Home ARTS & THEATER Great Acting: Training Your Mind and Body to be Perceptive – Learning About Yourself and Your Surroundings. An Interview with Zdravko Stojmirov

Great Acting: Training Your Mind and Body to be Perceptive – Learning About Yourself and Your Surroundings. An Interview with Zdravko Stojmirov

by Ohio Digital News

Zdravko Stojmirov worked on many theater projects, TV series and short films. He participated in numerous national and international theater festivals cooperating with institutional theater houses, independent theatrical groups, organizations and associations in the country and abroad. As an actor he’s a member of NETA (new European theatre action), since 2010. He also worked as an acting coach and teacher with students, beginners and amateurs in private  schools, and high schools in Macedonia and Bulgaria. He is one of the most awarded actors from his generation for best actor, outstanding acting performance – awarded on many festivals in Macedonia, Albania, Slovenia, Kosovo, Bulgaria …  He is best known for the very next performances:The Fetishist’’; “KRIEG’’; “Only artists left alive“; “My name is Medea“; “Demons“; “The Decameron“; “They shoot horses, don’t they?“; “Miss Suburb’’(The Beauty Queen of Leenane), “Dragon“; “Story of the eye“; “The Miserables“; “Zoo Story“; “HI-FI“; “Urban Bairam“; “The man who couldn’t say no“; “Awakening of spring“; “Ciril and Metodius – Who are you?“; “A Man Is a Man“; “It`s about our home“; “There’s no trifling with love“; “Transferatu“; “Correction“; “King Ressus“; “Chairs“; “Women without men and that’s all“; “Medea“; “Red“; “Diary of a mad man“; “Zoo Story“…


Ivanka Apostolova Baskar: One of the most talented – versatile actors in modern Macedonia, today – in my opinion is you. You have a great sense of humor and tragedy as actor, you are very focused, witty, perceptive, imaginative, intuitive, lucid, transformative in acting, also artistically-creatively and by interpretation/s – and you selflessly (contra stage egos and vanities around us) you offer many very good acting options-versions. Can you “decode” for the readers your source and passion of stage talent of this caliber? 

Zdravko Stojmirov: Well I thank you for your kind words. Such praises are usually the things that make modest people uncomfortable, although sometimes it’s good to hear nice things about oneself and their work. And to answer your question, I think all these things you mentioned are due to tireless work, unreserved dedication, and most of all constant learning. But not learning from a book or anything, albeit therein lies much to see and be inspired, but more with learning about yourself and your surroundings. And off course, training your mind and body to be perceptive so when the brain gives a command to your body, it has to be able to heed its given task without a moment’s notice. In the end I guess ones will and love to their profession is most important. Cause I don’t see anything above being done without it. And also time, recourses and support…
There are many things, different systems, exercises and whatnot if you will, and I believe I could write a book on this subject, because the list could go on and on but I don’t believe I have the patience that it would entail for something like that, so I’ll stick to acting.

IAB: Your last monodrama is The Fetishist based on a text by Michel Tournier; recently NU Theater Bitola included the play in its regular repertoire. What does this decision – next to one of the best national theaters in our country – means for the career of a self-employed freelance actor? And what does monodrama mean as a format and challenge for you as an actor?

ZS: For The Fetishist to be included on the repertoire of National theatre Bitola I can only say one thing: – It was a brilliant decision! I say this because for one, projects like this are hard to, keep alive’’ for more than 3 of 4 years by yourself. It is going to be played very rarely and only on special occasions for theatre festivals and such. But this way you have regular performing days so the play can grow faster and better, which is very needed if you want it to be successful or even participate on said festivals. I should know, this is my third one. All I’ve managed with the previous ones is to keep them alive for no more than 5 years. Well not to be too modest, yes I’ve had some success, and visited many festivals during those years and I’ve won several acting awards in fact. But here what’s important is the life of the play, for you’ve already given it everything possible for it to only BE, so now it’s time for it to have a life of its own. And that is not to be said only for my solo performances, but also other theatre performances that I’ve worked on in the past and am working now. What good of an actor you can be if you don’t have a personal diverse repertoire that you can always offer. A solo performance is not that different than a normal one, if there is such a thing. It’s just that all the characters are played by you, or it is just the one character ,,going on’’ the whole show.
I’ve usually decided to work on for a solo performance, when I’ve been in a ,,withdrawal’’ period. Or in a period when you sense that there’s going to be a ,,drought’’. For I wouldn’t be able to wait for it to pass, and I keep In check with my ,,dosage’’ regularly. For me, to work – is to live. Life can be pretty meaningless and so we find what we need in what fulfills us. Another thing about a solo performance is that it keeps you in shape. A little more so than regular performances, because it asks much of you and this is where you would be very wrong if you were to hold back. In all honesty I wasn’t that ,,thirsty’’ when I started ,,The Fetishist’’ I was quite full, but It was a long time coming as you’ll come to know.

IAB:  Why in this presence and age did you choose the Fetishist for setting and performing? What themes and contents, situations prompted you to do so – in our theater milieu where (just) several names from the world of theatre classics and modern theatre classics are being staged – a typical local state of mentality – playing safe cards on the theatre stages? Tournier in The Fetishist brings up themes related to fetishism, deviance and dark sexuality with doze of bizarre humor.  

ZS: I first read The Fetishist without the other stories, when I was a student. That would be 17-18 years ago. It was a Bulgarian translation and it was the first time that I have met this amazing writer. Since then, many years to come I searched for The Fetishist, but I could only find all other stories in different languages since I don’t speak French, except that one. So while I was on the quest to find it I read almost everything that I could find from Michel Tournier. I believe it was 8 or 9 years afterwards that I’ve managed to find it again, this time in English language. And since then I had often thought about staging it. I had many ideas and year after year the ideas changed with time, until this year when I finally set out to work on it properly. I also received a little help, financial from the Ministry of Culture, after 3 years of rejected applications, so that was one contributing factor, but more so because of its originality in writing, choice of words… It was about that something you feel, but don’t need words to explain it. It wasn’t as much about the theme inside as much as the ways and means with which it was portrayed. For me it wasn’t a choice. It chose me. And for all other roles that I’ve played, almost none have I chosen for myself. They were all in a way appointed to me, or should I say found their way to me. And I should mention that in many cases I’ve made them from scratch, with the guidance from my dearest collaborators of course.  It’s a very noble this profession and never easy, even though it appears that way sometimes.

IAB:  As an actor you have been intensely active on the stage for 15 years (we do not count the Covid-19 years), you have experiences in theater, TV, film, but you stand out especially with theater roles and you are still a freelancer – what does theater represent for you in a country that favors political party theater people – average or undisciplined talents; nepotism, clientelism, people with political connections or children of theatrical families – by default are employed in our national scenes? And as country we are falling apart from corruption? Professionally capable and extraordinary, and deeply educated people, are put on the margins of our society.

ZS: It is sad to see that with all modern capabilities, laws and systems in place, speed of communication and literary the whole world in our hands, how this country’s public cultural institutions are drowning in corruption, nepotism and bribery stimulated by the political machinery of the government and its state authorities. For many years before, now and unknowingly how many years in the future will this continue? It is a simple matter of mathematics. Unfortunately those who are unworthy prevail because they are many, and there are not enough honest ones left to educate and guide the new generations and because it’s easier to get everything for nothing than to be working hard for it and earn it. Sincerely I’m still fighting the good fight, I like when I get what I’ve earned although here that’s never the case. But at least I know that what I have as a professional baggage it is by my own merits. It’s like nothing matters. Not education, experience, accomplishments or success. Nor is it acknowledged or considered in measuring the qualities of a person’s professional ability. It’s always something that has nothing to do with art or anything close to it that prevails, against any logic or reason. This adheres to the national cultural institutions, where mediocrity lives and quality is rejected and punished. I was lucky in a way to have more opportunities than most, but when presented I always responded at the ready with all cylinders firing. Truthfully it is hard to be in my shoes at the moment or any of the past 16 years for that matter, but I do not lose hope.

IAB: In your human and artistic observing and opinion, what will you change and improve in the contemporary domestic theater and performing arts aka what are the weaknesses and perspectives for change, development and qualitative reset in the manner of directors concepts, annual programs, domestic and international co-productions and exchanges in our theatres and scenes?

ZS: Our country’s cultural development leaves much to be desired. At first it needs to seriously start developing to even be described like that. And short of making a plan for betterment and implementing it, everything else I say would only be a bad comment on an already bad situation. 

IAB: You completed your acting education in Bulgaria at the South-West University “Neofit Rilski”, compared to your colleagues from FDU Skopje, ESRA/Prima Skopje, what are the methodological differences and advantages offered by the Bulgarian drama-educational system for a future professional actor?

ZS: Yes I did and I had a wonderful time there during my studies. For the Bulgarian theatre education I can say that it has some cultural remnants of a Russian system of education in view of the arts and theater etiquette, which is a positive attitude towards education for theater art. It is definitely more developed than in Macedonia, truly going on at an industrial level and the audience also educated to a level of envy. While in my home country the seriousness and the discipline that are required for this art are somewhat downplayed. Not to mention that we have a lack of qualified professors, where as in Bulgaria there are a lot prominent ones, with years of dedicated work in their field as actors or directors and at the same time successful on the educational front. I would definitely, if I had to choose, I would again choose Bulgarian acting school between these two choices. 

IAB: According to which / what kind of criteria do you choose the roles, or rather do you engage in cooperation at this stage of your work and career? 

ZS: I am almost always open for work, except when I’m busy with another project and of course only if it is impossible to work on both at the same time, which does happen and it is not a problem, not for me at least. I love to work, the more the merrier. I usually fund my work from a previous project to the next. Sometimes there is a lot of work, sometimes there isn’t. Financially it’s all the same, but in non monetary terms you do get richer with every new project. With that said you can see that not I choose the roles that I play, but are chosen for me. As an actor I respect the director’s choice even if I disagree. He/she/they/them too has time to change their mind during the process. A change of role during practice has happened many times before. Always in an upward motion if I might add, for which I’m proud and thankful for the responsibility and trust. If you think differently you can always show it while working, strive for it and in the end get it. A particular role I mean. Everything is possible. It is important to be open and positive for every new project. It demands it.
And to be honest I do not think that have the luxury to choose which roles to accept or not. And even if I did I don’t think I would. 

IAB: For a long time you were a significant part of the performances of the Intimen Teatar, the Small Drama Theater in Bitola, and now you act on both – the national stage and the independent scene. Could you share a comparative personal overview of the characteristic features – of the choice of plays – the choice of texts – the approach of the directors – the life of the theatre projects  after the premiere – between all this phases in your work, and the institutions, management mentality – and  compare your feelings and experiences from today`s personal point of view?  

Photo Credit: Vesna Briskoska Apostolova

ZS: When I started my career, after finishing my acting studies in 2008 it was hard for me a little, especially because I finished my studies abroad in Bulgaria and now I was back home, with little to none friends in the field. For many years before, I was very close with the theatre even in my high school days. I was part of an amateur group, working there in the theatre and in the Centre for culture and I’ve even participated in professional theatre performances ones with all the professional actors on stage when I was no more than sixteen years old. But people forget quickly especially when you’re not around to remind them. So my first professional theatre performance was Zoo Story in 2007-08 and it was at the theatre on the newly formed experimental stage. Afterwards I began working with a citizen’s organization for theater- Small Drama Theater. That’s when I did my first solo performance, in 2010. Afterwards many other theatre projects came to be. I think that till now I have mostly collaborated with Small Drama Theatre. I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the name of the person who managed SDT, Blagoj Stefanovski who passed away several years ago. Because he was the only one that was in search of new talented people for many different productions and co productions with a lot of national, institutionalized and independent theatres around Europe. For 5 years in a row Small Drama Theatre was the best theatre with many successful productions and many awards, some of mine included. Even though it had no base of operations or a stage, maybe just an office and an accountant it was one of the main things that helped my career up on two feet. Later it was Intimate Theater, other theaters in the country in different cities, especially in Vojdan Chernodrinski Theater in Prilep. I had and still have many projects there in collaboration with a director and a good friend of mine Martin Kocovski and all my dear colleges there. All in all it was a turbulent time full with theatre and excitement for a while, with many festivals and traveling on regular bases. Not that now it is not so, but it is a little bit calmer than it was before. Or maybe we were younger and wilder then. Who knows? Maybe we’re not as wild now in life as we still are on stage.

IAB: So far, which of the theater directors (foreign guests and domestic directors) has been a special challenge for your acting work – who brought out something new and different from you – your actor`s body-entity, that even surprised you?

ZS: Any new person that I work with contributes to the whole of my experience. Good or bad matters not, you can learn from both. No one can challenge you if you don’t challenge yourself. One task can be easy or hard, you chose. The difference is to know when, what and how to apply in order to answer the challenge correctly. Most directors do not mind the actor much especially in big shows with many actors. They build and look at the big picture. It is on you then to find your place, perfectly balanced in order to be the best representation needed. You can be better or worse but both would be wrong if you are not accurate. And that is really hard. 

IAB: In these current times of constant wars, inexhaustible corruption and global crimes, in your opinion, what role and solutions do art and theater, have? What do you predict for the role of theatre in this world?

ZS: I don’t know. But theatre has long branches and even longer roots. It is not a tree that will fall any time soon if at all. It is a group effort and a group experience. Both groups have equally responsible task to stay on the ground and fly at the same time. Even though trees do not move, they sure live through and see a lot. If it grows it’ll see even more. And I cannot predict what that will be, only that I will be a part of it as much and long as I can.

IAB:  Year 2024 is upon us – what projects will you be working on in the next theater season, and what you expect from yourself as human and artist?

ZS: I never know what lies in the future. I do not have many projects lined up for next year, but I’m sure there will be some, at least two or three theatre projects during the year. One project I know I’ll be participating in is the V4 Improv Connect (Empowering cross-border collaboration and growth) project with several tours in different countries in Europe. Everything else on my schedule is clear, except the evening shows that I play regularly in my hometown theatre and theatres in neighboring cities. All I can expect is to be alive and healthy In order to support every old and embrace any possible new projects. As you know an actor’s instrument is his body. So I’ll stay tuned and toned for everything and anything.  Thank You.  

Thank you Zdravko Stojmirov. 

(Skopje/Bitola 2023)

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.

This post was written by Ivanka Apostolova Baskar.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

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