This week WHS Teatteri Union in Helsinki offers a treat when Czech-Finnish theater group KREPSKO perform their latest piece AnnaBerthaCecilia. In this interview Jiri Zeman talks about working without language and past or beyond borders.
One Quart: KREPSKO is celebrating its 15th birthday this year. How have these fifteen years of existence been for the Czech-Finnish nonverbal theater?
Jiří Zeman: Well these years have been very different from each other. We’ve had years when we have created just one new premiere in a year and then years when we’ve done several premieres each in a different country. Some shows have been performed by just one performer, some by 20 and a band playing live music on top. We have been lucky to have been able to present our shows to audiences all over the world. Sometimes in classical theaters, including an invitation to perform at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Other times in streets, trams, squares, abandoned houses and gardens, the zoo, even in the branches of a tree or in a city fountain.
OQ: KREPSKO performances often use puppets, elements of circus, movement and object theater. Is there a name for the theater category that would describe what you do?
JZ: We are actually not able to categorize ourselves either. When we create we simply look for the theatrical expression which best serves our purpose at that moment. Puppets allow you to show things that might be impossible to be expressed by actors, or might even be too dangerous for them. Visually strong images created in front of the audience’s eyes, theatrical illusions, careful light design, a circus element that makes the audience gasp – these offer a medium to tell a story and to give the audience a chance to open up and enjoy their own emotions. For us it isn’t really important what to call the kind of theater we do, but how to tell our stories in the most interesting and the most enjoyable way, hopefully with strong emotions.
OQ: But still – you are nonverbal theater. Isn’t that already a kind of a category?
JZ: Yes, this is true. We don’t use words on stage. Still, words are not forbidden, we just haven’t come to that moment yet when they would be necessary. Maybe sometime in the future we will be speaking on stage and using words. So far we have been able to express everything we wanted without speaking. Words are very descriptive and there are far too many of them constantly around us. So we rather create images and let the audience look for their own words if they want. Actually this is very much the theme of our newest performance that will premiere this Thursday (27.10. 2016) at WHS Teatteri Union in Helsinki. A nonverbal performance about the alphabet!
Words are very descriptive and there are far too many of them constantly around us. So we rather create images and let the audience look for their own words if they want.
OQ: A nonverbal performance about the alphabet! Please, tell us more about it?
JZ: Yes, it is as crazy as it sounds. The piece is called AnnaBerthaCecilia and it is a collection of short stories, kind of like portraits. Each story is inspired by one letter in the alphabet and by the ideas and objects that begin with the same letter in many languages. These common words create an atmosphere for each letter and the seed of the story. The audience can simply enjoy the performance or they can try to solve the puzzle of the letters and words and discover the secrets of the narrative. We began creating this performance several years ago already. It is kind of an experiment; we have never done nor seen anything like this on stage before. But we were driven by the urge to see this performance, so we had to make it ourselves. This is very often the primary impulse for starting to work on a new piece. We ask ourselves what would we love to see or experience as an audience, then we create that ourselves. It is very exciting.
OQ: Your theater group is international. What nationalities are we talking about?
JZ: Well KREPSKO was founded 2001 in Prague. The director, Linnea Happonen is from Helsinki. So we present KREPSKO as a Czech-Finnish group. We are more diverse than that though. For example in our last project we were a team of eight nationalities: Czech, Finnish, USA, Estonian, Spanish, Russian, Danish and Belarus. This level of international cooperation is sometimes demanding on the production, but very liberating in the creative process to work together with so many different people with very different cultural and artistic backgrounds. In these situations the words really become less important. What you see is important: what you show and what you feel.
OQ: What kind of version of KREPSKO has made AnnaBerthaCecilia?
JZ: AnnaBerthaCecilia has a small number of creators: Linnea Happonen and Jiří Zeman on stage, Laura Hallantie and Roman Chauzov have created the puppets and made the stage design, Mayim Alpert is responsible for the music and René Vitvar for light-design.
We ask ourselves what would we love to see or experience as an audience, then we create that ourselves. It is very exciting.
AnnaBerthaCecilia Performances this week at:
WHS Teatteri Siltavuorenranta 18, 00170 Helsinki
Thursday 27.10. 19:00 Premier
Friday 28.10. 19:00
Saturday 29.10. 19:00
Sunday 30.10. 15:00