"MY OLD LADY" by Israel Hordvitz
6-7 (June - July 2016)
Text: Polina Vinogradova
June 2nd, 2016
Italian-American filmmaker and photographer John R. Pepper repeatedly visited St. Petersburg as a photographer. In theater he directed, three years ago at The Vasilievsky Theater the play "My Dear Mathilde" by Israel Horovitz. This time the director came to our city at the invitation of the Russian Institute for the Performing Arts. Here, on Mokhovaya Street, together with 4th year students of ‘Studio’ run byYury Krasovsky, Pepper presented the play "True West" - -the play is written by the famous playwright, co-writer of Antonioni and Wenders, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Sam Shepard.
On the eve of the premiere our correspondent met with John R. Pepper and asked about his love for Italy and Russia, the current times and acting.
NT: John, when did your love affair with Russia begin?
JP: My first acquaintance with this country happened in 2012. Curator Marina Dzhigarkhanyan saw my photos and invited me to participate in the photo exhibition at the "Manège Museum”. I got off the plane and immediately felt as though I was home. It's like love that suddenly overtakes you. This affair began in St. Petersburg. Then I traveled in many places of the country, more than many Russians; I traveled to many cities: Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Samara, and etc. I've been in some places that my Russian friends have not heard of such as Chara Sands desert (my next album will be dedicated the deserts of the world). It's a real desert, like the Sahara, is located north of Chita. This part of Russia is particularly interesting and unique in its own way, because there were ‘The Decembrists’. Wherever they went, they brought with them culture and raised the artistic and intellectual level of the society in which they were.
NT: You have worked at the Vasilievsky Theater.
JP: When 3 years ago, my French agent offered me a job in St. Petersburg, I so wanted to work here, that I said: “Given the opportunity to work with Russian actors I will even to direct the phone book!
NT: Then you literally sang the dithyramb for the actor Dmitry Vorobiev. Who else from the Russian artists do you also value?
JP: Elena Rakhlenko, an actress from St. Petersburg, amazing, but totally underrated. She is valuable in the theater, where she works, but her potential is bigger. In Moscow there is an actress Miriam Sekhon, she plays in the theater "Practika" and "Studio of Theatrical Art ". Also in the theater "Practika" plays a wonderful actor Casmir Liske, he is an American who more than 10 years living in Moscow. In my opinion, he is one of the finest modern actors.
NT: Does your method of working with actors differ depending on the country in which you are directing, in Europe, USA or Russia?
JP: Yes and no. Actors are actors. It's like making love, I don't know how the other men do it, everyone has his own approach. But there are 3 basic methods, from which onepushes off: Stanislavsky, Grotowski and Commedia dell'Arte. Each of these systems has its own vocabulary. The problem of today's European theater is that training is no longer perceived as seriously as before. But I think that actors must train. I also worked for 2 years as assistant of the great Eduardo De Filippo. The actors, who worked with him, could do anything, because they were trained.
NT: What is important about what you learned with the Italian master of the world theater?
JP: He taught me a sense of timing on stage. How you say a replica, convey the emotions, all this is also about timing. Another thing that I learned from him: acting –you pretend. You should keep it simple. The British actor Laurence Olivier, whom I met on filming "A Little Romance" by George Roy Hill, said the same thing to me.
NT: The famous George Roy Hill probably shared with you the secrets of the Hollywood cinema.
JP: I adore this director. He took a chance and brought me to Hollywood from Paris. He had problems with his leg, but, despite his wealth, he refused to pay for a driverand I was "youngest guy in the office" I was chosen to drive him from his office to his home everyday. Los Angeles is a huge city, like Moscow, and we had to drive over an hour each way. There were no cell phones then and I had him all to myself. I asked questions and he answered them all. Every day I spent with this man was like a master class. He taught me to tell the same story in different ways using the montage. But, most important, George told me:"If you want to be a director, you need to go to work in the theater first because there is no montage. Only in the theater, one can learn how to communicate with actors. You need to do your work upfront because when the curtain rises, they can do anything they want, they are absolutely free- - freefrom any director's diktats.
NT: You were born and grew up in Rome, 20 years living in Paris, worked in Hollywood, staged the plays all over the world...
JP: Wherever I work - -be it in Russia or in Zanzibar- -it doesn't matter; my system of work remains the same. The only thing that is different is what I eat and drink, and that is very important to me. I am who I am. I do not live in the USA, because I am not comfortable in that atmosphere. First of all, I'm Italian. In Italy you can be more expressive like in Russia. Now I live in Sicily, in Palermo. And Sicily it is a different world: an island that has always been under pressure from various countries, and its people have created their own identity through a mixture of cultures.
NT: Have you ever wanted to stage the Russian classics?
JP: Yes! Being here has taught me to better understand the characters of Chekhov and Ostrovsky etc. Of course, I would like to stage something from the Russian classical repertoire, but not in Russia.
NT: What can be interesting for a Russian audience in the American play "True West"?
JP: The idea of staging the play "True West" by Sam Shepard came after my acquaintance with the teacher of the Russian Institute of Performing Arts, an expert on the American theater, Julia Kleiman. This play is realistic, accurate, and naturalistic. Russian theater mostly revolves around symbolism. After the Soviet period, when art was dominated by socialist realism, Russian theater once again became interested in stage convention. Naturalism ceased to beof interest. Atthe Moscow theater "Practika" they say: "We don't believe in the Fourth wall". When I decided to stage "True West," I spoke with 15th scene designers and no one could come up with a ‘realistic’set! But fortunately, I met set designer Eldar Karhalev, who is also tiered of the widespread interest with ‘symbolism’ in the theater.
"True West " is the story about two brothers. One of them is the good guy; the second is the bad one. The first wants to be like the second, and in the end, both change places. The performance of this play should be of interest to a Russian audience because of the important themes of the past and family.
NT: Do you think were able to teach something to the Petersburg Academy students?
JP: They don't need to learn anythingas they can do almost everything. But I use a technique that is different from that to which they are accustomed. I'm not just directing the play. I'm trying to give them a different experience: how to prepare for the role, creating the character; I discussed with them some of the technical techniques to use which are different (not better or worse, just different) than the ones they use. I am very pleased that these young actors (some of them are planning to engage their lives directing) listened to me. Two of them admitted that they used my technique in their own work. It appears that I have also performed another aspect of my ‘mission’ at the Academy. In the play the young actors have to ‘stretch’ andcreate American characters - -people they had previously only seen in films or TV series. They do it well…. But, as I said before, we must remember that most American acting techniques go back or begin in Russian theater.
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