Planting trees in the desert
Leonidas Liambey - 09/06/2004
Stefan Capaliku was sitting in the smoky café of the Opera overlooking Skandeberg Square. With him, was Ema Andrea, one of Tirana’s leading actresses who played the principal roles in Capaliku’s last two dramas. Tall, beautiful and earnest, she mischievously described Stefan Capaliku as ‘the only truly contemporary Albanian playwright.’ In his thirties and softly spoken, he has written a total of seven dramas (of which five have been produced) as well as several books of short stories, novels, poetry and essays. From the northern city of Shkodra, he is now a part time professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Tirana and has recently published a textbook on aesthetics. His last play was Three Love Songs, which was directed by Alfred Tredickq who also acted in the drama along with Ema Andrea. It was performed in March 2004 at the Academy of Arts theatre in Tirana before touring two towns in Albania and Novisad in Serbia. Tredickq previously directed British writer, Sarah Kane’s Psychosis 4:48. At the Macedonian Theatre Festival 2003, that production brought him the Best Director award as well as the Best Actress award to Ema Andrea, though two months later the play came last in a Tirana competition.
Monologue to dialogue
LL: What are your main concerns as a playwright in Albania?
Stefan Capaluki (SC): The main problem for Albanian theatre is for it to be competitive on the international scene. We performed our last production - Three Love Songs - seven times, and now it is very difficult for us to find a way to show it abroad.
Of course language is one of the difficulties, but I don’t think that it is the main problem. The main problem is a lack of contacts.
Being a contemporary writer in Tirana nowadays, means in fact, to write more universal works than the older generation of Albanian writers who were concerned solely with the Albanian reality. We’d like to create a more open literature that is more universal. We need some universal codes in order to arrive at our bigger aim, which is to compete and speak with others and create a dialogue.
In general Albanian culture is changing from a monologue to a dialogue. That’s why there is a tendency now to put the human being at the centre of a piece of work and not just an Albanian with his small or difficult problems.
It is difficult to create an idea of what is happening in contemporary Albanian culture right now, as there are many problems. I can see this for myself: if I look at the first book of poems that I published in 1993 and compare it with my last works there have been a lot of changes.
LL: Can you identify some of them?
SC: In the early 1990’s, the ‘Albanian artist’ was a man who liked to confront ‘big problems’ with the idea that he could change a whole mentality with one work and review and judge our history. After that, most Albanian artists understood that an artist nowadays, is no longer this big man that can change all reality. So each artist began to play a smaller part in facing Albania’s many problems and started to look at them from the inside. They have become more specific, I think, and more introverted. The desert of freedom
LL: Was there an optimism that’s now gone?
SC: Yes, as a lot of people in the early 90’s held the opinion that things would change more quickly than they did. After that they saw that this freedom is nothing but a desert in which you are really free, but you have no idea where north, south, east and west lie. So in this desert we have to plant some trees in order to have some orientation. It’s our generation’s problem to do this.
LL: Do you have any writers in Europe you see affinities with?
SC: No personally, I don’t have any idols. I try to follow some of the developments in theatre and try to find the time when I am abroad with my work to see performances and get more information. But I don’t believe that I am under any influence. I am a patron of the Berne Biennale in Germany, one of Europe’s most important theatre festivals. Each country’s National Theatre puts on a production at this festival. I have been there time after time and I am in contact with patterns from other European countries. It’s quite interesting because last time when I was at the Biennale, I was surprised by the fact that the productions were so very different from one another. So it is quite impossible to get an idea of any tendencies in European theatre, and I think that value now lies in curiosity. In other words, a curiosity to discover what is going on in Albanian theatre but not to judge it in comparison to Swiss or Greek theatre. In my opinion, Europe is trying to cultivate and appreciate diversity.
LL: Can you talk about your latest play?
SC: I am the half-author of Three Love Songs [laughs as Ema Andrea disagrees]. It tries to speak to the audience as if it were poetry. The play has no plot in the classical sense, so I want to communicate through emotions. When confronted by the play, I want the members of the audience to have the impression that they are alone and that there are no people beside them; as simply as one communicates through a book of poetry. In front of them they see some unimportant changes, but behind that, there are two people.
Ema Andrea (EA): It’s an eternal story: love, misunderstanding, doubt, everything happens there, to there minds and thoughts. It’s a dialogue between two people over years and it changes: in the first it is all poetry, the second dialogue and third it’s only him talking. It covers a time frame of ten to fifteen years: from youth to maturity.
SC: In The Shoes, a play we put on two years ago, young lady buys a pair of shoes from somewhere at the heart of Europe. She spent all her life up till then saving to buy these expensive shoes. She brings them back to her town and waits to use them, but doesn’t want to use them every day, as they are so expensive… They wait for something special to happen in the town in order to put them on. But nothing happens. The postman comes time after time and brings her correspondence, which is very despondent. During this time, the shoes, played by two young girls, remember the days when they were in the shop and the people who were going to buy them: they remember all the faces and people who touched them. Finally the shoes want to escape from the town. This leads to a conflict between the shoes and the lady that ends in tragedy.
EA: The shoes are played through body language, more than words. We are trying to communicate with other people (not just Albanians). It’s theatre for the open minded.
LL: What is the biggest problem for Albanian drama producers?
SC: The main problem is that Albania is a small market. The second is economic problems. Being small and poor, is enough… The director Alfred Trebickq, when I met him a little later, was more specific:
AT: ‘Art is last: ninety nine percent of politicians simply don’t care about art. They are like clowns who think art is just for fun, for a nice time. They simply don’t understand real art and prefer variety and dirty humour. I guess, theatre very difficult to live with: after all why should politicians invest in something with no concrete profit? Under communism, there were a lot of comedies, as people’s inner need was for fun and humour, so there is still a predisposition amongst some directors to put on comedies.
On the other hand, the National Theatre was also affected by Social Realism and damaged by the ideological function it had in the past: some people are still prone to using slogans and clichés. Since 1990 it has been difficult to change way of thinking and at the same time some things have changed too fast. ‘
LL: What about emigration?
AT: ‘I spent five months in Canada following the troubles in 1997 but emigration is a drain on talent and people. Our young artists study abroad, in Europe, Russia and that is good but what they bring back is not enough. They are then faced with the problem of how to apply these ways of thinking and of doing things? There have been some good efforts but the reality is horrible. We still have a Balkan mentality that asks, ‘Who is he?’ You need a name to get access to the theatres.’
A cold war between generations
LL: Are things changing?
AT: ‘You don’t feel the changes that are going on when you are living in Tirana and it’s only outsiders like emigrants who say things have changed a lot. But that is quite superficial: there are still indiscriminate killings (though not like 1997/98) but within families and clans there is still a lack of education. In the north, in Shkodra, just two or three years ago, the director of municipal theatre there had to stay in his house after he became the victim of a family blood feud. His wife had to carry his directions to the theatre because his nephew killed someone and he became a target for revenge.
‘On the other hand, the new generation of players are very good but unfortunately, they are in a minority. The older generation is still very strong in terms of access to institutions and resources and since there are only four theatres in Tirana, there is something like a cold war between generations over control of them. I guess of course it’s not just a matter of age, so much as mentality: the Minister of Culture, Blendi Klossi is only 32 but he thinks like a 75 year old.
‘One of theatre’s unique problems is that it is an ensemble art, and the director must prepare all the actors. They come from very different backgrounds, generations and experiences and some people are afraid of new ideas and in any case changing mentalities takes a long time. Acting takes day-to-day contact and the capacity to assimilate new ideas is slow. It takes time, but we have been in transition for15 years. When will transition finish?’ Leonidas Liambey