The group’s name – Metheor – has a triple dimension, three layers of meaning.
First, the obvious, direct, explicit dimension of the name: the meteor phenomenon. The Ancient Greek μετέωρος (from μετά, “amidst, between, among”, and ἀείρω, aeirô, “to raise, lift up”) means “high up, in the air”, “raising” or “rising”, “lofty”, as well as “to be exalted, excited, aroused”. Μετέωρος describes any celestial phenomenon, including the celestial bodies.
Of course, the brilliant, ephemeral body of the meteor – of the shooting star – was the leading metaphorical dimension of the name for us. In our early days as a group, we thought it accurately described our task – to illuminate the darkness around us, leaving a momentary trail – or even to burn up without a trail:
As the group’s name suggests, Metheor’s harbinger is the brilliant, ephemeral body of the meteor: unforeseen, unforeseeable, perhaps obscure and even ominous, but a miraculous body nonetheless. A body that may strike the earth, but that will most likely burn up in the sky, leaving behind nothing but a beautiful trail.
The second dimension of the name Metheor was and remains hidden. It has a somewhat playful dimension, but it is linked to Metheor’s idea of a strong theatre, a theatre that stands up for its thousands-year-old idea and mission – not in its rigid forms but in its polymorphous multiplicity and potentiality, instead of blurring and diluting it into formlessness and irrelevance.
The third dimension of the name Metheor is “esoteric” – it contains a hidden meaning which explains the enigmatic “h” added in the group’s name in the Latin script: Metheor. This apparent misspelling actually suggests an alternative reading of the Greek word μετέωρος, introducing the word θεωρός, theorós, “spectator” (related to θεωρίᾶ, theoria, “viewing, pleasure of viewing, spectacle, performance; contemplation”), but also meaning an envoy sent to consult an oracle – one who goes to receive a sign.
Metheor’s experience was a response to and expression of the desire to create and exist “out in the open” – to experiment with forms of creativity and forms of existence. By “to experiment” I don’t mean “experimenting” in the sense of “experimental art”, now rendered banal by conventional usage (as if the attribute “experimental” in itself could valorize the object it refers to), but in its strong etymological dimension – an etymological dimension that makes the word “experiment” cognate with the word “experience” as well as with the word “existence”. And last but not least, with the word “pirate”. And so, the Metheor–experience was and is an experimental experience. A desire to experience, to test, to experiment, to embark on adventures, to roam the limits of the known and beyond them.
Firstly – experimenting with creative forms and ideology.
Metheor opened up and named a space for free experimentation, unrestricted by institutional frameworks and conventions, with forms of creative work – forms that are discussed below. But also with forms of knowledge production and processing, of seeking alternative forms of knowledge and transforming knowledge into creative practice; ultimately, of transmitting/teaching knowledge and models of knowledge.
Secondly – experimenting with another type of community.
What was at stake for Metheor was not just “cultivating an audience” but opening up the possibility of community: not a passive community of followers or fans, but an active community of like-minded people. The nature and modalities of our work, the questions, the aesthetic forms we were offering to share, had to be able to offer a basis for like-mindedness, for creative and friendly sharing, and ultimately for momentary sharing of images of world and life. Perhaps a like-mindedness with unknown friends, far away from us, in another time and space; “a people to come”, in Deleuze’s words; but also a possible future community here, among us, with us.
Forms of Life
The problem of community was key in this era. Of course, it had a hidden, probably utopian (micro-)political horizon. Community beyond the boundaries of institutions, community beyond institutions, but also an attempt to create alternative institutions. An attempt to challenge the established dominant structures as well as the pseudo-alternative ones. We were joined in this attempt by close friends and kindred spirits, university colleagues, students, artists, musicians, but also by complete strangers from different generations. Thus, this period saw the gradual creation of Metheor’s community of friends which, we are happy to say, exists to this day and is continuing to grow – a community of known and unknown like-minded people with whom we share more than the usual.
This experiment, this form of research and creativity, was also linked to a particular ethos of work, of research discipline: shared and wholehearted labour has always been the starting point of this sharing. This labour was based on an economy of friendship and generosity.
Questions, Problems, Tasks
Our shared work was also work on a certain range of questions that may be called philosophical, but which were immanent to the creative matter and form we were obsessed with; questions that obsessed us.
In the first place, this was and remains the question of desire. If desire – freedom – is at the heart of the creative experience, why does theatre always include it into the machinery of conflict that inevitably reworks it into impossibility, or tames it? What does it mean to desire without limit – to desire freedom without limit? Isn’t this utopian experiment, the experiment at a “general economy”, as Bataille puts it, an economy without accumulation of goods, the reason for the truly tragic experience – that is, for reaching the point of absolute catastrophe, absolute in the sense that it is not the result of counteraction and conflict, but of a force (striving, desire, technique, virtuosity, passion, love, life) taken to extremes? This is the question of Phaeton and Total Damage; it is also, in a sense, the problem of A Play for You and Maldoror, of Frankenstein and The Virtuoso of Life, of Lovecraft and Hijikata.
These questions – we may call them philosophical, or simply questions of existence – the questions of desire, necessity, freedom – were expanded and explored from various perspectives inspired by the obsessions shared with Ani and Leo. Hence the different experimental responses to this initial question – working with the idea of infantile pleasure that knows no limit (S, Total Damage), developing the idea and practice of counter-techniques that progressively took shape from Metheor’s very first performance onwards, especially after Leo’s inclusion and the formation of the Leo-Petar tandem (angels of technique from A Dying Play), expanded once again with Galya’s inclusion (the third version of A Dying Play), and culminating in the Leo-Galya tandem in Total Damage and the large casts of the later productions, Roadtrip to Hell and A Play About Us, as well as in the solo performances of Leo (A Play for You, with an appearance by Alexander Uzunov, Maldoror, Hijikata, the Samurai of the North) and Galya (The Alleater, with an appearance by Nino).
Theory and Practice
What theory are we talking about? First of all, about the investigation of the relevant materials, problem field, questions that we face, that are posed, that are not necessarily formulated explicitly in the text but that work through the text with the creative matter. Then, of course, about the work of selecting, reworking, developing, transforming the initial material.
The attitude described above towards Metheor’s creative and research process also informed our belief that theory is but a kind of practice that is equal in standing to “artistic practice”. It is no coincidence that the conceptual turn in the arts half a century ago identified theory as a practice that is equipollent to material artistic practice, erasing, as it were, the Kantian opposition between intuition and concept. We were not trying to create a contrived, artificially conceptual theatre, but to presuppose the equality of ideas and material plastic form. This preliminary work morphed naturally into experimentation with staging, whose phases and dimensions are described by Ani in her texts for the individual performances.
Working with Text
Every single project of Metheor – be it theatrical, visual or theoretical – has always involved long and thorough investigation of texts, archives, visual materials.
The critique of the dramatic conflict that is invariably accompanied by the desire to work with images and text has necessarily led Ani and all of us to work with “prose” texts, be they narrative or not: Dostoevsky, Lautréamont, Lovecraft, Hoffmann, Mary Shelley, our own specially written texts, or early texts by Ani and fragments from my youth archives.
Techniques and Counter-Techniques. Theatre Oratorio and Musical Rhythm
Our work with form, involving a physicalization of language and vice versa, a transformation of the body that almost turns it into a linguistic structure, was a radicalization of Artaud’s line, an attempt to complicate it and to create a truly new theatrical language, and hence, a new theatrical form. At the same time, our work with the voice, with music beyond language, with rhythmic structures, was driven by our interest in a “strong” idea of theatre and its relationship to music.
Working with musical form as a form combining necessity and freedom, the extremely structured, composed nature of each work provided exceptional possibilities for realizing Ani’s visions.
The line of the theatre oratorio, as I called it, emerged in Metheor’s very first performances, in the chorus in The Eye, then in Sick, where Ani worked purposefully on the musical structure in collaboration with composer Asen Avramov, and was developed in the choruses of A Dying Play, Frankenstein and Phaeton, reaching its culmination in the polyphonic choruses of A Play About Us.
Each project of Metheor sought to invent a unique form based on experimental work with text and productive critical investigation of theatrical techniques. Metheor’s projects were defined by us and by the few insightful interpreters of our work as “theatre of disorganization”, “inhuman theatre” and “theatre oratorio”, and were based on a strong idea of theatre. This was also the reason for Ani’s resistance to defining our theatre as performance art, a concept she has subjected to an extensive genealogical analysis in her two voluminous monographs.
Metheor’s theatre projects are works of art. They are not theatre productions in the conventional sense – an application of material, an interpretation of a play – a pre-existing theatrical text; nor are they performance art in the sense of a one-off and ephemeral artistic action. Metheor’s theatre is undoubtedly connected to the line of thinking, developed by Antonin Artaud and his followers, of the theatrical spectacle as an autonomous work of art – a work that has all the characteristics of a work of the arts that are not defined as “performing” arts: it forms a singular art form, producing both its raison d’être and its elements; it is not founded on the idea of applying, of staging, but of becoming, of creating.
For this reason, the directorial work on Metheor’s theatre projects is creative work: the director is the author of the project, the creator of a new, autonomous work, including of its textual basis if there is one; for the same reason, the entire team of Metheor becomes the co-author, along with the director, of the theatrical work – as a collective authorial or creative body, as a collective creative subject.
That Is Why
We believe that the power of thought needs courage and defiance as well as a will to form: a will to experiment with forms unconstrained by dominant symbolic orders; a will to make the world a miraculous place, an adventurous quest for freedom. As the group’s name suggests, Metheor’s harbinger is the brilliant, ephemeral body of the meteor: unforeseen, unforeseeable, perhaps obscure and even ominous, but a miraculous body nonetheless. A body that may strike the earth, but that will most likely burn up in the sky, leaving behind nothing but a beautiful trail. We are beyond the sublime apocalyptic imagination; we do not aim at the global shock value of the ultimate catastrophe. Yet we do imagine colours from outer space, unseen territories and unimaginable forms that may burst forth from its sudden blaze.
Whenever we’ve had to define Metheor in some way, we’ve found ourselves in a quandary. Metheor isn’t a theatre company, group, circle, or organization. Metheor is an association, but that word indicates solely Metheor’s legal status as an organization; Metheor’s essence is not determined by its ability to perform particular administrative activities, but by the thought and desire that drive it. The difficulty of defining Metheor’s structure is symptomatic, as Metheor doesn’t exist to serve a particular function. Metheor was born out of our excitement and desire. Both what Metheor does and how it does it can vary greatly, but its motivation is one and it is clear: to work with pleasure and inspiration.
Metheor’s beginnings were laid in 2008, when Boyan Manchev and I met creatively in a conceptual, dramaturgical and philosophical collaboration on the performances The Eye and A Dying Play. In 2010, during the rehearsal process of A Dying Play, we also met Leonid Yovchev, who became the third core member of Metheor. In addition to the three of us, over the years a number of authors, actors, artists, musicians, and thinkers have been a significant part of Metheor’s working process.
The name Metheor itself appeared years after the beginning of our collaboration. In addition to being an anecdotal anagram, it contains two semantic cores that are fundamental to our conceptual and ideological fellowship. One is ta meteora – the celestial phenomena, the things that are not on earth. The second is evident in the Latin spelling, the added h in meteoros – metheoros – the Greek thea – the common root of “theatre” and “theory” that is related to sight and contemplation.
One of the main motives for the creation of Metheor was to open up a space for creativity aligned solely to the requirements of the work, be it theatre, text, publication, video, or something else. And Metheor has absolutely achieved this goal.
Metheor has its own audience. Not in the sense that it has a particular kind of audience, but in the sense that Metheor’s audience is growing. One of the reasons why our audience is growing rather than shrinking is that we don’t believe either in “popular”, “commercial” theatre or in “elitist” theatre. We believe that life is full of miracles, that it is complicated and requires a lot of thought and desire as well as that such in-depth work is not the preserve of any elite – social, economic, “intellectual” or whatever. Big and important issues can be talked about, including in theatre, in a way that is accessible to and impactful for anyone who desires it. And this belief – that the audience should not be underestimated, that it should be an equal partner in the game of theatre – is key to all our theatrical work. Our theatre cultivates an audience of its own without any specific professional, age, or other profile. Our audience includes artists, writers, teachers, but also people whose occupations have nothing to do with the arts, university students, pensioners, people with and without higher education. We believe that this diversity is also due to our desire – we do theatre not for a certain “type” of people, but for people who are passionate about the same things as us. And there are such people everywhere.
Theatre isn’t the only thing Metheor does, but Metheor’s theatre is the only one of its kind. Our theatre is a theatre of miracles. A theatre of inexhaustible possibilities. A theatre of conscious choice – we choose the impossible. And we do it. We discover possibility in its purest and most exciting form, where form refuses to be fixed, to die. This is a theatre of the miracle, of the cloud, of metamorphosis. A theatre where the impossible is possible.
Metheor’s theatre takes place where the heavenly bodies meet the gaze, where inhuman theatre begins, for, as Artaud says, theatre is “the Double not of this immediate, everyday reality which has been slowly truncated to a mere lifeless copy, as empty as it is saccharined, but another, deadlier archetypal reality in which Origins, like dolphins, quickly dive back into the gloom of the deep once they have shown their heads. For this reality is not human but inhuman” (Antonin Artaud, “Alchemist Theatre”, in The Theatre and Its Double, trans. Victor Corti, Richmond: Alma Classics Ltd, 2013, p. 34). The possibilities in this deadly archetypal reality are endless, as they have never reached their exhaustion point. Origins, beginnings, possibilities remain possibilities, they “show their heads” and dissolve again into the void, into the dark, into the invisible, without reaching the banality of realization. The possibility that remains a possibility is absolute possibility, possibility in pure form. Possibilities are inexhaustible because they forever remain unexhausted.
We believe in theatre and in Artaud. We believe that theatre is an art of potential beginnings with an unclear end, with a constantly active possibility of change whose main action is metamorphosis. The ability to capture mutability, to rely not on stability but on the metamorphic power of things links theatre to alchemy: “alchemy and theatre are virtual arts, so to speak, and do not contain  their object within them any more than they contain their reality. … [A]lchemy, through its signs, is like the mental Double of an act effective on the level of real matter alone” (ibid.). Theatre is Alchemy because it can produce the extraordinary from the ordinary, it is the furnace, the athanor in which the potential for transformation of matter – but also for transcending the existent – is extracted. In the athanor, origins, beginnings, possibilities rear their heads above the surface and the keen eye can see the whole miraculous body below the surface. Keeping the process in a state of constant change means keeping things in a constant state of incompletion, at the moment of their becoming.
We know that the theatre is a place of inexhaustible possibilities. In theatre, not only can many different things happen at the same time; different versions of the same act – including the impossible ones – can also take place. “Theater is the art of enacting only one of a range of virtual alternatives. It is a luxury unaffordable in ordinary life,” Richard Schechner claims. Theatre has and gives us the freedom to experience life not only as what it is but also as what it could be. The banal and oppressive laws of the everyday that follow us for most of our lives – that when you fall it hurts, that when you are stabbed in the heart with a sharp object you die, that excitement, ecstasy and happiness are rare phenomena, that actions must be guided by a productive and economic logic in order not to be disastrous – are suspended. We have the chance to experience life as fantastic and miraculous, as capable of anything.
“In life” the plasticity of reality can be nightmarish and the tension it generates is maddening. The constant awareness that just as you may be inspired, feel happy, immerse yourself in extraordinary moments, so too you may find yourself overwhelmed by the most frightening events, and your experience of reality may be reduced to fear and suffering, binds you to an unhappy, doomed picture of the world – you are rejoicing now but tomorrow you will be grieving, you are alive now but tomorrow you will be dead. In “real life” the fear of the unpredictable turn of events, of the tragedies lurking in the folds of time, can paralyze us – by some whim of chance, tomorrow we may lose a loved one or a limb, fall victim to brutal events, lose everything, security, peace of mind, happiness, and nothing can be done against this danger because life is unpredictable. We can only suppress and postpone the fear of the future.
In theatre, however, we can play out options, we can experience death without dying and loss that is not permanent. As well as happiness that is permanent. Theatre offers another version of reality and risk – theatre’s “make-believe” allows life to be fantasized in more audacious and exciting forms, in a danger that isn’t mired in the muddy skirts of the mundane, but that furrows the flesh of being with its waves, between which beginnings rear their heads like dolphins. Theatre enables us to swim freely in life and reality without falling victim to them. Theatre provides complete freedom so long as the possibility for it is recognized and desired. In theatre, possibilities have the chance to remain possibilities, to keep their potential, their horizon of expectation, their ability to take our breath away instead of dying in their realization and exhaustion. Theatre is a possibility of a world. Theatrical creativity does not only create things that didn’t exist before (like all creativity), it also creates entire closed, self-sufficient, fantastic ecosystems, as Schechner also notes: “By turning possibilities into action, into performances, whole worlds otherwise not lived are born.” Theatre is the art of actualized potentiality in the present tense. What’s more, of a potentiality that preserves its potential instead of expending it.
Theatre’s potential not only doesn’t die upon its realization, it also doesn’t ever rest upon a solid foundation. It is always in action, always leaping from one mode of existence to another. In theatre, another life is lived in real time and it proceeds at great speed, with great complexity and great ease at the same time. Playing with the different modes of reality, leaping from a high level of abstract thought to a specific materiality contains a potential for miracles. Theatre is founded upon the metamorphosis of the unreal into the real and vice versa, of the imagined into the material, of the actual into another actual.
The stage is a place where objects, images, sounds, words, people can undergo miraculous metamorphoses. Some things turn into other things. People become other people – at once “themselves”, someone else altogether, and a combination of the two. The space of the stage is plastic, unstable, changeable yet constant. “The cloud isn’t a changing form; the cloud is a persistent change,” Boyan Manchev writes in The New Athanor. Principles of Philosophical Fantastic. Such is also the matter of theatre – cloudy, at once changeable and persistent. What sustains it in its theatrical form is its ability to be in constant flux, to maintain metamorphosis not as a single event but as a flow – constancy in change.
On the stage, anything is possible. That is why we choose the impossible.
Metheor’s performances since 2008 have featured the actors Vyara Kolarova, Petar Genkov, Elena Dimitrova, Iva Sveshtarova, Ekaterina Stoyanova, Galya Kostadinova, Nino Tiberio Gomes, Denitsa Darinova, Alexander Uzunov, Yuliana Sayska, Valeri Georgiev, Emona Ilieva, Maria Panayotova, Martina Apostolova, Stefan Milkov, Georgi Dimitrov, Valentin Ganev, Svetlana Yancheva, Veselin Mezekliev, Greta Gicheva, Katrin Metodieva and Marcus Reinhardt; the students of acting Gordan Koev, Kalin Nikolaev, Lachezara Vasileva, Martin Dimov, Nikol Vasileva and Trayan Hristov; the voices, in the radio play Sick, of Valentin Ganev, Veselin Mezekliev, Zhoreta Nikolova, Ekaterina Stoyanova, Alexandra Vasileva, Asen Avramov, Daniela Manolova, Elena Dimitrova, Petar Genkov, Leonid Yovchev, Yavor Borisov, Delyan Iliev, Stiliyan Zhelyazkov, Srebrina Georgieva, Galya Kostadinova, Katerina Keremichieva and Maria Petkova, and in the performances A Dying Play, Lovecraft, Total Damage, Roadtrip to Hell and Hoffmann, of Valentin Ganev, Ekaterina Stoyanova, Leonid Yovchev, Galya Kostadinova, Boyan Manchev, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Karin Müller-Stefanov, Annett Hardegen, Dirk Cieslak, Ventzislava Dikova and Kristian Alexiev; the artists, set designers and apparatus makers Desislava Bankova, Aglika Terzieva, Georgi Sharov and Stefan Donchev; the composers and musicians Christophe Petchanatz / Klimperei, Angel Simitchiev, Asen Avramov, Yana Mancheva, Konstantin Markov, Kristian Alexiev, Data Transporter (Nino Tiberio Gomes), Lyubomir Brashnenkov and Georgi Sharov (Cats Under Cars).