Monday, August 10, 2015

Spotlight On...Peter Petkovsek

Name: Peter Petkovsek

Hometown: Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia (a small chicken-shaped country between the Alps and the Balkans in Central Europe)

Education: MFA Theatre Directing Columbia University, New York; MA Text and Performance Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts, London

Favorite Credits: Gilgamesh - A Musical Epic (Connelly Theatre 2015); The Blind (Schapiro Theatre 2014); I Am Not Antigone (Serbian National Theatre, Vrsac; Amsterdam 2014)

Why theater?: Theatre is a place of synthesis of various artistic ‘acts of writing’, from text, time and sound to space, movement and gesture, all writing over and complementing each other. It’s a balancing act that only sometimes succeeds in finding the right configuration – but when it does, it’s pure magic … and it becomes an important expression of the state of the global nation.

Tell us about The Weird Tree: It’s a beautiful fairy tale originating from Slovenia. In it, a young man manages to climb the tallest tree in the kingdom, something that no one has succeeded in doing before. He wants to bring its fruit to the king and as a reward marry the princess. But once he starts climbing, instead of one princess, he finds eighteen! The tale is a wonderful allegory of how life never goes exactly the way we plan it, but finds its little twists and turns, light and dark, and puts things in perspective: once you meet the Moon and her brother, the Sun, face to face, humanity’s place in the cosmos snaps into a sharper and grander focus. We tried to capture the universality and beauty of the original, since fairy tales represent the time-bleached skeletal structure of the human self and consciousness – not all of which is just good and pleasant! There is something very primal in fairy tales that reaches us on a quite visceral level, and we wanted to embody that.

What inspired you to write The Weird Tree?: When I was a child, I listened to fairy tales recorded on cassettes, on an old-fashioned radio in the kitchen while my father did the dishes. The Weird Tree occupied the A side of a cassette that also had a story called "The Swineherd" on its B side. To this day I remember the swooshing sound of the young man climbing down (or rather, sliding down) the tree, and the sucking sound of wooden clogs treading in pig muck. It worked its way into my deepest brain cells and I want to inspire that kind of childlike amazement and deep understanding with other audience members. The show was created collaboratively with several playwrights and the performers themselves, which gives it a very all-embracing quality.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I enjoy strong visceral theatre that grabs me, puts me through an emotional, artistic and intellectual wringer and doesn’t let go until the curtain drops. Inside of that it can be anything from socially activist to pure abstract poetry (or better yet, a combination of the two). The most beautiful shows on stage I’ve seen were actually contemporary dance performances. If I can get the same kind of powerful feeling out of a show with spoken language, I know it’s good. I’m inspired by artists like Ariane Mnouchkine, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Jernej Lorenci and others.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I’d like to work with more choreographers and dancers, I’m fascinated by how they command and manage space. In terms of names, I’d like to assist Christopher Nolan working on a film.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Baby Universe, a Puppet Odyssey, by Wakka Wakka and Nordland Visual Theatre. It has a pretty straightforward message, but it’s stunningly imaginative.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would. It would be called "1001 Surprises While Traveling", since it seems like every time I travel, something goes wrong or unexpectedly: I’ve missed flights, gone to the wrong airport, got onto a train going into the completely opposite direction, missed trains because of fires and floods, and much more!

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: An original Greek version of Electra. Or, more recently, Peter Brook’s Mahabharata.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Historic TV series, even when they are just camouflaged soap operas (like Reign).

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Some sort of scientist, doing either medical, space or biological research.

What’s up next?: Hopefully more showings of The Weird Tree, and further development of the original new musical Gilgamesh, based on the old epic.

For more on The Weird Tree, visit