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Ivan Dimitrov: “We increasingly forget to see one another”

July 27, 2012 by · No comments

Jasmina Tacheva talks with Ivan Dimitrov whose play “The Eyes of Others” will be staged in New York City this fall

Translated by Jasmina Tacheva

Ivan Dimitrov
Photo: R. Chichev

Hi Ivan, where are you at this moment? What are you doing right now?

I’m at the Art Hostel, sitting at the computer for a moment to answer your questions before I get on the night train to Burgas. From there I’ll be headed to a magical place where I’m going to spend about a week.

This summer, it just so happened that I’m taking a break from writing. It was not planned, but the winter had been a very active period for me, and everything comes around, right… Otherwise, of course I hope that things in New York work out and I can visit this amazing place for the second time.

In the spring it became clear that “The Eyes of Others” was one of the ten plays (among 400 dramatic works from around the world) which was going to be presented at the New York Festival hotINK 2012*. Was this a big surprise for you?

Of course it was a surprise. My participation in this competition was the result of a complete self-initiative. I knew Georgi Gospodinov had taken part in the previous edition with “The Apocalypse Comes at Six in the Evening,” but each year, the competition is enormous. This festival attracts already well-established playwrights, and I’m at the very beginning of this path.

In this respect, maybe I’m still surprised. I was the only participant who had not yet been staged. The other playwrights have had extensive experience in this regard. Almost all of them had seen productions of their scripts not only in their home countries but also abroad.

And between them stepped I – an author who had never heard his entire script spoken out by actors. At the same time, I’ve never considered this play very Bulgarian. I haven’t tried to locate it in Bulgaria. The action takes place at a city square that can be located anywhere.

You say that intermittently, with varying success, you have been writing poetry since you were very young. Later, you also started writing prose. How did drama come into your life?

Suddenly, like everything else. And I had not written poetry for a long time. I regarded myself as a prose writer. And then I wrote two plays, and I went back to poetry. Drama came about spontaneously. A friend was writing a radio play and I said to myself, why don’t I try to write a radio play. But the play I wrote was really for stage.

It was called “Separation at First Sight” and is among the final five plays in the competition of “Theatre 199” for a chamber play. I got “infected”. I had been reading plays before that too, but now I started doing it in larger quantities. I enrolled at the library of the Union of Bulgarian Artists to get more plays. The second script that I wrote was “The Eyes of Others.”

The play fnished among the final five plays in the contest of Sofia Theatre and then, just when I thought that that was it, that I can’t possibly go beyond the final five, quite unexpectedly I won the award for new drama at “Drumevi Praznitsi” in Shumen.

My next experience was the play “Embalmed with Love” which we presented in the format of a stage reading during the little theater season at Sfumato. The director was Veselin Dimov and the actors – Elena Bardarska and Plamen Velikov.

As for the process, drama is totally different from any other types of writing. In it, you have a dialogue and that’s all. But I think I found myself in the dialogue. It’s pleasant for me and I’m having fun. I feel that a play writes itself alone. Sometimes all you need to do is to let the characters take the lead, to not restrict them and see where they take you. This is one of the best experiences for me as a writer.

How did you meet the U.S. director interested in directing “The eyes of Others” – Sam Buggeln?

When I arrived in New York for the festival “HotInk at the Lark”, the play had already found its director and its actors. Of course, Sam and I had exchanged emails before my departure. He was pleased with the text and sounded enthusiastic. This was the most important part. I never asked him how the reading was going to proceed. I just trusted him.

I think the playwright should leave space to the director. What happened, surpassed my expectations. Even during the rehearsals, we laughed a lot and we hoped the audience would laugh too. The script is an absurdist play, and absurd contains a comic element in itself.

We said to ourselves that if the audience doesn’t laugh in the first ten minutes, then things have simply not worked out. The people laughed from the beginning to the end. It was great that there was a reaction. The text just “worked”. And Sam and the wonderful actors are responsible for that!

Have you been to America before and when do you expect you to go to New York City, if all goes according to plan?

I was in America for the first time in March. It’s great that writing opens doors for such trips. If all works out, I should go back for some period of time to participate in the production. This should happen very soon: in the second half of August and early September. Keep your fingers crossed!

Why should we support the indiegogo project?

Because the team behind this project is terribly good and motivated. Because it depends on you and only you can decide whether you’ll do it or not. Because when you do something good, it comes back to you sooner or later.

Because it would be a great debut of a young playwright, and we all know that the beginning is the most difficult part. Because it is good to note the Bulgarian presence abroad because our country’s presence on the literary map of the world is so weak. Or forget it. Find your own cause. Or don’t find it. On this website, the power is in your hands.

“The eyes of Others” – is this the deepest desire of most people nowadays – the eyes of the other people to be constantly on them?

Unfortunately yes. That’s just the world we live in. We never stop looking at ourselves in the eyes of others, trying to see our reflection there and we often forget that we aren’t simply that reflection, but creatures of flesh and blood who are what they are, not the clothes they are wearing, the make-up they’re wearing, nor what they hide under their protective coating.

“In the beginning there were people. On this square there were people! If I’m not mistaken, we chose this place precisely because of the people! Crowds of people. Passing, twisting, running, crawling crowds of people.” Where have the people gone? What happens to a city square when people desert it?

If there are absolutely no people at a square, there is no way to answer this question. But in most cases there are people on the streets, but they simply pass, each one chasing their own destination, a meeting, so we forget to enjoy the world around us because we are too busy.

“Thirty years ago it was not fatal to be anonymous, there was even certain charm to it. But today it’s a nightmare to be anonymous in the whole flow of information. To be anonymous on the Internet. To be anonymous at home, to be anonymous on the street. You better be anything else, just not anonymous …” Do you think that’s the biggest psychological problem of our time – the fear to remain anonymous forever?

If not the biggest, at least one of the biggest. Ultimately, we are always visible. Whether you walk, chat on Skype or like something on Facebook. It seems that we shouldn’t be anonymous anymore but we increasingly feel that way. It’s like no one calls your phone for a week.

You know you’re always connected with all who know your number but at the same time, this connectedness doesn’t change anything about your situation. You even feel more lonely, because you know none of these people calls you. Or information – we are too informed, we are inundated by flows of information, while at the same time, the more we know, the more we discover how much we don’t know.

So, kind of, sometimes it’s nice to know that someone is not taking their voyeur eyes off of you?

We increasingly forget to see one another, in this sense there is such a character in the play who is observing the main characters and who we never see. But that’s in the world of the play, I doubt that this formula would ever work in the real world.

“Life is an extreme” – do you agree with this statement of one of the characters in the play?

The biggest one!

A few months you and Olya Stoyanova won the first prize in the first edition of the drama contest in the name of Naum Shopov. Can we expect more drama projects from you soon and will we be able to see “The eyes of Others” and “The Alien” on Bulgarian scene?

I hope so. I never stop hoping and working as much as I can about this in the past year or so. As far as I know, there must be a production of “The Alien” in Blagoevgrad. This was the regulation of the contest.

There are serious prospects for “The Eyes of Others” to be staged on a scene in Sofia, but over time, I became superstitious and will give more information when I’m sure of it. Two weeks ago we recorded a radio play based on a script of mine for the National radio. It’s called “Workshop”, directed by Veselin Dimov and you can hear it in early November.

For me, the tendency in our theaters to look at Bulgarian scripts with skepticism, is inexplicable. I think there is a noticeable movement in our drama in recent years and theaters must get used to the idea. At times I was seriously discouraged because you can’t help but notice that there has been little interest in new scripts.

Because almost no one cares that you’ve written some script, provided that they’ve been waiting for two years to stage some German, French, British, Polish, not what not play. The arguments in most cases are that the scripts are not of sufficient quality. That they have their drawbacks. But a play is born when it is staged and then its deficiencies may be corrected if there truly are any.

It’s an old rule that playwrights are not born but created. Theater is a collective art. But in order to have good modern drama, young playwrights (that don’t lack at all) must be included in this team. There is no other way.

And whether things in Bulgarian theater happen slowly or not, you can answer by yourselves. Most likely my debut will be in New York, where the play was presented in March and now has the opportunity to be staged in September. It would be good if things in Bulgaria too could happen with, if not the same, then at least a little more, reassuring pace. Despite the whole momentum gathered in the last twenty years.

Thank you!


* See how you can help Ivan’s play be staged in NYC

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