by randy gener
I met Kisyova during my first visit to Sofia. The occasion was the 24th World Congress of the International Association of Theatre Critics (April 14-19, 2008), which was organized by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Bulgaria. She was a very lovely spirit who spoke very little English. But it was clear that she was also a serious theoretician who wanted to survey U.S. playwrights as part of a book on the relation between actors and dramatists in the writing of new plays. Her search seemed very passionate and sincere, because Bulgaria was marketed to us foreign visitors as mainly a director’s theatre. She explained that she was working on a monograph, Historical Aspects of the Relation Actor – Dramatist, as a part of her PhD thesis.
Drawing upon a diversity of influences (including Thracian myths, language, psychology, medicine and post-modern theory), Kisyova’s book differentiates the “actor-dramatist” from “the actor and dramatist,” and it reflects on the relation between these two assigned roles in the theatre through a survey of dramatists, actors and actor-dramatists. (Full disclosure: I agreed to be one of her interviewees, and at least two pages of the book are devoted to a discussion of my multi-identities in the theatre.) The resulting book was published this year. What follows is our conversation, conducted via email.–R.G.
RANDY GENER: Your monograph is entitled Historical Aspects of the Relation Actor – Dramatist. What do you mean by the phrase “Relation Actor–Dramatist?
MAYA KISOYVA: The book is based on my experiences as an actor. The book also includes theoretical material targeted for students of playwriting. This monograph attempts to bring out “the actor” and “the dramatist” as abstract concepts. Every playwright has to discover his or her self like an actor. The playwright has to “play” everyone of his characters. In writing this monograph, I made the “actor” and “dramatist” basic personages. I looked at them as a parts of a matrix, as a reflection of opposites but also two parts of a whole. “Relation” is a mathematical term.
I also did a survey for the book. In this survey, the concept of “relation” opens up the idea of “combination” (as in it does in mathematics). In the research, I found that the relation between these personages can be found not 2s but by 3’s: some of us are “actors,” some are “dramatists,” and some are “actor–dramatists.” How are these personages related in different historical moments? When are these roles free of the other’s influence? Or do these roles shadow one other? In a sense, God was the first actor-playwright. For the rest of us, the theme of how to function as actors and dramatists can be endless. But I succeeded to keep the huge theme of my book in the area of the theatre.
GENER: Why did you write this book? What was your motivation?
KISYOVA: It started as a bright idea in 2005. I took part in a workshop for students of dramaturgy from the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts (NAFTA) around the time of the International Theatrical Festival in the Bulgarian city of Varna, led by the poet and playwright Gabriel Gbadamosi. During the workshop, I was awakened to how important an actor’s energy is for the person who writes dramaturgy. The motion of the body cultivates the imagination. Actors’ movements help the writer to “play” everyone of the personages in the drama and to feel the words as they are being constructed. The analyses in my book is delicate and brief. It travels with Internet speed from Aeschylus to Evgenij Grishkovetcz, from Shakespeare to Eric Emmanuel Schmitt. All of us feel that we live in a theatrical world with a universal pulse.
The goal of this book is to re-discover the role of the actor to dramatist so that the actor can serve a useful function in the writer’s creation of the personages and the verbal score. Acting is the basic path. Acting can offer direct and metaphorical meaning for the writer.
Why have I written this book? Because over the years the accumulated knowledge in Bulgarian theatre academy stands against my creative nature as an actor and dramatist. I felt it was my responsibility to share the result of this meeting. I want this book to improve the quality of Bulgarian contemporary drama.
GENER: Tell me about the image on cover of the book.
KISYOVA: The cover of the book combines the Thracian caryatid’s view with a picture of a contemporary commedia dell’arte actor, a Bulgarian artist performing in Svandovo Divadlo in Prague. [Editor’s note: In classical Thracian-Greek architecture, the caryatid is a draped female figure often used instead of a column as a support. Švandovo Divadlo is a performing-arts center in Smichov in the Czech Republic.]
GENER: Tell me more about your conclusions.
KISYOVA: Most of the chapters end with practical exercises. For example, the theme about the word’s “invention” is followed with physical exercises that depend on serious surveys from Steven Pinker, Nora Johnson and Jacques Lacan. The work of many Bulgarian practical and theoretical specialists in the science, as well as leading actors, also appear in the book. There is an original combination of “Motivation and Memory,” as well as “Situation and Stimulus,” which is derived from the Academy of Petr Anochin (after Ivan P. Pavlov).
Historical Aspects of the Relation Actor – Dramatist continues its existence and its development by synchronizing theatrical ideas with research-technical progress. The book attempts to reanimate the idea of how to be an author, despite recent post-modern statements that claim “the death of author,” “the death of God” and “the death of the subject.”
From this relational point of view, basic resemblances and differences between the theatres of East and West, as well as between the theatre and the cinema, were noticed in the book. These themes are so voluminous and should be object of separate surveys. But for me it was important to check and evaluate these positions.
GENER: Is the relation of “actor – dramatist” different in Bulgaria as opposed to other countries, like the United States?
KISYOVA: Historical Aspects of the Relation Actor – Dramatist is valid for the whole theatrical world. The specific national case of Bulgarian theatre goes back to our ancient Thracian heritage. The science of Thracology is Bulgarian “pure mark.” The founder of this science, Professor Alexander Fol, was a Bulgarian historian and Thracologist whose research lays in the cultural history of Southeast Europe and Asia Minor and Indo-European studies. Fol described metaphorical Thracian cycle in 10 levels: peace, jerk, self-charge, aureole and so on…leading to death. The personages in this cycle are Orpheus and the Great God-Mother. The Möbius strip (or ring) serves as a similar geometrical metaphor of this cycle, and I used this symbol as a model of thinking for my research study.
The people who participated in my survey are leading Bulgarian artists, many of them professors, teachers in NAFTA, and dramatists who have won many international awards. The inquiries in the book shows that the relation of “Actor–Dramatist” in Bulgaria is not different in comparison with other countries and cultures. The problem is more with language. I wish to send my special thanks for Mario Fratti (USA) and Jordi Galceran (Catalonia, Spain) for taking part in inquiries. Mostly, I thank you, who immediately reacted in support of my project. Many times in my interviews, I talked about your special participation, because there were no language barriers for a multifunctional artist like you.
GENER: Thank you for the kind words. To be honest, I was happy to take part in your survey because I was curious to learn about what conclusions you might reach.
KISYOVA: My purposes were realized. I enunciated the theme, sustained the stream of sources, and combines ideas from mythology, play, language, psychology, physics and medicine. For readers, I hope they will react associatively–to discover for themselves just as an author does. After post-modernism, I think the way forward is the reanimation of the author.
The book is interesting for actors, too. Through it, they rationalize their relations with dramatists, with dramaturgy. An important part of the survey is the role of the director. There are historical views of basic trainings (Stanislavski, Brecht, Lee Strasberg, Michael Chekov and so forth). There are more and more creative examples, but fewer and fewer analyses that have been published on the subject.
In the end, I feel that this book is the beginning, only. If I succeed in making students take a course in “Dramatists Write Like Actors” as part of the curriculum in Bulgarian academies, perhaps the book will allow me to start a new survey, which I would like to call The Practical Aspects of the Relation Dramatist – Actor.
GENER: What are the problems in Bulgarian theater today?
KISYOVA: The problems in Bulgarian theatre today issue from the stagnation of the relation between “State – Theatre.” The democratic changes in Bulgaria began about 20 years ago. But the conversations on reforms in the theatrical system have begun just recently. The status of the freelance artist, for example, is absent in the current system. Many actors receive salaries from the state, like clerk. Many of them receive salaries from the state without having to perform any parts in performances. The legacy of the communist past on the Bulgarian system is so heavy, unfortunately.
On the other hand, many of Bulgarian directors have been seen on the larger European stages; thanks to their individual talents, a number of Bulgarian directors have received international recognition: Alexander Morphov in Russia, Tedy Moskov in Germany, Galun Stoev in France. The director Yavor Gardev succeed in inviting back to Bulgaria the writer Edward Olby and directed his work in Sofia.
We expect the new Law of Theatre, a new Law of Objection and alleviations of the stage arts. We hope the reform will start from the present Ministry of Culture, and it will give chance to impact many forms of theaters in Bulgaria. One of the recent success that took place in Bulgaria was the 24th World Congress of the International Association of Theatre Critics (April 14-19, 2008, Sofia). Thanks this forum, we met with colleagues from many countries from abroad; there were many useful, creative dialogues that took place.