In perhaps the most ambitious set of artist interviews so far gathered for Critical Stages, this Interviews section ranges far and wide and traverses four continents (Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas) in search of its chosen subjects. In all of these interviews, the critics were given the task of tracking down a theatre artist whom they felt deserved to be more widely known by an international audience.
Writing from Macedonia, for example, the critic Nelko Nelkovski said that he felt compelled to interview the theatre director Srdjan Janićiević because of his “multidisciplinary approach.” “Srdjan,” Nelkovski added, “has created an interesting and authentic theatrical language.”
Writing from Africa, Dr. Ngozi Udengwu suggested several Nigerian playwright/directors whom she wanted to interview. She settled on Stella ‘Dia Oyedepo, whose work Udengwu has written about extensively in the past. “Stella is perhaps the most prolific and most commissioned playwright in Nigeria, perhaps in Africa,” Udengwu said. “She has written more than 300 plays and dance-dramas.”
Mumbai-based critic Deepa Punjani tracked down Ramu Ramanathan, whom she called “one of our most important contemporary playwrights writing in English. His latest play Comrade Kumbakharna will be performed at the upcoming Rangashankara Festival in Bangalore, after which it will tour to other cities and towns in India.” Having seen Ramanathan’s play Kashmir Kashmir during a recent trip to Gujarat, I was intrigued. How could one not refuse such a glowing recommendation?
Interviewing Teatro Praga from Lisbon, Portugal, Tiago Bartolomeu Costa had the most unusual assignment. He raved on about this collective’s “wonderful and elliptical theatre.” And then he presented me with a q&a article that was not an interview with one subject but a group response by tightly knit band. “Andre, Pedro and Ze Maria are part of the Teatro Praga, and they always answer collectively, since this is the way they work, even if Ze Maria is a dramaturg and Andre and Pedro are both actors and directors. The group has three other members: two actresses and one producer. They make no distinction in terms of their hierarchy inside the group.”
As I was gathering and editing these interviews, I was also serving as a juror of the International Theatre Festival MESS Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As coincidence would have it (a happenstance that German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig himself would appreciate), I was invited to take part in a German and American Media Dialogue organized by the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. back in the United States on the very same day that I was scheduled to see a Bosnian production of Schimmelpfennig’s Arabian Night, a popular work that I have previously seen in both German and English languages. I asked myself, “Is this whimsy or fate?” And it was then that I decided that I would interview this German playwright for Critical Stages.
In choosing our interview subjects, each one of us exercised an essential critical act. If as Peter Brook once said that for an artist the choice of what one works on is an artistic act in itself, I would venture that the same goes for critics who decide to confront artists with questions. Indeed, all of interviewers depart or rebel from the typical slate of questions. It is of course fascinating to see how artists from four different continents respond to a similar set of questions — their replies reveal the hidden or neglected sociopolitical issues that our so-called globalized world frequently fail to expose — but it is even more significant when the critics probe the artists further about their work, their lives and their ideas.
In the latter sense, the Romanian critic Ioana Moldovan’s interview of a legendary Romanian actor and general manager may be the most rebellious of all these interviews, because she decided to completely depart from the programmed set of questions I gave her to ask. The result is a lovely and poignant interview that remembers the Bucharest theatre of old — a poignant memory piece that says as much as about us today as it reveals so much that we might have never known about Romanian theatre, had she not decided to take a wholly alternative (and dare I say, very Romanian) interview approach.
Enjoy these conversations as much as I was thrilled to curate this Interviews section.
— Randy Gener
 Randy Gener is a writer, editor, critic, playwright and visual artist in New York City. His photographic installation-art piece, In the Garden of One World, recently debuted at New York’s La MaMa La Galleria. Author of Love Seats for Virginia Woolf and other Off-Broadway plays, he is the recipient of the George Jean Nathan Award, the highest accolade for dramatic criticism in the United States, and NLGJA Journalist of the Year, among numerous other awards, for his critical essays in American Theatre magazine, where he works as contributing writer. He also won a Deadline Club Award from the New York chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for “shedding light into censorship and repression of the arts.” Gener most recently helped curate, produce and create “From the Edge,” the USITT-USA National Pavilion to the 2011 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space. His website is theaterofOneWorld.org.