Director Robert Wilson: “I’ve never told an actor what to think”
On 1st and 2nd of October 2022, on the Big Stage of the National Kaunas Drama Theatre presented the premiere of “Dorian“ by the post-modernist theatre-maker R. Wilson. The play is based on a biography of Oscar Wilde, a novel and the life story of the painter Francis Bacon by playwright Darryl Pinckney. The audience will be treated to a work of exceptional aesthetics, acting, sound and lighting.
At the press conference dedicated to the premiere, the play was presented by the author of the concept, director, set and lighting designer Robert Wilson, the director of “Kaunas 2022” Virginija Vitkienė, the general director of the National Kaunas Drama Theatre (NKDT) Egidijus Stancikas, and the theatre’s artistic director and theatre critic Edgaras Klivis.
V. Vitkienė, the Head of „Kaunas 2022“, emphasised that this is a special event for the National Kaunas Drama Theatre – the work with the world-famous director R. Wilson, the partnership with the Düsseldorf Theatre in Germany, the new traditions in the theatre, the skills, and the premiere of “Dorian“ is undoubtedly one of the most important events of the programme of the „Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022“.
The theatre critic E. Klivis pointed out to the audience that Wilson is one of the most famous avant-garde theatre creators and stage designers: “He is a living classic of postmodern directing and one of the most important exponents of contemporary theatre movements such as the theatre of the image, the visual theatre, and the post-dramatic theatre. He is a figure who cannot be “bypassed” when it comes to theatre of the late 20th and early 21st century.”
Dir. Robert Wilson, photo by D. Stankevičius
“Dorian” is a mono-performance that depicts the psychological journey of one individual through the prism of several different personalities. The narrative is woven from the experiences of the writer Oscar Wilde, his character Dorian Gray and the English painter Francis Bacon. It explores the comicality of self-perception and the tragic nature of narcissism, and the destructiveness of the quest for the perfect appearance. At the same time, it reveals the relationship between the creator and the work, to what extent are they free from each other, can the work surpass the creator?
“This is one of the most important days of our theatre. I am very grateful to Robert Wilson and his wonderful team for “Dorian“. It is a gift and an invaluable experience not only for our audience, but also for our theatre team, which has proven to be creative and professional,” said Egidijus Stancikas, the head of the National Kaunas Drama Theatre.
From left to right: Egidijus Stancikas, Virginija Vitkienė, Robert Wilson. Photo by D. Stankevičius
On the meaning of theatre, Wilson said, “I hate psychological theatre, for me, theatre is something we experience. I can touch a glass of water – it’s cold, I can touch my forehead – it’s warm. That is true. Theatre has nothing to do with psychology, it is a construction of time and space.” Recalling the birth of “Dorian“, the director recalled an episode: on the first day of rehearsals in Germany, when the first scene was being created, he already had the set and the lights ready, but he had no idea what would happen there. When the director entered the stage, he spent about 35 minutes in silence to see if he could keep the audience’s attention while moving on stage. This is how its choreography was created.
Choosing two actors for a one-act play
A year ago, the director auditioned actors at the drama theatre and when asked about his casting methods, he said that several aspects were important to him: “The first thing I ask the actor I meet to do is to stand on stage for five minutes. I learn a lot by watching him stand. The next thing I ask is to walk. I ask the actor if he can walk from point A to point B in three minutes, which could be one metre. I don’t ask for any expression, I want the actor to just walk, to control his body. Then I ask if the actor can read. Even a simple newspaper. For me it’s important to hear the colours of the actor’s voice.”
While working in Germany, Wilson knew that the performance at the National Kaunas Drama Theatre would be quite different, so he came to Kaunas with a concrete idea: “Heaven and hell are not two worlds – they are one. I have a left hand and a right hand, they have different functions, but they are part of one body. I have a left and a right side of my brain, and they have different functions, but they are still one mind. That was kind of the main idea that I carried inside me from the beginning about “Dorian’s” play.”
Dorian – Dainius Svobonas. Photo by Lucie Jansch
The director is pleased with the choice of Dainius Svobonas and Mantas Zemleckas, as they are very different and complement each other with their differences. Robert Wilson admits that throughout his career he has never told an actor what to think. During rehearsals, he only gives very precise and formal instructions: to act harder, sharper, softer, louder, quieter or more extravagant. “The steps are learnt, and eventually there forms a feeling that the actor feels when he does them. Once the technical things are learned, one becomes free to feel and think anything. I have no idea what these actors are thinking, and I don’t want to know – it’s up to them,” said the director, As an example he mentioned one of the most popular ballets in the world, the 19th century masterpiece “Giselle“, which uses the same choreography but the dancing of the performers is very different in each production. “No director, choreographer or composer can tell a performer how to feel”, Wilson said.
Dorian – Mantas Zemleckas. Photo by Lucie Jansch
A large team of professionals were helping to create the performance
The premiere in Kaunas was created by the long-standing R. Wilson’s co-director Ann-Christin Rommen, set designer Stephanie Engeln, lighting designer Marcello Lumaca, assistant director Robert Zeigermann from Düsseldorf Theatre, photographer Lucie Jansch, producer Christoph Schletz, and production coordinator Edita Laurinaitienė, assistant director Aivaras Micius, assistant costume designer Birutė Jašinskaitė, wig and make-up assistant Monika Bertulė, assistant lighting designer Džiugas Vakrinas, and all the staff of all the theatre departments who play important and significant roles on stage.
The performance is part of the “Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022“ programme, created in collaboration with the German D’haus Theatre in Düsseldorf (Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus). The performances are subtitled in English.
Information of the National Kaunas Drama Theatre
“Dorian” – photo by Lucie Jansch