Shakespeare International Festival took place between 23 April and 6 May in Romania
Considered to be one of the most important theme festivals in Europe and one of the most important Shakespeare festivals in the world, the Shakespeare International Festival, this year in its 9th edition, took place between 23 April – 6 May. Shakespeare Planet was proposed as the them by the organizers, the Marin Sorescu Theater of Craiova and the Shakespeare Foundation. The festival came to Bucharest too this spring, as in previous years, but this time it came to Nottara Theater, as a section of the 'Fest(in) pe Bulevard' International Theater Festival.
Shakespeare Planet staged plays from countries on six continents, with various approaches, some quite original and surprising. The opening show was 'Shakespeare's African Tales', produced by the New Theater of Warsaw, Poland, directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski, one of the most highly appreciated European directors, who got that same day the International Shakespeare Award, this year in its 6th edition. Well known for his modern take on classical texts, Warlikowski created an original script by adapting King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, and Othello, to which he added Summertime by J. M. Coetzee. The silent characters in Shakespeare's plays speak in the African Tales due to dedicated monologues written by Lebanese-Canadian writer Wajdi Mouawad. Lear, Shylock and Othello are played in this show by the same actor, Adam Ferency. In fact, he plays the role of a man enduring the suffering and humiliations of an old man, a Jewish man, and a dark skinned man. We asked Adam Ferency what the director meant to convey:
Adam Ferency: “Hard to say, because it is a conversation about the senses, or half-tones, or very subtle things. I worked at the show for a very long time. I didn't know anything at first. We started talking. I knew that it involved three Shakespeare plays, with fragments from Coetzee, and also monologues by Mouawas, which I didn't know about at first. What I did know from the first was, of course, that it had to do with an old man who is not accepted by the majority and is shunned. That was the starting point. But the most important thing was when I had the revelation, when I understood that I was supposed to play a single character, not three. For instance, when I play Othello, who is black... I realized that it doesn't matter if I am black or some other character, because it is a bit about me, the actor, who is growing old, with narrowing perspectives, so it is a bit about me.”
Another original proposal was brought to Craiova and Bucharest by the Q Brothers Company and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater of the US. It is Othello- The Remix, with Shakespeare's text re-written on original music. The Q Brothers Company was set up 20 years ago by the Qaiyum brothers, who wanted from the start to combine theater and rap. All the members of the troupe are actors, but also have musical training. Gregory Qaiyum, aka GQ, the middle brother, writes the scripts and co-directs, and plays Iago in Othello- The Remix.
Gregory Qaiyum: “What we try to do is tell the story the same way that Shakespeare did. The reason why Shakespeare’s stories are classic are because he took the stories from the Greeks before him, and who knows where they took the stories from, so he is just retelling stories, the Greek classics, through his lens of what was modern poetry in his time, and we are taking his work and we are telling it through the lens of what is modern poetry in this time, which is hip-hop and rap. At least for us, this is what we were born into, this is what we grew up with, that’s how we see the world. So we’re just telling the same story through our own eyes, and we stay true to the elements of the story and the plot, but we have our own versions of every character and every instance, and it’s a way of paying homage to the original, but it’s also a way of staying true to the popular culture of the day.”
The Shakespeare International Festival of Craiova ended with a special show presented by the Ex Machina Company of Quebec, Canada, a production of Needles and Opium directed by Robert Lepage. Legendary director Peter Brook said about the director that he was a genius of contemporary directing. The show is extremely original, built on new technologies. Here is actor Olivier Normand, an actor in the show:
Olivier Normand: “All the technology that he uses in this show is always in order to tell the story in another language. The set is like a cube that’s revolving, so at first it’s like a hotel room, and a good part of the story is about a guy who goes through heartbreak, he’s really lost, so at one point I’m in my hotel room, and it starts to pivot as I’m lost, I lost all my reference points. So the technology of the set helps me get into that mood, an I participate in telling the story. It’s not about showing off the possibilities of the technology, it’s always in relation to what we’re trying to talk about in the story.”
Needles and Opium explores ways to overcome pain, says Olivier Norman:
Olivier Norman: “It’s about heartbreak, and it’s also about this coincidence that the room in which the character is is room number 9, in Hotel La Louisiane, which was the room where Miles Davis stayed when he came to Paris in 1949, and at the same time Jean Cocteau, a French poet, went for the first time to New York City. So it’s like all these three stories intertwine, and my character… How can you explain to yourself or explain with you, sometimes you have to relate to other people’s stories, and you have to be prepared to see how they coped with it, how I can cope with it. And the question he asks is, I’m not a genius like Miles Davis or Jean Cocteau, so what do I do with my pain, I cannot turn it into some sublime art, like the music from Miles Davis or the poems of Jean Cocteau, I don’t know what to do. It’s more of a question that he asks, but sometimes looking at someone else’s story helps you to deal with your own grief.”
(translated by: Calin Cotoiu)