Interview with Michael Moritz Transcribed and edited by rashi misra
Q. After you got the invite to do this production with Ashwath Bhatt, how did you decide the script of the play as it was not already written?
Ans. First I was here for the ‘Funny Bones’ workshop and then came up the idea that we could do a play with funny material but there’s always a thing with funny material. I didn’t want to patch up one scene, one gag or one catch to another because it’s not interesting for me and in a comedy I’m always looking for tragedy. In tragedy I’m always looking for comedy. So when the comedy was there I was looking for a tragic moment for a group of people and then I wanted to make something with Brecht but that was through speech. There was too much weight on speech and I was looking for something on Shakespeare and then I found the ‘Comedy Troupe’ in Hamlet and I thought that would be a nice thing playing around with the famous mouse trap. I thought I can show some slapsticks in the comedy troupe, which is going for an audition at Hamlets court. That was the beginning. Then I thought now let’s invent the troupe we have. I didn’t know the actors who will be there or not and I wanted 8 people , 3 Women and 5 Men. At least I got 2 Women and 5 Men.
Q. There are some Hindi dialogues in this production and certain references connected to the Indian film songs. How difficult was it for you to comprehend and incorporate them into the production and direct them the way you feel they should be directed?
Ans. First I watched some Bollywood films that I could find in Vienna like ‘Baazigar’. Therefore, I knew a little bit about how they define comic or comedy. For me it’s often too much that the stupid guy’s too stupid and I thought that it cannot be that. Hamlet against this tradition was for me a good aesthetic conflict and also I as a director could say that I am on Hamlet’s side. I’m also doing the speech of Hamlet. Then I thought how will an Indian actor group could react on this and they want to show their culture and that’s all a good thing. What they see all the time is in their culture and they think that it sells and they want to sell themselves also in front of Hamlet. And I like it, I like this Bollywood musical stuff in a certain way. I cannot watch it every day. I like the choreography and some other things. I liked ‘Baazigar’ because it’s very dramatic tragic. The plot is based on revenge. It’s very hard and then you have dance in between and I like the alienation effect and I’m again with Brecht. That was also very interesting for me how Brecht has snatched asian tools for his theatre and how it now works in Asia. For example the famous red curtain. I had to use it.
I think to be honest or to fail honest is a big problem here. To fail in an honest way without goofing, to feel the fiasco,“Oh! I’ve lost now”, and to support this and to share this honestly without hiding true emotion by making a goofy face. That was the biggest challenge for me with them.
Q. If you were to do the same play with European actors and they could speak Hindi on and off. How different would this production be?
Ans. Very different. It’s not only that it is with European actors, every actor in this group defines how the work ends because they are a lot of improvisations also. When they walk and come out and we say that they spoke Hindi there, that was an improvisation. I only gave the subject, ‘Oh No! It’s Hunger’ and you can develop and if you feel to come out when they walk and come out and want to say something about that then you can. There are some elements that are not fixed. It depends on the actors.
Q. For a comedy the audience should not anticipate what is going to happen next. What was your effort to make sure that this does not happen?
Ans. I want to entertain them, that is the first thing and by entertaining, manipulate them for being open that I can touch them. That’s all.
Q. In the production I saw that most of the time there was no background music. Was it a conscious effort or you felt that this content doesn’t need background music?
I don’t like the background music because it covers all. For example in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ we have seen both the scenes at NSD and there was big film music and the music is sometimes stronger than the emotional development in the scene. If this happens the actors have no time for developing their emotions between the pause.
In our play we have only taken once music from the speakers. As quotation. I know, it’s against the Indian habit. Conditioned by Bollywood there must be music all the time. But the last words of Hamlet are: The rest is silence and I like the silence.
Silence is also music, like when I see lots of lights I would like to have more ciaroscuro, more darkness. because darkness is also light, even the most important part of it. And so the silence is the most important part of the speech. Or like a pause in a movement. The mask fore example doesn not tell anything when you move it. I tells you something after the movement, in the pause.
For me the music the actors produce was more fun. At the beginning we had this song that Purnima sings recorded and then we thought she should sing it once and its magic, it’s another thing.
Q. How different would this production be with the same cast and everything else remaining the same if it happened with a larger audience in a bigger theatre?
Ans. It’s easier when we have more people, when they laugh. Their laughter are bigger. Therefore in sitcoms we always have the laughing machine behind. And when there are only some people then you feel that you are an individual so you don’t trust to laugh now. May I laugh or not? So I think that could help. I don’t know if it was bigger would they have reached them all i.e. the last row because they performed little bit worried for me. But I think it would work and with more people it always works better.
Q. Sometimes when the volume of laughter is not the same as expected, how do you react? And what according to you was lacking in the script, direction or the performances?
Ans. It depends. Sometimes the tension is so high. Now I say we have worked well and it’s alright the audience doesn’t laugh, can be that the tension is so high that they don’t want to release now. That can also be for the actors.
It’s hard because you’ve build up thinking they’ll giggle here and giggle there. At the end the comedy is built up step by step so that you have giggle here and giggle there, you have a rhythm. But when you don’t have the rhythm from the beginning or it goes another way because the audience is maybe more reserved or it’s strange or it could also be a tragedy what I have done and I say: It’s tragedy. I cannot laugh now. I think a good comedy is built like that, that you can decide if you want to laugh or not. But you have to create the tension, you have to build it up.
It’s up to the audience if they want to laugh at the big fiasco because they failed or say that’s a pity. What is important is that we were able to transport emotions and as a reaction that we get emotions from them.
Q. Do you feel the expectations of different audiences are also different? Would there be a difference if you perform the same production for children and then for people who are theatre lovers?
Ans. Yes. We performed at NSD before where there was one show and they were laughing a lot. There were also some children there and when Brighella cooks his stuff and smells it one child reacted directly making a sound similar to the one on stage, it seemed as though he could also smell it. And the students were laughing a lot, it was another context. And now people came for theatre at British Council. They watch in a different way. It’s more sophisticated and they have read Hamlet. They think what has this to do with Hamlet? So they are looking for a meaning at the beginning and maybe then it’s gone. Then you’re not on the track because the actors live with these reactions and the biggest mistake is that when you push it. Then as an actor you start goofing around and think I want to now get laughter. Then you make funny sounds and then you lose. That’s the biggest mistake when you change the situation for a small gag and that’s the challenge then for the actors.
Q. Does the performance of an actor improve after doing a number of shows? If yes, then after how many shows?
Ans. I think you have 30 shows and then you see what works and what not, what you can add and then you rehearse again. We will develop again, throw away something or develop a new scene but after 30 shows you can see if this here is too long. I think 30 is a good number.