The Interrupted Act

The Interrupted Act by Tadeusz Rozewicz  – Teatr Norwida, Poland 

When I was asked to direct a play by Tadeusz Rozewicz I chose to stage “The Interrupted Act” which is an absurd text about a theatre-play Rozewicz wants to write. It is a text about theatre and how to create reality in theatre, or perhaps it is a text about what reality in reality really is… This text is mostly a prose text and not a normal theatre-play. It gives me as a director therefore more freedom. Most traditional theatre-plays carry so to speak an idea of how they are to be staged. Specific characters say specific sentences and there is often a plot or an action that one is supposed to relate to. This text written in 1963 is more like a novel or at times even like a lecture at the university. The few and short “dramatic scenes” in the text are basically written as ironic examples showing that reality as we know it from real life cannot really exist in theatre.

The Interrupted Act” is not quite possible to stage as it is written. It demands some sort of adaption, like dividing the long text into lines for characters. In my first adaption for the ten actors, I cut parts of the text and commented and discussed other parts of the text with my own words. This is how I normally work when I stage other plays or novels. In commenting the text with my own words it is easier to relate the performance to our own specific time and reality. Rozewicz’ text refers to Poland in 1963. There is an obvious reason why he wrote like he did that has to do with censorship and the political situation at the time. Poland (and the world) is very different in 2015. As an artist I find it more interesting to make a performance saying something concrete and specific about our present situation than the situation 50 years ago. Theatre has apart from its obvious function as entertainment also a political and social function and should offer the audience new perspectives on our lives and our present society. Theatre is not a museum and art should never be “old”. And by the way, theatre should never confirm moral or political prejudices. That is the job of the Police and the Church.

However, after 4 weeks of rehearsals the theatre got the message that we couldn’t change, cut or comment Rozewicz’ text from the stage. The text from 1963 was so to speak sacred. This put us in a situation where I had to change my artistic strategy. Suddenly the text became some kind of resistance, at times even some kind of absurd enemy the actors had to relate to. When Rozewicz as an example has written a whole page about the author Samuel Beckett and a specific theatre critic in the German newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine”, you ask yourself the question how on earth this can be of interest for a contemporary audience in Jelenia Gora. Well, for most people in Jelenia Gora it simply cannot, so perhaps we can sing a nice song while saying this text and thereby irritate the actor performing the text? And in this way we can actually say something important about our reality and how it feels when we sometimes are forced to do things that have no sense.

My artistic strategy shifted from a more direct and political one to a more indirect and relational. We tried to find situations where misunderstandings, irritations and conflicts between the actors (and the actors and the text) occur. We also defined a specific reality on stage, a chorus, which has a certain order or system and we show what happens when someone breaks out of this system. Sometimes breaking the system is very bad, but sometimes it is also very creative; it is what brings social or political change. But breaking the system always provokes some kind of resistance, anger and conflict.

The Interrupted Act” doesn’t really have a story or a plot. Nothing is going on, nothing exciting is happening. The actors that enter the stage much like an ancient Greek chorus, just tell us what has happened in a room we will never see. They explain us the characters, the stage design and the costumes in the play in the smallest details. We even get to know that a man that enters the room has a hole in his left sock. Unfortunately there is no scene where this man (or his sock) really appears in the text.

So evidently there must be something else than the plot and the characters that can interest and entertain the audience in this performance…

Sometimes the word in the theatre isn’t really important. It can be something else, beyond the word that is important. It can be to create situations we recognize from our daily life and show these situations in a new perspective. Actually it can be both entertaining and interesting to watch how people relate to each other. It is just like in the real life that Rozewicz writes about in his ironic, funny and absurd way: We don’t really understand each other and we don’t even listen to each other ether. The language as such has a limited potential for communicating because we are all trapped in our own personal references to every word we use. And regarding our society, our culture, our political system or religion: We feel secure when there is a system or rules we can relate to. But submitting to any kind of social accepted rules is also the core of any totalitarian system, dictatorship and suppression.