(September, 2015) NWTC committee member, Artemios Vogiatzis catches up with director of Fifty!, Bjørn Clasen, to find out a little more about what makes him tick ...
Of course a totally unexpected question for starters; so why ‘Fifty!’?
After I directed George Bernard Shaw’s ‘How He Lied To Her Husband’ for the Fringe at last year’s FEATS, the NWTC asked if I was willing to come up with a play for this year’s competition. I looked through thirty or forty short plays and came across ‘Fifty!’ (no pun intended). Not because of its theme or anything, but mainly because it is a fun and relatively easy-to-set-up comedy, I chose to put it on the table. It quickly turned out not to be suitable for FEATS but as it fits with the one-act comedy ‘Husbands Supplied’ that the BGT was considering doing, the idea of a co-production quickly developed. Of course, if you ask a psychologist, s/he might suggest that I myself am slowly approaching the mid-life crisis like the protagonist in ‘Fifty!’ — but let’s not go there…
What would be the driving force which made you say "OK, I have to direct this play"?
Passion for theatre, with a pinch of stubbornness, and simply grabbing the opportunity. My calendar has been so full over the last year or two that I was getting afraid of not finding much (or any) space for theatre. So when I got the mail from NWTC, I decided that I wanted to make that space, as I did not want to compromise my passion. So it was more a choice of committing to theatre in general, and ‘Fifty!’ fit into the criteria at that moment.
As both an actor and director, can you say what is it that draws you to these roles? Do you prefer one over the other?
I’m a bit torn… Usually I say that I prefer to be on stage, as I love that heat of the moment, that intense burst of energy that one puts into a character in every performance. But, ironically, if I had the possibility to do one of the two full-time and had to choose between them, I would probably choose to be a director. Both roles give me the tremendous satisfaction of building up a project that is neither too short nor too long and that brings joy and entertainment to people on stage, backstage and hopefully also in front of the stage. As knee-tremblingly nervous as I am before going on stage as an actor, I am ten times as nail-bitingly nervous when watching a play that I have directed, because I sit ‘outside’ and cannot do anything.
Which play have you always dreamt of doing but have not had the opportunity to tackle yet?
Several ideas have come to my mind over the past half year or so, and very different ones too. So far, I have preferred directing comedies or plays with a comic twist, and with a simple setting because I am more interested in the acting and the relationships between characters rather than fancy costumes and elaborate sets. But when I held auditions for ‘Fifty!’ there was this one actress who instantly made me wish I was casting a melodrama. So that might be a challenging genre to explore next. Another extreme contrast to the farces and comedies is an idea of a friend of mine to write a play on war crimes in the Balkans. The third idea is the 1952 drama ‘Siblings’, which I came across recently, by a famous Danish playwright called H.C. Branner. It is also rather demanding in terms of acting and therefore a challenge for a director. Finally, I have long been toying with the idea to base a play on the lyrics of a (rock) song and perform it in real time to that song — perhaps for the 10-Minute Play Festival, which I do hope we will revive next year.
Back to the play. Why a farce? Is this a genre you have been associated with in the past or are you exploring new territories?
You know, I am still pretty much a beginner when it comes to directing. ‘Fifty!’ will be my fourth experience, after a 10-minute play, a one-act play in a school group, and the George Bernard Shaw short play at last year’s FEATS fringe. ‘Opera Comique’, which I featured in a few years ago, has farce-like characteristics but ‘Fifty!’ it is the first farce I do as a director. As I said before, I wanted to do something relatively light and simple. And fun!
Give our audience/readers two reasons why they must absolutely attend 'Fifty'. Got you here! What would you say?
Easy: The cast and, er… yes, perhaps you did get me! No, seriously, I believe I have put together a really good cast who can inject plenty of life into their characters and are up to the challenges that comedies present. A second reason would be to see the contrasts and similarities between ‘Fifty!’ and ‘Husbands Supplied’, the first play in this double-bill.
I think you first worked with NWTC when you directed during the 10 minute play festival. If you were to sum up your experience of the Club in three words, what might they be?
Actually, I first worked with NWTC when playing Oberon in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in 2007. In fact that was my first theatre experience altogether. Three words? Let me see… variation, enthusiasm, group spirit.