company, Prešov National Theatre, which is represented at the festival with Moral Insanity, which Rázusová directs. As evident in our conversation, Rázusová is making her own rules, whether it is founding a company in Eastern Slovakia as opposed to the more cosmopolitan and resource rich west, creating a deep process that works specifically for her and her actors, or bringing her family with her when she works outside of Prešov.
Can you tell us about the current state of Slovak theatre?
There is a foundation for artists which supports us [so that] many independent theatres can get some money to prepare the productions. This was a very important step for Slovak theatre, this foundation, Fond Na Podperu Umenia (Foundation for Supporting of Art). It was a big impulse for people who finished their studies to make their own groups and to continue their connections from school. Because we are a small country, we’re not strictly divided into state theatres and independent theatres. For example, I work in independent theatre but I have the same opportunities in state theatres.
A problem, but I think it’s the same for every theatre, is making the audience much braver and open to other forms of theatre. Complicated themes and performances are not suitable for the spectator who is not brave enough and doesn’t have the knowledge that theatre can have another face. With this festival, Divadelná Nitra, or the (Touches and Connections) festival in Martin which features twenty five inspiring productions just from the small stage, people can recognize that theatre can have many faces.
So I think in the last six, seven years the independent scene is in a good way. We also have some productions and groups that take part in international festivals and travel a lot, for example Debris Company and Honey and Dust. Also this festival, Divadelná Nitra, is good for us, so that creators and directors in Slovakia can have some feedback and the possibility to have some confrontation with international scenes, to see what is original for our country, what is special, and what level we are in this international context.
How would you define Slovak theatre?
I think it’s interesting when we use our roots, and I think it’s a big mistake when we devote to form. Many people think that roots are just folklore but I think we have to find ourselves. We are a really young country and we don’t need to have such big expectations to be experimental, cool, and new. I think we have to find and define who we are and then we can find our way of Slovak theatre. There are really small things in theatre, for example, Theatre NUDE, who are girls and moms, whose theme is the Slovak woman – what does it mean to be a Slovak woman, and they compare their lives with the lives of their mothers. I think there are so many talented people throughout the country but I think we need time.
I think that we (also) have a fear of being concrete, we really like generalizing in this country. Theatre should show things from other perspectives. I’m very happy if after the performance people speak about their problems and the theme opens their own feelings, opinions, and confrontations. I really love if people speak about theme, that’s important for me. And always to have some personal connection of the performer to the theme. In Moral Insanity we used Peter Brajerčik’s experiences from childhood because he lived in a really small village which was full of racism so it was very important for him to make this performance. So this is very valuable when he can perform or connect this way with his own experiences and memories. But I think many theatres in the world work in similar methods.
Tell us about your own theatre, Prešov National Theatre, which you founded in your home city Prešov in 2013 with playwright and dramaturg Michaela Zakutanská?
Our country is a little bit centralized in the west of Slovakia. The west is much more developed, there is theatre, there are universities, there is the capital, Bratislava. Also, it’s much closer to Vienna and other big cities. It’s really very hard to live in the east of Slovakia because you don’t have many possibilities to work.
After school Michaela Zakutanská and I decided to come back to Prešov. We continued to work with actors from school because so many come from the east of the republic. Many of them decide to live in the west because there is television and many more possibilities for work. But we ask them to come back to Prešov. You are back with your family, your roots, you can visit your grandma, but you are working in the theatre. We have an audience mainly between (age) twenty and forty because they miss productions which are mirroring their lives and problems. When you are a single person in the east of Slovakia, many of your school mates already have a family. You feel lost if you are twenty-five and you still don’t have any family because it is a country where many people already have five-year-old kids [at that age]. So we mirrored these problems and it was successful because people find themselves in these themes.
It was also great because we found actors who are able to come five hours by train, have rehearsals and come back to Bratislava. It’s really a theatre based on nice relationships with people and I’m very happy that it’s like this.
Prešov National Theatre also provides a platform where we invite actors to have their own space and time for process. At many state theatres, process means six or eight weeks to prepare a performance for a full house. But (our) platform is for communication and for mutuality of director and actor. This is a time for art and for us. We start with a theme and then I decide with whom we want to cooperate. Because of traveling from east to west, with Moral Insanity it was half of the year preparing the text, but the theme was two years of thinking that we will do it.
How has the company changed over the years?
Two years ago we divided with Michaela because I felt it wasn’t enough for me to prepare just Michaela’s texts and it could be great if we could make much deeper relationships between the actor and director. Peter came with Umberto Eco’s Prague Cemetery and this was a very natural way to divide it. Michaela continues writing texts and other directors cooperate with her so it’s really three relationships for us. I am working with another actress of Prešov National Theatre, we are making another piece about patchwork families, based on [the film] Kramer vs Kramer. We are searching the face of family and what is authentic family in Slovakia. Many people want to see “traditional” family and we fight in this country with some traditions. But also in Slovakia, after four years people divorce. So we are searching for the faces of family now. When we started Prešov National Theatre, many of our cooperators were single people and it was a single radical place. Now we are stepping to another piece and members of the theatre have families so it’s also where we are.
How do you define yourself as a director?
It’s really weird, I decided to be a director when I was twelve years old – my son is now twelve years old. Theatre was something normal for me to start to work as a director and when I was fourteen I developed my own theatre. My own experiences are very connected to the work I do. I have really big support from my husband and my family and we travel together. It’s new in our country that a woman director is traveling with two kids but we find our way. We didn’t have any other women directors before whom I can follow so for me theatre means that every time I start from a new point I have some vision of how to work. For example with actors, I really like physical theatre methods, to have the actor as material. We start from “point zero,” as Peter Brook says, to have the two good questions, how and why?
What’s next for you? What would you like to be next?
I would like to continue in Prešov National Theatre, to work with actors and continue in all risks of creation. In 2020 I’m preparing a production about Jan Borodáč, who developed the Slovak National Theatre. It’s a little bit “American dream,” he was a poor boy from the east of the country and he became an actor and then a director in a really naive and realistic way. But he made a base for this theatre now. It’s a very interesting theme for me, the conflict of when you are first and another could make it much more abstract and stranger, but you make a base. Many dramaturgs think that if I’m a mother I have to do productions for kids so sometimes I’m jealous when directors are preparing Russian diaries or classics and some contemporary play. I have a big theme of relationships, not just between women and men but relationships in anthropological ways. I wanted to be a director but I (also) wanted to study cultural anthropology because I thought that I didn’t need any techniques, I needed this experience about men. So this is a thing that I would like to continue and have some challenges in this way.