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Kaspars Znotins |

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Kaspars Znotins


Interview: Barbara Simonsen
Aarhus , September 15, 2008

How long have you been with this theatre?

11 years ago, in 1997, Alvis Hermanis, our artistic director, invited me to join the theatre, a year after I finished my acting studies at the Academy of Culture in Riga. The New Riga Theatre is a state supported theatre, one of three in Riga, Latvia.

Do you always work with the same director?

No. There are guest directors and permanent directors working with us. A lot of different work.

There is a typical work process for a new performance. It’s two months of rehearsal and you start by reading the play, sitting at a table. Then you start to move on stage or in the rehearsal hall. That is the “normal” process. But working with Alvis Hermanis is always different. And always varying also from performance to performance. He does his performances in alternative ways. It’s always something new for us. It’s always a new space. We don’t know what it will look like in the end.

By different spaces, do you mean different spaces to perform in?

Different spaces to perform in, different spaces to move in, and also different spaces for me to use my abilities as an actor. There is not one method, but maybe there are some basic ideas. We do different things, but maybe there are certain things that we don’t do.

Basically, it’s a huge space for actors’ work. Alvis Hermanis gives us his ideas about the final result – what he wants to see on stage. Then it is up to us how to fill it with life and organic things, how to make it live.

For example, the theme can be old age. For one performance he used old ballet dancers, a performance called 20th Century Ghost Train Vision Express. We are two young actors, making little sketches in a train compartment. Like actors do sketches in acting school. Without words, situations – we are two strangers in one small space. In the background all the ballet dancers. Like a trail of information from the 20th century. And also two railway station workers who are living in their own small flats full of electrical stuff and….

The opening for this performance was in 1999 - and it was not a very commercially successful performance - but in it there are a lot of beginnings of other performances, for example Long Life. There is also one of the basic methods we always use: we prepare a lot of small sketches from life or from our imagination as a result of our investigations, and then we show them to him, and he does the editing.

Long Life, for example, is a performance about old people in communal flats. At the beginning we had 10-11 hours of material. The whole group took part in the research, showing it in rehearsals, small sketches about old people’s lives. And then Alvis made the decision to have these five actors and this, this and this sketch - and we worked on these sketches every day for two hours. Alvis works as a guide, but not like a sculptor with sculptures. We are a team, because we are co-authors. There is no play, it is a performance without words. And it comes only from our sketches.

So for you as an actor in a process like this, what is most important for you for it to be a good process?

When I work this way, it is good training for me. All the time I struggle with my personal “laziness” or my personal introversion, because I have to do research, I have to meet strangers and talk to them about their lives, asking very intimate and personal questions, and it is not natural for me. But I have to, and when I do what I am not used to, I go to a strange, unknown place for me, and it is a very, very important thing. To do things that I don't know how to do. To go into unknown territories.

So that's the difficult part, but also the best part of the process?

Yes. It's always like this. Because it is easier sitting at a table reading a play, thinking about my character, making suggestions and working with my fantasy or my memory. It's okay, and very often they are interesting characters, but something brand new always happens, when I … overcome myself.

And that's also the meeting with reality, that's something different from yourself...

Yes. There is another project called Latvian Stories - it's more for local use and has a lot of text. The stories are about common people. A guy on the street, I go talk to him and make interviews, I go to his flat, talk to his friends, and I make a story about this guy. And I remember Alvis Hermanis saying, when we started doing performances like this, the hyper-realistic, that it's more powerful than all Shakespeare’s plays put together.

There was a time around 2002-03, when reality shows on television started to be very popular. Their popularity was going up very quickly, and it created a question for us and the status of theatre. We felt threatened by the reality shows. They are our competitors. Theatre has always been interesting because it's where everything is live. Whereas television and cinema or books are not live. But reality shows are really really...

So performances like Latvian Stories and Long Life are our answer to this new reality. You have to look around, open your eyes and take your characters and stories from life here and now. And that is the main interest of our artistic director. For seven years now, he hasn’t found anything interesting in traditional plays or dramaturgy. So we make performances without plays, without this dramaturgical base.

Is there any other, completely different kind of process that you would like to explore? Something that you dream about doing? Because the two types of process that you worked with, the traditional one and this one, are very different. But is there a third point? Another possibility?

I'm not finished with this investigation of ordinary people. There is still so much to do, and it is what I want to do in the nearest future. To create characters like a film actor does; when you are playing a taxi driver you have to spend time with taxi drivers. Do research. The same goes for theatre. But maybe this is the third, a synthesis of both… Yes, that is my dream.  I dream about taking characters from the street, from the countryside, anywhere, and putting these characters in the traditional plays. That would be very, very interesting...

That would be an ideal way of working and rehearsing for performances. Reading the play, thinking about this character, and then finding something like it in real life. Take this person and research. That would be a very, very, very interesting... result. To create a character that way.

When we were working on Latvian Stories we asked ourselves if maybe we could bring these real people on stage? But then they became our stories. Some of the actors created roles, characters, talking in the first person. Some did it in the third person. But the audience was more alive and more vital when the actor was in character, in the first person.

My story was in the third person, but a story about a guy my age. I think that the facts and the truths from these people’s lives are very, very strong and full of information, when put together with the actors’ way of telling a story. In Long life there are a lot of props and stuff. Thousands of small pieces from these old people’s lives, and these pieces are real and part of the decoration, part of the stage, also part of the story, the power of the story. These props are actors, too. Because they are very, very real. Full of information.

A lot of them are really from old people’s houses. We had an agreement with the municipality of Riga that when an old person without family had died, our stage designer could go into the flat and find props for the performance. And when I spoke to my “guy” from Latvian Stories he said, "But I’m not special, I'm a very ordinary guy. Why me?" But almost every time it is interesting, because it's real.