Nikola Skočajić: Why and How a Performance is Cancelled

Goran Ferčec: A Letter to Heiner Müller, Director: Bojan Djordjev, Production: ZeKaeM, Premiere: October 9th, 2011.

Goran Ferčec’s A Letter to Heiner Müller is an interesting text, because the line between the author’s instructions in regards to the execution of the play and the actual play about the so-called fictional protagonist is blurred within the text itself. The text is unequally divided into two parts.The first two thirds, written in the second person singular, suggest numerous tasks and commands that lead the protagonist towards that which is going to be recognized as an intervention into the public space only in the final third.

photo: Mara Bratoš

photo: Mara Bratoš

Hence, it is only in the last part that the text undoubtedly suggests the performance. Although the directions aren’t impersonal, and it seems as though the narrator addresses himself, the length of these directions suggest that they are an integral part of the text, and they can formally be defined as directions to actors, which have an emphasized sinister relationship with the play itself. The impression is given that that for which the author prepares his protagonist is, in fact, something that bares serious consequences: a terrorist act or the like. Lead by Bojan Djordjev, a director from Belgrade, the cast and crew that worked on this play, including Ferčec himself – nearly completely bans its very performance.

Danijel Ljuboja, Goran Bogdan, and Frano Maskovic divided up the task of the single performer that is suggested by the text.  While the audience enters the Polanec room at the ZKM Theater, each of the three actors record onto their voice recorders that which they will later attempt to utilize.  The audience sits along the three walls of the room. There are two rows of chairs along the sidewalls and behind the huge black cube, and a few more rows onto which the cube is grounded (set design by Siniša Ilić). The actors commence in the same position – they sit in the audience behind the cube.  The inevitable difference in their interpretations will additionally make the identity of the eastern European intellectual from the text more relative.

The above-mentioned first two thirds are there for the actor to play with, that is, the author’s directions to the actors are the only things that the actors actually acts out.  However, even this text begins to squirm right away.  While performing from the same position in the room, one of the voices is delayed.  The text that is being spoken isn’t obligated to reach each member of the audience with the same intensity and with the same level of audibility.  This becomes clearer as the play progresses.  The interpretation space becomes localized in the scenes that follow.  Thus, the audience doesn’t have the privilege of sitting facing the stage.  The three actors simultaneously perform in different spots, and the audience isn’t able to follow each of them individually.  The portion of the text that is merely a preparation for the main scene becomes that which is closest to and that can be seen in the play – but even this slips away persistently.  The totality of drama fiction is cancelled.

photo: Mara Bratoš

photo: Mara Bratoš

However, regardless of the fact that the performance cannot be viewed as a whole from the positions of individual observers, it does nonetheless exist.  The authorial team solves the problem of pointing out to its dispersions in different ways.  The sound of the vacuum cleaner at the beginning of the play is quiet enough so that it seems that it is coming from outside of the room where the audience is.  The voices that comment on the protagonist while he takes the subway to his destination come from various sides of the room (the sound was done by Nina Levkov).  By making the audience’s heads turn, the play supports the expansion of the performance space onto the entire room, but it also breaks through the room’s walls.  Thus, in several instances the space outside of the four walls of the Polanec room is emphasized.  It can also be said that via the paradigm of a theater room, the totality of a public space is eliminated.  The above-mentioned black cube to which the actors relate while the protagonist is still in his hotel room (the minimal choreographic interventions were done by Selma Banich) becomes pure negation during the course of the play.  It is as though it is located at the top of the hierarchy, because it is precisely in this cube that the above-mentioned totality can be seen, the invincibility and non-attainability of the theater/public space towards which the protagonist strives.  All of the above-mentioned creates the impression that the play, which we have to admit exists, is only here to stress its own inability.

While the protagonist (multiplied by three) tries to follow this whirlwind of instructions, his relationship with the audience becomes more and more intimate.  Parts of the text are told while looking an individual or a group of people in the eyes. The audience, apart from being aware of the fact that it is missing parts of the play, also becomes more aware of its passive role as a theater viewer, and in this way it becomes an accomplice.  When the time comes for the previously announced intervention to finally take place, it becomes unnecessary.

When it becomes apparent in Ferčec’s text that the protagonist was merely preparing for reading letters to the dead dramatist (see title) at the Berlin airport, the text refuses to lose its charge.  Although the tension diminishes in this sort of text, the political aspect of it still remains a serious matter and it admits the possibility of transgression over the choreography that is relevant for such a public space.  The problem of this great text, however, does not lie in the sentimental nature of the intervention.  ZKM’s production recognizes the nature of individual revolt, because the protagonist who takes upon himself the role of the solitary hero who is in danger of becoming merely an exception that confirms the rule, that is, an individual revolt of this kind, is in danger of becoming counterproductive.  At the point in the play when the letter is read, all three actors simultaneously play the recorded material from the voice recorder and rewind and fast forward it, and when they collectively decide that they are done playing it, the letter remains recognizable only in fragments.  This is the director’s most obvious intervention, but everything before this however, points to the fact that the letter will not be read in the end.

There is no performance, because there is no tutorial about a revolution as was sought by certain intellectuals of this type.  Instead of indulging individual disobedience, the play points to the often invisible authorities of public space to which we submit on a daily basis.  By pointing to this, the production discloses this point.  Both the subway and the airport, as well as the theater room.

source: Balcan Can Contemporary