Got The Rhythm Part 1

June 15, 2016 / Impressions of a Bulgarian director. By Yavor Kostov, Hangar Fellow


Watching ‘An American In Paris’ on Broadway with the other directing fellows, which was our last moment together in our professional orientation week,  I had a sudden flash of memory: it was a dream I had long time ago while having really hard time directing a play in Bulgaria. In my dream my theatre guru showed me the way and supported me by teaching me a song. The song was “I got rhythm”. Whether it was ‘You got the rhythm, everything else will follow’, or ‘This is the rhythm, you just have to follow it!’ I couldn’t know exactly, but the rehearsals resulted in a production I consider pivotal for me as a director.

The week following our professional orientation /full of memorable meetings with brilliant people/, was kind of relaxed, and while walking the streets of New York I repeatedly asked myself ‘Have I really got the rhythm?’ What does this utter professionalism in a highly competitive society teach me? Can really theater be measured by financial success, and conversely can theater be self sustained without aiming at, say, 500 seat room sold out. Does money make art dependent or independent?

My first two weeks in Hangar Theatre, Ithaca, NY /on the photo/ and especially teaching in the lab company orientation week got me closer to an answer, or rather I started to get the rhythm. My thoughts and impressions can be put under three headings:

MONEY: All the professionals talking to us during the DLD orientation week were very open on one thing: the commercial side of their work. It was meant to be profitable and produce money. My formative years were in a society whose vision of the future was “moneyless” – total annihilation of the last vestiges of capitalism. This imprinted in our minds the unquestionable belief that money means exploitation, inequality and suffering. The good side was somehow never mentioned, but we could smell it behind the iron curtain /there was a joke about the ‘decaying capitalism’ smelling too good/. And certainly there was no way for us to understand that capital could also mean clear rules, responsibility, respect, even care. Theatre in Bulgaria is still centralized, controlled by the state, which means in most cases it hasn’t budged from where it was 25 years ago – there is simply no market, no risk, just over-protectiveness by state, dependence on the budget. /This is the general case – there are certainly lots of exceptions as well/. And also there is no real long term strategy of cultural development, as if culture was something dispensable, a luxury of some sort. Someone said the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture was constantly being humiliated as “the beggar in the government”. Result: three moths ago there was unrest in the artistic society when the closure of 9 state owned theaters was announced, because of budget cuts and “poor management”.

Being still “socially sensitive” in my heart and independent in my spirit, I can’t help but learn my lesson watching people work in and for the theater under huge financial pressure. I’m impressed by the teamwork, democracy, and respect for all jobs and positions. During one of our meetings with the staff under the tent in front of the theatre someone was mowing the front lawn, making it impossible for us to hear one another when the mower was getting near. This went on for quite some time until one of the higher staff talked to him, obviously asking him to have a short break or keep away from the meeting for a while. It made me think what a typical reaction of that kind would be in my country. I’m not sure.

The next two headings are called “Community” and “Ladder up”, coming soon in my next blog post.