First is sound. Then rhythm. Then is meaning then (…) my mind will drift off…
What a perfect definition of art, I said when I heard this in the special conference between Denis O’Hare and Cătălin Ștefănescu hosted online by FITSonline 2020. It is not painless to free your art work. Just like a mother realising that her child has this world to enjoy and live experiences in her absence. You give life to your artwork and then, let it be, itself, whatever that could be…
The conference begins with an excerpt from An Iliad written by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson. A grey little chamber of a medieval church maybe, a bad camera framing and Denis O’Hare telling the story so sincerely touched by the events that are being told. His finger crawling from the top of the camera slowly down so we can almost see how the black blood of a bull killed by a lion pulls at the bottom of the shield… Then you hear a boy playing a lira, a heart-breaking music, the song of a dying day while a circle of boys and girls are dancing, clapping, laughing. Life as it is. And the actor back and forth paying no attention to camera framing. That is not important. The story matters. The storytelling as a show. Actually, the silly framing is important too, as it emphasis the living inside this acting. Life as it is. No special framing. The perfection of being given back to us by the actor. This is almost like Achile’s new shield looks like from the distance: it just bounces the light back, it shred way up like that.
Fast is harmful… You talked about how lucky you were for achieving slowly what it’s called success. Therefore, it was a grounded sedimentation not only for you as a professional but also as a human as far as I understand…Shouldn’t we have more appreciation for slowness? I mean, our society is more concerned and delighted by everything happening fast, as fast as possible… And isn’t this peculiar period helping us to rediscover slowness?
Denis O’Hare: I really am thankful that I had the time to learn a craft thoroughly before I was burdened with any kind of celebrity. You have to be able to try and fail. There’s also something about being content. It should be enough to work without having to explode into mega-stardom. Fame does not equal quality.
You perform both on movies and on stage. You combine them so you have a stronger understanding about what is the difference between these two… Could you develop a bit of this?
Denis O’Hare: Cinema and Stage are in many ways opposites. As an actor on film, the camera and the editor are determining how you should act, what value is given to a given moment, even how loud your voice is or if you are underscored. In live theatre, it is full body acting, 3-D in real time and space. You as the artist are making all of these decisions about pace, size, shape – where the audience should be looking. I love being able to do both. There are things I can’t do in theatre and there is a freedom I usually don’t have in film.
What is the greatest thing in acting or writing? And what about the worst?
Denis O’Hare: For acting, the worst thing is doubt. To wonder if what you are doing is good? Of course, there is no real objective answer to this. I know there are people out there who don’t like things I’ve done. But as Martha Graham says, “There is no satisfaction, ever.” In terms of the best, I think it’s that magic when you get out of the way and new entity is born and has life. For me as a writer, the hardest thing is to know when to stop. When is it finished?? The best thing is when you write something really good. I always think, “Who wrote that?”
You mentioned in the dialog you had with Cătălin Ștefănescu, referring to this process of reading poems that Like any art, there is no answer. Even the poet doesn’t have the answer. Everything is interpretative, and I totally feel that and I must admit I had long debates on either is this or you should know what the author wanted to say and stick to that. I find this one of the most important wheels of this huge mechanism that art offers us. If you cut that and just stick to what the author wanted to say, you kill it, right?
Denis O’Hare: In all art forms, the creator gives up control the moment it is shared with the other. I love the mistakes I make when I apprehend something. I love the misunderstandings that people have when they encounter something I’m doing. Sometimes knowing what the artist thinks lessens the work of art for me. To me, nothing is more boring than something telling me exactly what they meant to do. Don’t tell me – show me. If it’s no in the artwork, no amount of explanation will suffice.
I find it so interesting how, on stage, actors feel the audience and I think that it would be good, I mean really healing way if this would expand in everyday life of every one of us.. How could this become a habit for us as it is for you, actors…?
Denis O’Hare: It is the job of the good actor to suspend judgement of their characters and to focus on sharing whatever truth is in front of them. We exist for the audience. But this is a tricky balance. The audience cannot be a tyrant and control us. We have to control them. We must want to share with them but we must set the rules.
Why do democracies fall? Why is the USA falling?
Denis O’Hare: This is the central question of the next play that Lisa Peterson and I are writing, “The Song of Rome”. I don’t think any system of government, of organization can persist forever. What is the lifespan of any communal organization? The arrogance of democracies is that democratic countries think that they solved all the problems of human social organization. It’s also hard to really talk about democracies without talking about capitalism and capitalism is a cruel system that is in many ways, incompatible with democratic principles. I think democracies fall because they lose a common bond and they let money become the ultimate arbiter.
As for the USA, it is falling because its foundation myths are lies. All men are created equal is a lie that is embedded in our founding documents. We were a slave culture and we have never really paid the price for that. WE are a theocracy and we pretend that we aren’t. Finally, there is only winning in the USA. Winning is everything.
If you would have this superpower to change, really change this world as it is, what would you change, if anything at all…
Denis O’Hare: Oh dear… I think I would slip empathy and compassion into the water and hope that people could see the humanity and suffering of those who seem different and would become willing to do something about it. Kindness. Kindness.
I read this in an interview you had for The American: O’Hare began crafting Cornell Boxes for friends after reading about the curious art pieces in a William Gibson novel. Is it crafting boxes far easier than crafting characters?
Denis O’Hare: Funny thing – I could only make boxes for other artists when I was doing a play or a movie. The themes were controlled and I could use the boxes to distil some easy characteristics for each person. I tried to make a box for my mother and just couldn’t even begin. How would I sum up my mother?? The crafting of characters is a bit of legerdemain. We aren’t really creating full characters – we’re indicating the major traits and letting you fill in the gaps. Same with the boxes!!
Translation: Silvana Diana Vulcan