transcript of interview with Olivier Provily
me: I saw on your website that your performances are characterized by present of silence and tranquility. Therefore, I wanted to ask you why silence became so important in your work.
O: I have not been working seriously for the last five years. I made some little projects with students and I worked on theme of silence, but not so much as I did before. When you are talking about performances I have to say, there are not there anymore. Of course I have made them but…
In our life there is not a lot of silence. I do not feel silent. You know, many people always think, he makes silent pieces he is very quiet, silent and peaceful. Not at all, you know, the opposite (laughing). Really opposite. Apparently I looked for something on the stage which sort of balanced with some inner unrest – and I tried to create a space in which I feel comfortable. And how I would love to be it as well … where people really listen to each other, they really take time to hear what the other person is saying. In my pieces the actors are always confronted with the situation that they should not react so quickly, but they should just listen to what the other one said. They should think about it and take their time to think about it and then they will bring what they want to say. Of course is written by my so they know already what is written or is written by John Forster or Sarah Kane, but silence is the way to act on stage. It is not only about the silence in a way that we all have to be silent, but I was also very severe on it. I could pressure the whole thing to become silent, but it was not only silence that I wanted, but for them to also take their time. I always said in interviews that when I direct or rehearse for a piece or I improvise, and I like improvisation a lot, at first I need the time to see what is happening. I am not this fast efficient guy. It is strength, but it can be also the weakness in this way. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not work, sometimes the process is fine sometimes not. And you cannot control it, but I think it’s a wish in a way, the silence. Something you would like it to be … It also creates space for something new or something spacious and timeless. You play with time that is very interesting in theatre, the possibility to change time…
me: Yes silence can be very powerfull.
O: Well the silence in itself is nothing. Silence always means something in relation to noise, voices and movement. It’s always in the relation, and that is interesting thing. Also, they call it “voorstelling” in dutch, it means that things become silent and they (people) become silent then it is more like a verb. All become silent and I really like it. I find it very powerful if it was possible to get the whole theatre silent. To keep the audience really in this tension of silence when everyone is like: Oh what is going to happen next? It is magic, it is really magic. However, I think in my career, in my development I focused sometimes too much on silence. However, at the beginning when I just graduated from a directing school. It was not so silent what I did, it was very fantastic and very playful, many different elements all composed together into little two and half hour performance that nobody saw before. It was very emotional, vulnerable and intimate. And very visual based. Not directly silent, but there were silent elements in it. I talk about Oorlogje that is the name of piece I graduated with, it was called Little war. It was made in 2001 and it was about war. It was mine own war on the personal level, however, also on the bigger level.
me: So silence in your plays developed continuously, it was not there since the beginning.
O: Well it was there, but not so articulated. For example, I made 4.48 Psychosis performance written by Sarah Kane which was played by Nanette Edens as a solo. It is a very powerful text. She wrote there a long silence – thinking. And then she says, “…but you have friends” those are first words. It is about a patient who had the psychosis. And we made premiere in 2005 and it was also silent. I made that silence probably ten minutes long at the beginning … I do not know how long exactly. She was just standing there, she was just very simply dressed. Her appearance is also not really female-like, she is more like a boy and that’s why I chose her. That’s also in the text, there is non gender thing. She was just standing there, girl looking like a boy, and then the lights went up and it started only with silence. We were working on it two months. It is one and half hour text, but in between, there are many silent passages. And I really went for the silence there. Then, the text becomes so powerful because it was related to that silence, which is behind … And it was a very strong performance.
me: I wanted to ask you what silence does mean to you? You have said already that you are not theatre director anymore. Therefore, it is a big silence in this way and I also know that you have started to study Buddhism. That is also about the silence.
O: Yes and it is also where it comes from because now I am studying Buddhism, but before I practised Buddhism in the form of Zen meditation. I have practised it since I started a directing school in a fact it is sixteen years ago. That is all about silence. I mean, you sit on your cushion for one and half hours. You shut up and you go inside, then it is silent, but at the same time you hear all this noise inside.
It is not easy to be silent and it does not mean I want people to be silent. I am dealing with the same thing. When I am in elevator with somebody, I immediately get this uncomfortable feeling that I should say something or I start to watch my phone. However, you can find here the reaction on all this noise and non quietness we live in and all the overload of information we get and of course there is a relation, but it is also a spiritual thing for me, the silence. It is also a relationship with Zen-Buddhism, but also with the art. For example, I like the film director Tarkovskij a lot. It took me a while before I really started to appreciate it. I saw Stalker and I was annoyed by it a lot, but later I started to appreciate it. And it is all about this inner world, the silence brings attention into the inner world. It is also in Tarkovskij, if you have seen movie Nostalgia. I was actually in my last days as a professional director I was interested in directing of big music theatre piece based on Nostalgia with Pierre Bokma. He would be a solo on stage for one hour and there would be a composed music. However, he would remain silence for one hour on the stage. And I was halfway with my subsidies and I was halfway with Pierre Bokma, but then in the end he could not make it. Then, the whole team collapsed. In Nostalgia there is a scene where the guy is going to his hotel room and it is totally silent for a long time. And because of this silence you get this tension that something is going to happen to him. I like that. It is also just what I like and it is not so special, but again it brings focus to the inner world.