Avtandil Varsimashvili – fotó: Eöri Szabó Zsolt

Avtandil Varsimashvili: ‘The magic of the theater is the acting’

Award-winning Georgian director Avtandil Varszimashvili recently presented a Brecht play at the National Theater of Hungary, and on April 26-27 he will come to the 10th Theater Olympics with two Shakespeares. We talked about making theater and what a director’s greatest virtue is.

– In January, you directed The Caucasian Chalk Circle in Budapest. What has your experience been like?

This was my first encounter with Budapest National Theatre. Of course, I had seen Attila Vidnyanszky’s plays, earlier ones, and modern ones too. Therefore, I knew I was dealing with a top-level theater and agreed without hesitation. It was a big pleasure to work with such actors because they can naturally combine a strong form with psychological theater.

– You are coming to the Theatre Olympics with two Shakespeare plays. What does it mean for you to participate in the Theatre Olympics?

– It’s prestigious for every theater to participate in the Olympics. It’s also a big responsibility, especially when you play Shakespeare. Every country’s theater sees Shakespeare differently. We bring a Georgian vision, our aesthetics, and our acting school. I think that’s the most important.

– In an interview, you said that the theater needs time away. What do you mean by that? Are Shakespeare’s works like that?

– Theatre doesn’t exist without the context of time. If the theater doesn’t match the time, it loses its prime function: talk without the audience about their needs. That’s why Shakespeare is a great author because his plays find purpose in every époque and every time they speak with the public about what the latter is worried about. Our Shakespeare is intended for the modern audience, not the one of the 16th or 17th century.  

– You say that a director’s talent lies in knowing what the audience expects of him. What are these expectations in Richard III and Othello?

– The director should feel the audience’s needs; guess what they want to hear at the moment of watching the play. In Richard III, we talk with the audience about the danger of dictatorship because everyone is interested in where dictatorship takes its roots. In Othello, we talk about the devastating consequences of a lack of trust. 

– Both Richard III and Othello premiered years ago. Has anything changed since then? Have audience expectations changed?

– We staged Richard III years ago, but the interest towards the roots of dictatorships is a very current topic right now. Therefore it’s a very modern play. Othello is a new one. It’s about a universal topic about the consequences of lack of trust. I think the public will like it as well.

– You rarely use modern techniques, but prefer to believe in your actors. Is it a kind of isolationism? 

– For me the magic of the theater is the acting. Technology can help, but it will never replace a human being and the energy an actor brings on stage. The use of technology is not new, it dates back to ancient times, where the huge constructions were built as a part of decoration, but the dominant force has always been an actor. Audience also goes to the theater to watch humans and not a technical show. 

– As far as I know, the two shows move a total of 50 people. How do you manage to travel for these performances?

– Of course it’s very costly and not always possible. Therefore, when a big festival or a production company invites us, we are very happy to participate. That allows us to show the play, the way we conceived it.

– If we look at your Shakespeare performances, do we see Georgian theater?

– Yes, you see Georgian aesthetics. Georgian theater, like Hungarian, Greek or Japan has not only a literal language, but a theatrical language. Every theater has its cultural code, which is seen in a form, acting style and what we want to say. Attila Vidnyánszky’s Shakespeare is Hungarian, like Terzopoulos’ one is Greek. This is why the theater is magical and interesting in every country and every period. My Shakespeare is Georgian. If I hadn’t done it in a Georgian way, it wouldn’t have been interesting for the audience. 

– The symbol of the 10th Theatre Olympics is an ark. If you could take something from the universal theater culture with you, what would it be that you would carry over into the 22nd century?

– Each of us should develop their country’s theatrical language. There should be a national cultural code. This multicolor palette makes theater eternal and to experience this we need the Olympics. The ark is a very right symbol, because we are all different from each other, which is great. That allows us to learn from each other and develop.

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