Kafka's 'Hungry Artists' come to life

Two young actors have created their own Kafkaesque world of surreal senselessness, taking as their point of departure 'A Hungry Artist', a short story by 21st century Czech writer Franz Kafka.

Two young actors have created their own Kafkaesque world of surreal senselessness, taking as their point of departure 'A Hungry Artist', a short story by Czech writer Franz Kafka.

SBS Arts Reporter Michelle Hanna spoke to two of the show's actors and devisers, Emily Ayoub and Mine Cerci.

Franz Kafka's 'A Hungry Artist' was published in 1922 and tells the story of a professional 'hunger artist' who starves himself under the eyes of 'watchers', whose task it is to mock and torment him while tempting him to eat. Being a hunger artist was a profession in which public interest waned during Kafka's lifetime.

Actors Emily Ayoub and Mine Cerci have devised a performance about two 'watcher' characters from Kafka's story in their own show called 'A Hunger Suite'.

From the idea that the hunger artist is trapped, they have given their show a Kafkaesque twist in that the watchers are also in fact trapped in their watching of the hunger artist.

“We construct a whole show in the Kafka universe – some Kafka elements you could say,” explains visiting Turkish actor Cerci, who plays one of the watchers.

“We can't say that these were characters in the actual story. It was like little elements in the story that we got our inspiration from and developed, and we imagined the characters.”

“In a Kafkaesque world we needed to find the suffering and the struggle, because that is what his universe is about,” says Australian-Lebanese actor Ayoub .

“So we decided that they were trapped. One watcher is trapped on a scooter, or a bike, and that character wants to trap the other character, the butcher-character. And the hunger artist is trapped in his cage, but it's all out of choice, he traps himself because he wants that.”

“But also the watchers are mocking him, they are trapped by their own mockery,” explains Cerci.

“It is a really big experiment to see how you can put these two things together so that you can create a universe for the audience to see, a universe beyond that universe as well,” says Ayoub.

The two met while studying at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris where they learned the art of devising theatre.

To devise the work without a director, the actors create the work themselves by taking their starting point and improvising with different scenarios and situations.

“We have a very explosive working relationship and we put that down to our Middle Eastern heritage,” says Ayoub.

Cerci is in Australia from Istanbul to appear in the show and this is the first time the two actors will perform together since their student days.

'A Hunger Suite' is the third work by Ayoub's theatre company The Clockfire Theatre Company, which she set-up this year.

It's still in its early days, so much so that the actors and crew are not getting paid, which makes it not so hard for them to imagine the suffering of the hunger artist.

“We've really suffered and struggled through making this show and I think part of that is that is what you are trying to portray as well,” says Ayoub. “Who knows if it will help!”

“We are always pushing ourselves. You can't help it, I think, when you want to produce something original and interesting, even if it is not just a crowd pleaser but you want to say something, then you always have to search beyond the obvious a little bit,” Ayoub continues. “That was one of the goals, to show a totally new universe and I hope that's what people take away.”

A Hunger Suite opened last night and will be on in Sydney until 2 December with plans to take the show to Istanbul next year.

Source: SBS

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