Ritual Expressionism, Fulya Peker in conversation with David Kilpatrick
To say that Fulya Peker is an active theatrical artist is a gross understatement, made abundantly clear as one tries to track her down as she shifts from theater to theater, working on Richard Foreman’s Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind is Dead!, the Wooster Group’s Hamlet, and her own New York directorial debut, Requiem Aeternam Deo, a meditation on Friedrich Nietzsche’s seminal modernist text, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (using the new Graham Parkes translation as source material). Since completing an MA at Brooklyn College last year (with a thesis on catharsis), the Turkish-born writer, actor and director is busy learning from the experimental scene’s leading figures while sharing and refining her own unique theatrical vision. The Rail caught up with Ms. Peker at the end of the first week of Requiem’s run at the Kraine in the East Village.
David Kilpatrick (Rail): Would you call Requiem Aeternam Deo an adaptation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra? You take at least two key passages from elsewhere in Nietzsche’s writings and don’t follow any sense of sequence from the text. Are you concerned in any way with being “faithful to Nietzsche” or do you feel this play stands on its own?
Fulya Peker (Peker): I always underlined the idea of “a play based on Thus Spoke Zarathustra .” In the very beginning I struggled with the loyalty issue a lot. I think everybody should go through such a struggle if the inspiration comes not from raw material but an already shaped source. But I reached a level of understanding through my readings and involvement with the original text, and then it was time for me to let my own creativity go…I tried not to fly into flying; in other words, I tried to walk with the original work, and then dance with it and then I let some restrictions fade away…for the sake of my own need to express my reflections about the ideas that already exist. What I really want to say through the original work, to the people that live in my time, in my space, became more dominant for me. It was a stubborn but also joyful conversation with Nietzsche…we reached an agreement at the end.
Rail: You subtitle Requiem “a play for everyone and nobody.” Do you find the audience problematic? How different is this for an Off-Off Broadway audience, as opposed to a broader sense of cultures? Given the preconceptions so many have about Nietzsche’s ideas, are you concerned that this work is somehow subject to unfair prejudice or are you in someway trying to clear up misconceptions?
Peker: I wish I could reach an even broader audience, because I try in the play to direct my questions to not only Nietzsche’s Christian god, but all monotheistic gods. That is why the play starts with a composition of mixed religious prayers. One of my desires was to reach a deeper sense of Nietzsche’s ideas about belief and to experience such a journey into the unknown. But I should say that this desire flourished because of my concerns about the unfair titles that are attached to Nietzsche’s name. It is a wild experiment though to confront with both nobody and everyone, that these two words can sometimes mean the same thing. The audience is problematic, because man wants to be neither everyone nor nobody.
Rail: Are Foreman or LeCompte influences on your directorial style? Other than your recorded voice, there isn’t any overt use of technology. Is this in some way tied to what Zarathustra says about being “faithful to the earth”?
Peker: I’ve gained a lot of understanding about how technology can be used, how multimedia can infuse theater. LeCompte and Foreman helped me to recognize how one can go through such difficulties for years and still continue reflecting one’s own vision. This gave me strength. The day comes that people start to hear your screams. But in terms of directorial styles I could not become a friend of technology when the subject is theater. I use voice tapes and I give great importance to lights, but multimedia is not very close to where I stand in theater.
I feel myself much closer to poor, ritualistic, earthly theater. I am running after the body, the veins, and the blood more because it is affecting me more. When I hear the breath of an actor on stage I feel excited; when a see a body that dances with the air I tremble. This I cannot feel in technologic theater. And yes, I think I want to stay true to the earth, not because I do not like technology but because I like the raw-ness more.
Rail: A friend I went with described Requiem as a “Nietzschean Mass.” Is it safe to say you’re after some kind of sacred experience? Is this ritual more for the actors or the audience?
Peker: Sacred-ness is a very crucial word for me. This is a critical word that is overused in theater, though. I would say it is very important to share an experience with the performers, but to be able to carry it to an audience also. I would ask: who is the performer and who is the audience? I am trying to play with this question. If there was a Nietzschean Mass the audience also attended that Mass, and the actors were a part of it too, so there should be a shared experience. But, I should add that the deeper the actors are involved in the journey the more the audience will share it.
Rail: The attention to language, the heightened sense of speech, makes the play feel in some way Shakespearean, bringing out the poetry in Nietzsche, but the staging itself is a hypnotic blend of Middle Eastern q’walli singing, Buddhist chants, Butoh movement and other hints of global performance traditions. I found myself wrestling with ideas only to be swept away at key moments by the spectacle. Is the spirit or thought somehow Western but the body or sensation Eastern – or are you trying to overcome such a binary?
Peker: I would say my background in theater is based on a more Western classical theater and literature tradition. But my intentions in theater, the images that bursts out of my eyes are always facing the East. It can be related with the location of Turkey, standing between East and West and trying to hold on to both. But I would prefer not defining the borders very deeply because for me, to get a deeper sense of the other, the self, and the blend, one should not rely on a compass. I like the feeling of a conscious disorientation.
Rail: This struck me as a very Persian Zarathustra. Or wasn’t that intended?
Peker: I ran through a very long casting journey. I was looking for a Zarathustra that would resemble the land he takes his name from. So it was conscious.
Rail: Is this ritual expressionism something you discovered as the best way to engage with Nietzsche’s Zarathustra or does he provide you with an ideal figure to suit your theatrical aims?
Peker: I read him and try to understand him both intellectually and emotionally. Then I let my vision find itself. It was painful because to be able to create, one should be able to shatter again and again. I learned a lot from Nietzsche. His discoveries inspired my discovery. This play signals my distinct approach, surely. I like the phrase “transformation in ritual expressionism of the sacred.” Sounds dangerous…
Rail: So you aim for a dangerous theater?
Peker: The phrase sounds dangerous. Dangerous theater? I do not want to attack the audience, but I would like to inspire them, as long as they let me do so.
Requiem Aeternam Deo: A Play for Everyone and Nobody, written and directed by Fulya Peker, is at The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th St (between 2nd and 3rd Ave.), 1st floor (no wheelchair access) until April 15; Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3:00pm. Tickets: $15 ($10 for students); special events $22.50 (Fool’s Day and Easter), www.smarttix.com or 212-868-4444.