Undelivered SPEECH for the occasion of the anniversary conference of the Estonian Association of Performing Arts Institutions organised by the Estonian Theatre Agency.
The invitation for today’s event included the said term. Almost at once I felt a sense of opposition, this is not for me - ugh, imagine, some event organised by the Estonian Theatre Agency. Moreover, even the name Estonian Theatre Agency in Estonian includes two words with a repulsive connotation for me - asutus (institution) and liit (union). As the majority of the kind fellows present here today move in one direction I only occasionally happen to criss-cross your path in a rabbit-like manner. I’m walking down another road, and my fellows are someplace else. Or more precisely, I cross paths that at any given moment seem right or best for myself. For me there’s no single path to go down, there’s so much more out there I don’t want to miss out on by having to make choices.
Yes, I have been a freelancer my whole life, but at the same time I have worked at Kanuti Gildi SAAL, Independent Dance Union, Von Krahl Theatre, Rakvere Theatre, Russian Theatre, Vat Theatre, Drama School of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, Viljandi Culture Academy, also, I’ve paid my own wages through OMAtsirkus. Today my aim is not to contradict the institution and the freelancer for they are not opposites. They’re both a term in their own category, therefore, I would rather try to understand the individual choices for becoming a freelancer or a paid worker. Or rather, in a loud voice, justify my own.
I can hear you thinking, yes, but a freelancer is also an institution. In some sense, yes, but let us then define an institution. Today I will not talk about the essentials - public financing and cultural policy, debates regarding which types of artists would be more manageable, what would be easier for the state, which part should be left to self-induce and which to anarchy, how to deal with the uncontrollable and unpredictable etc - this is not a today’s topic.
For me an institution equals a collective establishment, or in other words, an institution created upon and in harmony of number of ideas and wishes. An institution carries collectively established or ground beliefs and behavioural patterns. Rules and procedures serving the interest of an institution have been established. In short, we are dealing with a sum of ideas, feelings and beliefs, whereas an institution exercises itself through the individuals belonging to that institution. There are numerous individual dreams, even more individual initiatives, but nevertheless, an institution can only exercise itself through an individual and never the other way around. In the best case scenario an individual may succeed in getting something useful out of it.
The freelancer is free! - this being a rather empty slogan. An employee can be free and at the same time the employer might not be able to find their personal liberty within the organisation.
According to John Locke, liberty can be positive or negative. Negative liberty is primarily concerned with freedom from external restraint and positive liberty is primarily concerned with freedom from internal constraints - available for something. For me this is the question of time. For the positive liberty I’m facing the future, I have the ability to influence something, I have TIME (e.g. see someone else’s work, be here today)... instead of having to accept the reality where I am free of something - e.g. an institution. Lock argues that total liberty leads to anarchy. I do realise that positive liberty holds some negatives, we could keep establishing new organisations and institutions and entities installing more authority, rules and practices. After all, strength lies in unity. What exactly is achieved by such unity is often blurred. This is why each morning I ask myself, what is it I want to achieve today. I make my choices based on my surroundings, myself, and my feelings on what I am capable of achieving that particular day. You can't beat the feeling. The only thing at risk here, is myself.
The question remains - am I really in command of myself - my feelings and beliefs. For me freelancing today means not having to enforce or establish anything.
This is not a war against institutions, but against the self. As soon as I can claim I’ve figured it out, discovered it, nailed it or gathered a following and some fans, I, as a modern artist am obliged to break, destroy, forsake and annul the very image of myself.
The present only exists when it is striving for non-existence.
This is the risk I have assumed. It is up to me to immerse myself in the reality that does not exist, forsake the responsibility and take on the risk of existence and being. I want to do things I have yet to learn about, create things I cannot even dream of. By accident I might succeed in some, mostly I fail, but only the afore can give birth to something previously unknown and unfelt.
Naturally, a freelancer is also at the service of their beliefs and ideas but the latter are not collectively established. This is my personal choice taken at a specific point in time and it reflects my own character and belief system. I’ve always been afraid of public gatherings, the church - when the congregation rises to sing a song from the songbook, the context and contents of which remain unknown to the majority of those singing.
I’ve never been to a Song Festival event.
I like different people, I like to collaborate, but I need to know what I or we are doing. I want to create the contents or at least be a part of the creation process and not reproduce the already existing in a different form or format.
Later in the evening we will gather at the club for the theatre lovers, informs the invitation. I’m sorry, I’ll skip this. I’m not loyal, I’ll be somewhere around town instead. I’m not the smartest, but I’m not into your version of the truth either. By declaring my truth I am also lying. As a freelancer I can lie on purpose or because I don't know any better and the only one to enforce or renounce those lies is myself.
Kaja Kann 10 January 2016
Fidelity and adultery
In fact, the debate took place between Henrik Toompere Jr, a veteran of the state theatre, Hardo Ran Varres, a freelancer having previously dedicated half of his career to the state theatre and myself. The debate was moderated by Priit Raud, chairman of the Estonian Association of Performing Arts Institutions.
In the beginning of the debate I hid in the corner next to Ivar Põllu, who was a convenient resource when I needed background information on the names and statuses of the unfamiliar faces in the audience.
• who's this?
• the current director of the Viljandi theatre.
• oh, nice we have a woman in the room.
• there’s an actor here for the debate, look, he used to play Tõnisson in Kevade?
• he’s the chairman of the Estonian Theatre Union.
• oops, we met outside while having a cigarette with Priit, Hillar Sein (former theatre adviser at the Ministry of Culture of Estonia) was also there, he looked through me, as if I were not there. He shook hands with the guys but ignored me.
• but, who’s that guy?
• oh, I know this guy, I’ve collaborated with him before.
• look at you, so you were also allowed in?
• oh, how many times have I hung from the rope and performed striptease in that building?
• as a freelancer and at night of course?
• yes, yeah, at some sort of a corporate event.
The jokes ended when Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise took the floor. She delivered a wonderful speech, I hope it will be published somewhere soon. Then it was our turn, the microphones were attached and we took a seat at the table. Priit asked politely who would like to start and Toompere offered that the ladies should go first, I refused and suggested that the dignitaries should start instead.
As Toompere elaborated his positions, my hands were trembling, my feet were trembling, I was reminded of the first time me and Juha Valkeapää performed a gig to musicians and sound artists. I had ventured onto their territory, not knowing a single major nor how to produce a single identifiable chord. I stumbled through the introductory round, I did not look at the audience. Luckily I had something to lean on - my public image. The way I looked to be exact. Thanks to Alissa Šnaider I was wearing a silk blouse of the right shade of blue, skinny, but elegant dark blue jeans, a modest black sweater, a nifty lilac rimmed necklace and most importantly - glasses. I tried to spot faces in the audience, but being that they were reading glasses, it did’t work. Well, then I just pretended I could see everyone - a good old theatre trick.
Hardo Ran Varres was sweet, appreciative and sympathetic, but clearly a romantic who’s made up his mind. He explained that the state theatre is a vessel which has one crew and is heading in one direction. This vessel cannot be shaken by a single artist. He doesn’t envy those responsible for keeping the course, but he just wants to focus on his creative process.
Toompere gets his creative satisfaction from working at the theatre, he likes the sense of security. When he was younger and unmarried there was no responsibility for the family and kids, warm food on the table, the apartment and mortgage. For him it would be weird to have to think about which apartment he will live at in two months. He thinks that a life of a regular human, being besides being an artist, is just as important. He sometimes leaves his permanent home (Estonian Drama Theatre), but mostly sticks to his secure surroundings.
Well, what could I do, I didn’t open my previously prepared speech as I had to start commenting right away. I am 42 years old, not young by any means, I’ve been married, I own 5 houses, I’ve got a grown-up kid and I’ve never taken a bank loan. I was so nervous I forgot to add that I’ve only got one life and regard artistic creativity an integral part of life, not a separate entity. Only later I noticed the beautiful pun, whereas Toompere keeps up the adultery, returning to recuperate in the safe environment, I have chosen to remain single. The current Minister of Culture once said to me, whoever needs the truth, really - I was shocked. Through life I’ve come to realise that many people don’t, the truth may cause much instability, but I personally need it. I don’t want to be in a secure marriage to occasionally have an exciting affair, I’m much too straightforward and honest for that -especially towards myself.
Another statement from Toompere - freelance companies organise international showings and that’s a huge deal. He’d done his solo piece to satisfy his passion for travelling. Is this another justification for the so called legitimate affair? Here, let me refer to my previously prepared speech and a point about negative and positive liberty. The aim is not being free from an organisation, but being free from constraints and open to something. I will myself to be free - grit teeth, so something may come of it. I stay true to my liberty and freedom, therefore if my work can be regarded as adultery, then I have established the double crossing as the only possible way of life and will stick to it. I pledge my allegiance to faithlessness
In conclusion, we agreed in unison that a freelancer must have have capital and take responsibility. Toompere added that the freelancers who are open and react swiftly to events in society are an essential addition to conventional theatre, however, this kind of life is not easy. To conclude, I agreed, it must be really hard on them too.
That evening I spent at the warm halls of Tallinn City Theatre, I spoke to ministers, directors of theatres, critics, theorists and managers, at expense of the state I drank wine and had a good time. And I realised yet another thing - namely, that humility mixed with stupidity must be the worst combination. I imagine this is how the actors and actresses at the state theatre, who go for the double cross as freelancers only to return for the winter’s cold, must feel.
Kaja Kann 15 January 2016
Kaja Kann @ 01/12/2016