Prof. Andrey Avramov, stage director: Dario Fo is of my blood type

Where morals and didactics are helpless, laughter and irony are more successful

The art of humour is a peculiar thing, especially when it is publicly displayed. It is a difficult and very responsible matter. Humour has different dimensions - sincere, biting, vicious, sarcastic… Pulling these invisible threads, which cause theatre audiences to laugh, is a specific thing and a part of our job is to catch them. The nature of humour is such that it originates very often from the juxtaposition of paradoxical and unexpected twists, says stage director Andrey Avramov in an interview to Europost.

Prof. Avramov, in September at Sofia's Satirical Theatre was the premiere of your play Mother's Marijuana Is the Best, based on the work by Dario Fo. How did the audience welcome it and how did the rehearsals go, amid the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions that were introduced?

It was not so dramatic, because by a decision of the State Satirical Theatre the rehearsal period lasted all summer, and it was in fact the normal rehearsal period to which we were used. When I say normal, I mean for this kind of comedy, which is always full of a lot of improvisation, ideas and findings that need to be tested during the rehearsals. That is why it was very important for us to be able to try things out, even to make mistakes and correct them. In some ways, this process continues later, during the performances, and we have already several of them after the premiere. Some adjustments in the nuances become necessary, depending on the reaction of the audience and the perception of this sensitive topic, which is treated comically in this play. This is not only my style of work, but it is also stimulated by the author Dario Fo himself, with whose dramaturgy I have been working for many years. I am paraphrasing what he said himself: Change, cut, improvise and turn the dramaturgy that you have as a written text into vivid speech that corresponds to the reality in your country. And I think with this blessing, the performance is as close as possible to the original ideas. The audience welcomes the play very well.

The topic of drug addiction is at the heart of the plot. How do you make a comedy about such a sensitive issue for society?

Surely, there is always a slight shock - how can we laugh at such a sensitive problem as drug abuse. But exactly this is the author's great move - where morals and didactics are helpless, laughter and irony are more successful. It is naive to think that such a performance would have a healing effect. Rather, it expresses our position on this painful phenomenon and we cannot sit on the fence. We hope that it will have at least some preventive role.

You are an admirer of the works by the Italian playwright Dario Fo. So far, you have staged nine of his plays in Bulgarian theatres. What impresses you in his work?

Dario Fo's dramaturgy is of my blood type, so to speak. Writing satire based on real problems, the combination of seriousness and humour, not escaping from burning problems of modernity, but on the contrary - looking for them and treating them. Over the years, I have staged his plays in various theatres, some of them even several times, but the place where they truly belong is in the Satirical Theatre. I am happy that this theatrical season, besides Mother's Marijuana Is the Best, the repertoire includes another play based on his text. When Dario Fo won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature, contradictory opinions in conservative academia arose, especially in the western countries. Paradoxically, when this award was announced, many people called me to greet me (says while laughing), which is a kind of proof of my long-standing commitment to his work.

Making people laugh is sometimes more difficult than making them cry.

The art of humour is a peculiar thing, especially when it is publicly displayed. It is a difficult and very responsible matter. Humour has different dimensions - sincere, biting, vicious, sarcastic… Pulling these invisible threads, which cause theatre audiences to laugh, is a specific thing and a part of our job is to catch them. The nature of humour is such that it originates very often from the juxtaposition of paradoxical and unexpected twists. The same way as in a good joke - you never know or foretaste how it will end. Of course, there are stumbling blocks. You can always go for levity, as we say in the theatre “from the waist down”. That is the reason for me to rely in my stage work on plays with intelligent humour, real problems and messages. My purpose is always for the play to be not just fun and to 'tickle' the audience, but to be cheerful and meaningful at the same time.

Today people seem to not laugh that much, given the coronavirus pandemic.

I believe that in the theatre hall it is not like that. When a person buys a ticket and enters the Satirical Theatre, they hope to receive a dose of laughter and relief. And when that is also combined with purpose and sense, I think they will be satisfied, despite the imposed restrictions due to the pandemic.

The Covid-19 crisis disrupted the normal rhythm of life and affected art in all its forms. Measures were introduced which limited the audience to 50% of a theatre hall's capacity. How does this affect theatre?

It does not affect it well. Both our attitude and the attitude of the audience became completely different. Theatre is a live art and its essence is the direct contact with the audience. When under these unusual circumstances, we - on the stage, do not get the adequate compact reaction of the audience, suddenly it seems as if the very structure of the performance begins to disintegrate. This is especially true for performances that have been tested, they have been played for a long period of time and the actors have already created a reflex for the reactions of the audience. We have to overcome this new “effect-defect” by other means that we are looking for on the go now. We are trying to prove that despite this viral hardship, we are still alive, we need our audience in the theatre hall and we hope that the audience needs us too.

How did you spend these days of social isolation?

I do not complain about this period. Apart from our specific work in the theatre, a director has also a lot of “homework”, as we joke. I have translated a whole play and I started a second one with a view to future opportunities. This isolation did not affect me drastically. I had been living with the characters of these plays, and that filled my days.

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Andrey Avramov was born on 24 December 1943 in Sofia. In 1967, he graduated the Higher Institute for Theatrical Art, specialising in Acting and later Directing. From 1990 to 2013 he taught acting and stage speech at the National Academy of Music. Avramov has staged and directed over 100 plays and musicals, TV shows and movies, and has translated a number of plays. Recently, he was honoured for lifetime achievement at the ceremony of the national awards for humour and satire.

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