"Our working conditions are very luxurious," says director Annie Vaseva of Metheor. Few would say this kind of thing, especially in the way she means it: having collaborators by her side with whom to share and implement her ideas, to work with pleasure and inspiration, even if the themes of their performances require deep self-absorption.
For Annie Vaseva, Metheor is "a group of like-minded people driven by desire." In 2008, "when we were performing in basements," she founded Metheor with the philosopher Boyan Manchev, with whom she had written the texts for The Eye and A Dying Play. In 2010, they were joined by Leonid Yovchev. Beyond their stage work, Metheor has grown into a publishing house, and some of their audiovisual content has found its way into contemporary art galleries.
In Metheor: Theater of the Impossible 2010-2019, published last fall, Vaseva writes that "theater is not the only thing Metheor does, but Metheor's theater is a thing unlike anything else." Metheor emerged out of "excitement and desire," because of a need “to open up a space for creativity tailored solely to the demands of the work" and to make "theater with people with whom one can think, work and fantasize freely."
Vaseva says she was lucky enough to realize early on that the most important thing is to create the right conditions to do things the way you want them done. "It's much better to compromise in domestic and financial matters than on the work itself. Compromises are possible with the former, but disastrous with the latter."
Atlantis, directed by Annie Vaseva, text by Annie Vaseva, Boyan Manchev, including fragments from E.T.A. Hoffmann, featuring Leonid Yovchev and Katrin Metodieva
We spoke to the director shortly after the Metheor team presented Atlantis, one of Vaseva and Manchev's more recent texts, dedicated to E.T.A. Hoffmann, at the Gallus Theater in Frankfurt. The play features Yovchev and Katrin Metodieva, and the sound design is by Angel Simitchiev, who increasingly ventures beyond hardcore and ambient compositions and writes for the stage.
Vaseva is not the kind of person to start comparing audiences here and there, then and now. "The idea that you work for a particular kind of 'target' audience, defined by social class, age or gender, is meaningless. You work the way you think is right, as your desire dictates, and there will always be people who are interested in the same thing.”
A Play about Us, directed by Annie Vaseva, starring Leonid Yovchev, Emona Ilieva, Stefan Milkov, Georgi Dimitrov, Greta Gicheva, Gordan Koev, Kalin Nikolaev, Lachezara Vassileva, Martin Dimov, Nicole Vassileva and Trayan Hristov.
Unlike their first performances in 2008-2009, she now rarely sees familiar faces in the audience. Metheor’s theater survives and thrives not only because of its consistency, but also because of the way it reaches new audiences. This also gives their performances longevity. A Dying Play, Lovecraft, and Total Damage have been performed monthly for over five years. There have been periods when they have supported six or seven shows at a time, including ones with large casts.
"When you have a lot of people on stage, you can work with chaos, which is both wonderful and dangerous because the end point of chaos is for the whole thing to fall apart. You have to work with structure and chaos at the same time, to create something that's on the verge of falling apart, but not falling apart."
Lovecraft, text, direction and music by Annie Vaseva, featuring Leonid Yovchev and Galya Kostadinova and the voices of Boyan Manchev and Tsvetan Tsvetanov
She also eschews the descriptors "experimental" and "underground" for theater she makes with Manchev and Yovchev. Not because what they are doing is not an experiment, but because it tries to avoid labels. "The new, the unknown and the unusual don't scare us. My resistance is toward reducing to style something that should rather be a process driven by curiosity and inspiration. And not a mechanical repetition of fashionable gestures whose meaning has dried up."
2020 put a stop to some of their performances, but also opened new avenues for them. "The pandemic pushed us into video and that turned out to be fortuitous for us. After ten years in the theater, the shift to the video medium has opened up a host of new possibilities for us to work subtly and explicitly with the sense of time, the disjunctions in the ways we experience reality."
C, directed by Annie Vaseva, with Iva Sveshtarova, Elena Dimitrova, Petar Genkov, Lyubomir Brashnenkov, Georgi Sharov and the band Cats Under Cars
Metheor is currently working on two video projects: Metamorphoses by Ovid and Kadze, a follow-up to the video Daruma, based on the essay "Kadze Daruma" by Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of butoh dance. It will be dedicated to "the wind, the element that brings change and yet is constant."
Their new works are prompted by Vaseva's long-standing interest in being in the "wrong trouser of time," in the words of Terry Pratchett. "I've always been fascinated by the idea of the unknown, the incomprehensible that somehow appears out of nowhere, shifts the world, plays with the senses, in short – miracles. Where is the border between the ordinary and the extraordinary?"
During the 2020-2021 lockdowns, Metheor also started uploading discussions, trailers and fragments of their work on their YouTube channel. In one of the conversations from the Tempus Fugit series, Vaseva asks Valentin Ganev how he managed to stay grounded in a profession that "requires constant work and concentration." And how has she managed that? "I am familiar with the discourse that says artists are always victims of something: circumstances, their own demons, or something else. But it's a matter of consciously deciding how you want to work, and is there something you can't sacrifice so that the work goes well?"
Art, she says, is no different than any other profession. "In the theater we also have the opportunity to get immense pleasure, to follow the path of our desires. There's no secret, it's just constant work that takes a long time. Actually, there are secrets, but they are not related to some recipe that allows you to work without putting in effort and time. The secret is that theater is a place of miracles."
Find out more about Metheor at desorganisation.org.