Davit Khorbaladze against queer exoticism

Davit Khorbaladze is a contemporary Georgian director and playwright, whose first play was staged in 2014. The audience has seen more than 10 performances with his authorship in various theaters. The artist does not shy away from bold experiments in his performances and always offers the audience interesting interpretations of current topics. Sexuality, search for identity, terror of the State against the population, social inequality, and the fate of minorities – this is an incomplete list of topics covered by David Khorbaladze’s plays and performances.

The audience will see a new play by the director in this season. As Davit Khorbaladze explains, this play will be the first part of the trilogy, which tells the story of memory as one of the most imperfect, damaged, transforming characteristics of a person.

Before the audience can return to the theaters that have been closed due to the pandemic, we offer you an interview in which one of the founders of Open Space will share his views on the current processes and the future of the theater:

When and how did you decide to become a theater director and playwright?

When I was in school an art teacher gave us homework to write and hold a small play based on a picture. We had to redistribute the functions, so basically, we were pretend playing theater. I couldn’t choose between being a director or a playwright. I really liked writing, but I didn’t really understand what a director did, and I didn’t know whether I was interested in the theater at all. Finally, no one said that they wanted to be a director so I said that I would be both. I never liked being an initiator or a leader, and I have no idea why I choose to do it then. In short, since that day I wanted to write, to stage plays and basically to do everything connected to public self-expression. I used to write 2 plays a year in school and I was always so happy to do it. They were always kind of scandalous and that attracted me as well. As a child that used to be sensitive, I suddenly felt so powerful, I would look at the audience and once I saw everyone crying, I felt as if I had achieved my goals.

During my university years and after that as well, I’ve always had so much fun with this profession. I even ended up in the Theatrical University by chance. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a movie or theater director. I got incredibly bad grades in the creative exams and I was so lucky that I was accepted. After that I felt very ashamed and for a long time considered myself stupid.

Thirst – Vaso Abashidze New Theater (photo by Ana Gurgenidze)

How did Open Space come into being and what should we expect from it in the future?

We wanted to create an independent space in which instead of a theater, there would be an anti-theater, which in itself involves the idea of a theater, seeing it from a new point of view, not only as a spectacle, but also as an institution. At first, Open Space was a unity of artists that worked in different places. Soon, we found a building and started renovating it together. Today we have the space that is still being developed and formed as a multicultural space for experimental art. I think that it’s very important that we were all united with a desire to create socially and politically active art, that would talk about the modern person using a new language. This is still like that – the reality in which we live, which controls our everyday lives is our main subject of research. Not because this reality is almost always tangible and understandable for theatre, or some other field of art. No, it’s because we can find out the truth together with the audience, explore, search for our identities, question the existing identities, cultural norms, everything. To face all of this ambiguity without any timidity. So, what I want you to expect the most from Open Space is courage and critical viewpoint, that is directed toward the future and does not get stuck in the past.

What are the duties of the Modern Georgian Theater and does fulfill those duties?

Generally, I don’t think that anyone has any duties. We can talk about what duties institutions should have, what kind of political cultures we would like, what kind of governing system, what values should the state and the theater spread, that it at least shouldn’t be a place for fascism, sexism, homophobia. That every government-funded theater should understand that it’s spending the money of society and it should be trying to return it in some kind of a way, that it should be as accessible as possible, that it should have an educational purpose, that it shouldn’t support discrimination of any societal group, etc. The society should be asked – what kind of theater do people want. What is happening now is just inertia. I would remind the Georgian theater, including myself, that it exists for the audience and without it the theater is not a theater anymore.

As for the second part of the question: I would completely stop using the concept of “Georgian theater”. First of all, let’s start with the fact that we have no national theater; it just didn’t happen historically, it couldn’t develop. The fact that Rustaveli Theater has the status of a National Theater is just a falsification of values ​​and nothing more. Second of all, I really don’t understand why there is a need to put the idea of the theater into any narrow national context. Or if we actually do that, which criteria should make something a Georgian theater and which ones shouldn’t? should it be language? Aesthetic? Everything at once? Why would I need to do that?

Protected Areas – Royal District Theater, Temur Chkheidze Studio (Photo – Gika Mikabadze)

What is modern Georgian drama most interested in, what tendencies can be observed in the Georgian theater?

It’s very hard to talk about tendencies when the process of our theater is so fragmented. Probably, generally in drama and in theater as well this fragmentation, segmentation, tribal-sectarianism has been a trend for a few years now. I don’t mean just relationships; the creative process is like that as well, it’s confined and monological. Before the theaters closed down because of the pandemic, I started to see the cessation of such communication in my works as well. By the way, when I was working on the video I realized that I had to overcome this massive barrier to build a live relationship with the audience, I started to think a lot about it.

Worry –Open Space (photo by Lasha Tsertsvadze)

Are the voices of queer community members heard in Georgian theater and drama?

All I, personally, hear is the voice of the queer community. When someone separates queer art I get confused, because there is no such thing as non-queer art. I believe that there is no theater that, on the one hand, urges toward equality and, on the other hand, always questions the reality that we live in. After all, this is a place where people of all sorts gather together and watch, relax, have fun, engage in a performance that, at best, raises questions, critiques the norms. I’m not interested in any other type of a theater and I don’t see a point in discussing it. I believe that we have more important things to think about: It’s time for us, queer people, to be more critical towards art that we create, that speaks of us. Often I am left with the impression that we ourselves are instilling new fascist aesthetic stereotypes in art and only have a primitive understanding of gay sexuality.

That’s why I’d say that, on the one hand, we have some institutional issues and attempts to hide queer art, and on the other hand, we have queer exoticism, artists that market their queer identities. I am fed up with these categories. I would also stop using the word “Queer”, just like “Georgian theater”.

What kind of obstacles can be encountered in Georgian theatrical and artistic spaces if you are lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual?

The obstacles start at the very beginning, in the Theatrical University, in which there are fascist criteria when selecting students. If there’s anything about your appearance that can be deemed non-heteronormative, then you’ll have to fight way harder than others (same as any other field). After that, you’ll find yourself in a “bubble” when you get friends with similar opinions. It takes a lot of endurance to accept yourself and to develop professionally at the same time. I know a lot of artists that can’t even feel the oppression anymore because they’re so used to hiding their identities. But the theater is supposed to expand our awareness. Without accepting ourselves, our bodies, it is practically impossible to create something valuable. However, I still think that the process, in this sense, has begun, and fewer artists are okay with living with homophobia. We shouldn’t wait for a heteronormative “god” to give us the possibility for professional realization, because that will never happen. We shouldn’t lie to ourselves that it will happen on its own.

Parents’ meeting – Open Space, Director: Davit Khorbaladze, Misha Charkviani (Photo by Tako Robakidze)

Apart from the fact that in the last two years there have been almost no performances and the audience has become more distant from the theater, what else has changed in your work? What, in your opinion, did artists learn from the pandemic and how did they use this time?

I don’t know, I think it’s too early to talk about this. What I can say is that the audience has drifted away from the theater that existed only due to inertia. Instead, they became closer to the digital theater that tried to tell them that it can exist even without dusty suits and velvet chairs.

Daddy is hanging himself – New Drama Festival

What do you miss the most in Georgian theater and what are the internal and external problems that hinder the development of the theater?

What bothers me the most is the lack of cultural policy. This is the main thing that hinders the development of everything.

God of Hunger – Open Space. Director: Davit Khorbaladze, Misha Charkviani (Photo – Beka Javakhishvili)

How would you assess the Georgian theater in the past 10-15 years?

It makes me really sad to say this, but I get a dreadful feeling of dysfunctionality when I look back on the last 10 years. There were occasional enhancements, but basically everything died with no development perspective. Now, in this situation, we can start all over, though I don’t know how possible it is. There are many reasons for this: both cultural and economical, which we can’t cover in this interview.

Broken Jaw –Open Space (Photo – Tiku Kobiashvili)

How do you see the future of Georgian theater and theater in general?

I have very negative expectations of the future of the Georgian theater. This country won’t go past satisfying the personal interests of few individuals. Maybe I’m wrong, but sadly, I think that I’m not wrong, and this anger is helping me be more active. As for theater in general, I have my own ideal visions, and I would like to believe that in the future it will be possible to have communication between the performance and the audience without the existence of a specific time and space, so I wholeheartedly welcome technological development.

Interview – Zura Abashidze

Photo: Vakho Kareli

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