Interview with Tompa Gábor*

by Ludmila Patlanjoglu**

Tompa Gábor © Biró István
Tompa Gábor © Biró István

Established in 2007, “Interferences” International Theatre Festival has become a brand for Cluj-Napoca and for the Romanian theatre in dialogue with the world theatre. How did you achieve this feat?

The festival takes place under the aegis of Hungarian Theatre of Cluj, a member of UTE (Union of Theatres of Europe). Since the first edition, I have intended to bring Cluj-Napoca to a strong cultural city, which is multiethnic as well as being a student city aspiring to become the Cultural Capital in 2021—an international theatre that represents various cultures in Europe. Thus, the Festival would become a platform for collaborating and cooperating for UTE. Then, I extended the area of approach by creating some spatial interconnections between Europe and other continents, or within Cluj. Stepping out of the intimacy of the theatre, I brought into the Festival other locations with cultural potential such as: The Paintbrush factory, Tranzit House—a former synagogue, the National Art Museum, the National Theatre, Transylvania International Film Festival (TIFF)—a cinema event of European magnitude, which also became one of the brands for Cluj. At the 2012 edition, I suggested the dialogue between music and theatre, and this year I chose as a theme The stories of the body – the title belongs to Georges Banu, who is also an adviser for this edition.

Josef Nadj and Tompa Gábor © Biró István
Josef Nadj and Tompa Gábor © Biró István

Why “The stories of the body” in 2015?

We, the human beings, are always concerned with our corporeality, our own physical appearance, our life functions, aging, our own temporality, birth, ephemerality, our painful illnesses that test us out, our sexuality; virtually everything that connects us to the mysterious alchemy of the body, since the embodiment of the Word. Is there a more suitable space for facing these questions in their bodily-concrete reality than theatre? For the Theatre is focused on the presence of actors and spectators, on their interference in the space of the ludic. The most important tendencies of contemporary theatre –in which the borders between theatre and performance art tend to merge increasingly—attempt to redefine the notion of “corporeality,” bringing to the public new experiences. Will, by any chance, the human body, so glorified, deified, idealized, tortured, humiliated and annihilated throughout history, be resurrected and reborn? Is there salvation? These were the questions that the performances selected for the fourth edition tried to put forward.

Tompa Gábor, Thomas Ostermeier, Ilan Ronen (President of UTE) © Biró István
Tompa Gábor, Thomas Ostermeier, Ilan Ronen (President of UTE) © Biró István
Tompa Gábor, Georges Banu, András Visky, Mihai Maniutiu © Biró István
Tompa Gábor, Georges Banu, András Visky, Mihai Maniutiu © Biró István

Over 12 days, 23 performances from 4 continents were presented. What were the creative elements that interested the theatre professionals and the public who filled to maximum capacity the theatre houses each and every night?

Among the remarkable events of the repertoire—varied, we hope—was the presence, for the first time in Cluj, of the companies Schaubühne from Berlin and Cheek by Jowl from London, with the creations of some exceptional directors: Thomas Ostermeier with An Enemy of the People, by Ibsen, and Declan Donnellan with Ubu Roi, by Jarry. Elements of novelty were the extraordinary South African theatre and performance artist William Kentridge, the Mexican dance company Lux Boreal, the artists of the Teatr ZAR Company from Wroclaw—known as the inheritors of the Grotowski theatre, the Dutch-American Transversal Theater Company from Amsterdam and the Italian company of the National Theatre from Rijeka (Croatia). Among the great artists that came back were Pippo Delbono with the Amore e Carne recital, Philippe Genty and Mary Underwood with Dustpan Odyssey from Barka Theatre (Hungary), Jaram Lee the wonderful Pansori performer from South Korea, with Sacheon-Ga based on the Good Woman of Szechuan, by Brecht. I have also seen Josef Nadj’s latest production, Paysage inconnu; Habima Theatre from Tel Aviv came back with the performance The Merchant of Venice directed by the UTE president, Ilan Ronen; Kosztolányi Dezső Theatre from Serbia, Babilonia Teatri from Italy, while young Italian theatre students from Groupe Presence, IUAV, Venice closed the program, presenting Alban Berg’s Wozzeck directed by Csaba Antal. In this dialogue with world theatre, performances from the theatres in Romania also made themselves noticed: Diaries of a Madman by Gogol, in Felix Alexa’s direction from ArCuB-Bucharest, but also the four productions of the Hungarian State Theatre in Cluj-Napoca: Victor, or Power to the Children, by Roger Vitrac, directed by Silviu Purcărete; Who Shuts the Night based on Liliana Cavani’s movie The Night Porter, directed by Nona Ciobanu; Caravaggio Terminal by András Visky, directed by Robert Woodruff; Christmas Tree at the Ivanovs by A.I. Vvedenski, directed by András Urbán. A moment of contentment for me was caused by the manner in which the public and the theatre professionals received Eugène Ionesco’s text The New Tenant, staged by me at the Nottara Theatre in Bucharest.

The three workshops with Josef Nadj, Declan Donnellan and Jaram Lee were also a great attraction. The theme was creatively enhanced by the video projections of Pina Bausch, by the exhibition Josef Nadj (who is also a graphic artist), the photo exhibition “The Body as Gift” by Mihaela Marin, and the exhibition “Living and dying or the Stories of the body” from the National Art Museum, whose curator I was. I think it is very important that during these days the “Interferences” from Cluj made artists from various countries meet and be together with the public.

The New Tenant by Eugène Ionesco, directed by Tompa Gábor (Hungarian Theatre of Cluj, Romania) © Mihaela Marin
The New Tenant by Eugène Ionesco, directed by Tompa Gábor (Hungarian Theatre of Cluj, Romania) © Mihaela Marin
The Bold Soprano by Eugène Ionesco, directed by Tompa Gábor (Hungarian Theatre of Cluj, Romania) - Best Foreign Performance of the Year in Great Britain (1993) © Mihaela Marin
The Bold Soprano by Eugène Ionesco, directed by Tompa Gábor (Hungarian Theatre of Cluj, Romania) – Best Foreign Performance of the Year in Great Britain (1993) © Mihaela Marin

Among the guests, numerous critics from Romania and abroad were present. The festival hosted the Board of the Critical Stages / Scènes Critiques Journal of the International Association of Theatre Critics.

I launched this invitation due to the quality of the reviews, essays, comments which are published in this prestigious journal—a barometer for the theatre critics and creators in Romania, but also in the world. For us feedback is very important, it is important how we are seen by people who are exposed to a lot of theatre on various meridians, on reputed stages; it is important to find out how they appreciate our work, where our creation stands. The presence at the Festival of the editors of this journal together with the young critics who attended the International Seminar organized by IATC represented moments of examination, discovery, enrichment, broadening of horizons.

This year’s edition coincided for you with a jubilee—25 years of management of the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj. How do you see the relationship with the Hungarian community, with the Romanian theatre, and the universal one?

I think that the Hungarian State Theatre of Cluj is part of the universal Hungarian-language culture. It is a historical and biological given. At the same time, artistically speaking, it is part of the theatrical movement in Romania. The Romanian culture has been and is influencing us very much. Personally, I consider myself a representative of the Romanian school of theatre. I have been the disciple of great men of theatre in Romania from whom I have acquired knowledge and who have impacted my career. For Cluj, the Hungarian Theatre or any other cultural institution for that matter is for all townspeople. I had to fight the conservative spirit of some extremist leaders of the Hungarian community who tried to influence the public opinion by stating that their identity can be preserved only by turning to the past. Nothing more false and harmful. We managed to invalidate this opinion by the artistic quality of our performances, the national and international awards we’ve received and the successful tours we took in great theater capitals. There is an artistic friendship that binds me to Mihai Maniutiu, the manager of the Cluj-Napoca National Theatre. I have devised a strategy for myself. I have sometimes carried out a tough battle with cheap popularity, trying to avoid compromises and concessions. We work together intensively for the exchange of artists. We are partners for certain events. A successful example was the “Georges Banu Days,” which was part of the International Encounters organized by the Cluj-Napoca National Theatre.

I think that during all these years, while fighting for normality, I started a theatre company that does not consider the theatre a workplace from where one gets one’s monthly pay. There, the actors bring into play their entire being, night after night. We all serve the artistic product shown on stage. Travelling a lot, I have tried to learn how to “steal” a few things from the way some theatre institutions with a large tradition operate—from technical endowment and administration to the artistic program. I also had models that inspired me: my father, Tompa Miklos, a great theatre manager, Liviu Ciulei, Emil Boroghină, from Romania, and from abroad Giorgio Strehler, Claus Peymann, Jerzy Jarocki from Kraków, René Gonzales from Lausanne, Josef Szajna, Iuri Liubimov, Anatoli Efros, Lev Dodin. The manager-type of directorship takes away from the creation time. That’s why I put together a strong marketing and fundraising team. I did not use the institution merely to carry out my own projects. I invited creators whom I admire and who can offer something different from what I can. I offered them conditions that created for them the freedom to dream and push their limits. The repertoire that brought personality to this theatre was conceived by directors who are quite diverse in their vision about the world and the manner in which they approach a text. The troupe of the Hungarian Theatre, very open to creation, quest and research, was trained by maestros such as: Vlad Mugur, Andrei Şerban, Silviu Purcărete, Mihai Măniuţiu, Felix Alexa, Victor Ioan Frunză—all from Romania, and from abroad: Matthias Langhoff, David Zinder, Robert Woodruff.

I think the greatest gain of our artistic program is that we provide headphone translation, in Romanian and now in English as well, for the performances, not only during the Festival, but throughout the entire season. What makes me glad is that, following the achievements of this Festival, there is an increased frequency of young public to the shows. They come to see the performance that charmed them tens of times. Two telling examples are Uncle Vanya directed by Andrei Şerban and The Bald Soprano staged by myself. What we have been aiming for during these 25 years was to connect to a network of universal values without sacrificing the identity that was given to us. Never before has the world theatre been present in Cluj in a more significant density and the public has never before had a better chance to compare or be exposed to what is happening now in contemporary theatre, with the newest trends.

What will the “Interferences” of the next editions be?

In 2016, “The Foreigner’s Condition,” which is a topical problem. There are countries in which migration is very strong; the population is in great flux, especially in the countries of Western culture. Unfortunately, most of the reasons are economic. But when I refer to the foreigner’s condition I do not think only of this, but also of the fact that sometimes we feel foreigners in our own country, in our own city, in our own family, in our own body or in the universe. We realize that in the world of Facebook and iPod, which are actually objects of globalized universal loneliness, alienation has become more acute. The theme of the 2018 edition will be another topical issue: “Money as God.” I consider Ostermeir’s exceptional performance a preamble to this future edition of “Interferences.” It brings to the foreground in a provocative manner the moral crisis triggered by selfishness, by the boundless greed, to the point where all that is left is this faith in money, which destroys the human soul, the relations between people, the social and political systems, nations. I think this history must be revised, since the original sin—that apple which we cannot resist. I hope these “Interferences” will be for the public as well as for the theatre professionals adventures filled with revelations!

*Tompa Gábor is the artistic director of the Interference International Theatre Festival, theater director and manager of the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj-Romania (member of UTE), a Professor, and head of the Directing Department at the University of California San Diego. He has put on stage texts by Euripides, W. Shakespeare, Molière, Georg Buchner, A.P. Chekhov, Alfred Jarry, Luigi Pirandello, Mihail Bulgakov, I.L. Caragiale, Eugène Ionesco, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, Sławomir Mrożek, Matei Vişniec, Visky András in theatres from Romania, Hungary, Germany, Great Britain, Serbia, the Czech Republic, France, Spain, Austria, the United States. Movies he directed: Behind the Mask, Fugue, Chinese Defense. Published books: The Unfaithful Theatre, Kriterion, Bucharest, 1987; Alertness, Hettorony, Budapest, 1990; The Tenderness of Stabbing, Komp-Press, Cluj-Napoca, 1995; Noah’s Theatre, Pallas Akademia, Tg. Mures, 2004. Honors and awards: Best Performance Award – 2005 (Waiting for Godot), Award for Excellence—2002—UNITER (Romanian Theater Union), Best Foreign Performance of the Year in Great Britain—1993 (The Bald Soprano), Best First Feature Award at the International Film Festival in Salerno—1999 (Chinese Defense), Best Director Award—1996, at the Hungarian National Theatre Festival, Award for Promoting French Culture—1997 (The Misunderstanding in Vienna, Tartuffe in Budapest, The Bald Soprano at Limoges and Cluj-Napoca), International Theatre Institute Award—2011. Books on his work: Conversation in Six Acts by Florica Ichim, Theatre Today, Bucharest, 2003; Theatrical Visions, Koinónia, Cluj-Napoca, 2007.


**Ludmila Patlanjoglu is theatre critic and historian, as well as University Professor and Head of the Theatre Science Department at the “I. L. Caragiale” National University of Drama and Film Arts in Bucharest, Romania. She was President of IATC Romanian Section (1999-2008) and Member of IATC’s Executive Committee (2001-2007). She is currently honorary member of the IATC Romanian Section board (2008 to present) and a member of the Romanian Theatre Artists’ Association (UNITER). She directed the 2002 and 2003 editions of the “I. L. Caragiale” National Theatre Festival in Romania and the 21st Congress of IATC organized in Bucharest (November 2003). She launched the IATC’s THALIA Prize (whose trophy was designed by Dragos Buhagiar) and is a member of the editorial board of Critical Stages, the web journal of IATC.

Copyright © 2015 Ludmila Patlanjoglu
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN: 2409-7411

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“It is very important to connect ourselves to a network of universal values without sacrificing our identity.”