Interview with Kendrim Rijani: Working with the actor is the main task of the director

Theater director Kendrim Riani staged three fantastic plays last year

The performances staged by director Qendrim Rijani on the stages of the Bitola, Albanian and Comedy Theater radiate new theatrical energy, contemporary dramaturgy, filigree characters and modern stage design.

I had my first meeting with Kendrim Rijani at the "Shakespeare Fest" in Bitola last year, where he was a guest with "The Merchant of Venice" by Shakespeare performed by the "Andon Zako Chajupi" theater from Korcha, Albania. It was a period after he had already received the award for best director at the 56th MTF "Vojdan Chernodrinski" in Prilep for the play "Arturo Ui", which he staged in the Bitola National Theater.

The next meeting took place at the premiere of "Three Sisters" by Chekhov at the Albanian Theater in Skopje. The play won the awards for best play, best direction by Kendrim Riani and best composed music by Trimor Domi at the Moisiu festival.

Ten days ago, I saw another great performance by Riani. With "Women in the Assembly" at Teatar Komedija, he definitely confirms his fresh, creative and modern theatrical sensibility.

Last year you managed to realize three big plays in different theaters. You started with "Arturo Ui" at the Bitola Theater, followed by "Three Sisters" at the Albanian Theater in Skopje, and at the end of the year, "Women in the Assembly" premiered at the Comedy Theater. The performances are based on texts by Brecht, Chekhov and Aristophanes. Is the selection of these texts and authors random?

- As a result of the pandemic, in accordance with the conditions and circumstances, these three projects of great weight and importance were lined up for realization one after the other. I started with the Bitola Theater, with a powerful work in a theater that during the process, but also with the success of the play, not only enabled me to become better, but also filled me with inspiration for the next project. I continued with the Albanian Theater, which is my home theater, with a project that was special in that it gave me many opportunities for creativity, both in terms of human resources and new infrastructure. Finally, I rounded off the year with the Comedy Theater, where together with the collaborators we managed to make a show that, above all, I think will leave a mark on a different project in the parent company.

The monumental work "Arturo Ui" by Brecht was staged in the Bitola Theater

I usually start the selection of authors and texts from the possibilities and the cause that springs from the works. Thus, in cooperation with the Bitola Theater, we chose "Arturo Ui", a monumental work with which, through the actors, we managed to revive Brecht's revolution on stage. Also, the work "Three Sisters" came to the stage of the Albanian Theater for the first time. A powerful work through which I believe we managed to convey pain, monotony, but also Chekhov's happiness to the audience, and we brought "Women in the Assembly" by Aristophanes to the Comedy Theater for the first time. What unites these three plays and these authors are the weighty causes that the works contain.

I believe in a theater that survives the times by being open to new human energy – conceptual and infrastructural

In your plays, first of all, serious dramaturgical work is noticed in the preparation process and a lot of work with the actors? What does it mean to work on a play "on" and "according to" the text of the mentioned playwrights?

- Regarding the work with the actor, I think that is the main task of the director. Our profession was created to help the actor move into another dimension. The work with the actor, or rather, the work of creating a space of freedom for him to "fly" is my "raison d'etre" (essential purpose). Regarding the text, specifically Aristophanes, the father of comedy, because of the time dimension in his dramaturgical language, has become distant for today's audience. But what has become more powerful in this time span are its themes. Thus, on the themes of Aristophanes, together with Biljana Krajchevska and the actresses, I believe that we managed to bring a new Aristophanes with old themes, which are not 20 centuries old.

The performance "Three Sisters" by Chekhov at the Albanian Theater in Skopje has a fantastic response from the audience

Casting is extremely important for any play. In the Bitola and Albanian theaters, you worked with almost the entire acting team, while in "Women in the Assembly" at the Komedia Theater, you chose six actresses with different generations and theater backgrounds. What is crucial when casting for a particular play?

- Apart from some "by the book" norms, which are professional rules when choosing the actors, for me it is also important to have professional chemistry in terms of the way we will move in the process, but also for the goal we have let's reach it together.

The latest play that Riani staged at the Comedy Theater is "Women in the Assembly" based on Aristophanes

When staging the plays, it seems that you want to get out of the classical stage theater space and to spread the play across multiple stages and spaces. For what purpose?

- My age is still in a period in which I am more in search of new theatrical forms that open new horizons, than in restyling old forms that bring more nostalgia. I always try to use all authorial, acting and stage possibilities to reach the product. I believe in a theater that survives the times by being open to new human energy – conceptual and infrastructural. I believe that great authors are not great because we have to put them in the same form as they were set when they were written, but that they are great because in their works they created possibilities that we today set up and experience, combining them with the possibilities that we offered by the times in which we live.

What are the next theater challenges you would like to take on?

- My work in the theater in the last year in our country and the previous year outside the country was so intense that it did not give me the opportunity to be ready enough to accept the next invitations that were offered to me. That's why this year I allowed myself time for some rest and preparation. Next year, of course, will bring me back with authors and causes through which I will try not to disappoint the audience and colleagues who have created trust in me.

(The conversation was published in "Cultural Press" No. 165, in the print edition of the newspaper "Free Press" on February 4-5, 2023)

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