Theater Farts, Unsolicited Solicitations

Running after Nekrošius’s Nose

Okay my dear darlings, I finally got home from my night of smoked fishing on Brighton Beach. Let me tell ya, those stray cats were ready to eat me alive there. I never knew that there were so many of them running around. I guess neighborhood restaurants are doing great in these times of hunger, since there is no need for that specific cat meet on the market.

But let me leave the cat meat for another entry. Maybe it will be more appropriate to talk about its tenderness while discussing the differences between Bulgakov’s cat Begemot in his “Master and Margarita” and Sharik of his “Dog’s Heart,” who knows? This could be quite an interesting subject to discuss considering that people love cats and dogs. And shhhhh… (whispers) sometimes they eat them without knowing that they are actually doing it.

But these are not the things I want to talk with you about on this pre-winter-vertex night of cozy dreams, no. Suddenly (well not so suddenly, but okay, I’ll leave it here for the suspense’s purpose) I got this need to tell you about my biggest influences of my life.

There are a few directors in Lithuania who made this country boy fall in love with all things theater. These directors not only changed how I see theater now but also they were able to influence the future theater audiences and audiences alike.

Going to theater in Soviet countries at that time when I was growing up was equals to being educated and intelligent. If you haven’t seen one or another production everybody was talking about, you were not interesting enough to be invited to parties. So, yeah, people saw a lot of theater in these times of red and sickle and yes, most of it was really good.

Okay, so there is this Lithuanian theater director Eimuntas Nekrošius who changed a lot about Lithuanian theater, right. There are books written about him. Funny, but he is probably more popular in Italy than in Lithuania though. Why is it so, don’t ask me that, because the point is not about being popular. The point is that he was one of those directors who revolutionized theater arts.

The breaking point in Nekrošius carrier happened when he put a production of “Uncle Vanya” in 1986 on one of Lithuanian’s most famous stages. With this production he completely changed how classics were put on the stage.

Well, of course, when I say to you things like that out of the blue they mean nothing to you. You say, who cares about some theater in some Eastern European country nobody knows about, and why suddenly we should care about it?

…and you are right. There is nothing for you to care about, because firstly there is almost no way to see that production today and secondly, why should I care about you carrying? The change is understood only when it is physically lived and emotionally experienced live.

Well, my dear darlings, Nekrošius introduced to the audiences another way of “reading” classics. Classic plays became relevant again. Nekrošius got rid of heaviness of Naturalistic Theater by having the form speak the text. Naturalistic Theater became very boring. Director’s Theater started growing in popularity.

Of course saying that Nekrošius invented another type of theater is the same as saying that Madonna invented Vogueing. The change in theater was happening way before Nekrošius put that famous “Uncle Vanya” on the stage.

My theater revolution happened when I saw Nekrošius’s Nose. Well, it was something else I saw on the stage, not the actual nose of Nekrošius, you understand that, of course? Nekrošius adapted Gogol’s “The Nose” making the nose a character which represented another organ on a male body which is to this day dangling in between legs if not supervised.

It was a show about an organ men keep in their pants most of the time. In Nekrošius’s case it was out and about in the open revealing some facts about the Soviet culture. With this production it was obvious that Nekrošius was exposing way more than the organ itself.

The Nose became that simpleton intelligentsia was embarrassed to talk about. I still remember that famous scene where the character of Nose and Major Kovalyov, the character whose “nose” was cut off, went to the theater. The simpleton Nose watched a performance and absorbed it through his simpleton’s brains. He was reacting through his baser instincts watching ballerinas perform a classical dance. Ballerinas by the end of their performance were wearing heavy soldier boots instead of pointe shoes and dancing Can-Can to Nose’s entertainment. They were being groped by whom else but Nose himself after he got bored sitting in one place. Fun times, I say!

This production of “The Nose” was an absolute genius. No wonder that after it Nekrošius kind of disappeared from theater. Was he afraid that he would not be able to top his nose (pun intended) with anything else? We will, most likely, never know.

The audiences were waiting for Nekrošius’s next production as thirsty cats for that milk. Nekrošius released Pushkin’s “Little Tragedies” after “The Nose”…

…there is still that one production nobody will ever see, because it never reached audiences. It only stayed in rehearsals.

Nekrošius was rehearsing “Carmen” after releasing his “Little Tragedies” which won him a National Prize as the Best Director of the Year. Something happened with him during that period. He was not able to finish “Carmen” even though everyone was constantly talking about it.

Later we learned that Nekrošius went to rest his genius in a house nobody is proud to talk about in Lithuania. I don’t think anybody knew if Nekrošius really went to a crazy house or not, but those were the details that made my mind spin. Who doesn’t want to hear stories like that? These stories about genius artists need to be overly dramatic. We are talking theater here, so of course normal equals boring.

What came out of him after his “retreat” was absolutely mesmerizing and breathtaking. His “Hamlet” and “Three Sisters” completely shut the doors to the old ways of reading and performing any play in Lithuania’s theaters. I believe that there was no actor who didn’t want to work with Nekrošius at that time. Yes, I was one of those actors too, but don’t mention that to Nekrošius. I am still planning on playing that soldier in that play by that author (smiley face).

More importantly there were stories going around about how Nekrošius worked with his actors. We saw with our own eyes how actors spent their most famous scenes under dripping ice cube chandeliers, or under coffins, hanged above their heads, full of heavy stones dropping to the ground, or trapped inside of huge rugs from which was no way to escape. These stories were as entertaining as productions itself. They were very physical and oh so good.

This is an image from “Macbeth” where boulders were falling down while Kostas Smoriginas as Macbeth was acting on the stage:

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Nekrošius’s Hamlet played by Andrius Mamontovas had to get his dagger from a huge frozen ice cube:

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He had to stand with a shirt made out of paper under a dripping chandelier made from actual steal saws and ice cubes in his “to be or not to be” scene. Here are some excerpts from “Hamlet” with Mamontovas:

It was magic. No, Nekrošius was not using some tricks or gimmicks to make audiences gasp, no. Nekrošius was removing Shakespearean text and making it speak through the actions of actors and visuals, so you “heard” the text while listening to those drops dripping on Hamlet’s back revealing his “naked” soul.

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Of course there were many audience members who couldn’t understand what was going on in front of their eyes. Many of them complained that Nekrošius was way too symbolic and “too cold” because of that symbolism.

The thing is that you really needed to know those plays before going to see his productions. That’s why it became a must to read those classics before going to see how those classics Nekrošius interpreted.

Thankfully, because of the almighty Internet, you all can see a few clips from his productions. There are a few of my all time favorites there. Get familiar with them and I promise you, you will never read another Shakespearean play the way you used to.

Nekrošius is a director of form. He directs a human body on the stage in such a way that the body becomes that medium between the text and the audience. The form and what an actor does is more important for Nekrošius than what an actor says with the text. Nekrošius is very specific about what and how props and sets work in conjunction with a human body. He is very good at finding where to place objects on the stage and finding that certain movement for actors to express the text to the fullest. He marries the form with the text and an actor is that connection.

Nekrošius uses familiar objects to create new meanings for them. He selects what needs to be used with uncanny precision.

Othello used houseplants and pots to create a grave for Desdemona after killing her. Here is that scene:

But my favorite from his “Othello” is a scene where Desdemona is saying goodbye to Othello. Nekrošius chose a prima ballerina, Eglė Špokaitė, to play Desdemona confirming to me that he chooses movement and form over acting and text. Here is that clip which still gives me shivers and goosebumps:

You can catch Nekrošius’s productions around Europe for sure. Here is a link to his theater’s website:

Meno Fortas

If Nekrošius comes to your town, do yourself a favor, go and see his work, but, of course, read those plays beforehand.

Yes, you might find yourself completely lost during his productions, but believe me, those productions will stick with you for a long time. You might figure them out much later than you thought you would. Be prepared to sit in a chair for three or four hours. It might be long but it will be worth it! Have a drink before hand and you should be fine dissecting all this beauty on the stage.

To say that Nekrošius hasn’t influenced me is the same as saying that I’ve never sang in the shower. Do I sing in the shower? I guess you will never know, unless I get a glass of Port and reveal it to you with gross details sometime later. I am going to leave you with that open, never ending nose. Take your time catching it, but catch it while it is still around!

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Theater Farts, Unsolicited Solicitations

My 3 Spent Kopeks or an Open Letter (sort of) to Play Writers

Okay, my Dear Darlings, I kept myself quiet for way too long, listening to your (something) whining about this and that. Today is the day for me to give you the 3 kopeks I still have about writing for theater.

You all seem so bitter and too serious about your craft, my Dear Writers. Have a drink or something and let’s discuss why your ego and lack of flexibility hurt us all.

I see that some of you might not really know how theater really works. You get all worked up about your genius ideas and ze words you write in your plays. There is a lot I want to say about all that ego business it seems you have when it comes to producing your play. The thing is, my Dear Darlings, nobody wants to work in theater with anybody who has a big ego, unless, of course, it’s Serge Plastikoff himself, then all is forgiven.

There are oh so many things that bother me about American theater, but I will keep that for another entry, when I am less drunk, besides America is not ze country I grew up in, so I need to show some class I might never have (smiley face).

The American theater is strangely stuck on this imaginary belief that what is written should always stay in the production. No, my Dear Darlings, a play or script is a blueprint for a production, simple as that. Why do so many directors return to Shakespeare, Molière, Chekhov or Ibsen? Because all these writers left their plays as blueprints with written ideas in it. The most successful play writers will be the ones who write their plays leaving space for interpretation.

When I take on a play to direct, first I look for how I could express what hurts me now and the society. I ask the question: “Is this play relevant today?” I read plays as drafts to express something other than what is written. It is sometimes very tedious work to do, but every director looks for that perfect blueprint to be able to build a house which is the play/performance/show.

Let me say it straight: if you don’t trust directors, actors, designers, composers and all the collaborative effort that goes into producing your play, then don’t ducking do it. Write a novel or a short story or something. Theater is collaboration; nobody wants to deal with your big ego. If you know how your play should be done, then do it yourself, by yourself and to yourself because you will never have a great production when collaboration is absent.

After reading a few thoughts you expressed, My Dear Writers, on one message board or another I got this strange feeling that you are missing something very important about theater arts. I will repeat: it sounds like some of you don’t even know how theater actually works. Have you made any effort to research and read about successful theater groups? Have you asked yourself why certain authors and their plays are being produced year after year after year? What makes a great play? Have you researched how Shakespeare, Molière, Chekhov, Ibsen wrote their works?

Oh, I know I will be attacked as another one who doesn’t respect the sacredness of writers and their works. Darlings, I don’t care, there are plenty of works that just wait for my drunken mind to get mixed in. You should look forward to seeing productions that make your work exciting, because they open something you hadn’t thought while writing it. All those different interpretations and the decisions others make while working with your play should be your priority, not the offensive mess you see when a director decides to remove one or another scene or word.

How many times were the works of Shakespeare, Molière, Ibsen, Chekhov cut, rearranged, or rewritten? All that business only made their plays more interesting and exciting even in some high school productions. There were/are so many interpretations of “Hamlet” alone that a play writer who wrote a play like this could live for hundreds of years on stage. Oh, that’s right, Shakespeare did it and he is somehow still relevant. Point blank, if you want to be as good as Shakespeare, be prepared to see your favorite scenes, words and what not cut from your play, because somebody saw something else in your work.

A play is incomplete without a live performance. Without that live breath it is nothing. It should inspire directors, actors, designers, musicians and other writers to come back to it time and time again, unless you want to be a legend in your own living room (thank you, Madame Lennox).

Directors are not your enemies. They are messengers who decipher your message and deliver it to the audiences, through the actors and production.

Actors are not invaders of your plays. They are the ones who give your words life. You should cherish and trust them. They take your characters on themselves and live the life you wrote for them on the stage.

Designers and musicians dress and move your written words with their imagination.

In short, you all should strive to have as many different approaches to your work as possible and let go of your ego. The tree which is the most flexible survives the many storms ahead.

Do you need more convincing? Okay, let’s see how Shakespeare became who she/he/they became.

You see, to this day it is unclear if it was one writer who wrote all these plays. What we know is that somebody recorded the text. Shakespeare’s success is in a collaborative process that was developed on the stage. The texts allow us to re-imagine who one or another character was. Romeo and Juliet have been a boy and a girl, a boy and a boy, a girl and a girl, or a giraffe and an elephant in many productions since the actual work was written. Still, “Romeo and Juliet” is and will always be “Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare could care less if his/her/their text is re-arranged and re-imagined by generations and generations to come. It is still an ageless story, a blueprint many directors will return to for many years.

Let’s look at Molière now. He wrote his plays while performing and directing them himself. He “borrowed” from Commedia dell’Arte, Marlowe and what and who not. He made those plays his own, because he was not afraid to let his ego go when there were audiences involved. What he cared about was the performance.

Chekhov had Stanislavski himself to direct his plays. I don’t need to tell you what it meant to him when Nemirovich-Danchenko, after “The Seagull” (my favorite play by Chekhov, by the way) flopped, told Stanislavski that he should direct the play. The production directed by Stanislavski returned Chekhov to fame in theater. Do you think it is an accident? Oh Darlings, you haven’t experienced theater the way it is with all its magic and…

And here comes Ibsen, the one that has been produced as often as Shakespeare. While employed at Det Norske Theater in Bergen, Ibsen was involved in many plays as writer, director, and producer, and even though he didn’t become a successful playwright at that time, all this collaborative experience helped in his writings later on. When actors speak the words I wrote, I feel where I made mistakes and I let them correct me with their inner voices.

Sometimes, when I am tremendously bored with directing I become an actor… or is it the other way around, I don’t remember now. I show my doubts while working on one or another character in a play. One day I decided to write my own play and, on top of it, I decided to direct that play too. I had one of my bastard actors question the words I had written the same way I was questioning somebody else’s work when I was acting. I let him change my words the way he felt it fit his character, just later for him to realize that what I wrote was correct and he wanted to return to that original text. I took it, of course, as a huge compliment, but still let him know that I was “open” for his interpretation, because he was “feeling” my words on the stage. I know I know I am so giving and forgiving. You can put your flower into my limo. Thank you!

So, My Dear Darlings, if you get offended by somebody interpreting your written words on the stage you should probably choose another way of expressing yourself, because theater is fluid, theater is flexible and most importantly, theater is collaborative. Boom! The news splash for you? I hope not!

You want to be another Ibsen, Chekhov, Molière or Shakespeare? Meet the live theater and people who are eager to change your written words. Believe me, you will gain a lot from it and who knows, collaborations might make you another great playwright. Break a leg and keep it broken in appreciation that somebody is inspired by your writings. Plastikoff’s out. No, I mean I am out of Port. Tah-da!

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