A special place among the productions dedicated to the post-revolutionary century is taken up by a one-man confession production titled “CHILDREN OF ICE” by Lithuanian actress, director, musician and writer BIRUTE MAR (Birute Marcinkeviciute). She dedicated it to the memory of her parents.
“Children of Ice” is the actress’s prayer for the thousands Lithuanians killed and a few of those that survived in exile on the shore of the Laptev Sea. Her parents, who came to the North as little kids, were among the survivors. They survived in that wasteland only thanks to the self-sacrificing love and care of their parents and their Russian fellow sufferers. The “enemies of the people” were four (her mother) and six (her father) years old when they were sent to exile. They returned to Lithuania as adults and got married, lived together for over 50 years.
Jurate, the actress’s mother, died on November 5, 2016. But she managed to see the production and give it her blessing. “Children of Ice” is a documentary confession story. Carefully selected items for stage design, props, video sequence, and radio newsreels create a tragic atmosphere. “I contemplated this production for a long time, putting together information about the lives of my parents”, says Birute Mar. “They grew up in Siberia’s permafrost. They never talked about their childhood. As though they were afraid of touching upon something exceedingly painful. We are all going to have to once again become witnesses to the events of the past that the younger generation didn’t get to experience. We must show them a lesson in survival, in maintaining one’s humanity. My parents’ story helps understand them better, sympathize with then and, perhaps, ease their burned. It’s surprising that even in Lithuania people are afraid to talk about that subject to avoid offending, hurting or angering someone. These are deep, subconscious things. When you talk about them in primitive terms, it’s easy to cause an uproar. But artistic language is more refined, more profound, and has a stronger impact.”
The basis of the production is documents, documents and… perception of the “ice” life from the perspective of a little girl named Jurate, who manages to find the joy of life in everything, as children are often wont to do. It’s snowing hard, the wind is howling fiercely, and the little girl, dressed sometimes in a simple light dress and slippers and sometimes in big valenki boots and a body warmer, happily welcomes the snow, the northern lights and the blizzard. They are her friends. They conceal her from angry eyes, when she needs to steal a plank of wood to fire up the stove and get her mom warm. She gets engrossed in playing with the blizzard, becomes lost in that snowy infinite whiteness. And it is only thanks to a Yakut, who happened to notice her and brought her back to her parents, that she survived… And the more joy this little girl expresses: for a piece of bread, for a single potato and paper dolls for Christmas, the more profound and more poignant the play’s action become. The little girl rejoices even when she talks about the way their teacher tormented them… Humiliated them, locked them up in a shed with a hungry polar bear cub – and if it weren’t for barrels of frozen fish that they could throw to the animal, the punishment could have ended very differently…
The entire action takes place against the background of a terrifying cold and impossibly overcrowded train car that carried thousands of exiled Lithuanians to Siberia. Many died on the way. The actress writes down on the screen – a blackboard – the dates of the terrible events, hangs up the drawings of the kids that were in exile, photos of her family and neighbors or the white icy expanse and the bodies of those that perished and could not even be properly buried.
Birute displays the documentary precision of the events through the prism of a child’s perception, which helps create her calm, joyful, and at times even detached tone that penetrates deep into the audience’s soul. Despite all the tragedy, Birute masterfully weaves irony and humor into the fabric of the narrative. Here, the little girl is at a holiday celebration where she passionately reads out loud a poem about the happy childhood they owe to Stalin and praises his virtues, while scratching her head, catching and tossing away lice… Can there be a more emphatic gesture to convey the absurdity and the unnaturalness of such a life!? Here, she opens a letter from her dad, who’s been jailed for disobeying some Jesuit order, and it contains one line only, they didn’t let him write any more, “I’m alive and well, and combing my hair to the same side.” The man didn’t change his attitude toward the thing that put him in jail. The heroine’s father (Birute’s grandfather), an intellectual, a teacher, wasn’t afraid to put a Komsomol organizer in his place when the latter demanded that he throw away the portraits of Lithuanian’s classical authors. For that, his entire family along he retains his dignity even in exile. When things become especially difficult, he plays the accordion that he never sold, never exchanged for food in times of famine. The actress plays the accordion and sings a song in Lithuanian. Lithuanians in the audience quietly begin singing along…
Birute Mar is one of the leading actresses working in the monodrama genre, winner of Valery Khazanov Award, instituted by International Monodrama Forum of ITI. Birute Mar began work on her first one-man production “Words in the Sand”, which was based on Beckett’s play “Happy Days”, as a director, and several years after that failure, the actress performed it for the first time at the “I” International Theatre Festival of One-Man Productions in Minsk in 1998. She brought home to Vilnius not only the winning title but also thank-you letters for Rimas Tuminas, then artistic director of the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, who then offered her to present her one-man show on the theatre’s Small stage. As of today, Birute Mar staged around ten productions within the framework of that undertaking, among those are “L’Amant” (“The Lover”), based on the novel by Prix Goncourt winner Marguerite Duras (a story of a woman from the age of 15 through the age of 70), “Antigone” (where she plays both male and female roles), “Dostoyevsky’s Angels” (Nastenka from “White Nights”, Prince Myshkin from “Idiot”, Matresha from “Demons”, Grushenka from “The Karamazov Brothers”, “The Beggar Boy at the Christ’s Christmas Tree”) and others, with which she toured in numerous countries.
ITI-INFO MAGAZINE (MIT-INFO) Nr.1, 2018 Moscow, Russia
The greatest mystery in art is how all of a sudden something absolutely new is born from obscurity, inner chaos and intuition. The space opened by the coming performance is full of opportunities; it is a tempting maze of genre and roles. It presents a character that you attempt to get closer to and to get to know like someone you have met for the first time, or like the unexpected inner sound of the line and rhythm of a poem that does not yet exist.
Women who have transcended boundaries and forced themselves to speak will always remain somehow veiled in mystery. The past century produced Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Pina Bausch, who all pushed dance in unique directions; Ana Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva, whose poetry reached such tragic depths of human existence in non-feminine way, and Marguerite Duras, the autobiographical poet, film director, playwright, and rare analyst of male and female relationships.
These are people I admire; people who managed to go beyond limits. Unfortunately, playwrights usually give women an “exclusive” place in their plays, allowing for only one or two of them among many men. Actresses therefore have to wait for their dream role. This is one of the reasons I decided to work on my solo performances some years ago: WORDS IN THE SAND (based on Samuel Beckett’s HAPPY DAYS), THE LOVER (based on Marguerite Duras’ THE LOVER) and ANTIGONE (based on Sophocles’ ANTIGONE).
For many, solo performances often lack the promise of on-stage animation. However, the natural excitement of actors who work with the solo from often produces original works which disclose the magic of acting.
My first solo performance experience (WORDS IN THE SAND, a play for piano and voice, with costume by J. Rimkute and music by A. Kucinskas) and its tours to various international solo festivals, gave me the opportunity to discover the great intimacy and authentic stage creation possible in the “theatre of one actor”. This performance also gave me the chance to collaborate with a group of artists who chose the solo form as well as the opportunity to meet theatre experts and audiences interested in such work. But the most important thing was the opportunity to perform in front of an audience.
During festival meetings and discussions, we talked about solo performance as a great test of professionalism and an opportunity to reveal the actor as an artist. I recall somebody aptly referring to actors alone on stage as being “organists and the organ at the same time”. They know exactly when and which key to press inside themselves, so that original music is played. Somebody voiced a hypothetical thought that had been floating in the air: could it be that solo performances today are a new development for theatre, like a silent return to an old and forgotten tradition? In the context of “vociferous” theatre, all of a sudden we can hear the voice of a solitary human being.
I remember my first impressions in the antient amphitheater at Pathos in Cyprus a few years ago, when for the first time I stood up on the magic echoing stone in the middle of the stage and my voice rippled through the space out to the blue sea on the horizon. This is what the first actors did – standing on the ancient Greek stage, the sound of their voices telling tragic or comic stories about the gods and about the fate of human beings. This lonely voice was enough to make hundreds of people listen. The chorus was only an echo of that voice.
The prize I received at the International Solo Festival in Moldova, a statuette of the ancient Greek dramatist Ion holding an ancient mask, also reminds me of ancient solo performances. During my studies of Noh theatre, traditional Nihon Buyo and modern Butoh dance, I was fascinated by the fact that theatre in Japan seemed to be all about unique solo performances.
… I used to think that I would learn to talk alone. By that I mean to myself, the wilderness. But no. No, no.
– Samuel Beckett
Starting to work as a solo performer was a frightening experience for me. I needed to find determination for this self-exposing form of face-to-face communication with the audience. I was face-to-face with Winnie, the character of the play, the woman forgotten by everyone as she was growing older, the woman sinking into the ground, into the sands of the past, looking for those who will really hear her.
When I read the play for the first time ten years ago, I did not think at all about what kind of character Winnie was. But all of a sudden there came a desire to speak those meaningless meaningful words that Beckett put into Winnie’s mouth.
Theatre critic D. Sabaseviciene later wrote about the performance: “Of all the chamber and polyphonic performances, a solo is the least comprehensible and least acceptable. Theatre without conflict is impossible, and in solo only one person crashes upon the stage: she is in conflict with herself and with the environment. On the other hand, a solo might be the easiest way to achieve poetry, since the very genre dictates the personal relationship with the work.”
Actually, with Winnie’s role you must be completely alone in the ‘wild”, as Beckett put it. The fragile boundary between the character and yourself, and between yourself and the audience, must disappear. Only then will they listen and believe you. It is an opportunity to experience the illusion of “non-theatre” in theatre.
Such a role compares to writing a poem in silence in a space of vibrating human energy. The next line is dictated by a smile or sigh on the other side of the footlights, and not by the conflict given by the playwright or by the meaning of the stage setting imagined by the audience.
Everyone dreams of a role that gives you the greatest imaginable freedom, a role that enables you to identify yourself as a human being with that particular fate, a role that allows you to turn to the audience and have nothing to hide while presenting yourself absolutely “naked”. That role is a kind of “non-role”.
Now, each time I go on stage “imprisoned” in Winnie’s heavy skirt and climb on Winnie’s pedestal, and hear the wake-up bell ringing to begin another happy day, I never know what the first response of the audience will be. Sometimes they smile and other times for some reason they become tense. They wait openly or they expect nothing. “Another happy day…” says Winnie. She is being cheerful or ironic – every time it is different.
To be natural, but wearing a mask.
– Albert Camus
I would like to wear a mask that would purify the sense of our human existence and maximize our joy or sorrow and reveal the ups and downs of our hearts, a mask that an everyday face cannot reflect. Ancient theatre was like that.
Our masks are our roles or reanimated pictures painted by someone: the characters that we have never been and now have the opportunity to become. It is true that when we choose the action profession, it is as if we become phantoms wearing character masks. When we out those masks on we seem to grow further from ourselves as this gives an illusion of becoming free, of being someone else. Dancers of Japanese Butoh apply white make-up to their faces and bodies before going on the stage; they become the “dead”. This is a philosophy of Butoh: to die for the soul to be born again.
Wise Ingmar Bergman called a character an actor’s shadow that continues to live when the show is over. This shadow is bigger than the actor who leads it in the footlights. It appears and disappears as ineffably as our sadness, memories and tears do, as everything that exists only in the moment but that consists of our lifetime’s clothing. The character lurks within; you put on its attire as if you were dressing thoughts with a poem.
It may be that it is not only shows for one actor that can be called solo performances, but also every separate role that places an actor face-to-face with themselves, bringing them closer to the line of reincarnation, to an absolute honesty that can be achieved through a polished mastery. When an actor comes down from the pedestal as if weary of theatre, stage settings, costumes, make-up and partners, all of a sudden, he or she turns back to the audience and says: I am like one of you. Then a miracle happens; having recognized themselves, the audience begins to listen and act instead of the actor. Is it not a mirror-reflection of the present world: the frailty of human existence and intuitive striving for survival? Hearing one’s own voice?
Winnie, buried up to her neck in the ground, says at the end: “Ah well, not long now, Winnie, can’t be long now, until the bell chimes for sleep. Then you may close your eyes, then you must close your eyes – and keep them closed… I used to think… I say I used to think there was no difference between one fraction of a second and the next…”
Slowly you become Winnie and have to listen to the rhythm of her life’s seconds, to the irony that sometimes is sad, sometimes playful. You have to see the world with her weary eyes; to rummage endlessly in her old bag, to lay out cheap, dusty little properties, constantly forgetting something. You have to brush your thin white hair, to finish erratic thoughts and bits of recollections. Then suddenly take off the “mask” so that everyone thinks that it is only a character.
Is it really so? Or is it only in my imagination that the shadows are so powerful, that their fury lasts beyond the end of a scene? “This repetition, this lie, night after night”.
Published in “THE OPEN PAGE” Magazine /Theatre, Women, Character/ Nr. 8, March 2003
(Translated from Lithuanian by Gabija Miniauskaite)
Birute Mar (Marcinkeviciute) is an exceptional contemporary Lithuanian artist, whose numerous performances arouse interest in the theatrical audiences. Audiences of the theatre which gained fame and reputation due to such Lithuanian directors as Eimuntas Nekrosius, Rimas Tuminas, Oskaras Korsunovas. It may therefore come as a surprise that among such virtuosos there is yet room for another Lithuanian artist, an artist just as much appreciated and acclaimed in the world of international theatre. Who is it that we are talking about? A person of mediocre height, slender, speaking to others in a quiet and amazingly calm voice – Birute Mar. And yet it is the same Birute Mar who becomes someone else the moment she gets on the stage, when she talks utmost sincerity about painful moments in the lives of her characters, when she courageously opens her soul, strips naked both the body of her character and the one of her own. That is why the rhythm if the spectator’s breath changes during her performance – just as the spectator tries to hide the transition from disbelief into tears… the same spectator who – once the performance is over – thanks her and gives her flowers. A lot of flowers.
It was her, Birute Mar, an actress and a director, a writer and a poet, a dancer and a musician, who managed to make breakthrough in the tradition of Lithuanian theatre in 1998; tradition of male directors. She was a young, inexperienced artist when her first performance – a monodrama “WORDS IN THE SAND” based on Samuel Beckett’s (1906-1989) play “Happy days” – won her international acclaim. Today, having performed at almost 50 international theatre festivals between 1998 and 2010, Birute Mar is one of the most recognizable actresses and directors of solo-performances in the world. All of her undertakings draw enormous critical attention and her shows are considered unique in their ability to bring one actor theatre to a remarkable artistic level.
Birute Mar has worked for more than ten years not only as an actress and a director of Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, but also – along with her friends and other followers of ideas she believes in – as a creator of one actor theatre. Much has changed in Lithuania since her first performance met with criticism and skepticism: the attitude towards such art has changed, more and more other actors find the courage to enter the stage alone and offer the audience one of the hardest performances of their lifetime face to face. As far as Birute herself is concerned, there has appeared what one might call a community of her followers, community of people who love her theatre. /…/
This time, however, it was us, the European Centre of One Actor Theatres in Wroclaw, Poland, who initiated the dialoge. In our “Black Book with Hamlet” series of books devoted to one actor theatres, we devote this specific one to Lithuanian actress and director, Birute Mar.
Birute Marcinkeviciute’s theatrical debut was in 1978 in opera-ballet OLD MAN BONES ON THE IRON MOUNTAIN by B.Kutavicius. She was less than ten years old back then… Why did such a shy girl try so hard to get on the stage?
BIRUTE: Well, you could write an entire philosophical treaty on that subject. The stage makes it possible to break free from our greatest fears. Most artists would say that, especially actors. On the stage we do things we normally would not dare do. We transcend the boundaries of our fears and complexes. It is almost like a game. I have graduated from the Institute of Theatre, Music and Cinema in Saint Petersburg (which back then was called Leningrad) and yet I still suffer from stage-fright: my lips and hands thrill before every show; if it is a first night show, the thrill is replaced by anxiety. There is no way to avoid this.
Saint Petersburg – is an old and well-known cradle of Russian theatre. The studies in the famous Institute, first of the acting department and later on (simultaneously) in the department of theatre directing enabled her to meet remarkable people, many of whom later became prominent theatre artists of the USSR. Among the artists and lecturers one could find Veniamin Filshtinsky and Mar Sulimov. The later, professor of theatre directing, noticed Birute’s talent as a director and played an important role in developing her acting skills.
BIRUTE: I never wanted to be a director. Acting was my only dream. However, the professors persuaded me into studying it by saying almost unanimously that it should be that way, that I simply should become a director. I was only twenty years old, what did I know? It was many years after I had finished the studies that I finally understood what my professors meant by saying that directing is something that you must grow up to, that only a person of certain age can become a true director. Perhaps they had been preparing me for the work that awaited me years later?
Directing is a complicated job. And what if the director is really keen on acting as well? I am not sure how many directors there are who can be just as good at acting, especially when they are supposed to act along other actors in a performance they direct as well.
As far as a monodrama is concerned, a completely different set of rules is in use. I can only be glad that I have finished the directing studies, that I can use this knowledge in creating my one actor theatre. After all, a monodrama is a very personal work, just as personal as the music I compose.
THE GENRE ON THE BORDERLINE
BIRUTE: The first mono performance of “WORDS IN THE SAND” enabled me to better understand the one actor theatre. The theatre which gives the most intimate, the most authentic possibility of creating a piece of theatrical art. The theatre in which you face the spectator, in which you cannot afford a single moment of distraction or to say something you do not believe in.
Becket composed his fifty-years-old Winnie out of many oppositions: absolute apathy, understanding the senselessness of life and loneliness on one hand as well as memories of youth, happiness, optimism, strength and will to live. The fifty-year-old Winnie, one of the most tragic of Beckett’s characters, was played by an actress who has not even turned thirty. And yet, Birute was able to win both the audience and the critics with her acting skills, with the sincerity of her emotions. “This play is beautiful like a poem. It is real poetry, a mystery. It is a sort of art which takes hold of you and does not let go”, – said Birute, the actress and the director, at the day of the premiere. /…/
How would WORDS IN THE SAND look like today? It is a play that, might be performed even by a seventy-years-old actress, provided she is healthy enough…
BIRUTE: I would not choose this play be Beckett now. It is a very complex and painful text. You can understand this emptiness, this journey from one point to another only when in the middle of your life. I was very young back then, yet to experience the states of mind and soul that Winnie presents; I was generally inexperienced and had to use intuition more than anything else.
There was a period when I acted in “WORDS IN THE SAND” only. It was very hard. My character was an old woman torn between the will to live and the will to die. And yet, I hot more and more into her with every show. Suddenly, I realized that as the performances followed I began to behave like this old woman in my own personal life – I did everything in a slower way… I got scared because I even felt that life had lost its meaning. At times I liked staying in this emotional field of my character so much that I did not want to leave it. That was the point when I decided I need to stop.
I felt that I need something new because otherwise it might end badly. At that point Marguerite Duras and her “LOVER” appeared, the protagonist of which is a fifteen-year-old girl. So I started to work on THE LOVER and once the performance was ready. I felt that everything inside me became balanced, harmonious.
Therefore, a monodrama is for me a kind of theatre genre that lies on the borderline. The most important thing for me is to walk my own way, not the one travelled by others. It was also very interesting that when I used my own emotions, my intuition, I was able to get closer to or even reach the real nature of my character, to present their energy, to walk with my character hand by hand, not knowing what such a journey may result in…
It is different with every show, but it is completely normal. That is my job. On the one hand, it is bizarre; on the other, it is full of joy.
THE LOVER: EMOTIONAL AND BRAVE
“THE LOVER” monodrama is something of Birute’s business card, because it presents the entire range of her skills; convincing acting; love for dance and singingl directing ideas, which merge all the elements of the show into one coherent entity and simultaneously point out the work done by other collaborators.
One more thing which makes THE LOVER so exceptional is the very intimate relationship with the spectator. While watching the show you have an impression that the protagonist is offering her memories to you alone, that you are the only one who is meant to learn her greatest teenage secret and that only you can understand her experiences, understand the pain which it takes many years to forget.
BIRUTE: I feel the strongest bond with the spectator while acting in THE LOVER. However, this performance has also been the cause of the greatest surprises or comical situations. When I staged it in Columbia, everyone laughed at the relationship between the girl and the Chinese guy. In the middle of the show, completely unexpectedly, everyone started to applaud. I was on the stage, acting, uttering my speech and I could not figure out why they clapped their hands. Later on it turned out that at this very moment a gigantic cat appeared on the stage. He came from nowhere, stood right behind me, got his applause and walked away… Such things happen as well. You simply have to accept it.
THE VIBRATIONS OF THE SHOW
BIRUTE: The contact between the actor and the audience is the biggest mystery for me. If I could unravel this mystery, I would probably never enter the stage again. I always want to talk this with the spectators… I feel it is my vocation. That is the reason why I get on the stage. When I face the audience, I always think to myself that it is so good to be with them, here and now. If this feeling goes away somewhere during the way towards the stage, it is better not to show yourself at all.
And then the play begins.
The most difficult thing in a monodrama is to find a partner among the spectators, to establish a link of communication. The relationship with the audience depends on the protagonist. If in WORDS IN THE SAND I play Winnie as arrogant, haughty and omniscient, the audience will become her enemy, someone on the other side of the barricade. If, however, I am weak, looking of understanding, the audience will become my most loyal ally. The spectator understands the rules instinctively. We play together. When they look at my character, they recognize themselves or their close ones in the protagonist. It is very important if the spectator can find a connection to his own experiences in the show. But you never know beforehand. It is simply not possible to say what kind of audience will come to the show, what attitude they will have and in what mood they will be.
Another odd thing: I am increasingly certain that the most important person in the theatre is the spectator who… does not remember the story I am telling. Maybe he understands it, but – once the performance is over – he leaves the theatre with only the vibrations of the show, the energy radiating from the stage. It is a very peculiar experience, a sort of a different dimension. As in a church. A man does not need to understand it, one does not even have to think about it. Yet, having left the theatre he says that he feels good. This is the best compliment one can pay me.
It is a shame that these vibrations are not something which is taught, studied.
Sometimes I think that someday I should come up with a show in which there would be no need for words – this peculiar state would be enough. These vibrations.
ANTIGONE – SIX CHARACTERS
“Antigone” is one of the best-known tragedies by the Greek playwright Sophocles (495-405 BC) written on the basis of the myth of Oedipus. It focuses on the events which take place after the death of Oedipus, the king of Thebes and Antigone’s father. His sons and Antigone’s brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, kill each other in the struggle for the rule of Thebes and the new king, Creon, forbids burying the body of Polyneices, considering Antigone’s brother a betrayer of the city. Antigone ignores the ban and casts a handful of dirt on her dead brother, as a result of which she is sentenced to death by being buried alive in a cave.
In her own ANTIGONE (the premiere took place in 2003) Birute plays six characters in a span of one hour, never leaving the stage. The characters are Antigone – the daughter of the former king of Thebes, Ismene – Antigone’s sister, Creon – the new king of Thebes, Haemon – Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancé, Tiresias – the blind prophet. Six characters who differ in every possible way: age, sex, social class, nature, aims… Birute transforms from one character into another with masterful skill, shows the people populating the Greek tragedy, people who – according to Birute herself – are directly related to the contemporary world, world full of modern antigones, creons, blind prophets, so-called majority standing on one side or the other… It was due to the help from the costume designer Rimkute that such a complicated performance could take place. Thanks to her ideas and mastery a shred of cloth in Birute’s hands not only helped create the characters but also made the transition from one into another possible: it can be a royal tunic, a ladies dress, a blind prophet’s hood or even a shroud for Antigone’s body…
BIRUTE: Some people say that ANTIGONE is the most comprehensible of my performances, that everything there is clear, rational, carefully arranged. For me, however, “Antigone” is the most difficult of my performances. Firstly, you have to cooperate with the video projection (with my image recorded on a tape, to be precise) which was prepared in a brilliant way by the video projection director Andrius Jakucionis. It was only due to “Antigone” that I came to understand the risk that the use of a video projection involves, how careful you must be with it. You act and the projection becomes your partner. It is very difficult to remain on equal terms with your own image being reproduced as a video projection. Especially when the film was done by someone as skillful as Jakucionis…
After “The Lover” in which there is a lot of silence and sometimes it is enough to utter only half a word, it is extremely difficult to act as Creon and other characters from the tragedy. Why am I moaning now? It was my idea in the first place…
I sometimes ask myself, if I could find the courage now to undertake something of that sort, if I dared to stage a performance in which I have to act six different characters. I doubt it.
Antigone – in a creative and formal way – is Birute’s most complex performance, but at the same time the most visual one, a performance which expands the concept of one actor theatre. It is often invited to larger festivals. The spectator is being constantly impressed by Birute’s transformations, the universal language of this imagery and the chorus which appears in the video projection – the citizens of Thebes, who yield to the king’s rule and take part in condemning Antigone. It is a very moving performance about the freedom of the individual and the freedom of the community as well as about the courage to live the way your heart tells you to.
BIRUTE: Contemporary theatre is the entirety of modes of expression. And for me all these modes in theatrical art are interrelated vessels. Perhaps it is so because I have studied directing, but I also know from my personal experience that everything is interrelated, things entwine, complement one another… /…/
While talking about Birute there is one more thing one wants to ask. Where does the pseudonym MAR come from, the surname Birute has used since 2002? Why did she choose that way of abbreviating her surname? It has been a tradition for Lithuanian artists to look for pseudonyms that mean something or have a poetic value: the poetess Salomeja Neris (Neris is a river in Lithuania), the writer Ale Ruta (Ruta in Lithuanian is a rue, a sort of a flower), the writer Satrijos Ragana (Ragana is a witch in Lithuanian).The best known contemporary artists have also left more than just the first syllable of their surnames: the singer Violeta Urmanaviciute-Urmana, Nomeda Kazlauskaite-Kazlaus…
BIRUTE: It is an artistic name, but it is a game as well. I see poetry in it. I simply consider it beautiful when a name has a powerful energetic meaning. Sometimes I have a feeling that it was not me but someone else who came up with this abbreviation. Someone made me do it. But of course everything began with the fact that abroad no one could read my name – Marcinkeviciute – properly. Later I somehow started playing with words and looking for various interconnections, meanings. Just look: MAR is “marios”, “jura” (sea in Lithuanian) and that is my favourite element; my mother’s name, JURATE, has the same origin. In Hindu mythology Mar is a divinity of enormous power, capable of destroying and creating everything, while in Belarusian it means a dream… Moreover, that was a name of my teacher in Saint Petersburg… It is incredible that this MAR provided my output with so much strength. I named myself MAR and it seems as if I gained a lot of artistic freedom along with that pseudonym…
THE MISSION OF AN ACTOR
BIRUTE: I sometimes hear doubts concerning this constantly spreading international movement of monodrama artists. I tend to remind the sceptics what Eugenio Barba said when – working in Denmark – he left all national institutions and started his own theatre. When asked why he left, he answered that in a national institution one can be a good performer, but one cannot shape one’s personality in there. A national institution is an enormous factory while a personality may bloom only when surrounded by personalities with similar ideas.
I think that it should make no difference for actors whether they play in a solo-performance or in a large production which involves twenty of their colleagues. The spectator should get the same impression. When after a monodrama spectator tell me that it seemed as if there were several actors on the stage – that is the best compliment they can pay me. In one actor theatre I always try to make the audience see more than me only…
It is impossible for me to create a show if I do not experience all the torments of my character beforehand, if I do not put myself in the character’s position. It is the most painful thing in the theatre, where the rules are the same as in life. In order to understand, to become wise, gain experience, you simply need to go through everything that fate has in stock for you, you need to overcome the difficulties, and be above them. The occupation of an actor teaches you how to live. How to feel the present day, create the future, and not drag behind the weight of what has already passed, what is no longer here.
It is very true that one actor theatre can be either very good or very bad. There is no middle way in this case. That is because there should be and individuality on the stage.
If the actor is not an individuality, there will be no – even if the director is a genius and the idea for the play is brilliant – spectacle. And individuality remains a mystery.
I have not seen many solo-performances which really shook me. But when you see such a show, you understand that the most interesting element of it is a human being.
(The extracts from the book, published in Wroclaw, Poland, 2011)