“The State” is theatre without actors and without a director.
The performance is just the text, the audience as well as people’s basic conceptions of how to function in a society. The audience is seated in a circle round a table on which letters are placed in a box. Lights go out apart from a spot on the table. There are no instructions. People from the audience will have the freedom to read these letters or do something else with them creating thus their own small society, their own rules how to proceed with the situation and their own unique performance. The first several letters to be opened are designed in a way that, without any prompts, people will want to read them aloud and share with others, thus starting to perform actually. Part of the letters tell the story of the last conscious night of Plamen Goranov before the morning of 20 February 2013 when he burnt himself in front of the Municipal Council of Varna, Bulgaria, protesting for a better society. In reality, he did not leave any letters. This text is all fiction, but based on months of research on who Plamen really was.
The letters share intimate moments of the character’s last minutes on Earth but also open space for discussion about our basic rules, principles, values and – even the fundamentals of theatre. Such as acting or being present. Following the author or being the author. Theatre’s generally authoritative structure whereby some things are said or done on the stage, from somebody else, but the audience is rarely truly involved in the creation, is a process to be questioned. “The performance” as well as its value nowadays is also questioned. The state and the way we organize it is questioned and is there on display to be observed by the acting audience.
After Theatertreffen, Nachtkritik wrote that a connection between form and content “has rarely been better” than in “The State”. Tim Etchells put it this way: “The State takes us to one particular edge of the contemporary theatrical – a conceptual work, reflecting on the conditions of performance that nonetheless harnesses the power of narrative to look at real political issues“. After Globalize:Cologne International Theatre Festival, Ron van der Sterren wrote: “Manuiloff managed to not only make us participate, but also do something we all wanted to talk about afterwards. He made it the most natural thing that could ever happen.” After Temps d’Images Festival, Jatekter magazine called “The State”: “A genius theatre idea: razor-sharp, sensitive and complicated.” Sousan Stroupe of The Center for International Theatre Development (CITD) wrote after Teszt Festival: “The State, in its simple complexity, can resonate with audiences young and old, all over the world.”
Important context: Since early 2013 Bulgaria saw more than a dozen of people, young men and women, burning themselves in public spaces in protest against a failing state, corruption, poverty and very probably – in despair. The most recent case took place in December 2014, just a month after a young and successful woman self-immolated herself in front of the Presidency in Sofia.