The much anticipated 11th International Arts Festival (FIA) kicks off today, with events scheduled in San José, Alajuela, northwest of the capital, and the central Pacific port city of Puntarenas.
Running through April 20, the festival will showcase the best of Costa Rican theater, poetry, music and visual arts, alongside 70 international artists from 20 countries around the world.
Ahead of the official inauguration, The Tico Times caught up with Frankfurt-born Tom Zabel, who will be performing in the festival as part of the street theater group Du & Nichts (You & Nothing), along with Austrians Joseffo Olivero and Franz Unger, and as the solo puppeteer act Tom and Ferry.
The 51-year-old performer studied fine arts in Vienna and now lives in Innsbruck.
He is divorced with two adult children.
The Tico Times spoke with Zabel about performance art and his impressions of the FIA. Excerpts:
TT: How did Du & Nichts begin?
TZ: We were founded in 1997. We are three men and we come from three different theater forms. We all worked in street theater, but one is trained as more of a clown, one comes from pantomime and I am a puppeteer, having also studied fine arts, so each of the three of us gave something to this project.
All three of us had been professionals for something like 10 years when we started the group, and had been invited to make a project for a festival. So we just said to each other, “What can we do together?”
Where does the name come from?
We are not sure who created the name; each of us claims it was him.We just liked it, even if it is very strange.
However, for us the name is now like our philosophy. “You” takes the place of the audience.
For our work the audience is very important, but we always look to play with it because we are not normal actors on a stage; we work in the street or wherever.
As for the “Nothing,” in the beginning when we made offers and were applying to festivals, we always wrote some nice philosophy (in the artistic statement) and we played a lot with the word.
Lastly, when we started, we said we would not use any props. We tried to work with “Nothing,” but this proved a limitation.
How did you first hear about the FIA?
I have friends in Costa Rica, so I had visited the country and I saw this festival two years ago. Last year I was invited to the national festival and came to do my puppet show – they took me as an exception. It was in San Carlos (in north-central Costa Rica), and was my first experience with a Latin American audience. I liked it very much, it was just beautiful, and so I asked my colleagues if they would like to come.We made an offer, got an invitation and then the Austrian government agreed to help with costs.
How does performing in Costa Rica and Latin America differ from performing in Europe?
Two years ago, I took part in a workshop in
theater. I was curious about how they work, and I could see that they are connected to international theater but have their own methods, based on Indian rituals and the native peoples. That influence was very strong, so I think street theater has a deeper history in Latin America.
In addition, it is not like in Europe, where it is very difficult to make people say, “Wow, I have never seen anything like this.”
What does your show involve and how do you hope the audience will react?
We have two different presentations. One is a so-called “walking act” where we are only walking and we do not do scenes. We are just walking and freeze when we feel the moment is right. The other is the walking with stories involved.
I do not know if it is too arrogant to say, but we always hope that something stays behind with the audience. There has to be something that you don’t get immediately, that stays for longer … We want to be very simple, very symbolic, and not give away too many answers; we are more interested in posing questions.We think the show should appeal to everyone.
What is your impression of the FIA?
I think it is a beautiful idea to show all kinds of culture in one festival. It is very open, and it is for the people. The audience does not have to pay, they can decide how long they want to stay and when they want to leave. I would say that it has a special focus on the national scene and Latin America, but there are also groups and artists from other countries and there is the possibility of a dialogue.
I really think it is a good festival. They have a good program, a very good program, and you can see the quality.
Can you tell us a little about Tom and Ferry?
It is a puppet show that is more for children but has developed over 25 years. It is nice to be able to go more and more deeply into something like that.
It will be interesting to perform both solo and as a group on one day. I do not normally mix the two – this is an exception.
What is next for Du & Nichts?
Next week we will be in Belgrade, Serbia.
The Austrian Embassy invited us. It is a project by the European embassies whereby every country invites one street theater group. The region has a lot of political problems at the moment, and, through culture, they want to show different ways of living and reacting to the political situation.
Du & Nichts will be performing its walking act in La Sabana Park April 11, 12 and 13 at 4 p.m. Its main show, “River of Time,” is scheduled for April 11 at 6 p.m., April 12 at 7 p.m. and April 13 at 2 p.m. Zabel will perform his solo show, Tom and Ferry, April 11 and 12 at 11 a.m., April 13 at 6 p.m. and April 14 at 5 p.m.
Du & Nichts will be conducting three workshops April 12, 13 and 14, from 9 a.m. to noon, on mime, clowning and performance art, respectively.
For a full festival schedule, see the Calendar pages, or visit www.festivaldelasartescostarica.com for more information.