Participants on VN Lab
JAKUB ČERMAK, performer, Prague
I often think of my stay in Ljubljana workshop, even though it had been several months ago. Although I had a lot of experience in the world of theater, this experience was very significant and important for my future work. And I’m extremely grateful for that. Workshop gives many opportunities for artistic development, you can use them successfully but also you can fail in using them. I have failed many times and I succeed sometimes. I learned to trust in the reduction of artistic expression, authorial approach, to trust myself on stage. I learned about how viewers read what is happening on stage in different ways. I met some fantastic colleagues and I personally met Bojan Jablanovec. I was a fan of him and I am a super fan after the workshop.
PS I think to visit a complete workshop has more sense than individual lessons. The continuity of the work was really valuable for me. I traveled about 700 km each time, and it paid off.
CSABA FORMANEK, performer, Budapest
TESZT Festival blog, 27 May 2015
Back to the basics
Straight after the premier of Manipulations, the workshop held by Bojan Jablanovec, within the frame of TESZT Festival, began which is over by now. I’ve been waiting curiously to see what kind of an experience it will be to start from scratch again with Bojan, after going through a whole creation process. Who will attend? I wonder how they will react on this radical working method. What could three (half) days be enough for from this?
Bojan has developed the method of Via Negativa for many-many years. He has gradually left the inevitable routines of the institutionalized theatre behind. He has left behind the narration, the engagement in the written text, the acting in its conventional sense, and the burnishing of skills. Primarily, his work doesn’t focus on achieving aesthetical qualities, neither his method aims at this. It stimulates and strengthens creativity and makes the participants have a substantial commitment.
It takes you back to the basics of the theatre if you endure. It is not easy. Because there is nothing mystical in it. It’s not the alleged ritual roots of the theatre that Bojan has on the brain. He doesn’t aspire to bring his co-authors, the ones who take part in the work, into an ecstatic mood or state. Just the opposite: he teaches soberness, vigilance. To query and redefine our patterns in our thinking and taste. We need to think about what we are doing, about what we are seeing. We have to define ourselves as a performer and a spectator. To find a way to creative work, fruitful reception. We need to help each other in the difficulties of manifestation. Get rid of the unnecessary illusions, expectations.
Perhaps it is harder to tell about a presented etude, what we see in it, what our associations are, what it is about to us, than to come up with one. How should we watch theatre? How to watch each other, ourselves, our things? Do we think about what is happening for real, or we make categories following our schemes, compare and evaluate them? It is not that easy to speak about theatre at all, when we let go of our habits of expectations in theater, e.g. to be entertained, to delectate, to satisfy our sense of time, to admire the skills of the authors. What is left?
What do we do and why do we do it? This is the most frequent question of Bojan, to which it is not easy to answer. It is not easy to define us as authors. This is what these three days are about. What do we do, why and what do we think about what happened?
Everything can be shown. The theme is: the anger. Is there (personal) anger in us? Can we use it? How do we cover it up, hide it? Is anger really such a bad thing as we generally think about it? Why is it important to control the anger? What could anger mean in the society, etc.? Many questions open up and new questions show up along these questions.
At Via Negativa the theme is just a sort of a starting point. During the working process it can change in many way, depending on what we, the authors, bring into the common space. Through the theme everything that we would like to speak about gets a new light thrown upon, and what we would like to talk about – either consciously, either intuitively – throws a new light upon the theme.
For instance, Radu draws the contours of the shadows of the chairs in the room, then also the shadows of the people – who move away of course. Now he jots the precise time down, too. He does this until he runs out of chalk. He scrapes up the chalk-powder left from the previous drawings in order to be able to continue. Is this theater? No. It is a visualized thought, which opens a very deep relation to time and the questions of our presence. This is what we talk about and not the “performance” we could see from Radu.
Bojan is looking for these perspectives, thoughts, games and questions. The theatre can wait. We don’t know anything about theatre as long as we don’t know anything about ourselves. As long as we don’t know what to think about what we see, what we experience. As long as we can’t speak about it.
On the third day Bogdan seats us on two lines of chairs, facing each other, and builds a wall around us from folding screens. We sit, giggle and make jokes. He appears above our heads, walks along the beams of the gallery. That’s the place from where he musters us. “Are you angry?” – he asks. I am angry, because I am afraid that he will fall from there. The helplessness creates anger. In the others it doesn’t. How could we sharpen the focus of our attention, our imagination, so that the game won’t fall apart?
Obviously this type of work is not for everyone’s taste. More thinking, less joy. No one tells you what to do, no one tells you what to think. But isn’t this the reason why one attends a workshop?
We go to school, as well, in order to learn. Whereas attending the workshop of Via Negativa is worth to the one, who would like to deconstruct their knowledge and start the creation anew from this perspective, this poverty. Because often our (putative) knowledge is what shrouds the really significant things. Where our real self is, rather than the “stage” one. This deconstruction, this renouncement of our achieved results or the descent from the high tower of our skills is really painful. Uncomfortable. Sometimes a dry, meticulous work. It demands discipline, an inner driving force.
Time was very short. It ran out. It has just begun. Or everything is only about to begin…
VITO WEIS, actor, performer, Ljubljana
“In my creative work, Via Negativa occupies a particular place. It represents a way of thinking, a way of watching and a way of performing .In recent years, I have regularly followed the work of Via Negativa. Honesty and lucidity, their way of thinking about certain topics, their relationship with their own bodies and minds as literally the only means of expression – all this has always fascinated me and set a mirror in front of me as a viewer. This feeling of complete authorship, freedom and public physical explicitness is what attracts me most of all.
The work in the VN Lab has been very productive; every day, you’ve had to be ready to show at least two scenes. At points, it seemed to me that I’d seen and staged everything that was possible to present on the topic we were working on, but again and again I was surprised to realize that we were not even close to “everything”. The greatest value of this research is most definitely the constant feedback, which provides you an immediate response to what you do. Via Negativa cultivates the principle of a constant collective viewing and communication about what you see with others. You have to create your own opinion and share it with the others. This is not a criticism – what does not function is not in the foreground – what we are looking for are things that work, moments that open up the space and give theatrical events another dimension. In this way, we gradually distill our ideas down to their purest form. This kind of work is written on my skin because it comes down to finding my fundamental presence on the stage and to basic storytelling, which gradually reveals its message.
Via Negativa always involves the viewer, even if it does not expect direct participation. The relationship to the viewer is always the key. You have to be and communicate with the viewer at all times. You have to give him the feeling that he knows what he is watching and that he has an advantage over you. In this way, you create space for a surprise, for the shift that disarms the viewer and opens up a new layer of meaning. To look at viewers in the eye and to always be in close contact with their responses, for me, has become a necessity. It gives me more confidence than anything, because it showes me where I’m heading.”
RIINA MAIDRE, performer, Tallinn
“i am absolutely thankful and happy about it… the first affirmative feedback i want to give to you is actually about Via Negativa homepage – it is rich, informative and clear enough for me to get the grasp on what you are doing or what you might be doing, even if i haven’ t seen any of the VN performances. and also the description for the Lab – what is the goal, what is the way, what is the challenge – is complete and understandable, inviting to make the outgo.
the working-method of the Lab – showing a scene and then feed-backing on it – didnt strike me as sth completely new, but it was clearly pointing out the aim that an idea, and the presentation of it, has to stand for itself, it has to be complete in its action, and there is no additional explanation possible.
there is an extra-attentive audience in the Lab, yes it is not 100 persons, but it is 8 persons, who give their time and attention and good-will to see what i am after, so this actually is creating an effect that i feel even more responsible for what i am using their time … and for example, when it happened that i was presenting and “ok” scene, but didnt have an ending, then actually later – while hearing people talking about the complete/or potentially complete idea – i felt super stupid, for not making the full effort to take it until a clear framing end.
being in a feedback-situation, where spectators describe what they saw and understood, mention the links what they emotionally or intellectually had, but then also discuss the potential which they saw as unused or undeveloped – this is a learning situation anyway, and for me especially cause the analyzing-articulating side is not my strongest. so it is good to be again and again pushed to it in a sharing mode.
so yes, i appreciate the whole experience a lot… if a foreign-person can afford a flight to visit the Lab even for one weekend is worth it…”
ERIC DEAN SCOTT, a New York performer, actor and writer, living and working in Ljubljana
I highly recommend the VN Lab to anybody interested in challenging themselves to making meaningful work – meaningful for themselves as well as for others, that is. We started out with an overall theme to work with. A starting point. The basic working method was to then come up with an idea, an action, something to show the working group, every day, at least one thing, with which to articulate that overall working theme.
This seemingly simple task turned out to be not so simple. Or to rephrase – whereas it was somewhat doable to present something that was somewhat clear to myself, when showing it to the others and then hearing their feedback…what THEY got from I was presenting….it became clear where the cracks were, what wasn’t so clear, what was perhaps merely habitual ways of behaving on stage that had no anchor in the reality of the room itself, what was perhaps relying on assumptions about the audience–performer relationship that perhaps should not so easily be assumed, what was avoiding dealing with the other, the spectator, and myself, in a very real way. And things like that.
I found this very challenging and very useful to explore. It challenged me to find a clear and logical way to build the event I was working on, to create to conflict in the room for real. Without assumptions. Or, if there were common assumptions, to use them in a different way, to problematise them, to make them conscious, conscious tools in the game. No sleight of hand, no magic tricks. A sort of full disclosure from moment to moment, leading to – hopefully – some surprise, something real, something that meant something real in the room. At least that is what I found myself going for. And I failed time and again.
The ideas of what to present became more and more difficult of come up with, because the criteria for these ideas, the bar we were aiming for was slowly revealing itself to be quite high. But not quite impossible. That was the maddening part at times. For sometimes, some simple little idea would pop into the mind – after hours, days, weeks of hitting the wall again and again – some simple little action to do onstage would drift through my consciousness…perhaps just something to buy myself some time until I could think up something “really deep” to do…and that little off-hand idea would end up hitting on something gold. Nothing huge. Just a seed. Something true. Which was enough. Because it turned out, at least for me, that this seed of an engine, of a game engine, a real game, would be the real starting point. From there, something could be developed. And this is what we all did. We dug around, we tried everything we could think of, we failed, failed again, failed better – until we had gathered up enough of these seeds of real stuff – stuff we could use. Then the developing started. Again, another mountain to climb,but at this point we at least knew, for the most part, what mountain we were climbing. Just as difficult, but quite exciting.
So a creative process. A rigorous one. Which I am very grateful for. Not least of which because of my Lab mates. For as the Lab went on, we all became more and more committed (and able) to giving the clearest feedback we could. This was most definitely because of the tone set in the room from the very beginning by Bojan and the other mentors, in our case Katarina and Grega. They asked for and gave committed, rigorous, insightful, human feedback from the beginning and in doing so showed how to do the same, how to be rigorous and clear and human and real. To not beat around the bush. That in itself, for me, is pure gold.
I guess I’m making it sound like it was some sort of Shaolin training, performance boot camp. Maybe so. But really, I could also say that the only thing I really needed to do was to show up. Every day. Completely. To be in the room and rack my brains and try my best ideas out. The rest just follows.
In the end, I developed a performance piece, which I presented to the public – with the help of committed support from Lab group pals and Bojan. A performance I’m very proud of.
I highly recommend the VN Lab to anybody interested in challenging themselves to making meaningful work – meaningful for themselves as well as for others, that is.