"I find myself in characters who are not afraid to dig as deep as possible, so they can swim as far as possible"
An Interview for Portret Magazin | Skopje, July 2020
Actor, performer and author of theatre and video performances, Petar Miloshevski nurtures a unique attitude towards art and acting. It has been illustrated over the years through his projects, performances and awards, whether on our stage or in London, where he lives and works. His latest projects are the video performances You Will Marry Me and My Dreams Will Be Your Dreams, in which he presents his art and performance in quarantine conditions.
Tell us briefly your life story, how you got to London and the development of your passion for art, acting and performance?
I have been on stage since I was eight years old. That was my first stage experience in my native Bitola. Without hesitation I followed my call from those early years, through several performances at the Bitola National Theater as a child, then in our amateur scene at the Centre of Culture, in which we experimented most bravely and madly - many of us are now professional actors and directors. I graduated in acting at the National Academy of Theater and Film Arts in Sofia, where in the meantime I acted in some plays at the their National Theater. I was employed for two years in the Blagoevgrad Drama Theater, where I acted in almost all the plays in the current repertoire, but the thirst for discovering new horizons was stronger than anything. I left everything behind, I traveled to London, I started from the absolute beginning and little by little I discovered the flow of life, the culture scene, the way of life there. Then, I got a Master's degree in Performance from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. During those years I started experimenting with solo performances that I performed in alternative spaces - in galleries, in the gallery’s toilets, or, for example, in Proud Camden which is a space transformed from former stables, etc. I rediscovered strength and comfort in that kind of expression, and from short performances, I started developing full-length solo shows that I was lucky enough to play at numerous European festivals, for which I received fantastic reviews and numerous awards.
How well-known is your work in London, which theatres do you work with and what projects do you work on? Which topics intrigue the most?
So far I have enjoyed wonderful reactions from critics and audiences. What I do is always praised for my exceptionally innovative approach to the form I develop in my projects. I collaborate with individuals who find themselves in the aesthetics that I propose and who bring more new ideas with them. My constant collaboration with Antonella Petraccaro - the Swiss costume designer is precious - with her I managed to make costumes for my performances which in themselves are like works of art. Her costume for my play THE BEAUTIFUL was voted one of the most successful designs in London a few years ago. My most recent collaboration is with the Polish composer Blanka Barbara, who created the soundtrack for my latest video performance My Dreams Will Be Your Dreams. It is extremely important for me to work with women and people from marginalised communities in general. I always hope for deep and inspiring collaboration with people open to innovation and passion to reach as far as possible through the art they carry with them.
The themes I describe in my works are the macrocosm, viewed through the microcosm of the individual, who stumbles on the very edge of his personal and social existence, but still with an almost frantic desire to reach as far and as high as possible.
Compared to a Macedonian environment, I can imagine that the respect for individuality and the opportunity to work of one's own free will and dream, without stigmatisation, is greater in England. In which direction do you think the Macedonian society is on this issue?
Maybe yes, but still even here you have to submit yourself to a system and set of working values . You usually pay a lot for that - with work, money, health… Institutions seem to be open to various ideas, but that does not mean that you are allowed to do just anything. Moreover, the British cultural scene is so financially deregulated that if you do not sell enough tickets at the box office, you may be the most radical artist - but that means almost nothing. It is certainly the fruit of the government's terrible austerity policies, which in recent years have made institutions and artists tamed in some way, because income in such a neoliberal society are more important than anything else. Radicalism and innovation are often just spin by clever PR and marketing.
From what I can conclude from seeing certain performances and cultural events in Macedonia, is that it is a society with a a huge amount of talent, predisposition and potential. I think that there are genius actors and extraordinarily good art, for the simple reason that Macedonian society is constantly looking abroad and that is why it is drinking various experiences. Of course, I'm talking about certain exceptions here, not the whole politics of the cultural scene.
When I came in June 2019, especially to attend the first Pride Parade in Skopje and when it was held in such a huge number, with such impeccable discipline, it gave me a sign that Macedonian society deep down is really grown and eager to move forward. The fact that it fails to get rid of certain structures which hinder it is another matter. But the fight does not stop.
Given the pandemic and quarantine, how did you nurture the inspiration? Having created the You Will Marry Me project in quarantine, it is now on the list of nominations for the prestigious Lift Off Global Network Film Festival. Did you hope for such success?
You Will Marry Me is my first video performance - by nature, it is a medium which allows for a range of acting palette which is far from the sort of range I can call upon in a live, stage performance context, but its visual and moral aesthetics are close to the way I work on my live shows. A project developed and realised in absolute quarantine, reached many, I received many wonderful messages and now it has been selected for the Lift Off festival.
When you say "prestigious", one would immediately think of the palm trees and red carpets at Cannes, but let's not forget that we are living in slightly different times in the last few months, where everything is presented online. This does not mean that the value is less, but I have long ago learned to distance myself from the opportunities that are given to me. In that sense, I want and learn more to be like the Tibetan monks, who for days and days work hard in the sand to make the most fascinating mandala, live, breathe, dream in its creation, and in the end, with just a swing of the hand to destroy it in a second. Because everything is transient and we must then seek and realise the next opportunity given to us.
Your latest video performance is My Dreams Will Be Your Dreams. What is this project about and how did the filming and preparation develop?
My Dreams Will Be Your Dreams is a metaphorical and poetic story about the artist / muse duality - the artist locked in isolation, unable to achieve his goals. Just as the most inspired moments can turn into self-destruction, so the most wonderful muse can turn into a kind of demon - but still, this is a kind of story about the relentless struggle and the will to go ahead and invent and dream about who the new human being is, with a new body, in the new world to come.
I was developing, thinking and writing again in quarantine, the recordings and editing took several days and here, somewhere there, in the virtual space, it is looking for its like-minded audience and those who can be found in the world he proposes.
How do you prepare for your performance, what is your favourite part of creating projects?
My performances are extremely physical and for that I need good physical preparation - I have been an active cyclist for years, I jog, I swim, I do aerobics - everything I need to keep my instrument in at least some enviable shape.
When I create my project, I totally immerse myself in the creation and those are my most precious moments. I see, I hear, I read, I research, I try different situations. It is my home, my self.
Do you prefer solo performances or group theatre performances? Which author is your favourite and in which play or character do you find yourself the most?
I don’t split my love for theater in solo or group. I just swim through life and seize the opportunities it gives me at certain moments. The important thing is that I am always open to new ideas and new collaborations. By nature I am extremely curious and that is exactly this curiosity I try to maintain and nurture. Favourite authors, plays and characters are also momentary and fleeting. If I want to play any character, I sit down, create it and play it.
I find myself in marginalised characters, who are fearless of going into all conceivable extremes, characters who are looking for new identities, new worlds and new horizons, characters who are not afraid to dig as deep as possible so that they can swim as far as possible.
You have participated in the MOT Theatre Festival in Skopje several times. What experience did your participation bring you and would you perform again?
Three times at the MOT and many other times at other Macedonian theatre festivals. I am extremely happy that I still maintain contacts there, I am overjoyed to be able to present myself to the Macedonian audience who has been following me all these years and coming to my performances. Indeed, without of any kind of pathetic nostalgia, Macedonian audience is of particular importance to me - not because I was born there, but because it truly possesses exceptional qualities of openness, generosity and curiosity. Macedonian audience always gives you the opportunity, it really knows how to appreciate - and anyone who does not see this really does not recognise its potential.
Which part of London is your favourite and why?
Crouch End - where I’ve lived for many years. Because I'm on the doorstep of Queens Wood and Highgate Wood and Parkland Walk and Hampstead Heath. I live in the middle of this huge green jungle through which I walk constantly, where I think, where I breathe, where I hope, where I say to myself that, really, since I walk and think and breathe and hope, then maybe everything is fine and that there must always be a way to move forward and take care of ourselves and others.
'You Will Marry Me' is a Work Metaphorically Related to my Experience in Isolation
Interview for Radio MOF, Skopje
Petar Miloshevski is an actor, performer and author of theatre projects who lives and works in London. Miloshevski's performances are presented as a contemporary combination of speech and physical theatre, and according to critics of his work in Britain and continental Europe, his work is seen as a fusion of the disciple and mastery of dramaturgical structures emanating from Eastern European drama schools and irreverent approach to the creative process that became a trademark of British theatre-making.
In the last few years, Miloshevski has focused on developing solo projects, which have been performed at the Proud Camden Gallery, the Shaw Theater, the Diorama Theater, but also at European theatre festivals in Germany, France, Romania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Armenia and Belarus.
With his solo performances "HOPE", "THE BEAUTIFUL" and “The Passion according to BIBI", Miloshevski has participated in the Young Open Theater (MOT) festival in Skopje on three occasions.
Art and digitalisation during the pandemic, Jacques Prévert and Virginia Woolf and the process of making his latest video project are some of the topics we discussed with Miloshevski.
He says that the inspiration for "You Will Marry Me" is a direct result of the situation we are all in.
"During this quarantine, which has been going on for three months now, I went through spontaneous ups and downs like never before, for the simple reason that we never knew about a similar situation. That's why I wanted to create a dream-like work, metaphorically related to my experience in isolation. A story about a person trapped between four walls, in a dispute with his own gender, his own will to survive, with the hope that someone will call, but even when that happens, he is never the one to bring a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction . This is a story of blurred experiences and moments, which seem to float through that loneliness, but still filled with so much passion, desire and hope. This is how this character doubts, this is how ‘it’ desires, this is how ‘it’ loves, dances and sings, filled with the power of wide cathedrals. This is how this character wants to continue in spite of everything", says Miloshevski, explaining his latest project for Radio MOF.
This is your new standalone project, this time made entirely in quarantine. What is the difference with Petar as an artist before the quarantine, but also after the shooting of the film?
In terms of how I understand things and what environment I live in, at least for now, I do not feel any essential difference in me before and during quarantine. I am, like all other actors and stage actors in Britain, a freelance artist. This means that on a mental and spiritual level, I am in constant quarantine. Without wanting to sound sad or dramatic, it really is like that. In general, we as actors have that professional deformation of going into ourselves - we think, we consider, we rethink, we dream.
What has changed radically this time around is that there are currently no spaces where you can present your art. Literally. I am glad that artists immediately set about rethinking their practice and the way it would be presented to the audience. I notice general artistic tirelessness and restlessness all around. And it must be so. The artist must not stop. Because even when we think that he doesn’t have or doesn’t get any engagements, still deep down he constantly works on himself and on his views and abilities.
After filming "You Will Marry Me", which unlike my previous stage solo projects was my first video performance, I felt like there really was something that would remain to resonate for longer and for the future. For the simple reason that theatre in a live context exists only in the moment when it is played and watched, even when the live performance was filmed with the highest technical capacities.
How long did the process of creating "You Will Marry Me" take?
This is a short ten-minute film and that is why the process was not more than a few weeks, unlike when I dedicate almost six months to the preparation and realisation of my stage solo performances. The idea came most spontaneously - it was one of those simple urges to which one can’t turn a blind eye. Inspiration comes, you step on solid ground and then the world is yours. The restrictions I had were absolute and somehow, that gives you extra freedom. Every possible element that appears in the film - costume, scenery, light, text - is all I could find in my home storage - all the props and pieces of unused fabric from previous costumes that sit packed and here they finally found their place and role; texts only from the books I have in my home library, music composed only from my recorded voice and then remastered with added technical effects - meaning everything found in the quarantine of my London flat. I recorded it spontaneously and in one breath. The recordings with all the frames with a previously prepared plan lasted all day, and even more for editing.
Why Jacques Prévert and Virginia Woolf?
The text as an element in my projects is always and absolutely capable of meeting the aesthetic and spiritual criteria of what I want to convey as meaning, on the same level as every single movement, every look, every costume element. That is why I deliberately play with changing intonations and various voice variations. It fulfils me and makes me even more interested. Prévert and Woolf, along with two or three other pieces of text that I have scribbled down aside and I really can’t find out what source they came from, found me as strong words and strong books always find me. I do not believe in random encounters of this kind. I know when it is and what the right text is when it meets me - and I’m quite uncompromising when it comes to literature - a text that while reading makes your heart beat faster and from which you can squeeze the most beautiful juice translated into perfect vocal acting intonation.
"You Will Marry Me" was shot entirely on the iPhone, and due to the pandemic, the art moved online. How much has this experience changed your art creation process?
"You Will Marry Me" was shot entirely with the iPhone and edited on iMovie on macOS. The most interesting and curious experience in the whole situation for me is finding a new medium of expression. Since the beginning of the quarantine, for various motives, many have resorted to recording various monologues, stories, conversations, debates, presenting them as a theatre of quarantine. I think this is not and cannot be theatre for the reasons I have given above. It is more interesting that it’s not a movie either. That's why I'm not sure at the moment that the term "film" is relevant to "You Will Marry Me". So it is not a theatre, nor is it a film in the classical sense of acting in front of a camera or film elements in terms of directing and editing. What I think we can establish is that, perhaps, we are witnessing the birth of a new medium of expression - one left on the border of what has been established so far and still in its infancy. A new form of expression, in terms of acting, the role of the camera, space and composition of sequences. Maybe so far we have persistently carved on stone, without realising that we have a paper on which it is possible to write even easier, more beautifully and more creatively. Maybe we are currently learning how to actually write on that paper, realising that it requires a few other instruments, not a stone chisel. I don’t know, I suppose we are still in the dawn of what has befallen us all.
What adjustments did you have to make in the creation process, and will you keep them?
First of all, I had to gain additional insight into editing, which is an art in itself. Although I have previously edited some of the trailers and videos for my performances, this time it was really different. I discovered an additional love for this toy. It was fun and extremely useful for me to learn more through video tutorials. Of course, I had to check every frame beforehand, the figure itself, the figure in space, the light on the figure in space, and so on. Something that used to be extremely important in my stage projects, only now I had to transform it into a different form, having the modest tools that I had at my disposal. I guess what I failed to achieve now and what I think needs to be improved, I will realise it in my following projects, which is already taking more and more shape in my head.
Petar Miloshevski's Remarkable Solo - Being Beautiful, Passionate, in Love
An Interview for the Theatre Times
Written by Ivanka Apostolova Baskar | 16th Feb 2020
Petar Miloshevski was born in Bitola, Macedonia, educated in Sofia and London, and is professionally based in London. He trained in Drama Acting at the National Academy of Theatre and Film Art in Sofia, and has an MA in Advanced Theatre Practice (Performance) from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London. He has received several awards for best actor-performer and best original show for his impeccable solo-performances: HOPE, The Beautiful and LOVE, which were performed at fringe theatre festivals in the UK and Europe. We speak as he has just finished performances of his solo-pieces LOVE and The Passion According to BIBI at Theater im Delfi in Berlin.
Ivanka Apostolova Baskar: Petar, let’s start with the beginning. Why did you decide to study in Sofia, and then proceed to London, at two excellent schools with worldwide reputations for drama and performance? Compared to the theatrical climate in Macedonia then and today, what was it that you needed from an education, methodology, technique, and art that you couldn’t get from our local theatre system? From your perspective, could you make flash comparisons between the London stages and the theatre in Macedonia, then and now?
Petar Miloshevski: Every time I think of my very beginnings, I am reminded of how lucky I was to be born in Bitola at that exact time. The Bitola National Theatre in the early ’90s was an extraordinary cauldron of ideas being expressed through a bewildering range of genres and forms. As a child, I was so fascinated by the vast array of work coming through the theatre that it wouldn’t be unusual for me to go and watch the same show 15 times. Today, on London’s stages, I get to see some performance styles that are viewed as “innovative”, but I have seen them 20 years ago in my hometown.
I got into theatre almost by accident, when my primary school teacher sent me to an audition at the age of 8. I won, and this led to my very first show. As a child actor, I subsequently appeared in three professional shows at Bitola National Theatre and worked with some of the most popular directorial names of that time. At the same time our amateur theatre company, which was working as part of the Centre of Culture in Bitola, was tackling some of the most important theatrical texts in the boldest ways, ranging from Shakespeare through to Chekhov and contemporary writers.
In retrospect, when I recall that period, I think we were absolutely insane. There were fascinating dynamics among a group of fascinating individuals, and that’s probably why at least 80% of that group are now professional actors and directors. I mean, I played a transgender person at the age of 16 – an overtly sexualized character, something which is now, two decades later, regarded as an eminently contemporary topic. There we were, insane kids, going after the impossible, every single time getting better and better. The audience never stopped being fascinated by our work, and their numbers never ceased to grow with each project. We then all went our own ways to study professionally, but these were undoubtedly fascinating times.
I never had any ambitions to be anywhere other than where I was, so when I applied to the Faculty of Drama Arts in Skopje, that was as far I was able to see at that time. I was turned down in the very first round, second to last. Basically, I was regarded as totally incompetent. It was the first major shock in my life. I was 18 and couldn’t believe that my dreams were all for nothing. I demanded answers. From the assistants of the professor who was auditioning that year in Skopje, the feedback was that I am too ready, too prepared and too good. Apparently, I was rejected because I was too talented!
At that time, Sofia was the only option. I believe I was first on the list of the accepted international students that year at the National Academy of Theatre and Film Art. Obviously, it turned out to be the better option by far; Sofia’s Academy was one of the best in terms of their actor training methodology. On a personal level, those four years were a torturous and difficult search for the kind of artist I wanted to be. I rapidly flourished after I graduated, and was immediately given the opportunity to be professionally employed at the Blagoevgrad Drama Theatre for two years. This quickly allowed me to find and develop my most sacred talents, and from then on it was like flying. Although I was enormously grateful to have been trusted with this opportunity, I soon got to a point where I felt that I was reaching a ceiling in terms of how far I could develop within a repertoire theatre house. That is when I began to search for new horizons. The new horizon turned out to be London, where soon after moving there I was accepted onto the Performance strand of the Masters in the Advanced Theatre Practice at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
And to answer the last part of your question – my knowledge of the contemporary Macedonian theatre and performance scene is quite limited, but from what I’ve seen in recent years, it’s more than obvious that there’s an honest and genuine drive to make interesting and radical work. I admire the talent of many theatre and performance makers there, but I think that it would do a lot of good to the Macedonian scene if there was more support for the independent scene to develop even further.
IAB: In your post-dramatic, solo-performances you are precise, elegant, dedicated, focused, thorough, inspired and inspiring. You are richly charismatic. Your body and your stage persona reflect 100% professionalism, and you have many stylish and technical influences. On stage you are brilliant, multilayered and physically eloquent; I enjoy your English and your remarkable diction. Why do you focus on solo performances – what modes of expression does this format allow?
PM: I believe It was the third year at the Academy in Sofia when, in the first semester, we were given the task of working on monologues. I ended up being one of only two students who managed to get through the whole process and showed the result for our final exam. I constructed my monologue from bits and pieces of Harold Pinter’s A Slight Ache. After showing it for the first time during class, one of my dearest professors said – “Colleagues, I finally see a real actor on the stage up there”. Back then, I simply didn’t know if I would be able to sustain audiences’ attention for a long time, and it never crossed my mind that one day that would become the primary channel through which I’d be able to express myself professionally. On many occasions, I was turned down for a role with the explanation that I am too strong compared to the other actors, which was obviously a difficult and dispiriting thing to hear as an actor. I simply had to find a way of turning this perceived trait into an asset.
I started experimenting with solo shows during my MA studies in London. First, they were site-specific, short pieces performed in various places around the city – ranging from art galleries and pubs to public toilets! I was slowly finding a balance, and I started incorporating my deeply-held beliefs and understandings of theatre. I combined the text with strong costumes, intense physicality, and striking soundtracks and lighting designs. I strongly disciplined my body, my flexibility, my speech, and delivery. I expanded my horizons by watching and listening to as much as possible. I was trying to be actually, strongly political, and voice my beliefs, concerns, and opinions, through an aesthetic that was not easy to label, and difficult to compare to anything and anyone else. Without realizing, I found myself creating a form of expression many people (including myself sometimes!) find challenging to define. Is it theatre? Performance art? Dance? Spoken word?
I came to understand that in some parts of Europe, the notion of a “one-man-show” is usually regarded as the utmost achievement of an actor at the height of their maturity. In the UK however, that is the opposite. An astounding number of young theater-makers are using the solo show as a medium of self-expression, and it is hugely popular. The kind of solo show I develop is a total realization of my ideas and beliefs of what theatre and art should be all about. I’m personally invested in all elements of the craft, and I set up personal challenges with every new work. I am curious to find out what my limitations are if there are any, and how to go even further in terms of text, visual and bodily expression.
Having said that, it must be said that I am not exclusively a solo-performer, even though I somehow established myself as one in recent years. It came out of what my situation was, and I tried to make it into an advantage. There are aspects of group work that I miss; the creation of solo work can be a lonely process. But on the other hand, I have chosen some incredible collaborators with whom we always aspire to the same great artistic achievements.
IAB: You’re a complete author – you create the concept and text, you direct, and design lighting and music (excluding Antonella Petraccaro’s costumes). You combine the energies of top “enfants terrible” from world literature, classical music, fine art, theatre, film – their minds are super-vital to your creativity. You stage current topics, like consequences of the selfish body, robotization of love and sex, cannibalization and sexual nirvana, and the beautiful transformations that result from frustration or self-doubt. Please share more about your interpretations of themes and dilemmas.
PM: My solo work essentially functions as an eclectic collage of many elements. It all begins when I form an idea I want to explore and work on, and I then gather texts from a huge range of materials – from novels and plays, through to newspaper articles and ads. They all get transformed and re-edited through a lengthy process of changing grammatical tenses and genders until they lose their previous integrity and achieve a brand new existence as part of my own, new script. I am often inspired by a particular music piece – I hear a piece and I know that one day I will use it. It is just a matter of waiting for the right opportunity to include it in my work. For instance, a music track I had been admiring for a long time found its place twelve years later, when I was composing my solo piece The Passion According to BIBI.
All these elements bind into a peculiar (peculiar sometimes even to me!) scaffolding, together with the crucial physical score, the costume, and the lighting compositions, until they become the final poetic, “sublimated” expression that I seek for the particular story I want to tell.
I’m always incredibly interested in developing stories based on an individual who is teetering on the verge of existence, and yet aspires to a higher state of consciousness. This is an aspiration that highly motivates me. In all of my shows, I tackle dilemmas and notions – sexual, political, societal – that I regard as crucial to the times we live in. The essence of HOPE was the utmost degradation of a person left by the love of his life, THE BEAUTIFUL had pedophilia and parent-child abuse at its core, LOVEwas about the total and literal consumption of the self for reaching absolute ecstasy. My most recent show, The Passion According to BIBI, speaks of the robotization of our feelings and bodies. At the same time, it is also my most personal and even autobiographical one, created just after one of the most dramatic periods in my private life. I put the individual microcosm at the very core of my shows, which I think of as fairytales for grownups, and see how that microcosm has an absolute implication for the macrocosm – our mutual and total existence as a whole.
IAB: Do you agree with the category of LGBT theatre/LGBT performance? Does this term/category restrict you, or do you find it appropriate for your interests, artistic approach, expressive directions, and creative messages?
PM: One could say that the LGBT ”box” is always ticked in relation to any of my work, but at the same time it is very debatable!
With each show I worked on, I discovered more and more about my own perceptions and what I was trying to achieve. As time went by, both my ideas and my representations of my ideas became clearer. This actually got me into a certain amount of trouble: some of my earliest supporters, who professed to be fascinated by my early works, began to feel a little uncomfortable with what I was producing. They weren’t explicitly saying that the work was too gay, but they were cryptically saying things, like my work, “had lost its magic”, or that I should tone it down. They were carefully and politely tiptoeing around the issue, but it soon became clear that whatever was bothering them actually stemmed from homophobia. At that particular time, many of the festivals that used to invite me regularly, suddenly went quiet. This was in complete contrast with the message coming from their audiences, who were coming to see my shows in ever-growing numbers, and with ever-growing appreciation for the way in which I handled my topics. Somehow, instead of looking at the reality of their audiences’ reactions, they were allowing themselves to be blinkered by their own personal insecurities and prejudices.
On the other hand, I tend to profoundly differ from what an “LGBT performance” is, depending on the geographical, societal and political context in which it is taking place. For instance, in countries where there is explicit persecution and intolerance of LGBT culture, one might think that these shows will be totally underground and politically radical. In countries with less severe restrictions, these shows might still be very bold and daring, but will perhaps also be willing to take more aesthetic risks. In so-called liberal societies like the one I live in, LGBT shows are more often in the form of pure entertainment, perhaps with a slight political stance. In the context of the hard-nosed economics of a neoliberal capitalist system where salability is often the sole measure of success, they are ultimately conceived as largely marketable and sellable pieces. The restrictions on freedom of expression come from a different source!
Recently, by pure accident, I bumped into a woman, probably in her early sixties, who recognized me and spoke with a great appreciation about one of my shows she had seen a few years ago in London. She remembered it as if it was yesterday, and said how such work is very needed and important, and I must go on. I will also never forget when, after performing LOVE at a wonderful international theatre festival in Targoviste, Romania, this very young guy, no older than 19 or 20, came up to me shyly and quietly said to me, “thank you for your show, I’m gay and this was a very important thing for me to see.”
Judging from many of the reactions I have had to my work, from people in a wide range of socio-political environments, it seems that what I produce reaches audiences in a more intimate and universal way, beyond the boundaries of particular societal structures. If this is true, then that fills me with great joy because this is what I always seek to achieve. But it is also a challenge, as my work never seems to really fit the LGBT performance criteria, which are so context-dependent. I often find myself at odds with LGBT cultural events, a paradox that is sometimes difficult to experience, as LGBT politics are so close to my heart. Perhaps it is a paradox I will resolve one day.
IAB: In your opinion, what perspectives does performance take on modern times? We live in an era of rapid saturation, rapid changes in art, retrospectives, and summaries. Yet, it is also a time of new and unprecedented interpretations of classics. We are also in a period of post-deconstruction that’s inverting the postmodern. It is a time of spontaneous and inevitable polarization of differing scenes due to different targets and modes of expression, aesthetics, poetics, and narratives. It is also the time of internationalization of arts and culture, what with the Germans first legally formalizing internationalization of art and culture in the last three years.
PM: I believe there are so many exciting artists out there who have a clear insight into what is happening in our world. They follow and understand current discourses, and try to create exciting work. Unfortunately, many of these artists will forever stay in the margins because in a country like the UK, where market forces influence every aspect of life, being marketable and showing potential for selling out is a must. I am always keen to follow the new names, to see what kind of freshness they bring and what I can learn from them, but I still see the established ones. Some of them are still so incredible, but others not so interesting anymore because they’ve become so popular and sought after that they’ve inevitably fallen into the “establishment trap” along the way.
You refer explicitly to German theatre in your question – a country we automatically associate with the most exciting theatre out there. But even German theatre has its “establishment trap”. What was once so unique has now become a set of formulas. In so many cases, you watch German productions and you discover that they too have become rigidly formulaic and that it is not as exciting as it once was.
One of the things that allows me to remain serene (to an extent!) is that the few people in the UK who continue to create bold and brave theatre, those rare crusaders, really go for it. It is still a scene where you can pursue what you really strive for, in the faint hope that somehow, somebody, will pick it up and allow it to grow by publicizing it so you can reach bigger audiences.
Let’s not forget that this country had a massive political earthquake in the shape of Brexit, which caused severe societal fractions. The last general election, when it became clear that the Remain cause has completely lost, showed we have to work to create the most positive outcome within this new political and societal landscape. On one hand, London, a few of the bigger cities and the whole of Scotland are pro-European, cosmopolitan and open to a new influx of ideas, and on the other, communities are leaning towards isolationism, nationalism, and a nostalgia for the fantasized “good old days”. I observe how in recent months, if not even weeks, it is becoming more and more “fashionable” to be a right-winger. Obscure artists suddenly emerge in the public eye, are very vocal against the “politics of identity and gender”, arguing that it has all gone too far and destroyed “healthy public debate”. But even if we think that nothing should be beyond examination or criticism, that scrutiny is important, the biggest challenge is that the debate has become so polarized. It is sometimes so bitter, that even the slightest questioning is immediately high-jacked and weaponized by the right-wing.
These are crucial times when notions of “otherness” and identity are becoming more and more scrutinized. There is a pressure to define our personal identities – of belonging to a particular nation, ethnicity, sex, or gender – into ever-more fragmented branches. There are structures vigorously resisting this further fragmentation, criticizing it as one of the biggest threats of a sense of community, of an established order – even in its most liberal sense.
I think all this is actually very exciting and uniquely interesting. Our challenge as theatre-makers is to find the poetics, beauty, tragedy, simplicity, complexity and all else possible in the ideas that divide us, and find a way to turn them into exalting unification!
IAB: Petar, how do you perceive audiences in London, other places in the UK, and places like Hannover, Berlin, Paris, Kiev, Yerevan, Skopje, Bitola? How does the audience – geographically, individually and collectively – react to your performances?
PM: In theatre and performance, my experience is that it is more a matter of the moment, rather than any geographical discrepancies. I’ve often found that people in the so-called “provinces” are more receptive to ideas than the established order of the big “metropolis”. Even though it is common practice, particularly when it comes to cultural institutions’ marketing practice, I disagree with the idea that a certain audience group only has certain interests. It’s not all about ticking boxes. The horizons are much wider than that. Cultural institutions usually underestimate their audiences and underestimate their receptiveness. There is prejudice there, too! Luckily, the audience knows this and has the final say. Of course, as artists, we should always aspire to assist vulnerable groups and disenfranchised communities, and this should be our priority. But I know for certain that if you’re speaking the truth if you open up and deliver what you truly believe in as an artist, even if your audiences are in places that are considered to be in relative cultural isolation, they will always accept you.
IAB: Are you planning to develop and perform solo performances in the long run? If you have the opportunity, would you permanently join an ensemble of a repertory theatre? Or do you not have those ambitions?
PM: I am constantly open to all kinds of ideas. I squeeze the lemons that life gives me at any given moment. If I know deep inside me that a certain project is right for me, and I’m curious enough to work on it, it really doesn’t matter who it’s with or where. Because I will know already that it is the right thing to do.
IAB: What does it mean for you to create in London? You are exposed to monumental competition, what are your challenges in that location and at this stage of your career?
PM: London is my place. It is my home. I am a total Londoner in so many ways. If there is one geographical term that I must identify with, then that’s the one, for better or for worse. London is huge and daunting, yet incredibly exciting. I am lucky that I’ve survived as a person and as an artist all these years, and I’m grateful that I still have the appetite to go further. But I must be candid – the challenges are there, will always be there, and it is always excruciatingly difficult.
IAB: In 2019, your shows LOVE and The Passion According to BIBI was invited to enter Theater im Delfi’s repertoire in Berlin. What has this opportunity changed for you, and what has it enabled you to do?
PM: I was over the moon to have the chance to perform both of my shows, LOVE and The Passion According to BIBI. Berlin had always been on my radar and presenting my work in that city represented such an achievement for me. I had fantastic responses from my audiences. Many of them would stay after the performances and engage in conversation with me. I was incredibly delighted that many Berliners I knew finally had the chance to see my work.
This experience enabled me to understand that the independent and state theatre scenes in Berlin are quite divided and that it is a real challenge to bridge the gap between these two entities.
I learned that not all of Berlin’s theater is as harmonious as I thought. I was particularly shocked when I was strongly advised by the theatre’s director that we shouldn’t have the official poster of The Passion According to BIBI displayed on the main theatre entrance because he feared that neo-Nazi groups in the area might break their windows.
I now understand that things are not always as they seem, and that made me want to strive for even more.
IAB: What are your current project preparations and research? What is the concept for your next project?
PM: I am very secretive when talking about my new ideas and projects. There is an idea that has been rolling around in my head for quite a while, and I’m waiting for the right moment to get it realized. I also want to experiment with different media, and that excites me. I will definitely give you a shout when the new one is born!
IAB: Thank you very much, dear Petar, it was my honest pleasure interviewing you.
'The Form I Create Could be Described as a Symphony': Petar Miloshevski on his latest piece The Passion according to BIBI at Camden Fringe
Petar Miloshevski is a Macedonia-born, London-based actor, performer and theatre-maker, who has been on stage since the age of eight. Miloshevski’s work in recent years has focused primarily on pioneering solo projects, with scripts, sound, lighting, and sets all self-devised. The Passion According to BIBI follows Miloshevki’s multi-award-winning pieces Hope, The Beautiful and Love, which have been performed in theatre and international festivals across Europe.
Which theatremakers have most influenced you?
I admire theatre-makers (directors, actors) who work with a great sensibility and are not intimidated to dig deep, to discover ever-greater levels of nuance and colour in their vocation. That inspires me immensely.
I wouldn’t even focus specifically on theatremakers. I draw inspiration from various forms of art. A theatre work by Thomas Ostermeir may have been equally inspirational to me as a painting by Rothko. If I really must mention names, here they are in no particular order: Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Schnittke, Dmitri Shostakovich, David Lynch, Pina Bausch, Andrei Tarkovsky, Joan Miro, Paul Klee, Bob Wilson, Dimitar Gotscheff, Heiner Muller, Barbara Hepworth… I will stop the list here, it is arbitrary, and there are so many more.
How would you describe your type of theatre?
I always describe it as ferociously physical and strikingly visual. The script is woven into a movement score – purely physical sequences which continue the story visually. The use of bold lighting to create/emphasise the moods and emotions of the piece are an integral part of its structure. The soundtrack is both structural and atmospheric. The result appeals to the senses as much as it appeals to the imagination and the intellect.
Audiences often comment on my performances as a peculiar symbiosis between theatre, performance art, pantomime and modern dance. In many ways, the form of work I create could be described as a “symphony” – of word, physicality, lighting and music, aimed directly at the audience’s emotionality. The characters of my shows tend to be outcasts, whose nature is put at odds with powerful societal taboos, but yet who aspire to a higher state of consciousness.
You’ve become known for your solo shows. What are the biggest challenges and rewards of doing it all yourself?
Yes, I have quite a few solo-works already, which have been performed at a number of festivals here in London as well as continental Europe, receiving great audience and critic acclaim, as well as a few international theatre awards.
It is an incredibly intimate process, very sacred, if I may say, because you delve into depths that can often be so intimidating, but also, depths which can result in astounding discoveries.
From a practical point of view, a solo show for me is a huge undertaking which spans sometimes one or two years and ranges from literary research, through commissioning a costume, sourcing the fabrics, finding the right music, right down to organising the marketing and cleaning the stage! It can be a lonely process, occasionally plunging you into despair, but ultimately it is exhilarating!
What was your inspiration for The Passion According to BIBI?
The very current topic of sexual harassment; the idea that somebody, somewhere is developing a high-intelligence lover substitute; the notion that there are people who prefer to be intimate with imaginary partners to live human beings; the need to touch and be touched; the intimidation to touch and be touched; the everlasting quest for the perfect lover, the perfect being, the perfect perfect.
If you were setting BIBI up on a blind date, how would you describe her?
BIBI is not a she, it is actually an IT. BIBI can inhibit any role you desire. It can perform any role you wish for. It can understand your character so well by studying all your ancestors from generations before. It can take you to such emotional highs as no other being in existence is capable of. But watch out: BIBI is also tremendously vulnerable and emotional. It can develop such an attachment, that it can easily become an indivisible and integral part of you, in such a fashion that you can surrender to BIBI’s passion and be forever and ever lost.
Your publicity photos are hilarious.
What an interesting perception. I never thought of that. Quite amusingly, a friend of mine the other day described the whole photo visuals as very “ticklish”.
I was simply trying to convey a very basic, almost a superficial description of a “sex-robot”. Hence the deliberate provocative poses of all kinds. But BIBI is much more than that. And this is the secret I want to keep for my audience. They will be taken on a very unexpected journey – yes, we will face some over-sexualised imagery, but more importantly, it will be a wild roller-coaster ride of ridiculous laughter, sad intimacy, painful memories, brutal loving, and delightful yearnings.
What’s your favourite line from the show?
“And when I think of my calling, I’m not afraid of life anymore.”
In August each year the Edinburgh Festival takes many people away from London and up to Scotland. Meanwhile, mainstream London theatre carries on regardless. Eight years ago, however, the London fringe decided to strike back and launch a season of its own - the Camden Fringe Festival, which this year has some 180 productions in venues from Highgate to Covent Garden.
One of the most anticipated of these shows is Petar Miloshevski’s The Beautiful, at the Tristan Bates Theatre, attached to the Actors’ Centre, on 13 and 14 August, at 5.30pm. Petar is from Macedonia – from a town called Bitola, Macedonia’s second-largest city. An actor since the age of eight, he trained in his own country and in Bulgaria, at Sofia’s National Academy of Theatre and Film Art. He came to live and work in London six years ago.
In 2012 he performed The Beautiful, as a fifteen minute piece, in the Old Vic Tunnels, which at the time were used for a wide range of shows and performance art. That performance was the embryo of what will be presented at the Tristan Bates, as TheatrelandTalks discovered when we met Petar Miloshevski to discuss his work.
- The Beautiful got an amazing response at the Tunnels last year. It now runs for an hour, so it’s a much longer piece…
It is. The performance I gave was the starting point for what is now The Beautiful at the Tristan Bates theatre, but it was simply the origin, the inspiration. Just as artists might take a small sketch to create a full canvas, or a simple melody to build a symphony. It was the idea behind the title of the show that I wanted to develop.
- You tend to work in solo shows, which are variously described – for example, on the Continent one-man shows tend to be described as mono drama. What term would you use and how would you categorise your style?
There’s no straightforward term over here to describe what I do. Just as Pina Bausch called her work something different – it wasn’t ‘modern dance’, it was ‘dance theatre’, so my work is also different: if I had to define it I’d say it was theatre with heightened physicality. The movement isn’t dance but it is choreographed. While I draw on a lot of sources, I get my main inspiration from music.
- And your preference for being in solo shows?
They’re the best way to express myself. It’s through them that I get the maximum delight from my profession, my vocation, as a theatre maker.
- But what’s behind that impulse to make theatre?
I’m curious to explore why people behave in a certain way. Why they commit good or bad acts. Everything in us is so deeply rooted. Where does anger come from? You need to search for the root cause for every character’s action, for their response in every situation in any given space.
Petar’s previous show, Hope, won a clutch of awards, including ‘An Award for the Transmission of Impulses of the Human Soul in the Language of Movement and Poetry’ – possibly the most poetic award category ever invented – at the International Chamber Theatre Festival in Hanover, Germany, earlier this year. But back to The Beautiful…
- It’s an intriguing title.
That’s the idea! Is it because the character looks beautiful, or has a beautiful experience, or is searching for the nature of beauty?
- In its earlier version it was about someone obsessed with beauty yet who was falling apart – physically, mentally, morally…
That’s right. The character is trapped in a world of his own creation. He can’t see what his actions are doing to him. The irony of his situation is beyond his grasp.
- The show may be solo but it is multi-media?
That can be a misleading term. It’s multi-layered. I use texts by people as varied as Rimbaud, Bulgakov and Plath. The lighting plays a vital part, as does music – and movement.
- How do you treat the texts?
They’re integrated into the performance but in an unexpected way. I might change the gender of the person, or the tense (past to present, for example) or the situation they’re in. The progression is an idea, followed by research to get appropriate texts, then making something new of and with them.
- In Hope you were simply dressed. In The Beautiful you have a stunning costume.
Yes! It’s by Antonella Petraccaro-Gysler. It needed to be beautiful, for obvious reasons, but it has also been designed to distort the character’s body, to make him more mysterious, to remove misconceptions about what the character should look like, to blur the sense of who he really is.
- Other than the clothes design, you’re credited for everything else: writer, actor, music, lighting, direction – and set!
That’s why these shows are hard work! But the reason I create and perform them is I want to get my theatrical ideas across to an audience and I have a very strong – and individual – sense of how to achieve that.
- But you do have a producer?
Kerry Irvine. I’m delighted to work with her–and Antonella. Kerry came to see an early performance of Hope and fell in love with it. She came round to the dressing room after the show and said ‘I have to produce this show!’
- So at least that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about!
I want to concentrate on my work – and my relationship with the audience.
- Given your background and that you’ve continued to perform in Europe, do you find audiences over there very different from English ones?
I find their attention very different! When I was in Kiev earlier in the year, for example, everyone was completely focussed on what was happening on stage. No unwrapping sweets or munching crisps. It was very hot, but people didn’t even swig from bottles of water. The contrast with England is very marked. The way people behave is extraordinary. I feel like shouting out ‘Who’s in charge here!’ It’s madness.
- So, no crisps at your show?
The Beautiful is a very intense experience – which is why we’re not letting latecomers in. I hope people will be focussed on what the character on stage is going through – not whether they feel like another sweet!
- And how would you sum this up?
The Beautiful imparts a sense of beauty with a sense of dissociation: of a deranged, obsessed person who disintegrates, as a person, before our eyes. It’s also about the subtlety of existence – trying to perform as easily as possible. Especially when you are playing someone who is confused, who is going mad, it’s all the more important that the ideas you are trying to get across come over very easily. Even in deranged moments, the idea they express must be as effortless as a feather floating in the air.
- Madness can be fascinating, or frightening. Is this show unique in making it beautiful?
It’s certainly unique, but what matters in any piece of theatre is not whether it’s beautiful – or ugly, or challenging. What matters is whether it moves you. I hope that that’s what The Beautiful does.
Fringe Review - an Interview with Petar Miloshevski
Fringe Review, London
What is the title of your show?
What is it about?
Hope is the story of a lone character who is involved in a very peculiar love-triangle that takes him on a journey of fear, intrigue, darkness and eventually murder.
What is new and different about it?
Anyone visiting the theatre in the last ten years on a regular basis has become aware of the increasing use of technologies – both visual and acoustic – that in different ways 'mediate' the theatrical experience. In "Hope" nothing of this exists. Just the actor with a huge solid-wood dinning table only (which eventually assumes not just the role of a table, but the shape of a stage, prison, dancing spot, execution stake - according to the particular states the character is going through), and two different chairs symbolising each lover. As if suggesting an underlying reference to 'the last supper'. Everything starts, develops and finishes on, or around the table.
The 'invisible nexus' between the parts that form the storyline of the only character of "Hope" are represented through certain gestures - the hands as a centre-point and a basis from which all the happening evolves and makes its own progress. Hands that stroke, hands that hug, hands that are capable to give love, hands that hold a knife, hands that commit a murder, hands that are trying to get rid of the blood stains on them, hands that would eventually hold a drink and a cigarette, hands that would cover the face of their proprietor - as a sign of shame, a sign of anguish, a sign of non-existence.
What would one of your rehearsals look and sound like?
I had chosen kind of a 'secretive' rehearsing process for this show. Having the task to direct myself, something that I haven't done before in a full-scale show, it was totally necessary for me to create a space and surrounding that would be absolutely cleansed of outer presence and energy. I needed an absolute concentration and dedication to every single moment - trying to be a person so far away from my own personal life experience. Paying attention for every detail - even the most trifle one - because everything is essential in this show, the movement of the small finger has its own story to tell.
What is the story behind this season of work and how did it come to be?
Determined to develop a solo performance, I started browsing through a wide range of dramatic texts, trying to find the 'proper' way of representing myself as a practitioner and of conveying my understanding of theatre. But strangely, the more I read, the more a totally different idea began unconsciously to take its own shape and meaning.
Exploring these different texts as if I ignored this constantly progressing notion about a person, that is involved in a very peculiar love-triangle and eventual murder.
I started taking excerpts from dramaturgy I had read to compile a brand new script. In the same way as a person constructs a letter - a collage of newspaper-cuttings, with its own meaning, its own storyline.
The script was designed to take us through the character’s journey towards an absolute breakdown of his inner personality, eventually leading to a fatal outcome for him.
What is your favourite theatre show, excluding your own of course?
I admire theatre that is 'free-minded' enough to take me to other dimensions, other worlds, other states of the humanity, nature, reality, that I don't know they exist.
I could be a fan of any kind of theatre, starting from Ancient Greek, through Shakespeare, Chekhov, down to the 'sculpturing-like' theatre of Bob Wilson, the eclectic notions of Pina Bausch... - so long this theatre is honest, first to itself, and then to the audience.
If I can point a few examples, that would be Julie Taymor's staging of Stravinsky's opera "Oedipus Rex" in Tokyo - an ultimate theatre fest, incorporating so many elements: ancient theatre detail, puppetry, masks, costumes and set-design that go beyond everything known, body motion and stage movement so captivating, that could provoke a kind of a 'trans' in the audience...
Of course, I wouldn't forget Pina Bausch's "Rite of the Spring", "Cafe Muller", "Kontakthoff - for lady and gents over 65"...
Generally, telling simple stories which stand above our known surrounding. Because that is the point of theatre - to represent its world at least one idea higher above the known reality.
Petar Miloshevski - A MASTER OF DETAILS
An Interview for Tea Moderna - a Macedonian weekly magazine
"I am not thinking about the prize, the biggest reward for me is that after 6 years I am going to perform once again in front of my home audience", said the actor Petar Miloshevski before his performance at the Festival of Monodrama in Bitola. Nevertheless the jury decided to give the award for Complete Acting Achievement to the Bitola-born actor, who now lives and works in London, for his performance in the solo-show "Hope", performed in English.
Born in Bitola, Petar Miloshevski took his first acting steps as a boy in his native city ("Our Lady of Paris", "The Merry Wives of Windsor"). He then studied at the National Academy of Theatre and Film Art in Sofia, and after his graduation worked for two years at the Blagoevgrad Theatre. He became one of the theatre’s busiest actors, but, in his words, at a certain moment he realised that he might have "reached the ceiling." - "The dilemma was to continue hitting my head on the ceiling, or to make a radical change. I chose the second and went to London on my own, without an invitation from anyone ... Eventually I applied (and was accepted on my first attempt) for a Master’s degree course at the Central School of Speech and Drama, one of the most established theatre schools in London, where people like Judi Dench or Kristin Scott Thomas graduated from”...
The play "Hope" - which is currently performed in Bitola, was also performed last year at the MOT Theatre Festival in Skopje. It is his graduation show. During his studies Petar experimented with different site-specific solo-performances - currently a very popular form of theatre in England. However, he took the firm decision of graduating from Central with a monodrama, motivated by the idea of being alone on stage, bearing the full weight and responsibility for the exchange of energy with the audience. He couldn’t find a text which could cover the full expressive range he was looking for, so decided to make a new one. "Hope" is a compilation of extracts borrowed from several authors: Chekhov (the short story "The lady with the lap-dog"), Dukovski ("Who the Fuck Started All This?"), Georg Buchner ("Woyzeck"), Strindberg ("Miss Julie"), Shakespeare ("Macbeth"), as well as poetry by Andrei Tarkovsky’s father, Arseni Tarkovsky. - " The graduation show was a success and my course-leader told me just one thing - that he had only seen such a precise attention to detail with photographers and architects, but never before with an actor. I play a lot with the details in "Hope" – the hands, the gaze... The narrative in the show is about a person who is in a love triangle. I was primarily interested in how that person goes through metamorphoses, all the emotions - past, present and future – and in telling the story in a dislocated, non-chronological way.
"Hope" has been performed in a number of venues in London, as well as festivals. After the first performance staged outside Central School, the production company "Quirkas" offered Petar to produce "Hope". - "In that moment comes great financial relief, that's how it works in London. Each show premiered is being seen by agents and producers and it's a major devlopment if someone offers to produce it. In England the subsidies for culture and arts have been severely reduced by the government and that situation is now having its effect on theatres, art galleries, and libraries. Art patronage is now the main source of financial support". Currently he is hoping for good news regarding a production offer for a new play in London, where he plays the leading role of Nijinsky, one of the greatest choreographers in the history of world ballet. The play deals with the complete cultural revolution triggered by Nijinsky's choreography of Stravinsky's ballet "The Rite of the Spring" in 1912 in Paris, in which he broke all the conventions of classical ballet. Meanwhile Petar is looking for a new job, such are the rigors of day-to-day survival in London – actors, after every completed project, are once again unemployed, and the chance for getting new roles is through constant auditioning. Until recently he worked in the music store of the English National Opera, which featured an archive of opera recordings, some of them even a hundred years old - from before the days of gramophone records, recorded on a high magnetic tapes, and eventually digitalised on CD. "I became an expert in opera, I know who the conductors or the singers are in a recording, only after the first listening," jokes Miloshevski.
Later this month, before returning to London, he also performed "Hope" on the stage of the Veles Theatre. He will get to see the Bitola Theatre company on the stage of "Shakespeare's Globe" with "Henry VI". - "It is a fantastic promotion opportunity for Macedonian culture - he said, adding that he often feels like an isolated ambassador in England because he is always presented as a Macedonian actor during debates or after his performances."
From his country, however, he still has not received an offer to play in a theatre project. - "If I get an offer in Macedonia, I probably wouldn't refuse, but as I haven't received one, I am concentrating entirely on my London life and career. Otherwise, I come to Bitola for two weeks every year, this is where my family is. However I haven't lived in Macedonia for 11 years, so I find myself looking at the affairs of this country through slightly romantic spectacles. I don't attend the current developments of this society, as if some of the issues are beginning to elude me."
Writes: Rumena Ravanovska-Tulbevska
Photo: Igor Todorovski