George Mitropoulos interview with Marta Górnicka “VOICE IS FOR ME THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL IN THEATRE”

Voice is for me the most powerful tool in theatre

Europe today is like a cursed home from an ancient tragedy. She carries entirely new protagonists inside her, new Breiviks, new Trumps, and new crimes. An old family demon has nestled in this home. Possibly, it will not leave until it tastes blood.

George Mitropoulos: How did your European trilogy begin?

We first started in Israel with the piece MOTHER COURAGE WON’T REMAIN SILENT – A CHORUS FOR THE WARTIME. We cast over 50 people: Israeli Arabic and Jewish mothers, their children, and professional dancers – Israeli army soldiers. It was in the midst of conflict. Representatives of the fighting nations stood on one stage. My work with the chorus was aimed at creating a space where “a rival” does not mean “the enemy”, and antagonism does not have to lead to death as the ultimate conflict-solving tool. For me, chorus theater is a way to face the most difficult social issues, especially in a situation when conflicting communities are standing on the stage together. The Israeli project revealed such a dimension of work, such effectiveness of the CHORUS.

A year later, the premiere of M(OTHER) COURAGE took place in Germany. Mothers asked: “why does my son keep wanting to kill someone, where does he get it from?”. Neonationalism in Germany, and in Europe as a whole, was rising rapidly at that time. PEGIDA was established in Dresden. Also in Germany, the perpetrators of the so-called Kebab Murders were standing trial. In Paris, the “patriotic fighters” of ISIS attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo. CHORUS showed the ambiguity of who the enemy is today. It set in motion a new kind of discourse, revealed deep destructive desires of the community, and attempted to disarm the conflict.

What is Hymn to Love? And in what way have you decided to end this triptych?

I am closing the triptych in today’s Poland, which is very conflicted, divided and horrifying. In HYMN, twenty-five very different people enter the stage. They vary in terms of their age, experience, ethnic background, worldview. We selected this ensemble through an open casting call. We hired professional actors, amateurs, children, seniors, people with disabilities. It was crucial to create a diverse community – an image of an inclusive, open society which is disappearing in front of our eyes. It is now being replaced by a fantasy of a homogeneous nation-family, entirely closed off against all Others. Today, in Poland, our chorus challenges the rising power of nationalism which is supported by official cultural and historical policies. The diverse community sings, whispers and shouts A Hymn for Orchestra, a Chorus of Plushies and Others, but juxtaposed with verses from patriotic songs which construct a singular, collective body by eliminating any and all diversity and seeking unity in hatred. Thus, acute tension is created.

I tell a story of total impatience, frustration and fear, which must explode. Of the SCREAM-MARCH, a hymn rolling through the entire Europe.

Without the memory of her history, Europe is doomed to repeat the monstrous crimes and neglect. This perspective is very important for my country, where critical work involving the hardest historical experiences was replaced with an ideology of heroic victimhood, which today feeds nationalistic claims. This is why I build my message about today’s refugee crisis around the image of an orchestra playing in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Although, this time, the orchestra is not playing at the ramp in Auschwitz, but on the border, the place where Europe “defines” who “is qualified” to live here, and who is merely qualified to die at the gates of “paradise”.

Europe today is like a cursed home from an ancient tragedy. She carries entirely new protagonists inside her, new Breiviks, new Trumps, and new crimes. An old family demon has nestled in this home. Possibly, it will not leave until it tastes blood.

You use national anthems, patriotic songs and marches as your working material. Thus, you do not create a hymn to love, but a hymn in honor of all the things that divide us. Do you use the musical material ironically? As a sarcastic comment on what we are experiencing in Europe?

In the songs and marches, we can find an element which connects the community, but also an element of violence and death of the community. The ecstatic pleasure of singing together may also be a pleasure of eliminating others. Nationalist rappers sing their own HYMNS TO LOVE in their own countries. The discourse of the radical right is attractive for people all over Europe. What stands behind the language of religion and the message of “loving thy neighbor” is the declaration of “creating order”, protecting “common values”. The promise of “TRUTH”. Language can be fascinating! The CHORUS is all about showing the ambiguity of language: that the ideological frame is deceptive, but it also beats language like a drum, beats it portato and staccato! It awakens the collective consciousness.

We live in a world of fundamentalisms and terrorism. How can we react to these issues nowadays? Is there an answer?

In my performance, plush toys are experts on fighting terrorism and constructing the future of Europe. They are specialists in the problems of the modern world, in the threats of fundamentalism, in theatrical catharsis. A CHORUS composed of real actors falls silent confronted with a growing number of problems.

And is there an answer? I keep searching for the answer in the speaking CHORUS, in performing language, in disarming fear. In showing that THE OTHER is not where politics defines it. In performing the DIFFERENCE between us.

After all, the fight is always fought for US – the viewers of terror, the ones who WATCH the manslaughter – says the plush toy sheep in the HYMN. This mechanism is best understood by terrorists. And we have to understand it ourselves. This is about fear.

In response to these problems as well as the escalating refugee crisis, many European countries have closed their borders and turned to populism or the extreme right. Do you feel that dark days are coming for Europe?

Building a community on the exclusion of people who do not belong with “US” has once again become the motor for many politicians, unfortunately in part also for those currently in office. I am talking about Poland and Hungary, which are leading the way in the populist and nationalist race. Poland has refused to welcome any refugees at all, not even as a symbolic gesture of support. Eighty percent of the Polish society has backed the government’s decision. The opposition has started speaking the same language. In reality, there are no opponents among those political forces that matter. And Europe? In a sense, She/We do not exist anymore.

BREIVIK and other “defenders” of Europe are writing their own DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE FOR EUROPE – guided by THE GOOD AND THE TRUTH. Terror and extremism today exist on either side. The CHORUS points to this ambiguity, this undecidability. I am the greatest terror and the greatest victim of terror in Europe – says Anders Breivik. He accuses: “the greatest terror and injustice is the fact that democracy has led me to becoming a nationalist”.

Poland is a brilliant example of this situation. Poles are increasingly becoming nationalists. What is your opinion about Poland’s attitude?

In a way which horrifies me, Poles have forgotten a lot from their past. They have forgotten that we were once given shelter, too. The forgetting, the repressing, is lethally dangerous for us. It is the basis for building nationalist fantasies of a noble and sacrificial nation, enjoying God’s special love. Religion in our country is not spiritual – it is above all a keystone of identity, but actually of nationalism. Today’s alliance of “the altar and the throne” – the lay authorities and the hierarchy of the Catholic church – is a threat. The ideological noose is tightening. We are missing a language which could oppose those false narratives. It is much easier to believe that the Polish nation has a big heart and loves everyone, although it cannot let anybody in, because it needs to care for its own children. Thus, it will only help the needy in their own respective lands, but it will preserve its purity from any kind of otherness. The religious and family rhetoric mutes the fact that, in the narrative, Others become dirt which threatens our racial purity!

Does history repeat itself? Do you think that nationalism will prevail?

The European community’s memory is like a videocassette. You can edit it, you can cut out all of the edited moments. So that no trace remains. “I can’t remember it, there was no camp orchestra!” – says a character in the comic book Maus, an Auschwitz prisoner. If the victim does not remember, no one does. All nations are very forgetful! And they get hundreds of “likes” for it. And the corpses?! They do not have a voice!

For me, theater is exactly a place of speaking. And at the same time, of unmasking speaking as a form of silence. With the CHORUS, I practice the radical dialectics of the horror of speaking and the horror of silence. I show how we handle history using words. The CHORUS is a community which demonstrates these mechanisms. Therefore, it is exceptionally monstrous today. And exceptionally necessary.

In your performances, your theatrical vehicle is the CHORUS and the human voice. How do you use these tools? How do they help you speak our mind?

The human voice, and its musical treatment, the working on language through music and voice grounded in the body is, to me, the most powerful tool in the theater. The revolution is in the voice. “Giving away” your voice is dangerous (as in various populisms), but speaking up with your own voice can strengthen and build entities and communities. It is always about finding voice.


George Mitropoulos interview with Marta Gornicka
for Athens&Epidauros Festival



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