It was a rainy evening – one of the very few this February. I was supposed to meet Ariel Sereni Brown, a theatre director from Israel, in the foyer of the National Kaunas Drama Theatre. The front entrance was locked, so I waited around for something to happen, gazing at the empty spaces through the glass door. After ten minutes or so, something inside moved. A ghost? A zombie? Of course not. It was Ariel, straight from a rehearsal of Kaunas Wi-Fi, a project he’s doing for the theatre as part of his residency here. After the director managed to escape from the building, we used this opportunity for some sightseeing, as Ariel spends most of his time – less than two months in total – right here in the theatre.
In fact, Ariel works with his colleague Asaf Schouten, but I didn’t have the chance to meet him, as he was in Israel during the interview. Anyway, after settling down in Vingiu Dubingiu, we chatted about the Kaunas Wi-Fi project and theatre in Ariel’s life. Surprisingly, the topic of zombies came up more than once – shall I call it the ‘gut feeling’?
You can catch the English-language performance Kaunas Wi-Fi on March 9, 10, 12 and 13. It’s part of the Nerk į teatrą (Dive into the Theatre) festival organised by National Kaunas Drama Theatre. Apart from zombies, the performance will also feature Minecraft and a DJ. Grab your tickets here.
So, Ariel, tell me about your relationship with theatre.
Well, I was in the theatre in high school. When I graduated, I went to the army for two years, so I had a break from the theatre. When I got out of the military, I met up with some friends back from school – that was the first time I return to doing theatre. We did a show together in a Fringe Festival in Israel. Later, I started working with Jason Danino Holt, the artistic director at Habait theatre in Tel Aviv. It was the first time I was introduced into the world of performance. The performance called “Confessions” happened in his house in Southern Tel Aviv. He just opened his home – there were two shows – and he had 15-20 people making confessions around the table. It took 7 hours, people came and went all the time.
After that, I went on a one-year trip. I was looking a lot into theatre, but also did other things. I started in Poland and then Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Hong Kong, back to China, Laos, Thailand, Burma… From Burma, I had to take the first flight to India, as the first part was land travel – trains buses and hitchhiking.
When I returned from the journey, I sent my papers I was writing throughout the way to a residency in Habait theatre. This residency is for people who have never done theatrical work before. They get a chance to be escorted to create their first work. When I finished this, I went to do another project in the Acco Fringe Festival with a friend of mine; it was my second work. Egidijus Stancikas, head of the theatre in Kaunas, noticed me. And now I'm here! This is my third work.
Do you have some family connections in Lithuania?
No, when I first was here, I was crossing through the Baltics to get to Russia. My stops in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were very short.
After spending some time in Lithuania, do you relate to the Jewish part of our history – not necessarily as a theatre artist?
I think that many of the young people in Israel, considering they are the fourth generation after the Holocaust, and considering we are living in a very patriotic country, are somehow tired of the Holocaust stories. For us, the Holocaust is something you have been told about many times when you are a child it's less about the human suffering that happened and more about giving people a reason to go to the army. I don’t know how much I can relate to my Jewish side, as my father is American and most of my family is from the States. My feeling of roots has not so much to do with religion.
When I go to places I haven't been before, I like to meet people so that they can show me things they love – I think it’s great people take the time to do that. And it doesn't have to be related to Jewish culture; it can be anything else.
OK, tell me more about the Kaunas Wi-Fi project. Did you bring the basic idea of the project with you?
I came with a clear head – well, I did import some things that we're running in my mind, but very general, image-like. It's something I have never done before, and there’s something very freeing about the short time of the residency. It allows you to take decisions more intuitively.
On Valentine’s day, you held a workshop with the community of Kaunas. What was it all about?
It was just a Facebook invitation that the theatre did. They invited people to register, and very soon we had 110 people on the list. In the end, around 60 of them showed up, but the rest of them were nice and informed us they wouldn’t make it.
What was the workshop all about?
Well, zombies! The workshop was a try to create a play that would be written by most people in the world, for us to apply for the Guinness World Records. We believe the title can help us sell the play in the future. It’s not a site-specific project, but rather a site-conscious one. I do think there is a chance for it to become a format of people writing plays. It’s a bit like a word generator. So, before the workshop, Asaf and I came up with the characters and descriptions of the scenes. The participants needed to fill in. It was a super fun night.
Did you finish the play during the workshop?
Yes, 140 pages. We even needed to shorten it. You know, we worked in the shadow of the classical Greek drama. You take a classical text and convert it into a mathematical formula, so you know how long a play should be, how many scenes, when to put specific emotions… It’s some sort of a shadow of a theatre, taking the dead parts of the theatre and enhancing them.
What kind of people participated?
Mostly, it was young people, but we were positively surprised by some older ones, too. Some of them, I think, are specifically curious about zombies. Some of them were curious about participating in one way or another in a theatre show. Maybe some people looked at it as an unusual Valentine's dating chance.
In the description of Kaunas WiFi, it’s mentioned that it’s a 3D project. What is the 3D part all about?
Well, it's a secret.
I'll have to come and see. How do you find working in the Kaunas theatre in general?
It's amazing. It's super professional. People are open-minded and welcoming. I couldn't ask more from a residency. It's an exciting experience, because, I think, in Israel, it is much more challenging to engage in a professional theatre when you are young. So, I feel lucky.
Kotryna Lingienė for Kaunas Full of Culture magazine