Nikolay Gunderov is a stage director, playwright, actor, and poet. Born in 1974 in Shumen, Bulgaria, he earned a degree in Slavic Philology from Sofia University and later studied directing and dramaturgy at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. His “Syntax of Care” poetry collection won the “Southern Spring” award. His play “Vernissage” by Vaclav Havel received the directing prize at the Czech Theatre Academy DAMU. In 2005, he won the acting award “Jan Kreczmer” from the Union of Polish Actors’ Associations at the International Student Festival in Warsaw. In 2017, Nikolay Gunderov received the prestigious “ASKEER” (an annual award for excellence in Bulgarian professional theatre) in the category of Contemporary Bulgarian Dramaturgy for his play “Probationary Period.”
Considering your success in both art forms, do literature and theatre compete for your attention and time?
If we think of a person who writes literature as an ornithologist fascinated by words as if they were birds, they would sit by a swamp, gaze through their telescope, and wonder which species are endangered and which will never return. They would wait to exclaim, “I saw it!” Such birds also inhabit the theatre. They need the sky, so it’s unwise to confine them inside for too long, even within a theater hall. Immense patience is required. If you lack it, you might as well join a hunting and fishing club, where it’s as if you’ve shot any word. But lifeless words don’t serve “beauty” in either literature or theatre, regardless of the catch you’ve brought home or the collection you’re assembling. Neither literature nor theatre could exist without imagination– that vast sky…
Have you ever had to choose between Bulgaria and the Czech Republic or Shumen, Sofia, and Prague?
I have. When I hesitated, I chose Mulhouse, a small French town near the borders of Switzerland and Germany. However, the best place I’ve ever been is reading poetry.
In Shumen, audiences last saw you in the one-man show “Letter to a Soviet Comrade” and at the premiere of Roza Boyanova’s book “Reverse Gravity.” What do these meetings bring you, and what draws you back to your hometown?
On the day we visited, the temperature had indeed plummeted – perhaps to warm itself up. I would be dishonest if I didn’t express my immense excitement at seeing so many people attend the performance. Their laughter and exclamations provided enough happiness to last an entire winter. Recently, I’ve been returning to Shumen to tend to the graves of my loved ones, pulling weeds and disregarding advice to use chemicals.
Who are the people that have shaped your understanding of art? To what extent have Roza Boyanova and Jiří Menzel influenced you? How much have you sought closeness with them, and how much detachment?
It is a living chain. It’s akin to holding hands with the person closest to you during an evacuation or in deep, impenetrable darkness. You trust each other, regardless of whether the end of the night can be seen.
What meaning do you place in auteur and natural theatre? What stands behind these terms in your understanding?
Filip Trifonov, with whom I’ve collaborated extensively, believes that “natural theater” appeals to aesthetes, while “artificial theater” resonates with art historians. In Bulgaria, one can never have too many art historians!
In your scripts and directorial work, you rely on irony and self-irony. Are they the salvation for modern or postmodern individuals?
Laughter is inevitable! It’s a daunting definition but inherently true. I find solace in another thought: every precaution against laughter becomes a legitimate reason to laugh.
Do you fear one day encountering an absurdity you cannot laugh at? What would you do in that situation?
That’s an excellent question. And a frightening one too. Perhaps, the only way to tackle a dreadful absurdity is to wait for another, more devastating one.
Should a person of art today be consistently political or apolitical?
Even if they are not a person of art, simply being a genuine person is already an achievement in itself. And by person, I don’t mean a municipal councilor. Although I have nothing against municipal councilors – after all, they can vote for any status they desire at any given moment.
Are the audiences and cultures of Eastern Europeans different from those of Central and Western Europeans?
I am unsure about that. Their beer, however, is most definitely distinct.
Do you believe Europe lost its cultural leadership after the mid-20th century?
You should ask someone from our Ministry of Culture; they seem to know everything these days. If they can’t answer your question, try downloading a Chinese mobile phone app.
Did the digital age and globalization create a new human? Or do they repeat old situations and mistakes?
Not only do they repeat old mistakes, but they also digitize them. Now that I think about it, establishing a virtual museum of stupidity isn’t a bad idea. Future generations will marvel at how our stupidity surpassed their own. They might even come to admire it. Just in case, I’d better contribute my modest share to this endeavor.