During a research trip to Toronto Vahid was interviewed by Sue Balint* after the Per–expressivity and Scenic Presence workshop. This interview has first been published in the Wheel Me Out magazine: Goossun Art-illery’s Artistic Director Vahid began his theatre career in Iran and has since studied with several masters of Western and Oriental theatre including Eugenio Barba, Augusto Boal and Akira Matsui. Here, he talks about the unique training workshops he’s conducted with performers in London, Copenhagen and Toronto.In recent years, you’ve shifted your focus from creating performances to training. How much of this is process for you, and how much is product?
The process is a product in itself and vise versa. For me the only difference is whether you want to present what you are doing to outsiders or you’re doing something, which is not for presentation (yet, as it were.) Otherwise, both things are the same for me. Fixing a performance for presentation doesn’t necessarily mean that the process has ended. One thing is certain: the work can always be improved and so can one’s skills.
You make a performance, you perform it for five nights or tour it for two years, and then you stop. But you don’t stop the whole process of your vocation. Or rather you should not! Theatre for me is not about “show business” or putting on performances. It’s a lifestyle. You do something because you have to, you can’t help yourself. Sometimes you have a chance to put it on stage and make it public, sometimes you don’t. It doesn’t change the intention of doing it.
That said, the reason for not having produced any performances in the recent years was that I did not want to make a performance under just any condition. I work in a certain way and the circumstances I was in were not suitable for producing a performance in the way I wanted to. It was not a “shift” from making performances to training as you put it. It was rather a choice in order to maintain a sense of integrity.How do you describe what you do?
What I do is called “theatre” for the lack of better word. It’s very difficult to explain what it exactly is since I am not interested in theatre as enactment or show business. What I do is what you saw in this workshop. Of course there is a strong ancestral link to Stanislavski, Edward Gordon Craig, Grotowski, Odin Teatret and thus a relation to “theatre.” But what does theatre mean to these reformers? For me what connect these theatre-makers are two things: their technical research on the craft and their vision.
Edward Gordon Craig says, “They perhaps asked why you wanted to go on the stage, and you could give no reasonable answer because you wanted to do that which no reasonable answer could explain; in other words, you wanted to fly.” There you got your answer. It’s an inconcrete and ambiguous answer but so is the theatre. Basically you want to fly, but you’re unable to. Hence “theatre” for me is ultimately an endeavour to make something impossible possible; a rebellion against our inability and our human limitation.
But if you were to be concrete?
Then I would say what I do is to “diagnose” what is blocking our imagination and to turn the obstacles into possibilities. And all this is done on the context of performer’s craftsmanship in an organized performance situation. That is as concrete as it can get.Diagnosing the individual performer?
What I refer to as “diagnosing” is to find out what is blocking each performer’s imagination and how the performer can overcome the obstacles. In that sense it is an individual process. However this will not remain individual entirely. We focus on individual in order to redefine our relation with others. In training the main goal is to set the performer’s imagination free and there is no one predetermined method to do this; it changes from individual to individual.And it might not resonate with everyone.
Sure! It might not. However there is a very good criteria for whether it works or not and that is the second day of the work. If the participants show up on the second day and want to continue, that’s good enough for me. It shows that they are willing to push forward and challenge themselves.Tell me about the importance of body memory in your work.
You’ve heard me say many times, “let your body memorize it” or “let your body remember.” What we call memory is a complex process of remembering and forgetting. Memories are not forgotten so much as pushed back. They are kept in our body. As Grotowski says the body has no memory; the body is the memory.
Training partially is a way to access the subconscious through the conscious, creating, memorizing and reproducing multiple tensions in the body that invoke forgotten memories, associations, emotions etc. This makes sense like déjà vu does. There’s “that thing” that is invoked that might not make sense rationally, but we recognize it as a “memory.” We take it for what it is.Your relationship with each of the performers feels quite reciprocal. A “teacher” could stay very much on the outside. Watching you work, it doesn’t feel like that.
You are certainly right. And that’s why I don’t like the word teacher. Teacher means “transmitter”. It’s normally someone who has already acquired a box of knowledge and is now opening the box, like a chocolate box, and giving pieces to people. That’s not what I do. I prefer the Italian word, formatore
. It’s, as you said, learning in a reciprocal way. All of us together are trying to learn to learn. So you learn some new ways, devices, tools to learn more. That’s basically what happens here. And that’s why it’s a never-ending process. This is due to the fact that ultimately there are no limits to our imagination. The deeper the performers explores their imagination, they’re going to trigger my imagination in a deeper level as well. It all evolves. The better they get in doing that, the more skill they get, the more focused and concentrated they become, it gets more challenging for me, because then I have to catch up with them and open up my own imagination. Thus it opens more doors and possibilities for all of us.You create a very specific environment in the training room. It’s intentionally separate from the outside world.
Theatre to me is the opposite of the social life. The choice toward a different way of life, a different way of connecting with each other requires a different setting. And that’s why upon entering the training room we have to change the way we walk, the way we behave, the way we talk to one another. The behavior of each individual entering the space should indicate that this space is special, not just like anywhere else. In order to do what you see here, you have to somewhat organize your life differently. Every second is new and that needs an absolute presence and awareness, a receptivity, to be very open to things happening around you if you want to be creative.There’s a lovely sort of freedom in that.
Yes, it is. Theatre is the path to freedom. In order to start anything creative, one ought to become organic. Much of what we do here is in order to render that organicity, which means going back to the child, back to the animal. The conventions of social life are established either based on fear or need, which are conservative by default and hence limiting. In order to become creative, we have to go opposite and somehow go back. It’s not possible to chronologically go back, but you restore those things you have suppressed and then try to build from there. Basically what we do here is trying to deconstruct the social behavior, the daily behavior. To do that we cut it to pieces, in a laboratory space like this.
That might be ultimately what art is. Decroux, the mime master, said that art is “decomposition of the natural and re-composition of the ideal.” It’s like demolishing a house and building anew a building with the bricks taken from under the debris.*Sue Balint is Director of Development for Modern Times Stage Company as well as a playwright and interdisciplinary artist working in Toronto.
Labels: HamletZar, Theatre