Galin Stoev is an European theater director, known for his personal approach to working with actors and his interest in contemporary drama. He has received many theatrical awards both in Bulgaria and worldwide. He has worked with Comedie Francaise, the National Theater da Colline, the BAFF Theater in Antwerp and many others. From the beginning of 2018 he is director of the National Theater in Toulouse, France. The film “The Infinite Garden”, included in the competition program of IFF Love is Folly in Varna, is his film debut.
Galin Stoev was a guest on the show for culture “Gravity Zero”
Radio Varna , with author and presenter Svetlana Valkova:
Is your return to Bulgaria still provoking and being related to any kind of emotion, do you feel like a cosmopolitan after living abroad for quite some time?
This word “cosmopolitan” is very interesting, because in the novel “Tobacco” it has a very negative meaning, it is used towards Irina and describes someone who not only has no root, but also no direction. In the sense of something shattered and lost. I think that in the 1990s the word “cosmopolitan” absolutely turned its meaning and started to focus on people who can feel at home, wherever they are. But it’s also not to be able to feel home, wherever you are.
What about you?
I moved so much through time and space, from one context to another, that at one point I realized that the only safe point I could have and where I could ground myself is in myself.
There is most comfortable?
I’m not sure, but when you have no other option … you have to deal with it. It is very difficult, because in principle we are taught to use references that are external. To use things based on and things that existed before us, and for which we are convinced that they will always exist. So, it was difficult at first, there were such mixed emotions every time I came back. There were emotions of great love and very intense hatred that changed in five minutes. Now I am older and I think these sudden shifts are rather tiresome than serious. In this sense, I look to ignore it, to feel comfortable no matter where I am.
How do you see the change, in general, in the cultural life in Bulgaria? Do you think it’s more commercialized?
I very often think it is missing. For something to be commercialized, it must first exist. This is a very vast topic. I think it is neglected and out of control. It depends on how one will position themselves, how they will look at it. In Bulgarian Classical Literature this division was between the great patriot Ivan Vazov, who is a very serious figure who almost construct the contemporary Bulgarian language, wrote in all genres and whose novel “Under the Yoke” was chosen as the best Bulgarian novel . I think this is not a good novel, as literature piece it has no special qualities. A purely historical Vazov is extremely important, precisely by trying to create national self-consciousness and national literature. So he wrote in all genres. This, however, is confused with quality literature. The fact that we can not make a difference between one and the other is very worrying and I think it is a lack of culture or rather a lack of codes to rely on. By this I do not want to say anything bad about Vazov, on the contrary – I think he is very important. But Vazov and the circle around him have insisted after the Liberation that we must inflate great self-confidence inside the Bulgarian so that he can lift up his head, think for himself and can exist without complexity and build his identity.
On the other side were Pencho Slaveikov, Dr. Krastev and their “Thought Circle” literature group, who thought the “simpleton” could be kept on short leash only if he had a great sense of shame because he was a simple and foolish. In fact, they urged the uneducated to be ashamed of being uneducated.
I believed that this dispute is a thing of the past. Today, what I observe, talking about culture, which is a very broad concept, is that we currently have a decomplexed simpleton that is a role model in the hierarchy of Bulgarian society, starting from the highest levels of politics and reaching the lowest classes of the society.
So “Thought Circle” literature group has not succeeded in general, and Vazov – maybe did?
Vazov somewhat succeeded, but in the wrong direction. If we went ahead with the concept of the shame proposed by the Thought Circle, we would now have another dialogue on culture.
How are things in Toulouse and what does a national theater mean for the French?
Everything is going according to plan, I have been a director for six months already, I finished last theater season. Since September I have begun my first season, which I have programmed. Many things have happened and continue to happen. The first is that we changed the name – it is no longer the National Theater of Toulouse. Unfortunately, it’s actually a city theater, that confusion with the name exists because under the building of the theater there is a Roman city. Some of the ruins are somehow incorporated in the new theater building itself. All this is not so important, it turned out that starting with my first term, my team and I realized that the project and the changes we are making are so radical and large-scale that we actually change the identity of the place. By changing the identity, the first thing that we need to manifest is the sign of this identity. We started a very serious debate about whether to rename the theater, because the Théâtre National de Toulouse is just a name and its status is not of a national theater. There are only five national theaters in France – four in Paris and one in Strasbourg. “Comedie-Française” deals with classics, there is one for contemporary and modern dramaturgy from Ibsen to the present day. The other theaters, including the theater in Toulouse, are National Dramatic Centers. This is a network of about thirty theaters that are given to an artist to guide them. This artist is chosen by competition and the idea is to be able to develop his own aesthetics. To produce his performances, make bigger performances, more daring projects than what he would do if there was no theater behind him. In addition, somehow to make sense of cultural policy, the main aesthetic strategy of this theater in the next four or seven years, inviting a group of artists (directors, painters, writers) who also make their own projects. In this way create a new face for this theater and lead the audience.
This is much more challenging than anything else …
Yes, I struggled with internal conflict for a long time. It was a long dialogue between me and me, lasting for 2-3 years. Dialogue on how legitimate I am to take on this responsibility. I was very encouraged by colleagues and friends, even from the French Ministry of Culture. Eventually I entered a competition. I was lucky to win it and right now, besides that we changed the name, we moved all the offices from the third floor to the second floor. This is how we got into smaller workplaces, and on the third floor there are apartments that will accommodate the artists residing in the theater. We are changing the whole lobby to do what is very modern today – the so called coworking space. A place where people can come and meet with the team, to work, and so on. In principle, the whole idea is for the theater to cease to be a place that is open only in the evening and few people go, less and less nowadays, to consume a show and then go away.
The idea is to answer the question of what to do with such large downtown buildings built 30-50 years ago and presenting a pyramid idea of culture. So, to enter this building, you must be legitimate, educated, cultural, you must know the codes, you must earn your entrance ticket. Such people are getting less and less. They are not reproduced, educated or grown on the trees. Then I began to ask myself how something built with such a pyramidal hierarchical logic could turn around and become horizontally logical. Be transparent and open to all parties and people who do not feel legitimate and deserving or think it is boring. In other words, how to invite those people inside to spend some time there – they do not have to watch a show at all. For example, I noticed one of the intersections, one of the small streets to the theater where there are glass windows, many children and teenagers are practicing in their street dancing, looking at the reflection. Then we decided to install mirror surfaces so that they could really rehearse and make this small street a legitimate place for rehearsals. Because I know that one day they will go inside to check their Instagram with the Wi-Fi, which will be free of charge. Maybe they will sit down, get acquainted with others who have nothing to do with their street dancing. So, maybe one day these kids and teenagers will enter the hall and watch a show, which may be in line with their tastes. The idea is for such a theater to become a cultural center that is open all day for different social groups and people who have no other place where they could meet. Of course, it is very important to have a very strong artistic program. I am very proud of what we have – we will present 37 different titles throughout the season. There is a classical theater, there are contemporary texts, there is the so-called “Contemporary circus”. These are artists who come out of circus schools and who use circus techniques. At the same time, their approach to making a performance is not at all lika a circus – with horses, clowns, and rope gymnastics. They make real performances – very poetic, very enchanting, very magical, not quite a theater, not a dance, but a truly magical world.
We open the season with such a project. A magnificent production – “All birds,” which lasts four and a half hours. Author is Wajdi Mouawad, a Canadian of Lebanese descent who lives and works in France. It is a story of an impossible love between an Israeli student in the US and a student from the Gaza Strip. The two meet and cross Germany, the United States, Gaza, Palestine, Israel. There is not a single word in French in the whole play – they are speaking in English, German, Hebrew and Arabic. And it is a French show.
Is this performance risky? Will there be an audience?
I’m sure! In France the audience is much more curious and open. They are accustomed to when someone is offering or presenting something that intrigues them, even if they do not know much beforehand, are willing to go and watch. Of course, there is a huge audience that goes to the theater to hear what they already know and what does not move or shake the status quo. But in principle, in France theater is one of the subjects in school. The school system itself works to prepare a future audience and the children very early in the theatrical code and they know that when they go to the theater what seems bland may not be so boring if you know how to read it or how to enter this world. In other words there is a much more general “Culture Strategy”, which is also related to state policy. And now, if we get back to our first question about what’s going on with the culture in Bulgaria: no state strategy, no even thought about it. It’s all work until noon attitude and this one-day logic can provide something for the next 15 minutes. But it will not provide anything for the next 15 years, not to mention the next 50 or for a vision of what would happen to Bulgaria in the next 100-150 years! Nobody thinks about it, and that is very worrying.
Let’s talk a little about “The Infinite Garden”, actually it’s the reason you’re at Varna Film Festival “Love is Folly”.
This is a project we have worked on for a very long time. It turned out that making a movie is much more labor-intensive, much more expensive and takes much more time than a theatrical performance. There is also something else – many people have watched the play on which the film is based, and they struggle to position where one stands in relation to the other (“Enjoyably scary” by Yana Borisova). I keep on saying that these are two different projects. I wanted the actors to be quite different, the very story in the process of preparing the film – the pictures and especially the installation changed a lot. The scenario itself also evolved. The film will be on screen in October.
With what team did you work?
This is the team of Agitprop, producer Martichka Bozhilova. Operators are Boris Misirkov and Georgi Bogdanov, the artist is Julian Tabakov. He made a very beautiful garden, something that in principle is not shown in the theatrical performance, but is left to the viewer’s imagination. In the theater, it’s important to work with active imagination and active presence, observed by the viewer. In cinema it’s good not to put him to sleep, but to hypnotize him and put him in another mode of viewing and from there to take him along for a ride.
And the choice of actors?
The choice of actors was also a long and difficult process. The only thing I knew for sure was that I should not do it with the actors in the play. I decided to work with many, very, very young and almost unknown actors. I gathered this group of four people for whom I was looking for so long, because I chose them in pairs – I never chose only one … The two boys – Martin Dimitrov and Dimitar Nikolov, who were professional actors were finishing their studies when they were selected. the two girls Elitsa Mateva and Gloria Petkova are not even professional actresses.
This combination seemed interesting to me, and then I said to myself – I need a very, very old counterpoint, someone who is much older and so Kolyo Anastasov came up, may he rest in peace!
This was probably his last role in cinema…
Yes, his health was not good after surgery. I was very worried during the filming for him because we filmed in a very hot August all day and all night. He was one of the few who did not complain or whimper, did not get tired. With his great experience he motivated the others in the team. What I find sad and hard to accept is that I could not show him the movie completely finished! Once he came for few lines of dialogue, and then he saw several scenes. I think he was pleased.
What is this movie about? Love and what else?
I think it is about love and the various manifestations of love. Because love can manifest itself in unexpected forms at the most unexpected moments. Love is something hard to capture, something we can not always easily describe. One of my ambitions was to make a love movie in which no one touches anyone. And it’s really a love movie where there’s practically no sex scene. At the same time, each of the characters is on the verge of a huge love or an idea of falling in love. Also, this is a story that tells the ability for give up on love because of love. To make a sacrifice consciously, to bear the pain of it, and actually to find that you have not died but have grown up. Whether this love will incarnated in the future, this remains unknown and left to the viewer’s dreams.
What is inside your infinite garden?
Hmm, I guess there’s a lot of chaos and darnel. There are also corners and places that are not yet exploited or illuminated enough. I hope that there would be many beautiful flowers that I could share with other people like me who are interested in it.