Date: 1. April 2020
Time to read: 5 min
Like most people in Slovenia, Matjaž Pograjc is living in isolation these days, but is intensely involved in new projects. He is the director and founder of the Betontanc Theater, in-house director of the Mladinsko Theatre (Slovensko mladinsko gledališče), winner of the Prešeren Foundation award, former footballer and computer science student who left his computer behind to become a theatre director. He is also a sports enthusiast and nature lover. Because, as he says himself, the theatre is nevertheless not the centre of his world.
Matjaž and I first met a few years ago. I remember sitting enjoying a beer in one of the pubs in Šiška, which is both his and my favourite district of Ljubljana. Even before I asked him the first question, he had asked me five. It was definitely an interesting meeting.
I was surprised by his appearance. It was not artistic at all, but reminded me of a worker who had just finished an electrical installation job and was on his way to the next one. So it didn't surprise me when he confided to me that he was a very physical type of person.
"My theatre career started with my rolling about on a concrete floor. And even now, the first thing that I notice in a person is the way they walk. Only then do I start listening to him. I can immediately see if they have ever handled a piece of wood. Or whether they have ever driven a nail into wood or replaced a lightbulb. Is this someone who works with their hands or their head? I prefer those that possess both qualities. Through your head into your hands and vice versa."
After that meeting, our paths crossed several times on different occasions. Matjaž is a man of many interests and talents and is curious by nature. He is convinced that he would also be good at other things if he chose to take them up. Perhaps his will, curiosity and determination to produce excellent results play an important role in this.
Audiences were impressed by the performance "Pavla nad prepadom" (Pavla Above the Precipice), which focused on the legendary Slovenian mountaineer Pavla Jesih, and the performance "Rokova modrina" (Rok's Depth), featuring the story about the tragically deceased ski hero Rok Petrovič. Matjaž staged the performance "Človeški faktor" (Human Error), based on the movie Fargo, involving the spectators in the performance as victims of the plane crash, the performance "Slovenska popevka" (Slovenian Songs), which featured people with special needs as actors, and two children's performances, "V 80 dneh okoli sveta" (Around the World in Eighty Days) and "Ariol" (Ariol). Recently, his adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, "Dial M for Macbeth", came to life on the stage of the Mladinsko Theatre.
His performances are loved by audiences and are mostly sold out. I admit that I am fond of them, too, and that I rarely miss one. Nevertheless, sometimes the audience's enthusiasm is not shared by critics.
"I'm not concerned with the critical reviews of our performances, which are mostly sharp and aggressively negative, unlike our spectators who are for the most part very satisfied with them. That's why critics have called me a pop artist many times. For my part, I call it market potential."
Matjaž Pograjc has developed a unique style of performance. Because his world is fast-paced and his thoughts are moving at an extraordinary speed, his performances are also fast-paced and require a lot of movement skills from the actors. Matjaž is convinced that it is not necessary to shout and undress on stage, but that sometimes it is instead wise to remain silent. He also believes that we need to return to ourselves, which is even more important in these times.
"When we were setting up the performance "Pavla nad prepadom", we took climbing lessons. When we were doing "Rokova modrina", we practiced skiing, diving and yoga. When we were preparing a performance on cooking, we enrolled in a cooking class. We have to have an experience of all the things that we do in our performances. You can't play a miner if you didn't cough up any mining dust in the morning."
Matjaž spent some time focusing on sports topics, but he always finds a new path to embark on to keep himself from getting bored. Now he devotes his time in isolation to the preparations for a new performance entitled "23.59", which he is setting up in cooperation with the journalist Boštjan Videmšek, and in which they seek and explore positive examples of electrification and harnessing the wind, water and the sun, to save humanity and the collapsing world in these strange times.
Who is Matjaž Pograjc?
He was born in 1967. At the age of 18, he turned his back on his promising football career with Olympia Ljubljana football club and started putting pen to paper. Because he fell in love, he began writing poetry, abandoning both football and the study of computer science, and took up the study of theatre direction at the AGRFT (Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television).
He founded the Betontanc theatre, where, in his words, they preferred to roll about on concrete rather than chatter. In 1990, he staged the first performance "Pesniki brez žepov" (Poets Without Pockets), which was a great success. Later, the Betontanc theatre also toured many festivals around the world. In 1994, Matjaž Pograjc began working at the Mladinsko Theatre, where he is still the "in-house" director. His performances have so far been staged in 500 cities, 50 countries and on five continents.
As he says for himself, theatre likes him better than he likes the theatre. In fact, he is not burdened with the theatre, as he has so many other interests and talents.
"I don't see myself as an artist, more as a manual worker. I go to a workplace called the theatre."
He could also be a good cook or gardener, or live the life dedicated to one of his other talents. He has almost too many ideas and says he needs to be stopped occasionally. He is fast and hyperactive and his performances are ahead of his time.
It is better to excel in your profession than to be a celebrity, he says. He never wanted to be pretentious in his life. "I'm happy with what I've done and what I'm still going to do and I don't need confirmation from anyone as to whether my work is good or bad. I know for myself what was good or bad. I used to say that I don't go to other people's performances, let alone my own, but now I say that I watch everything I can, even my own performances, so that I can finally recognise who I am and what path I want to pursue."
He is fond of women's company and is convinced that women lead the world and are also the only ones who can change it, as they have a focused view of life. Sports are still his passion and he enjoys climbing, cross-country skiing and freediving. The smell of grass still fills him with a special feeling, although today it is mostly artificial and he rarely plays football now. Although he is still adept at football, saying that you never forget that feeling.
He loves running, especially long distances. The feeling of nirvana emptying his mind of all thoughts that engulfs him after running a few miles is fascinating to him. He always runs for his own pleasure only.
Life is the best revenge, he says. In the end, after you have counted all your friends, you find that they match the number of your fingers on one hand. "How to live and how to be happy without treading on too many people or killing too many animals, and to be kind to nature ... that's what's important to me. It's how to be yourself."