Howard Lotker

Howard Lotker
with Katy Beinart, Jack Brown, Frank Cartledge, Katarzyna Perlak
Caravan, In Dialogue, Primary, Nottingham

HL: Hi I have a company, I'm going to talk about the project we started making, that inspired the name of the company, we’re called Home Theatre or Divadlo, in Czech, we’re based in Czech Republic now for 8 years. The first project we did which we’re still doing is a series of site-specific performances in people's homes.

We actually make a performance about people living in the home, about them, their neighbourhood and their lives and their history and they create the performance with us and perform in it as well, with us.

The people who come to the performance can’t tell the difference between life and art. In the project it is not about some kind of Freudian reading of people's lives and talking about their arguments and things like that. It’s more about like a quick tarot card reading just looking at two or three different cards to see what these... with the tarot cards look at things and this kind of depth, psychology or Jungian psychology, these basic human needs and situations, try and see what's happening there right now, in their story and their lives, and try to convince them to create games that engage the audience. Sometimes it's interactive, sometimes it’s with objects. Performance always take place in the house.

JB: so how long do you take with each project in someone's house, how long do you spend with them, is there rehearsal involved?

HW: yes there is rehearsal involved. It depends whether we’re doing something that is based in Prague, where we live, where we can maybe have a longer period of time, you can meet with them a few times over a month or so. But if we are travelling then it really has to take place within a window of maybe five or six days, four days of being intensively at the house

JB: How do you find or select the people?

HL: Sometimes we work with email and Facebook announcements and the cultural web - we try as best we can also not to work with artists only but work with normal people because artists are too much like us and so there wouldn't be distance. The situation can create more interesting dialogue and research for us if they are not like us.
We don’t like to work with roommates unless they have been living together a long time, because we really like a situation where there’s lots of history, memory, where there's lots of objects collected to try and use those to tell the story.

KB: how does the audience come into it?

HL: its half half - home owners have half the tickets for their friends, and half are from the art world, etc. - people they have never met before. It’s a really Interesting confrontation between those worlds.

FG: How does it go down in Czech - is there already quite a strong existing public realm practice or is this quite a new idea?

HL: Czechs are quite shy – I was interested in doing this because they don’t invite you into their homes. I was always curious about people’s homes. But there were artists doing performances in their apartments. There is a history of home theatre taking place during totalitarian regimes, under the Russians, artists were forbidden to perform or works that were forbidden, they would perform in their homes. So this was also an echo of that, translated into todays practice.

KB: it seems a bit like a salon? Its semi-formal being in peoples houses. But also formal because it’s ticketed.

HL: I’m really interested in the blurring of boundaries between art and life and the theatre of life, and getting works out of galleries into the streets. I think these distinctions are absurd, all these categories, things having to be separate, it’s much more interesting to mix things up and get a richness in the confusion.

JB: Is it mainly in cities, or towns, is it ever in more rural places?

HL: Mostly its in cities and towns because that’s what we’ve been offered. But we would do it the countryside.

KB: Is it completely self-initiated? Do you get commissioned or funded to do it?

HL: We applied for a small grant to do 3 performances, 300-400 euros, not that much money, but we made do. The group was really interested in working this way, as no one was working in this way. We did a few rounds and more people started inviting us to preform in festivals, and also internationally. And I do a workshop version, if we’re travelling really far then just 2 or 3 of us will go and we'll work with local students or artists.

JB: so what’s the company? How many people?

HL: 6-8 people are core, and up to 20-25 people sometimes.
If were doing a performance that’s my idea, I’m the director, it’s good to have a director because you get lost otherwise. If it’s a short project whoever has the idea directs, if it’s a longer term project we try to give up the director for a while.

With the Home project it’s important because it’s really short and you need to be really focused, and good at communicating with the people whose house you are in, and how they can collaborate with you. Also trying to be ethical, not break their things, and not break them physically or emotionally, make it a positive experience.

KB: Do you have an intention?

HL: most of the time if there’s a problem we try not to perform there. If there’s a roommate situation with conflict we can play with that, but if it’s a husband and wife situation... (We don’t')

JB: So are there times you don’t carry on?

HL: well, I always do pre-interviews first, I go on my own or with one other person.

KB: Yes I was wondering about the space, how important that must be in working out how you can respond to it as a performance?

HL: that’s another reason I do the pre-interviews, it’s…only certain apartments you can make work in.

KB: do you respond better to certain apartments

HL: I try to work against my (liking a certain place more) – aesthetically difficult places are a really interesting challenge that is one of the fun things about site-specific, is to really do the things that are hard.

JB: do you ever consider the Exterior and the journey to it?

HL: That’s essential; - you can use the whole thing, do they meet at a bus station, is there a situation, or do people walk up normally, see people standing around, watching through the windows. So you can have this event happening it depends on the themes and the space.

FC: How do you document it?

Documented through photos and video and these are posted online. Because it’s something so few people get to see.
It’s always been okay with the residents, we give them a copy of all the material.

KP: and the members of the company, are they from the Czech Republic or are they a mix?

HL: it’s a mix – Swiss, Serbian, Czech, American, British.

JB: and have any of the resident actors been surprisingly good?

HL: Yes artist friends and choreographers have come to a performance and ended up casting a real person! And a fine artist photographer actually found some kids that he worked with. Worlds are mixing. People that we have done performances with then come to see other things and come to the theatre a lot more than before.

KB: so you've found this amazing model to work with, do you think this could this continue and continue?

HL: Yes pretty much! Because everyone lives somewhere, and it’s quite different. As long as I wasn’t doing it too often. 6 times a year would be insane but once or twice a year is good, it gives me energy.

JB: so how long has it been going on?

HL: It’s been going since 2005.

JB: and has the company changed much since then?

HL: a little bit, not too much.

KB: what are the Difficulties in doing this kind of work?

HL: one of the difficulties is Time – it’s a very intense time. We need to pick themes and come up with strategy quickly. It took a while, it took 3-4 apartments before we figured out what the important thing was to choose first. My wife who is our dramaturge, calls it our spatial dramaturge. How the themes fit with the space.

JB: and how do the Tarot cards fit into that?

HL: I see it like we are doing a reading of the house, if it’s safety, if it’s nostalgia, if it’s dreams. That’s what this family in Mexico had…so the tarot cards are like these basic human themes, situations or needs that repeat themselves again and again. And that something that once we’ve named them well we can bring to people.

JB: How do they react do that - are they ever offended?

HL: We always try to word it in such a way…we also have this gossip session so after the first time the whole team is there, we go away and talk about what’s working, what’s not working, what’s fun, what’s insane, then we go away and work out the spatial dramaturgy but we always try to present it to the family in the way that we would want it presented to us, and we try to make the presentation something that is not offensive.

JB: across your projects, Have similar readings come up in different places, have the same stories come up?

HL: Not that so much, as the spatial strategies, that keep getting repeated because of the way houses are laid out…

KB: that’s really interesting...

JB: do you ever reconfigure the space at all?

HL: Yes – sometimes we’ll cover things up, or take things off the shelves and play with them so we will alter space. But always to shine a light on something, on the themes we’ve selected.

JB: so you said it could go on forever, what would make it stop?

HL: death!

KB: so you perform in Czech?

HL: Yes, but it depends on the language of the people involved.

KB: you make the language appropriate to the performers

HL: yes, when I performed in Germany I don’t speak German but we had some local performers.

KB: Does the idea translate across cultures? Is there anywhere where you've been where it doesn't work?

HL: We try really hard to be culturally specific, to do some research and talk to artist friends in the place we’re working, and to have someone on the dramaturgical team who is a native speaker, a local, so I can see if the ideas I’m coming up with are actually relevant, because of course they can be totally crap, when you’re coming from the outside, they might be really obvious to these people or they might be really stupid but they could also be really insightful. You have to have someone to hold your hand.

JB: Where has it seemed most radical or unusual to have a performance in a house?

HL: In Germany and in Norway they though it was very strange.

FC: Have you ever done it in a caravan?

HL: Not yet – I’m doing it now?

KP: have you seen the Czech movie Lonely about a Japanese tourist coming into house… it reminded me of this.

HL: You’re so close to people and you’re in their intimate space there is always some times when there is some kind of conflict about what you want to do they don’t feel comfortable with it so you have to negotiate it, sometimes you have to give up ideas.

KP: could you describe the plays, I'm curious about the content…

HL: We did one in a typical soviet Czech housing block, it was our third performance and we really wanted to work in one of these apartments and we got lucky, a friend recommended us to this family and they were former Hari Krishna’s, she had 3 different sons from 3 different guys, this was stepfather, and both of them were these very loving, kind, intelligent, cool, playful people. Very weird, very small! But cool. The house was decorated with scarves and incense and each boy was named after an Indian god. We were researching their house and their history. Because it was a flat where the audience could go around it but couldn’t all fit in one room at one time, it was just a lot of these medium rooms and central hall so we set it up as the audience going through a journey of their own life and dying and being reborn like in the Hindu religion. So it would be like one cycle of life inside their lives.

The audience went in two by two, they would knock on the door, the sound guy dressed in pyjamas would open it, and there was a puppet show with the children being born, and the audience members got born and got a little body, then the bell rang and in the next room, they start to collect things, things to collect and learn from and a British anthropologist was giving a lecture.

Then the next room in the kitchen me and Mrs Lipert offer them tea and fried cabbage pancakes, and talked about the advice they give their children, how to be a good person, and in the next room, all 3 boys were there in different knight costumes, and there were gambling games, it was about the casino of life, trying to get ahead, how much you bet and how much do you lose, and there’s a croupier, then in the last room they find that they are dead and they get a song and listen to the music and wake up and they are reborn and get a new body and name and they go out!

Everyone claps…


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