Studs Terkel discusses the global status of theater with Croatian director Vlado Habunek
BROADCAST: Apr. 25, 1962 | DURATION: 00:34:56
Vlado Habunek, the Director of The Croatian National Theater, also a teacher at the University of Zagreb and board member for the Debrovnik Summer Festival discusses how all arts are seeking new revelations with Studs Terkel. Terkel asks Habunek to compare American Actors with Croatian actors because they are subsidized by the state. He sees Croatian actors as too secure and admires the ambition of American actors. The fact that theater reflects life and life is difficult begins a discussion on the status of theater today. Habunek, reveals his dissatisfaction with the playwright's ability to find new form to express the world and sees it as not good enough. Eugene Ionesco with "The Bald Prima Donna" appeared to be inclined to show revelations but "Rhinoceros" showed nothing new. He said it all in Prima Donna. Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" was also an enormous event but Habunek still sees Shakespeare as the person to turn to for depth. Edward Albee's "Zoo Story" is realistic but it is short unlike Eugene O'Neil'ls "Long Days Journey Into Night". Habunek is still looking for a playwright that captures the time we live in.
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Studs Terkel Mr. Vlado Habunek is the director of the Croatian National Theatre and the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, and immediately the phrase Croatian National Theatre raises a number of questions. We think of Yugoslavia, the different regions of it, areas, different cultures that comprise Yugoslavia today. The Croatian National Theatre this mean, it is, is it subsidized by the state?
Vlado Habunek By the state, like all our theaters are. There are no private theaters, so this is just like all the others only it's more important because there are some, some smaller ones, and the national in every place is supposed to be the most important.
Vlado Habunek No. I mean, the actors are paid by, I mean monthly. Every month or regularly whether they act, I mean the play or not. Whether they are good or bad, you know. I mean it's slightly too, too secure. I think
Studs Terkel Mr. Habunek, would you please. This is an interesting point. Starting when you're making it, American actors think oh boy, if we had a regular income, the things we could do. You know, and they think of the lack of tenure. When a play closes, you knock on the door again. No matter how established you might be, you begin all over again. This is not so, you'd use the phrase, a bit too secure.
Vlado Habunek But you know, I'm not an actor and a director, and I think you can get much better results if you have actors who who are not so terribly secure. Then they work better. You know, they are much more ambitious. Real life kind of is harder, you know? So they really must be very good. And with us it's not so terrible, I mean they're fortunate. There is always the personal ambition, you know, we want to be better than the others. Especially then you're kind of, you're rivals. But then if you are sure that I'm seeing something that's completely personal, you know, I think that the way your actors live is really slightly too hard. I mean, it's sometimes it's almost terrible, you know. But, I mean, as a director I would like to work with people.
Studs Terkel Yes, you have the standpoint of a director. And yet you feel that your actors, the actors of your national theatre are a bit too soft, a bit too secure, you say? Isn't there another challenge? Isn't there the challenge of the artist himself of the work?
Vlado Habunek Yes of course. I mean, there is I mean. I said, you know, two minutes ago. I mean there is this personal kind of ambition. You want to be good, you know, but I think that in a way that's, I mean, it's completely my personal opinion that the theatre has to be difficult. Really, I mean, you really must fight. Maybe, I mean, if you fight too much then one day you are tired and then you are sometimes, you're out. And it's unfair because there are people who are extremely good and I just thought because maybe they are not at one moment strong enough, you know? But I think that does give very good results.
Vlado Habunek Well, probably. I don't suppose that artists who live kind of-well no, I don't want to to suggest that. I mean, we are so terribly kind of, we make so much money or things like that you know? Nobody does make much money. But, I mean you really, I mean once you are in the theatre, you're practically sure that unless you do something awful, and unless you're really very bad, you just stay at the same place.
Vlado Habunek That's my personal opinion, you know? I don't suppose that the actors, our actors especially, will agree with me. I mean, I think that there is the minimum that, I mean that's the [unintelligible]. I mean, you know, to kind of have more than they
Vlado Habunek Yes. I mean really, I'm teaching at the University of Zagreb, that's my regular job, and I direct only when when they offer me something that I love. I mean, I direct only plays that, I must have the feeling, that I mean, I must be in love with the place or the magic, be kind of a special reason.
Vlado Habunek Well, I haven't done any O'Neill myself, I mean. But anyhow, maybe I'm kind of, maybe, slightly special. Well, you know, we would like really to find something. I mean, like you, you know, it's everywhere. I mean, people are searching for something. So, I mean if you are just asking what makes some people are searching in just one field, let's say just the newest plays. I tried to find some doing many different things. Drummers, opera, more than classic, and I hope maybe to find some kind of style out of all--
Studs Terkel Why?
Vlado Habunek Well, because first of all, there are so many good actors everywhere. You have [hand clap], I mean, so many good actors. When you go to England, you find so many good actors. In France they have so good, so good and we have quite a, I mean, considerate number of good actors. And there are some good directors in the world. Very good set design is practical-you have everything and you really have no plays. I mean, plays that really would be kind of worthwhile, whatever. I mean, playwrights, they, they know it. They've known it for so many years. And when something really, I mean new, comes out, I mean new that's supposed to be new, I mean looks like avant-garde. I mean then suddenly, it's not avant-garde. I mean and especially it's not absurd. I mean, when you hear you talk so much about The Theatre of the Absurd, you know. And then there will be people like Albee connected with it
Studs Terkel Perhaps we should break down this phrase, a Theatre of the Absurd, and you feel, why you feel, Albee does not fall in this category? Theater of the Absurd, the phrase we hear used a lot today, specifically what is its reference? Men see the world as an absurdity. The world itself in that comment and their way
Vlado Habunek -- I suppose so, yes. And they tried to find a new form to express it. But, whatever I mean, I've seen until now in this field, I mean, either here or in England, or in France. I just don't, I mean, I would call it absurd when it simply is not good enough. At the moment that it is good, then it ceases to be absurd, and it becomes kind of realistic theatre that truly has not given a new form.
Vlado Habunek Well at that time, at that time maybe that was a great help. Because, I mean, so many things open with him and now it's kind of finished, you know?. For instance, how would you pronounce it in English?
Studs Terkel Rhinoceros.
Vlado Habunek Oh well, that again, when they are waiting for Godot. I mean, happened, and it was an enormous event. And we all lived on that after all. I mean, I've discovered that you'll just live as much on, on Ionesco and Beckett as we do with [Havel?]. I mean everybody does now. When there was somebody, a new playwright, to write something you can find love bigger than the love of Ionesco. But what they are doing now, I don't think they are going much further than what they have said that with the first playwright. I think that Ionesco has said practically everything with The Bald Prima Donna. I don't, I admire him very much and, I mean, I have a very high opinion of him, but I don't think that after The Bald Prima Donna there has been a kind of revelation.
Studs Terkel You
Studs Terkel For those who may not be hip to what Mr. Habunek is talking about, there's several off Broadway plays which he's referring. And Poor Dad, Poor Ma, it's a very long title. A new play by a young playwright has been hailed as innovative too. When Mr. Habunek didn't view this, you say revelation. What then is it, this may be difficult, I know, for you to put into words, what is it in our time in those mid 20th century, from a playwright who may or may not be writing right now, or perhaps in some distant place maybe writing - What is the revelation? A kind of revelation?
Vlado Habunek Well that of course I couldn't tell. I mean I wait for them to have to tell me. Anyhow, we are all at home. I mean I feel that we are, all my young colleagues for instance, they are all trying to do really the newest plays and they all try their own ways. I mean nobody is satisfied with anything that has been done until now. I know that, I mean, you just want to be original. It's not that but we all feel that, I mean, that life is changing so much. That something essential we, we somehow feel that something essential has happened and it has not yet been expressed because whatever playwright express there, I mean we've known it. So, I don't know, maybe we are wrong. Maybe we just, it's not yet ripe or maybe we are just the same. It's not true that things have changed but we have the feeling that they have. And I think it's silly. I mean, we all the directors that try to find new forms in them, you can't find a new form unless there is a new kind of life in the play
Studs Terkel 'Course, Mr. Habunek, what you're saying. I'm smiling as you're saying this because I know this is so here too. The same, this groping, and is it, maybe are we becoming slave to form? I'm asking this now. Is it in seeking new forms, the young playwrights forms for forms sake And
Studs Terkel and-- Yes. And new forms or newness for newness sake, missing something else, whatever it is? The historical event that is upon us without our being aware of it? That has changing our whole way of life in the world today?
Vlado Habunek You know, because it's so, it's in a way, it's sad, you know. When you really want to be happy as a director you have to go to Shakespeare or to somebody like that. I mean, Shakespeare is wonderful, but after all isn't that slightly terrible that we must rely so much on Shakespeare if we want to find real depth? I mean a complete life, you know. Because even, I mean, those new plays that are extremely good, like The Zoo Story, for instance, they are not only that they are realistic plays, just I mean that they express something that relates is happening now. But, I mean, belongs to the usual kind of life, you know, that we see everyday. But those plays are very short. They are not really big plays. I mean they are all one act or a little longer but still, I mean, I mean they're not really big like O'Neill. Really plays that would really be kind of well constructed big plays with all that depth [hand clap] and all that kind of new--
Vlado Habunek And I absolutely, I think, I mean I'm not, I mean everybody thinks more or less same that we are living more or less the same kind of. More or less the same period with so many things that are happening, so we must have somebody, some type
Vlado Habunek I just think that our period is so terribly thrilling. I mean, it's so rich. It's so absolutely, I mean, so many things happen every day that I mean there must be some kind of Shakespeare somewhere. And then the moment, I mean, the Shakespeare would happen, then the form would be here and the director would find it kind of, automatically--
Vlado Habunek No, nobody, no. No I don't suppose even, even Ionesco. He would be, I mean, he is very angry. I mean, I talk to him and I know that he doesn't like very much the term of avant-garde. I mean we use it because there are so-I mean we just don't know how to do to express
Studs Terkel 'Course this problem that you're offering, and the stating problem of the seeking, the groping, was stated just the other day by an art critic too-Franz Schulze, of the art critic of a local newspaper, in the field of the graphic arts. The same problem, I've heard you there too. There's a groping that seems to be a groping, the the so-called avant-gardists. The New York School of artists. Even they have come, he feels to a sort of dead end. And there's a waiting-he too is looking there, too.
Vlado Habunek That's the same situation with us at home. I mean, the painting and the music too. Just the same, I mean. So, I mean, I think that we probably have just to be very patient and to try to do our best and wait. Try to find new, maybe, new songs and new new colors, I don't know. I mean, that's some kind of-that's not really essential to have the instruments, maybe to be ready when there there are new plays for instance in the field.
Vlado Habunek Because now, since we are lacking, I mean, we don't, I mean, we have not such a [pro?]. When I think about people at home at the National, and I mean all our theaters, they are all kind of now relying on on the Commedia dell'arte that try to improvise, to try to kind of just play with with the form, you know? To try to to keep artists very active very
Studs Terkel Supple.
Vlado Habunek Especially the younger ones do. I mean, that would be their-probably their essential love, maybe without. I mean, they don't know it. I mean, they're not, I mean, not knowing what to do they do that probably. They're probably following a very kind of a good instinct--
Vlado Habunek Well, it would be difficult. I don't know how to explain, we use everything. I mean, we would use the method and I know that not exclusively. I mean, I'm not a partisan of it. I mean, I don't think that anything that's really exclusive can be, I mean, theatre is far too too too big. I mean you just can't use one.
Vlado Habunek Well it's about the same as here, you know? Only I would say that the results, until now, when I mean, they are not going so definitely towards the kind of realistic-I mean, for instance a young playwright who would be, if I if I didn't take Albee as one of your leading new playwrights and if I think of one of ours maybe, I mean the comparison is not good. But, anyhow somebody who is quite kind of well-known that's in Zagreb, who is considered as really promising with some results, alright. But the result is much less realistic. So, maybe you are further, maybe we are further. I don't know who is really--
Vlado Habunek Ours.
Vlado Habunek Really, it would really-It has to be more stylized, you know. Definitely. I mean, because, The Zoo Story, you just have to behave naturally. And it makes sense and it's beautiful as it is and our plays would really require much more kind of--
Vlado Habunek It was in vogue long enough, wasn't it? I suppose, then again, I mean it has its point too. I mean, there are quite good things in it, but then again it's one thing, you know, and as we said, I mean, the theatre is too big so you can't use that. I mean, it's all right for the, for the plays of a certain period. And you just have to be the kind of place that had,I mean, they had to-the theater had to play a certain part. You know, so he did it. It was the way, I mean, that it had to be done. Now, I mean, we can't use it anymore.
Studs Terkel Is there free play? This is the question I'm asking as a matter of rote by now-is that is there free play as far as the playwrights are concerned? And experimentation and form and everything, there is no inhibition-there is no governmental inhibition upon them?
Vlado Habunek The government, I mean the government, I suppose, I mean, wants us to experiment. Because I mean, everybody does, I mean that's so kind of obvious, you know? That if the government didn't want us, maybe they would try to stop it. I mean, that wouldn't be. I mean, all the all the shows are, I mean, you wouldn't find in all the shows abstract painting of different kind of-going into different directions. You wouldn't find so much more than music. I mean, electronic or or for instance we have just instituted now a new biennale of modern music in Zagreb last year, and the very kind of latest. Well I don't know how, maybe doesn't lead anywhere, but, that's what everybody did and that's what was kind of extremely pressured you know. So, the government didn't want it that probably wouldn't give it all that money--
Vlado Habunek Definitely the same everywhere. Maybe you don't see it so mu- you are of course you find it very, very, I mean, it's obvious in poetry. Maybe it's not so obvious in in in, I mean, the usual literature. I mean, in the novels. Because in the novels, you know, I mean, the majority of the writers write kind of, I don't know what you would call that style, I suppose legitimate would be
Studs Terkel A question about audiences here in America. The audience that attends theatre is a minority audience. There's television, there's the film. Off Broadway has people who- less less admission, as a result the expense account people who attend Broadway theatre don't attend Off Broadway. Those who can't afford Broad- interested [unintelligible]. Still it's a minority audience. How is it in Yugoslavia?
Vlado Habunek Well I don't know whether it's, maybe it's more or less the same, you know, for different reasons. Because, I mean, let's say that in the National Theatre in Zagreb. The National has a small stage we call a kind of chamber theatre, I mean, the studio, whatever you would call it. And there we do the-all that kind of experimenting. And on the big stage, they wouldn't of course go so far. But, it's not that that- I'm not so sure. I think the public would come just the same. Only, I mean, on on to all those big stages, they kind of do much more. They would rather do the Long Day's Journey into the Night than The Apple. You know, The Apple would have to be done in a studio or in the
Vlado Habunek Yeah. But that's maybe because maybe the people who are heading those big theatres, maybe they are too shy or something. I personally believe that if a play is interesting, if it has some kind of value and if it's well done then the public always comes, you know? And with us, it's not so much a matter of money because the theaters are not- they don't need to make immediately, so much money, I mean anyhow--
Studs Terkel The answer to which I'm seeking, is the public itself. Any play, flesh and blood theatre- what portion of say of a Zagreb audience attends theatre? In contrast to those attending films or watching television or if it's come into effect there. See, here I say it's a minority audience that attends flesh and blood theatre, no matter what we say. It's a minority audience.
Vlado Habunek Well, I suppose that then with us, I mean, if you compare cinemas and the theatres then of course the cinemas have much more, I mean. There there there is no doubt, I mean, there there is- I don't know how many I couldn't give you the statistics. But then, I mean, if we compare the two, not so much television yet. We do it, I mean, but not in [such?]-.
Studs Terkel No, I was wondering what extent- I was wondering to what extent the broad population of Yugoslavia, of Croatia, of Zagreb, is conversant with theatre? Whether it be traditional or about- just traditional theatre. That's what I meant. Has it reached- has the theatre, the National Theatre, and other theatre groups and other cities, reached a great many? Here we have not. That's my point.
Vlado Habunek Yes. Well I think that we maybe, I mean relatively, we probably have more than you because, I mean, first of all it's completely inexpensive. So, I mean, the the the the, the price of the tickets is not an obstacle practically never. Only, I mean, if a very kind of famous, expensive, foreign company comes and plays, or a big opera star- Del Monaco, somebody. I mean, one of those big names. I mean a tenor or, then the prices would be sometimes prohibitive, almost. I mean, the theaters are full, but still. I mean and it's- but usually, whatever we do, I mean, the price is not an obstacle. Practically, I mean, anybody can. And And it's only a question of- it's never a question of money. It's only a question of finding the- of maybe attracting the public with the right kind of plays. And the plays, I know, it's not necessarily a kind of a low commercial play. You just have to be the right, or the atmosphere of the theater has to be the right one for the public to come in. So, there are moments, when for instance, one theater in Zagreb is playing every night. I mean, the whole year to to really packed houses, and then something changes in the in the direction, you know. Maybe the the choice of plays is less good or something. The public doesn't like so much the atmosphere, and then they don't go so much to that theatre. You know, that would be, maybe
Vlado Habunek Well, we don't do much musical. In fact, the only one, I mean, I did it in Zagreb, Kiss Me, Kate, and in fact it's still on. And of course packed each time, well, we don't do it, you know. I mean, we have a different system- really have repertory. You know, so we would do Kiss Me, Kate two times a week. And it's been on now for almost two years and it's still packed. So, of course I mean Kiss Me, Kate would certainly attract much more than than than the Long Day's Journey into Night. But, still, you know, we play for instance for the students, and then we would play for the workers of one factory, then for another institution. So, I mean, I really couldn't tell you how exactly it was, but we play too organized kind of--
Vlado Habunek Yes, everywhere. I mean, it's more. We have almost, I mean, too many, you know? And sometimes, you know, for instance the problem is much more kind of obvious in the opera field because we have, you know, Yugoslavia as a very small country and we have, I think 12 regular opera companies with everything. I mean, ballet, chorus, orchestra--
Vlado Habunek Yes. I mean, except in July and August when its still hot, you know. So, you can imagine the burden. I mean, the stage really has to play. I mean, and of course they are not all so good and sometimes we think it would be better to have a three really first class. But then nobody wants to give give it up you know?
Vlado Habunek Well, yes certainly Tennessee Williams would be- I mean he's some kind of great fashion all over the world, you know. So, when we when we talk about American theatre, I suppose Tennessee Williams would be the first one to come into a discussion, and Miller of course.
Vlado Habunek Yes, I don't think it's my own. Well, I suppose that everybody behaves more or less been the same here too. I mean, when I talk to people everybody, I mean, says in with different words exactly the same. Artists, especially--
Studs Terkel Well, is there perhaps a last question? Oh, I should ask you about that Dubrovnik Summer Festival! Festivals are big all over the world today. There's a Seattle Fair, Vancouver, the festivals all over Europe, and the Stratford Festival. The Dubrovnik Summer Festival that includes what? Theatre--
Vlado Habunek Everything--
Vlado Habunek Everything, that's. I personally think it's kind of wrong because a festival ought to have a special kind of- or to specialize in something. And what's kind of wrong with us is the Dubrovnik is such a good place, you know, for the festival--
Vlado Habunek Yes, it's you know, the Dalmatian Coast and it's a very really beautiful place. And you know the climate is good, too. So, that possibl- of course we do everything, I mean, in the open air. I mean, nothing is in the playhouses. So, I mean you- we can have concerts in front of churches, in courtyards, plays on terraces of different fortresses, you know. And, I mean, so many that we can't resist, you know? We think, I mean, this opera would look so nice [hand clap] in this place. So, we do it, you know? And so we do maybe too many different things. I personally think we ought to kind of specialize in chamber music. But, anyhow it's getting more and more popular and we just can't stop it and we--
Studs Terkel I suppose this is a good sign, is it not? The sign of the hunger I suppose. Another form of hunger of people for seeing artists and learning. And back to that question- the last one is, How would you explain, or is that explanation, the reason for this pause? For this lack of this kind of theatre? This new theatre that would express our times today. Every time has found its playwright, hasn't it? Thus far in history or isn't that so--
Vlado Habunek It's true that a time does know when they really have this person. So maybe we don't you see ours. Or maybe that's what's happening. Maybe we are too impatient. Maybe we know too much. Because usually, I mean, in the, I mean, the past people didn't know so much about the- they didn't know so much about the historical situation, you know? We really know too much and we can't be so patient and we just go too far, probably.
Vlado Habunek You know exactly what was, I mean exactly- we know so we-I mean- we think that we know well what was happening, I mean, in Shakespeare's time or in the, I mean, and time of [scholars?], you know? And so, I mean, knowing so much we try to- and today you know we know what's happening in London, we know what's happening in Paris, we know not so well what's happening here because I'm going from one surprise to another. I'm discovering so many more than thrilling things in this country that we- that I couldn't even dream, I mean, that they existed.
Vlado Habunek Well, I mean, all kinds of different things, you know? Different people, I mean, such a generosity and, I mean, desire of doing things you know. I mean, really, I I that would be a very long discussion if we started talking about that. I only wanted to say that without knowing it well, we know I mean I knew before coming to to the states, I knew more or less what your theatre was. You know, and before I mean, it was not like that. So, knowing all that, you know, we try to put all those facts together and to, kind of, make some kind of conclusions. And we just- feeling that the conclusions are not satisfactory--
Studs Terkel Yes, 'cause there are so many strings- there are so many facets that really call for a titan to encompass all these into the play. So, this is the guy or the group or the people the artist we're looking for and all these feels. As you say our perspective we are here now at this moment and perhaps it may be upon us without realizing it too. Vlado Habunek, this has been, to me, a stimulating conversation--