michele quereSofia is really a place to be today

claims Michele Quéré – coordinator of the IETM meetings who was in the Bulgarian capital for the IETM Caravan Visit in the frame of the first ACT Independent Theatre Festival that took place between 16th – 20th November 2011. Thirteen cultural operators and theatre managers from 9 countries – Europe, the Middle East and US – were its guests to meet the makers, see their work and to get to know the local organizational and institutional context in the performing arts field. In the night before the last day of the Festival, in the typical for the IETM meetings informal atmosphere in the yard of a Sofia bar Michel Quéré and Mladen Alexiev (theatre director, co-organizer and international guests’ coordinator for ACT Independent Theatre Festival 2011) spoke about the challenges for the scene in the country and the power of international networks such as IETM. The conversation was led and recorded by Angelina Georgieva. 

Angelina Georgieva: What brought the IETM Caravan Visit to Sofia during the first ACT Independent Theatre Festival?

Michel Quéré: To be honest I didn’t know what to expect when I came here. I just knew a very few people from here – like Mladen for example, who used to tell me before that I should come to Sofia. Last year I told them: “O.K., perhaps now is your turn to show what you have. Do you have something to show?” I believed that of course. I understood that something interesting is going on here. But I didn’t know what exactly. When I say “me” it’s not “me”. I represent a network of 550 organizations spread in 50 countries. If we ever decide to go somewhere, we have to be sure that something will happen. This time we didn’t know what exactly but I trust those guys. It is in this informality where there is something intangible; you just have the impression… And we said, O.K., let’s do a little thing this time. We’re coming 10-15 people and we’ll meet the artists, we’ll just see how they work. And suddenly it became a big thing and I’m not responsible for that. It just happened because of all the people here and thanks to everyone who were committed into it. You have the duty, the responsibility to bring people together and to create a kind of a festival and even to integrate those who are not in the festival, to open up to other people. It’s related to everyone in this city and in the country. This was a chance to meet the makers, to see performances and to discover another world. And what I realized, the thing that I had not been aware of before, is that Sofia is really a place to be today, it’s where you have a lot of opportunities, a diversity of experience, of expertise, of organizations and so of ways in the so called “independence”. I`m coming from Western Europe and it is very bizarre there to use the word “independence”. But I understood that here it’s meant in comparison to the repertory, well established theatres and if I may – to the soviet style institutions. Whereas in Western Europe you can be extremely independent even within well established organizations. But the responsibility of people in this country is to take over, to be like a virus into this system. And I’m sure that this will come.


  M. Alexiev& participants at Caravan Visit Sofia, photo: M.Quéré

Angelina Georgieva: At the end of your visit you came up with the very concrete proposal for ACT Association (the producer of Independent Theatre Festival) to held an IETM Plenary meeting in Sofia in several years. What convinced you to initiate this next step?

Michel Quéré: The people from the scene in Bulgaria are already internationally well connected. I knew that before. With the Caravan Visit we wanted to go further, we wanted to support the independent scene by coming over. If something is interesting and powerful about international networks – and IETM is such one – it’s that they are important in a way that they support the local scene. If you want to be global you first have to be local. And it’s important to see what’s going on in the local scene and do for it as much as possible. I don’t like brain drain. I like people to stay where they are and to be resistant to any kind of movement which could be against them. This time we were only 12 people. But it’s not the number which counts. What is very important is the curiosity. And those people who came here had it. And what came out of it is that they met the richness, the diversity, the professionalism of the people here. You have to support it. And will you be willing and will you have the guts to say: “O.K., we’re ready to welcome not only 12 people but we’re strong enough to welcome the world.” I feel that there is the capability and professionalism to welcome much more people. This would mean that Bulgaria and Sofia in particular is a city which opens itself to everyone. So you say: “We open our arms, our studios so people can see who we are and potentially to work together. We want to work together with other people”. That’s it. This will mean that people here want to be connected. All the people who came want to know more and not only that but also to share it further. Let’s go where the artists are. Because I really discovered a lot of important artists and an interesting artistic scene but which should be much more connected.  Our friend from Lebanon – we had a conversation over a glass of red wine this evening – told me, yes, yes, they are very nice, very nice, but they are not connected because they are missing something. For example, it is as if they are still working a lot on video, or so called new technologies, but this is over already, you should do something else. They should be connected with different stuff. There is a lack of artistic direction on stage. Great performance but very few directors.

Mladen Alexiev: I had a similar conversation with him and think that this is a very good remark.

Angelina Georgieva: And you think that this lack of artistic direction can be resolved in a way also through interconnections with the international scene?

Michel Quéré: Connection and communication, yes. People in the performing arts are always alone in their own studio. Internet does not exist on the stage. There is only one body. We are completely alone and fragile, but also universal. We go to the theatre to see a body. That’s why performing arts are such a unique experience…

Angelina Georgieva: But you have the impression that the artistic work here happens in a kind of isolated way?

Michel Quéré: Generally everybody is completely isolated. That’s why it’s always good to have an external view. Someone to come to see what you do. You can pretend in your own studio that you’re great and the best. And probably you’re right. But it’s good to have someone to say: “Oh, stop! There’s something else, there’re other people who do something else”. That’s why it’s very good to have foreigners. I love foreigners. And I love immigrants. People who can bring another image to your society and see things in another way. That’s why I think it’s important for cultural actors to be confronted to foreigners, to another history, yes, to other cultures. On a very small scale I would think that our presence here, even though we were very few, is potentially a kind of revolution, just like a mirror of ten people. And we told to each other: “We are we, why don’t we perhaps do something together!” So this idea of a plenary meeting now asks also the question: “You, Bulgarians, do you want to have foreigners come over. Why not?” You can say, no, no, no, what for? But maybe it’s good to have an outside look. But you can also say, no, no way, we’re good the way we are.

Mladen Alexiev: But I think that now it’s too late to step out. I don’t mean only the invitation. The energy in the field, the intensity which was catalyzed also by the festival and by this visit is already opening the opportunity for next development, for a next step.

Michel Quéré: Yes, but what will it be? You can decide that you can do it on your own, by your self and it’s over. Maybe I’m wrong but I got the feeling that now you’re concentrated on competing with the official repertory theatre…

Mladen Alexiev: Which is a stupid partner to compete with.

Michel Quéré: Yes, exactly.

Mladen Alexiev: Because then you loose your power.

Michel Quéré: Why do you want to compete with that? I think that it might be cleverer to work with them and integrate them into the movement of a change.

Mladen Alexiev: But only now we can talk about a movement which is visible and in a way recognizable and responsible.

Angelina Georgieva: And in my opinion it has become now a lot more self-conscious.

Mladen Alexiev: Exactly. This is also the issue that we have here. If you have a very old mirror which makes your face look very ugly and if you look only into it, you can spend all your life feeling and thinking that you’re a totally terrible… And suddenly somebody else is coming and brings a new mirror. And you discover: oh my god, this is a totally different thing, I am actually fine.

Michel Quéré:  It’s always also about to show your weakness. For example say openly: “We are a completely fucked up society, we are struggling with mafia, we are still stick into the Soviet style…” Show it. And things can start changing. You have something to say.

Sofia, 19th November 2011, ~ 2  a.m.