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A talk with Raúl Iaiza on his Teatropolis

Raúl Alejandro Iaiza is an Argentinean artist and pedagogue, as well as the founder and Artistic Director of Regula contra Regulam Teatro (Italy). During last summer, he was invited by Shoshin Theatre Association to Cluj-Napoca as a conductor of a two-module theatrical workshop, called Polis. One part of the programme was Polis Junior, consisting of a drama-pedagogical preparation and voice-training sessions, both for three days. The participants were teenagers – students of the local High School for the Visually Impaired. A parallel module was taking place for professional and semi-professional adults, in the Mixed Performing Arts (MPA) Workshop. Inspired by the texts of Aristophanes, such as The Birds and The Knights, the whole group from the two separate workshops created an outdoor work-demonstration together in a public space, titled Teatropolis.

Raúl Iaiza is a returning guest to Romania. His previous collaboration with Shoshin Theatre Association, which was happening though a longer series of artistic workshops, resulted in an international production, The Family of Antigone: Stories of Blindness, presented at the garden of Bánffy Palace (Cluj-Napoca, 2015).

While taking part in the creative work, I asked the director about the turning points in his career and the pedagogical challenges of the current working process.

Nikolett Nemeth: During the introduction, you told us that you started your career as a professional musician (recorder player). I am curious about how you turned towards theatre. Do you remember a concrete moment when this call became obvious?

Raúl Alejandro Iaiza: Indeed, I started as a musician, distant from theatre, so I could not have even imagined my later connection with it. I came from Argentina to Europe to continue my musical studies, following the masters to Milan and Bologna. During these studies in Italy, as a young professor, I taught in a secondary school. One of the classes in the final year was preparing a graduation performance, and they had chosen me as their mentor, thinking that being a music professor is somehow connected to theatre. I accepted the task and started theatrical work for the sake of the students. They showed me an unknown part of myself, however, it took three or four years to make the decision of changing my profession. Eventually, it happened when I was about thirty (about twenty years ago), and step by step, I abandoned my musical career.

NN: I can imagine that even though, you have kept some elements from the musical education and career to adapt into the theatrical work.

RI: At first sight, the relationship between music and theatre seemed obvious, but in practice, this is not so direct or simple. It takes a lot of time to find a kind of translation or to apply some sort of analogy between the two fields. Without this effort, there is only a false connection through a mechanical logic. My research into this relationship started quite late in my career, during the collaboration with Odin Teatret, with whom I worked for twelve years. In 2005, on the occasion of Mozart’s coming birth anniversary, a renowned festival invited Eugenio Barba (the director of Odin Teatret) to create a performance about Don Juan, based on Mozart’s work of the same theme. This was the moment for me to become “amphibious”, to cross my two professions. I was offered to collaborate in the preparation for the new performance, as I could communicate efficiently with the musicians from a specific theatrical point of view. From this project, yet another new perspective has been opened and music returned to my life through theatre.

NN: Has your musical focus changed in this returning?

RI: I used to be a recorder player, focusing on early music: medieval, renaissance and baroque. In the theatrical work, I use all kinds of instruments, such as guitar, keyboard, percussion, and especially singing. The voice is where I mainly find the connection point, as it directly relates to the actor’s training.

NN: I suppose that this also leads to your pedagogic activity. Participating in your working group, I have found your approach to the voice quite unique: closely specified for the individual, but with a strong attention on the whole group as well. I think this differs from what one can usually experience in an institutional setting.

RI: Yes, working with music with this kind of specificity is especially important in the current project Teatropolis, when there is a mixed group of children and young people with different capabilities of perception.

NN: You are working with people coming from very different backgrounds for only three to four days. I think about the age difference (from about the age of 10 to 40), the professional, educational and cultural backgrounds. What are the main pedagogical tools that make it work for everybody to equally take part of the process?

RI: This is the merit of the theatre, not me. Theatre can create and transform connections. I only prepare some spring-boards to catch connections, but I do not create them. I just discover the connections that existed already, then try to build something from that. Theatre creates the possibility to work with the differences.

NN: So, can we say that you concentrate on the differences that are present within the group, and try to encourage collaborations among them?

RI: Yes, however, I take a great deal of risks, since I do not have a real plan. I have tools and traces, sources of inspiration and starting points: exercises, songs, the support of the literary stories – this time related to the Polis and its citizens from the world of Aristophanes. I take heterogenic elements, such as a Norwegian lullaby of which the lyrics we re-wrote according to the participants’ ideas. Since there were both Romanian and Hungarian participants, we created two verses including both languages. Then changing the lyrics turned out to alter the rhythm of the song as well. I continuously look for cross-connections, so the work is a sort of jumping between them. Only on the third day (one day before the public showing of the work) did I start to understand the possibility of a conclusion, in a form of a performance. Although, it is more of an attempt to find the balance between a laboratory session, which aims to transforms the energy of the people within the group, and the act of sharing something from this with an audience.

NN: Can we see the work demonstration as a synthesis of the workshop?

RI: Yes and no. The most important aim of these four days is not to create a performance, but the working process of the participants, which is often impossible to present in the short term. In this case, you can only put some of the parts together to share through extrapolation. Then maybe the atmosphere we create gives the audience a sort of smell, a perfume of the process. However, the work demonstration is crucial in the sense of sharing and communicating towards outside. It is a conclusion with intensity, not closed inside the room, but with the intention to offer something. I would say that because of our loyalty to the working process, even without fully understanding it, we have the possibility to give a little beauty to the people we meet in the street during our performance.

NN: How has the topic of the workshop arisen?

RI: The proposition of the title, “Polis” came from Shoshin, the organizers. We wanted to get inspiration from our last collaboration: a street performance, which was built around Antigone’s myth and the family line of Laius. As an intersection of the previous project and the theme Polis, I arrived at Aristophanes, whose works I find extremely strong, interesting, and relevant today.

NN: What do you think is the biggest pedagogical challenge for this current work?

RI: The challenge is, as I said, to find the balance between the process and a presentable conclusion you take out to the street. Most of the participants are not actors; the individual and group-dynamics that are visible from the inside, often stay hidden under pressure, generated by the opportunity of a 20-minute-long performance. So, my questions are: Can we manage to make our audience imagine the quality of the developments we have experienced, and reach a sensible conclusion? Although, I do not quite foresee the exact solution yet, I hope, we will manage to build our version of Teatropolis and invite the audience to get involved.

NN: Thank you very much for the interview!

RI: Thank you!