Interview with Grzegorz Jarzyna
I BELIEVE IN SPACE
We pass along the most important things, without even being conscious of having lost something of great importance, says Grzegorz Jarzyna. He explains why “Nosferatu”, a play that he has just staged, looks the way it looks.
Have you seen the film „Twilight” or “True blood” series? The world went crazy about vampires. Teenagers fall in love with actors playing in vampire sagas. Have you been bitten, too?
- My brother’s 12-year-old daughter had a poster of Robert Pattinson in her room. One afternoon, we went to the cinema to see “Twilight” with her and my mother. It turned out that both, my niece and my mother, liked the vampire played by Pattinson. This vampire is a sweet boy, a perfectly meaningless toy, which can appeal to everybody.
The mass culture has chewed a vampire and spit out a toy of little value, but that myth was studied by professor Maria Janion, author of “Vampire. A symbolic biography”.
- The book written by Janion inspired me a few years back to make a play about Dracula. I was surprised that somebody approached this myth in such an academic way.
And before that did you think that this was a folk tale without any deeper meaning?
- I devoured films about Dracula. They impressed me a lot, even if I didn’t know why. The film that I remember the most is the one made by Tod Browning with Bela Lugosi playing the main character, namely Bela Lugosi himself. A charismatic actor creates a character of a person lost between life and death. He looks like a man, speaks like a man, but is no longer a man. It sends the imagination reeling. Werewolves, zombies and other monsters amuse me, but the vampire intrigues me.
But your Nosferatu is not free of absurdity. You wink at the audience knowingly, you don’t escape from kitsch, and from time to time even from literal meaning.
- This is true especially for the first scene, when Nosferatu appears. The viewer knows that the play is a tale, something fictional and this is a very suspicious thing in the theater. I thought that if I was going to see such a play, I would like to change my preconceived ideas about who Dracula is, make him more ordinary, funny, degrade him a little bit and, only then, start to create a character.
In modern series and films which are so popular nowadays, vampires are a symbol of the dream about eternal youth. Still, your Nosferatu is old, tired and embittered.
- His is tired above all by the repeatability. A vampire’s attractiveness consists mainly of giving his potential victims immortality. This is the key element of the vampire myth. In one moment of our life, we become aware that death is inevitable. I’m in a half-way point of my life and I’ve come to the conclusion that we follow illusions very intensively in the name of killing the fear of death. Artists, politicians, scientists – all of them have a strong need of creating something special, above-average, something that will be remembered by others. This is supposed to ensure an illusion of immortality, be a mark left after the end of our existence. And still, even if we succeed to achieve something exceptional, it will always be only a silent groan muffled by noises of others who also desire to leave something behind when they are gone. This is a problem for all of us, an individual problem but it is visible especially in a city like Warsaw, which for me is a mark of modern times. It is here, that, due to changes in the Polish society during the last 20 years, the dynamics of aspirations, aims are a lot more intensive, more progressive compared to other European cities. In Warsaw we can feel a great hunger. Individual search influences the whole community. We create new groups, manifest our differences, quickly achieve our aims, which, in turn, become a fashion, a trend and lose their exceptional character at the same moment, so they can’t any longer give us the desired eternity. Therefore, we immediately set new goals. Again and again. I used to call it creativity. Today, I think that it was a way to silence the fear of death. We are prisoners of time, we are unconsciously afraid of it. My vampire is tired mostly of being aware of repeatability.
It seems to be the most brutal truth, which comes to us as we become mature. The role of Nosferatu is played in your show by an actor from a Viennese theatre. Did you want to underline his strangeness? Was a national theme important to you?
- The theme of a "stranger" can be found in my plays. A vampire is a stranger, the prince of darkness, who enters the land of brightness, that is our safety. The information about a German taking part in my play was spread immediately. After the riots of November 11, the play gained a new meaning in the eyes of the society. That kind of interpretation has never come to my mind. Why that happened? Because a “stranger” touches our fears, enters in every hole, in our cracks, prejudices and we instantly distribute it in ourselves. Then, it starts to radiate and make room for itself within us.
In Bram Stroker’s novel, Dracula is a mysterious stranger from the East. He is a challenge for the western rationalism. In your play, it’s the other way round. Dracula arrives from the western civilization, more developed than a catholic country. We can assume that it is Poland.
- I made an assumption that a vampire lives in us. That is why my play concentrates more on individual characters and less on the Dracula himself, since he is an emanation of what lies within the other characters. The theme of a “stranger” is not a social issue for me, it is, by contrast, very personal. I felt as a stranger in many places. When I was growing up, it was a very delicate subject for me. I felt worse than others, that’s why I traveled to the East, to Asia, where I was a European, so someone better by definition. I was a representative of a better order. The locals wanted to present their culture to me, show all the best that they had. During these travels, I became self-confident. I overcame the complex of being someone worse, a „stranger” .
The Bram Stocker’s novel takes place at the turn of the twentieth century and describes the world a moment before a great acceleration of civilization.
Your play is full of modern feelings and intuitions. The mix of science and the wish to cross the limits, to touch something mysterious, break with tradition in the world which surrounds us and objectifies us, is a mark of the times.
- I tried to weave such a subtle tissue in the play as never before. I’m interested in what lies between an idea and the reality, between a conception and a creation, between the light and the shade. Everything that exists is in between. I intended to present the final experience by balancing between kitsch, boredom and attractiveness. I tried to show the unexpressed, unknown, a kind of nonexistence, of stopping a moment in time, a slowdown. I wanted to avoid giving one interpretation. Personally I am fascinated by what I don’t understand. I don’t mean originality, but whether I can take part in the creation, in cognition. In “Dracula” I wanted viewers to create their own reality, their own interpretation of the play thanks to associations they have. I don’t want them to identify with given characters, but to find new meanings thanks to their imagination. The play is a kind of a subtle draft that everyone who enters the story can fill with their own drawings.
During the first shows not many viewers wanted to pick up the gauntlet and complete the draft. The audience laugh in the least appropriate moments. After the premiere, opinions prevailed that what you wanted to say is unclear, that you are lost and „Nosferatu” doesn’t bring anything new apart from beautiful images.
- At the beginning "T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T." according to Pasolini wasn’t well received either. I was shocked when I heard the audience laugh in the most dramatic moments. When I first saw the play as a whole together with viewers, I introduced small changes, switches and finally achieved a better communication with the audience. Now, as far as I know, the play has a cult status. It had to mature, just like the viewers. I switched few accents, cancelled some pauses in a few places and slowed down the action in others right after the premiere of „Nosferatu”. My dream is to make the play a hypnotizing performance for the viewer. What counts in the play is not the action, but the contemplation.
The beginning of "Nosferatu" resembles "T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T.". A family submerged in a daily routine, boredom and banality. And then, one day, a stranger appears and the world derails.
- It’s a kind of prelude. In the first scene, we can see people who have everything, but they are still missing something, they are waiting for something.
The person who is waiting the most intensively is Lucy (Sandra Korzeniak), for me, too ostentatious in her sexuality.
- Lucy is surrounded by her friends, men adoring her, love of her fiancé who tries really hard to make her happy and who is a good person. She has everything that she could ever dream of. And this is when a yearning appears for something unnamed, irresponsible, something sweet and bitter at the same time. A desire that can’t be defined and which doesn’t have anything in common with facts, well-being, love, sex. It’s a presentiment.
This is why Nosferatu appears for the first time as a golden dust?
- It appears as a fog which takes shape when it’s confronted with its victim, with the victim’s dreams.
I enjoyed the slow rhythm of the play.
- I wanted to achieve an effect of retardation, slowdown, stretching the time to show moments when nothing really happens. When I visualized the play, these slow-motion moments were the most important to me. I used to wake up at night, when everyone was asleep, and I could hear dogs barking from afar. I had the feeling to be out of time, that this was a moment of truth. I built my play in this way. "Nosferatu" begins with a suspension, a moment out of time, and then I add new scenes very slowly. Obviously, I am aware that I lose many viewers because of such a beginning, but those who let me seduce them, witness a bizarre, ambiguous performance.
Van Helsing, a vampire slayer, becomes in your interpretation one of the most important characters of the drama.
Maybe Nosferatu is his alter ego?
- Van Helsing tracks vampires his whole life. He is convinced that they exist. This is the essence of his life. Thus, at the end he is not able to kill Dracula, since by killing his enemy, he would question the sense of his own existence. Van Helsing is possessed by the wish of cognition. Methods are of no importance, the only thing that matters is to discover what the Dracula phenomenon is. He is partly a scientist, partly a witch-doctor, devoid of sensitivity to other people, because only his aim is important to him. He will not hesitate to use people as tools, sacrifice them if only it would help him to possess the secret. He has something of Sherlock Holmes, a character typical for gothic horror novels, where unraveling of the mystery was important. The more terrible and bloody the truth was, the better. In the key scene of the play, he wants to discover Nosferatu’s secret. But when the vampire tells him that they are similar and suggests he goes with him and tries immortality for himself, Van Helsing refuses. He realizes that Nosferatu’s being in the non-being is driven by the desire, the thirst of something more. It is then imperfect, human. He reaches emptiness. The aim that he wanted to achieve his whole life became an illusion.
Also the theme of signs was important to me. Renfield, a scientist, can see signs, but he can’t read them. He doesn’t recognize Nosferatu, when he comes to dinner. Such stories often happen in our lives. We pass next to something most important, without knowing that we have lost something of great value.
Do you have a vampire inside?
- Many people are called vampires, we say that they suck the energy, ideas, talents from other people. However, everyone does this, to a smaller or larger extent. It is not only a privilege of artists, creators, despots. Everybody has a vampire element inside them. We draw the energy from others, this is a part of our nature. Nevertheless, by taking it, we also give something back. We replace the new energy with emptiness. We undergo changes and change others, but they also change us. Having worked on Pasolini’s text, I understood that it is better to be sucked by a vampire that to live in an illusion, a delusion, in conventions. It is better to go down to the bottom, touch the emptiness and then to bounce back, to get up and try to be oneself.
And what if the vampire, whoever he was, took away the most personal thing from us, if he sucked away our being? Would we lose the chance to be ourselves?
- No one can change or take away what makes us unique. People say that somebody used another person, destroyed them, took away something most important to them. In reality, we can only take away what is weak, what we want to be sucked out. The essence of a person cannot be changed. It resides in us as a core which, sometimes, we can’t name, define, but it exists. It is modified by ourselves and by the reality. Every living being has its own code inscribed. A tree either grows high or has wide branches or tips to one side. A lot depends on the soil, insolation, humidity, but a certain type of development is recorded in genes.
With people, it’s similar. We constantly look for space where we could express ourselves fully. Only those who keep looking, trying and falling can feel the essence and the secret of our being on Earth.
The play doesn’t have a happy end.
- In the novel, there is a fight between the Prince of Darkness and the Prince of Brightness, between God and the things pagan, between our lust, desires and the established order of values. These antagonisms were the driving force for novels and films. Yet today they lost their importance. The differences are hidden in ourselves.
Your Nosferatu dies?
- The scene can be interpreted in different ways. Nosferatu says that he has always waited for a sunset and now he dreams of a sunrise. This is his forbidden fruit, this is what he cannot have. It would be a break, a crossing.
It turns out that people always miss what they can’t have. If a 400-year person says so, it means that this yearning is a part of our nature. In the last scene, Nosferatu goes towards the sun, because he believes that in this way he will achieve fulfillment. Maybe he becomes light, maybe dust? "For dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return" – for me, this is one of important truths about the world which surrounds us.
Are you afraid of that moment?
- Less and less. I was definitely more afraid of death as a teenager. Then, the idea used to induce my panic. Religiousness of my parents, as well as my own one, helped me to master the fear of death.
Are you still religious?
- I believe in the Absolute. I can feel its existence in my body, in the constant expansion of the universe. I believe in the cosmos, that is in an order inscribed in chaos.