Connecting is essential
Medziscéna (Interscene) is a unique project in the Slovak art scene, in which the State Theatre Košice and the independent culture centre Tabačka Kulturfabrik have come together to create an unconventional fusion of two spheres of art. The vision is to not only interconnect cultural worlds but also to create, educate and – perhaps most importantly – to unite our increasingly divided society. We explored the meaning of “Medziscéna” with the artistic director of the Contemporary Ballet of the State Theatre in Košice, Andrej Petrovič, and Zuzana Psotková, a long-time member of the Tabačka Kulturfabrik team and curator of their theatre programme.
What is Medziscéna?
Zuzana: As the well-known definition states, Medziscéna is a collaborative project between two organisations – two important cultural institutions, one independent and the other state-funded, which have operated in the city of Košice for several decades: the State Theatre and Tabačka Kulturfabrik.
Andrej: The main idea here is to connect and broaden the artistic base so that the inhabitants of the city receive quality artistic projects – some more extravagant, others closer to the people. The idea is to offer two different perspectives on the creation of theatre and performance projects in Košice.
Why was the Medziscéna project created in the first place?
Andrej: My artistic background is connected mainly with independent culture and for years I worked as a freelance dancer/artist. I always enjoyed that in the project-based performances I was involved with we could go more in depth and there was more time to reflect on the work itself. That’s why I enjoy connecting mainstream culture with more independent movements and allow more time for creativity. I would be happy if artists from the State Theatre Košice were involved in the projects that are planned or being created in collaboration with Tabačka. It’s not just about connecting the audience but also the artists themselves, who may have similar creative aspirations. By writing a memorandum of cooperation, we can give each other another creative space for artistic activities. One of the motivations for creating this project that Peter Radkoff, Zuzana Psotková and I have been discussing from the beginning was just to create another common space.
Zuzana: To the question “why?” you can find a million answers, all of which of course have their own meaning. The question that interests me is: “Why only now?” Boasting that we’ve invented something amazing, etc., is just discovering warm water. We all know that when we collaborate the result tends to be more varied, simpler and more rewarding. The answer to the question “why now?” is perhaps what all artists, whether on the mainstream or independent scene, have experienced. We’re talking about a period of Covid, during which we felt we were not alone. Whether you were independent or institutionalised, we all faced the same problem in our own way. Our initiative is virtually no different from our regular work, except that we plan some activities together and in sync with each other, thus striving to achieve a greater effect with the same effort.
Andrej: I have always worked collectively on all my projects, with final decisions from the director/choreographer coming only in the later stages. But up to that point, we would discuss it together as the main creators. I believe that you can’t do much as an individual; the best things come about when you let go of your ego. You only see the essence of what’s important, and of course, that’s the result which is best when people strive for it together.Andrej: Vždy som bol zvyknutý na všetkých svojich projektoch pracovať kolektívne. Až na konci prichádzali definitívne rozhodnutia od režiséra/choreografa. Ale do toho bodu sme o tom diskutovali ako hlavný tvorcovia spoločne. Verím tomu, že ako jedinec toho veľa nespravíš, tie najlepšie veci vzniknú, keď sa zbavíš svojho ega. Vnímaš len podstatu toho čo je dôležité a to je samozrejme výsledok, ktorý je najlepší vtedy, keď sa oň usilujú ľudia spoločne.
Why now? What was the impetus for the creation of Medziscéna?
Zuzana: Why now? From my point of view, the whole social situation calls for it, but behind everything there are people, just concrete people. Nothing just happens by itself. At some point we met and our perspectives came together. What we normally try to do at Tabačka is to present contemporary and independent theatre, but within the dramaturgy we understood that we should also offer something less demanding or more communicative. As a centre we have evolved in some way, and the State Theatre Košice has evolved in a different way. And because Andrej and I have backgrounds in both scenes, it was easier for us to start working together.
Andrej: The impulse was mainly the community of people in Košice who are creative, friendly and open. This element of friendship and mutual respect was important. The fact that the Medziscéna project came into being is down to communication, but also because we like each other as colleagues. It’s about enjoying and wanting to meet, listen and discuss. It’s about a love of creativity permeating the working environment.
Zuzana: It’s also important that the impulse came from below. We had a million collaborations, ordered from the top, from the European Capital of Culture project or collaborations between Prešov and Košice. All those projects had a very nice and clearly outlined idea, but failed to meet with a real response. The only project that really worked was the POKE festival, and that was due to the fact that independent culture centres from Prešov and Košice got together, regardless of the “outlined” cooperation. Now we are lucky that our impulse from below was warmly received and things started to move forward.
Andrej: It moved from the ground up but the people above gave the green light to the whole project. Whether it was Peter Radkoff or Ondrej Šoth, the general director of the State Theatre Košice, who often says that he always wanted to work this way and always liked the idea. The people who were able to fulfil the potential of this idea simply came together and made it work.
You’ve had performances that have worked both ways, so the artists of the State Theatre Košice have had the opportunity to perform in Tabačka and conversely the Tabačka performances have been performed in the State Theatre. What are your experiences and the experiences of the artists?
Andrej: For the ballet I can say that it was very enjoyable, refreshing and dynamic. During the performance of Carmen by Ondrej Šoth, the dancers really danced in the whole space of Tabačka. They danced in the big hall but also in the courtyard, in the art-garden and at the bar. It was an event that was very fast but left a lasting resonance. It was also very powerful that after the performance people could meet the dancers directly. The artists stayed, enjoyed the rest of the beautiful evening, so it fulfilled the whole “package” of experiences we think Medziscéna should represent – whether it’s the social, artistic or educational dimension. It also attracted new audiences to Tabačka, by drawing in people who would usually go to see Carmen at the State Theatre.
Zuzana: For me, as an outside observer, it was extraordinary that so many people familiar with Carmen came to see this piece in Tabačka and visited it for the first time – which was the first step. The second step is that they come to the State Theatre to see an original performance from the Tabačka environment. The third step is that they come to a space they don’t know to see a performance they don’t know, and it’s supposed to work the same way the other way around as well.
But Carmen is just one type of format that Andrej and I have planned. The other ones are superstructures, so it’s not just about changing the performance, but also adapting it in a site-specific way – that is, to a particular space. We have also planned educational activities for the general public, but also for professionals, members of the State Theatre Košice ensemble, and the next generation of conservatory students.
How do you evaluate the performance of Brave New Life on the Small Stage of the State Theatre in Košice?
Zuzana: The difference between Carmen and Brave New Life was that Carmen was a big success with the audience. It was an adaptation specifically for the Tabačka space and we are planning to perform it again next year. Brave New Life is a show that travels to different stages and the Small Stage of the State Theatre in Košice suited us quite well. But it was the first event of the Medziscéna project, so we haven’t managed to reach the audience of the State Theatre yet, most of the people in the auditorium were people who come to Tabačka.
Andrej: It was the beginning of the whole project. The very act of bringing an independent show that is performed all over Czechia and Slovakia under the brand of the State Theatre Košice was also important. The intention of Brave New Life was to launch Medziscéna and to take the first step, which was also echoed in the media.
Why is it important to bring these scenes together?
Zuzana: Well, see what it looks like here? Here you have figure skaters, hockey players and curling – everybody needs ice, but nobody is able to cooperate with others. I feel like the polarisation is so unbearable that bringing people together who are basically doing the same thing, who have the same mission, who are reaching out to the audience, is essential.
Andrej: We were recently visited by Milan Kozánek, a dancer, choreography teacher and director. He works with theatre directors, dancers and actors. He did a weekend workshop for the public as part of Medziscéna, and then a Monday to Wednesday workshop tailored specifically for three conservatories. On the last day, a friend of mine peeked into the hall and asked me if it was one school.
That’s why it’s so important to create one community that may have different experiences but can come together at the same level of perception, collaboration and listening to each other. The different artists will eventually become one big body.
Zuzana: It’s about creating a space for people to come together and be together. We have a lot of art schools but I don’t feel like the students know each other or are actively meeting each other. Tabačka is a meeting place, but the exchange doesn’t stop at the end of a performance. Art is a part of life and here you can actually talk to artists, ask them questions or find new collaborations.
How do you choose the performances or events that become part of Medziscéna?
Zuzana: We have a wide range within our dramaturgy, but not everything that happens here is included in Medziscéna. Within Tabačka and the State Theatre Košice we try to select productions for Medziscéna that are communicative, maintain a certain level of quality and we believe that they have something to offer to the audiences of both institutions. In the first half of the year, we built on things that were already in our repertoires. It is important to balance dance, drama and opera. When thinking about the repertoire for next year, we had a meeting with the directors of all three branches of the State Theatre Košice and planned quite a rich programme, each of them bringing their own impulses and ideas to Medziscéna. But in the long run, we are not opposed to more institutions joining the Medziscéna project. Recently, for example, the State Philharmonic Orchestra has played here several times. As a cultural centre, our work has been based on the concept of cooperation since the beginning.
Andrej: I was recently contacted by an artist who asked if we could include his production in the Medziscéna programme, not in the programme of the State Theatre Košice or Tabačka. Whether we open up is actually not up to us, but it will come from these impulses. They will determine our future direction. I think it will be the artists who will determine whether they want to join the Medziscéna programme or our two institutions.
What are the biggest highlights of this project?
Andrej: For me so far the project as a whole has been a massive highlight in itself, but Carmen resonated perhaps the most in terms of the audience and organisation of the whole project by Tabačka and the ballet ensemble of the State Theatre Košice. It also stands out in terms of professionalism and adapting to a different space in record time. Another highlight will definitely be the collaboration with the drama company.
Zuzana: From what has already taken place, I have the strongest fondness for the educational activities. At the workshop with Milan Kozánek I participated in every lesson with every target group. I don’t know if we have set the bar too high and if we will be able to find another lecturer who is able to share such a diverse artistic experience, and is able to bring something for the general public as well as for professionals and students. For me, this is what makes it a very powerful experience. Then there are the co-productions, which we had planned for 2023, but you move one pebble and the avalanche starts. On 19th November – Theatre Night – we staged a production of a text by Ján Mikuš, which received the prize of the State Theatre Košice. Once again, this project involves both students and actors from the State Theatre Košice, as well as members of the orchestra, dancers and actors from the independent scene. People like Ján Mikuš and Anton Korenči have experience with both scenes and are exceptional in this and many other ways. They actually make life difficult for themselves by not performing at their own place under normal conditions. It’s a big challenge.
How can people find out about other Medziscéna projects?
Zuzana: You can find the performances that are included in Medziscéna on the website of the State Theatre as well as on the Tabačka website, which is one of the small achievements. As soon as an audience member attends one of our events they immediately get a 20% discount on another Medziscéna performance at the second institution.
Invisible Mag is supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council. The Slovak Arts Council is the main partner of the project.