Core members of NUDE Theatre: Laura Štorcelová, Lýdia Ondrušová, and Veronika Malgot
Mirka Ábelová in Love You and Take Care
Photo by Juraj Zmatek
Mama Ma Má _ _ _ _
Photo by Tomáš Bokor.
Lýdia Ondrušová and Veronika Malgot in Sorry, Just Going to Reply. Photo by Jakub Čajko.
Sorry, Just Going to Reply
Photo by Jakub Čajko.
Lýdia Ondrušová in Stop Fucking Smiling!
Lýdia Ondrušová in Was Dr. Csabová Right?
Photo by Nina Pacherová.
Veronika Malgot in Love You and Take Care.
Photo by Juraj Zmatek
Tomáš Procházka in Stop Fucking Smiling!
Photo by Juraj Zmatek
Gab and Lenka Libjakova in Love You and Take Care. Photo by Juraj Zmatek
Slovak Theatre's Three Headed Dragon
A Profile of NUDE Theatre in Bratislava, Slovakia
by Dave White
NUDE Theatre is a feminist theatre company in Bratislava, Slovakia, whose work and process resembles a “three-headed dragon” more than a traditional artistic director-led company. The company's repertoire investigates their experiences as women and artists in the 21st Century and in May 2019, their work about motherhood, Love You and Take Care, won the Audience Choice Award at the annual Nova Drama/NewDrama Festival, which I was attending for Philip Arnoult and the Center for International Theatre Development.
To get a sense of what it is to be a woman-led feminist theatre company in Slovakia’s capital city, I met with NUDE Theatre’s core members Veronika Malgot (director, playwright, and actor), Lýdia Ondrušová (director, playwright, and actor), and Laura Štorcelová (costume and scenic design, visual concepts, graphic design, and staging). We met a few days before the end of Nova Drama and as we strolled to a café, I asked about the name of their company. Veronika informed me, with a smile, that “nude” was an acronym for the Slovak phrase “Nezávislý Útvar Divadelnej Energie” or “individual object of theatre activity,” but since that phrase wasn’t catchy and NUDE could easily be mistaken for nuda, or boredom, they steered people toward the American meaning of nude, since their work was often vulnerable and raw. NUDE Theatre currently has six performances in its repertory and in an energetic, several hours long conversation, Veronika, Lýdia, and Laura shared the strategies that the company uses to create and present experimental feminist theatre in Bratislava and beyond.
Officially, NUDE Theatre formed in 2017, but the company’s roots go back a decade, to when Veronika and Lýdia met at university and began producing theatre that showed “the zest to experiment” as mentioned in The Theatre Times. Once Veronika and Lýdia met Laura, NUDE Theatre formed and began to become a force within the contemporary Bratislava theatre scene. One strategy that sets them apart from most Slovak companies is an atypical organizational hierarchy: “There is no one head of a work, we are a three-headed dragon.” This shared responsibility, shared vision, and shared dialogue was evident in our conversation as the three would often confer and then offer a unified thought or idea.
Prior to the formation of NUDE Theatre, Veronika and Lýdia collaborated on two shows: Samson and Mama Ma Má_ _ _ _ (Mother Has Me _ _ _ _). Samson, about friendship and struggle in the quest for finding an ideal partner, was developed through a series of facebook posts. In Mama Ma Má_ _ _ _,Lýdia and Veronika explored mother: daughter relationships by asking five actors to interview their mothers, all of who came from a spectrum of experiences. The process of generating Mama Ma Má_ _ _ _ is emblematic of how NUDE Theatre works, “Our process begins by asking questions, but not looking for answers, there may only be more questions.” For the creation of their piece Was Dr. Csaba Right? these questions centered around the following ideas: “How is the role of women changing? How can we find a balance between our role as an artist and our role as a wife? Who am I in the face of everyone’s expectations? What is my role today?” The questions that drive Veronika, Lýdia, and Laura also drive their company as well, “NUDE Theatre is a platform to do whatever we want, it’s a moment of freedom, a safe space.”
The trio's first show together was Sorry, Just Going to Reply, exploring how relationships are shaped in the modern world via at smartphones and in-person connections. This project was site specific and took place around one large table in a café. During the show, the artists try and distract the guests with texts saying things like, “this is boring, let’s go drink somewhere else.” Veronika reflects that, “some people ignored the texts, while some people read them.” At some point in Sorry, Just Going to Reply, each of the actors slip away (“I need to get home” or “I need to catch a bus”) and the connection between the audience members becomes the culmination of the performance, leaving no opportunity to applaud the performers, who may already be home by the time the audience members finally leave the venue. This strategy is similar to one repeated in their Nova Drama performance, Love You and Take Care, and when asked about it, Veronika matter-of-factly laid out the strategy, “This is reality, deal with it. There’s nothing more left. We’re not going to give them closure.” This lack of closure allows for performances to take their own shape after the performers are gone. After one performance of Sorry, Just Going to Reply, the audience stayed talking around the table until midnight, even though the performance ended at 9 p.m. The audience members texted the performers to see where they’d gone and let them know about what a good time they were having. After the performances, NUDE Theatre would send the audience photos from the evening, including ones taken of them looking at their phones and not engaging with what is in front of them.
NUDE Theatre’s second show as a trio was Stop Fucking Smiling!, a collaboration with Venuše ve Švehlovce, a theatre in Prague, where Laura designed costumes and scenery. This production was driven by Lýdia’s desire “speak about emotions and be emotional in public, even though we’re not supposed to be.” Stop Fucking Smiling! asked questions about how happiness is connected to “social credits.” Lýdia dove deeper, “People want to be with you when you’re happy, but not when you’re not happy. Also, am I a good woman if I’m being ‘a good happy wife?’ And does being a good wife make me a bad woman?” And should happiness lead to wanting to stick one’s head in a dryer rather than face the world? Adding to exploration of public perception vs. private reality in Stop Fucking Smiling! is the performance by Tomáš Procházka, a Slovak drag queen, whose narrative in the show focuses on being happy with one’s job, but not with how people perceive one’s work. In addition to productions in Bratislava and Prague, Stop Fucking Smiling! was featured in the 2018 Drama Queer Festival, an LGBTQ theatre festival, in Bratislava.
NUDE Theatre’s process returned to interviews for Was Dr. Csabová Right? For this production, the company wanted to look at the role of the housewife over 100 years. Dr. Csabová’s guidebook for being a married woman was written a hundred years ago, and the company used this text as their leaping off point, “[These were] instructions for how to make your house better and your work faster,” Veronika explains, “But now there are no instructions. Are these rules right for us today?” To explore this idea, the company interviewed 5 women from 5 marriages as well as connecting with sociologists, politicians, and divorce lawyers. What resulted was a performance whose goal was to, as Veronika clarified, “share the idea that you are not alone.”
NUDE Theatre’s most recent performance is Love You and Take Care, which is also the one that was that was featured at Nova Drama 2019. The original production of Love You and Took Care took place in an apartment in Bratislava, but for Nova Drama, the production was in a three-story shared workspace in Bratislava. Love You and Take Care examines the taboos surrounding motherhood. Four women appear, clothed in what Laura termed, “the uniform of the mother: grey sweatshirts and a white T-shirt. Each uniform alike in form, but different in details.” The women are called to attention and briefly recount their path to motherhood: getting their first period, growing breasts, and losing their virginity. The women then diverge and each woman offers a monologue about a different facet of motherhood. Mirka’s stark monodrama about alienation and social media is delivered on a blood red carpet. Laura and male-musician Gab’s journey from friends with benefits to being parents is built around cardboard box walls. Veronika’s analytic and poetic evocation of post-partum depression captures the cold, lonely experience of motherhood though the images of tiles and an elliptical trainer, a physical reminder of what it must have been like to walk with friends. Laura hoped the tiles created a specific effect, “the tiles were meant to evoke a bathroom where you could fall in between the gaps in the tiles, what is the emotion of falling in the gap?” The fourth piece is Lýdia performing in the voice of a middle-age mother. She presents a portrait of loneliness surrounded by a family of plants, the chatter of a radio, and a yearning for her granddaughter and grown up daughter in a faraway city. As Lýdia’s piece finishes, she finds herself in a rush and the audience is ushered out of the space and into the street, once again no closure and no release.
Even with their focus on broaching taboo subjects, Veronika offers that “We aren’t trying to put ideas in people, we’re trying to pull them out.” To keep their perspective from becoming insular, their productions often involve outside collaborators and always involve a male perspective. Tomáš Procházka’s presence in Stop Fucking Smiling! and Gab’s presence in Love You and Take Care are emblematic of this, but offstage Marek Godovič's work as a dramaturg is equally important. According to NUDE Theatre, “Godovič’s work is very much what we understand the role of an American dramaturg to be,” which is that he works with them on developing their works and editing/structuring the materials that are gathered in the process of creating a new work. Though Lýdia, Laura, and Veronika all made it clear that they have the final say in all aspects of the company’s work.
NUDE Theatre is interested in provoking questions and conversation through compelling theatre experiences, but the three-headed dragon is always focused on the next project and idea: “we don’t really think about consequences.” In 2019, NUDE Theatre’s main challenges for becoming a permanent part of the Bratislava theatre scene are funding and space. They are a site-specific company out of necessity, as much as by choice. They are also working to find balance between their home life and their life as artists, but that doesn’t mean that this dragon’s roar will be silenced any time soon. With good word of mouth, such as the 2019 Nova Drama Audience Choice Award, and receptive audiences, NUDE Theatre intends to shift its focus in the future away from site-specific work, “We’d like to have a venue. A place where designs can be more fully explored. A place where woman can be queen.”