Theater has the chance of changing society
Interview to Michel Hausmann
Dear Michel, you as a man of theater with lots of experience on the stage, what topics do you look for?
I began acting when I was very young. I feel I have evolved since then. In the beginning, I didn’t know what I was doing, but eventually, the bad ideas clear themselves out, and the final work is progressively refined. Theater is an artist exploration; you can spend months or years writing and producing. You focus on exploring and you have to enjoy the exercise because you don’t know how the results will be.
Is it like leaping into the unknown?
Yes, you actually begin with a blank page and an idea. Then your knowledge helps you. I mean not anyone can do a parachute jump. You need a technique.
For example, My premise in the play Havana’s Golem was: How would my grandma’s life have been if she had to hide a person wanted by law? If humanity was so terrible with her, what would she do in the case of deciding about another person’s life?
Would that have saved my grandma and my mother, living with her? She was very affected by war.
Initially that was the research I wanted to do, and later some characters appeared, who needed context, so the story evolved while writing it.
I am obviously marked by the experience of leaving Venezuela. Those are the topics that I work. Sometimes you don’t realize why a topic calls your attention. After three months looking for information about something, you find out: Ah! It is because when I was a child, nobody took me to a baseball game! lol. And you nailed it.
Could all the worlds be connected and there are no coincidences?
Yes, there are no coincidences. I have actually had the opportunity of doing the plays I wanted to. I have never produced plays just for a hit on stage. I do them because I feel them. Plays are sometimes like the planets, they can be far, or sometimes they are closer. Fiddler on the Roof is a play about life in exile. It is read in Venezuela in a different way than in Broadway. According to the context, it will have different meanings.
Will it also depend on the director’s approach and nuances?
Even so, you can’t direct the audience’s thinking. They get into the room with their daily experiences. My work in the United States has been more diverse. I have collaborated with a Russian author who called my attention, and I don’t know why: Vassily Sigarev. He is one of the most captivating voices of the 21st century. I also worked with the Pulitzer Prize winner, Nilo Cruz, in New York, in the play The color of desire.
The theater has the possibility of changing society, and its artists have to take that responsibility.
For example, the next play that we will do is about Paul Robeson. He was an African-American singer, one of the precursors of the movement for civil rights in the United States in the early twentieth century. It is written by Daniel Beaty and produced by Moises Kaufman.
The theater is a weapon of change. Also, Miami is a cultural and linguistically segregated city, where you have the theater in Spanish on one side and the Anglo theater on the other. I mean, it is not a world where they live together. So we want to develop a bilingual piece.
I like the director’s vision because it is a macro view of things, as opposed to mine as an actor. Right now with time, I am more interested in creating an institution, or a season. That is why every day I see things more at a macro level.
That is an evolution in your case … but, How does the personal story of a family like yours, fleeing from war, influence your work? Not everyone has that legacy of commitment to the universal values of freedom. Are there people who just want to do fun things?
Recently when I became an American citizen, I was thinking that I did not feel very emotionally committed. Then I realized that it was the American soldiers and the American flag the first image that my grandma saw when she was released from Auschwitz. Suddenly, I felt grateful to the Americans. That thought made me see that the issue of war in my case has impacted several generations. I come from a community where everyone has an accent, and everyone ran away from somewhere. That’s why the Jewish community uneventfully left Venezuela; because we are used to leaving. It is not a rareness.
I think the theater is very significant and should not be misused just as a circus. Theater is transgressive by nature. It always gives a sense of danger because you don’t know what will happen when you are live on stage. The theater only exists for the two hours you are performing, and then it doesn’t exist any more. A recording is not the same experience. It is a video of the experience. The theater is very similar to the truth. The theater is like life: it only exists while it is happening. The theater is an exploration into the human soul. But because we don’t know the soul very well, we end up amazed at the things we can do or can inspire empathy. It is a journey of rigor and exploration.
The theater has been a great translator of the effects produced by the totalitarian handbooks. When you go to Czech Republic or Eastern European countries, you realize many of their cities are beautiful, but something happened that broke the collective spirit.
I lived in Prague in 2000, nine years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the Velvet Revolution. There was a dramatic generational gap. That shows the impact that a government can have on you. When you are in school and learn about the Second World War, you say, ” it is never going to happen here.” Look at what happened in Venezuela; something that none of us would have expected. Now a fascist can win in the United States in November when all we said for years is that it could never happen.
Tell us about your future projects
Now, I am very committed to Miami, to the idea of promoting culture in this unique city.
Miami is the Ellis Island of the 21st century. It is where immigrants are coming, and with them always extraordinary things arrive. We have to do art related to immigrants and with the Miami reality. It is a city where more than 80% of its population was born outside of the United States. That’s why it is a community marked by many distinct issues: exile, justice, deprivations. We all moved here fleeing from something. I think you have to tell those stories and bring communities together so they are not ghettos.
The idea is that the theater is the store where all come together.
– Michel, then there is hope, there is hope …