Aleksandar Lukac discusses his adaptation of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros

Rhino is Aleksandar (Sasha) Lukac’s adaptation of Rhinoceros, opening March 9th at Glendon College.

Sasha directed over sixty professional theatre productions in his native Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Bosnia), which garnered seven Grand Prix awards for Best Director as well as eight Grand Prix awards for Best Production. His notable Canadian work includes:
• Christmas at the Ivanovs (Vvedenski), nominated for a Dora in the independent theatre category;
• Unicorn Horns (M.Major), which represented Canada at the Festival of Ideas in Hong Kong;
• Moliere, (Bulgakov), performed at the Bulgakov Festival in Kiev;
• Ivan Vs Ivan (Gogol/Lukac), which toured London, England, Moscow and Belgrade, Serbia; and
• Family Stories and Bea, produced in collaboration with Toronto based Actors Rep Company (ARC).

Sasha has been teaching at York University and Glendon College since 1992. At Glendon, he had directed 23 student shows, including three that fully explored interactive digital theatre (Marat/Sade Occupy, WWI Revisions of the Aftermath, and Life is a Dream). These productions encouraged the students to explore the implications of live interactivity between performers and audiences across the world. Rhino is his second production of a Ionesco play at Glendon College – he has previously staged a “mash-up” of Bald Soprano, The Lesson and Artaud’s Jet of Blood.

Aleksandar Sasha Lukac

I wanted to find out more about Rhino.

There’s a quote from Soren Kierkegaard.
A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public, but they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it, and the applause was even greater. I think that’s exactly how the world will come to an end: to general applause from people who think it’s all a joke.”
Are you or your actors anything like that clown, and do you expect us to listen to warnings, or to applaud your wit?

I think we are way beyond that – I have completely lost faith that theatre or, for that matter, any art, has the power to affect the audience’s comprehension or contemplation of the world in which we live. It took awhile, but capitalism has succeeded in making art and, theater particularly, a toothless commodity.

How does “Absurdism” work in 2023? Is it possible anymore after Trump & Putin? Is anything absurd anymore? Was absurdism funny: or is it comic or tragic or satire?

That “Absurdism” took over our lives long before the culprits you mention. Don’t you think that it is absurd that humans did not learn a single thing in the aftermath of WWI and WWII? That we keep repeating the same mistakes in cycles to the point that it has convinced me that we are predestined to self-destruct? What I find bitterly funny is the endless capacity of humans to distract themselves from this reality.

You have a history of making political theatre, at least partly because the politics of your origins in Serbia shaped your sensibility and your creative voice. But you’ve been in Canada for a long time. How have you changed with the passage of time?

The previous answer showed how pessimistic my worldview has become. When I came to Canada it was a promised land of sorts. Recent discoveries of past crimes against the indigenous population as well as a general rapid move to the Right has me extremely disappointed and worried. Of course, the old me would take both these realisations as a challenge to create more compelling stage work. The “new” me asks who would I address this work to? No one cares – and I mean politically, not aesthetically. So, when I work, I put on my Fool’s hat and have a blast. It most of the time connects with the actors and my collaborators – which is an immense pleasure. The audiences can be more challenging, and I, of course, blame them entirely if they do not connect. Thankfully my most recent production in Serbia has been sold out for the past year so, as I said, it can work.

The need and the hunger for satire ebbs and flows, according to the state of a society. Please talk about why we need satire and why our current time might be a good time for satire, either in Europe, Canada or anywhere else.

I never had any confidence that satire has any impact on the outcomes in society. It always served as a pressure valve to relieve societal tensions – yet it somehow always relied on some weird notion that those tensions are temporary and that a healthy society awaits if we can only hold on long enough. Well, guess what? Satire is too thin of a sugar-coat to swallow this mess of a world. We need a bigger boat!

Talk about your adaptation of Rhino.

Of course I read the original and even watched the Zero Mostel film version. Our Glendon version is less of an adaptation as it is a new play heavily inspired by the original.

When we were discussing the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Marriage of Figaro the other day you said “it was very Commedia”. And you mention that you did a commedia warmup with your class. Please help me orient your work around styles & idioms. Commedia was once a part of your individual voice back around 2000 for Christmas at the Ivanov’s. You’ve done other shows such as the Flea in her ear at the Fringe in 2017 that was more of a pure French farce, than commedia. Where does commedia fit into your vocabulary, either as a teacher or as a practitioner? What are you teaching, please explain the style(s) you explore.

There are some Commedia based warmups and exercises that help unleash the actors’ energy and “size”. Rhino has definitely incorporated those in the creative process. However, in terms of comedy, this play functions best when the actors are dead serious in performing idiotic character tasks.

For Life is a Dream you played some elaborate games with technology, incorporating them into the playtext and the mise-en-scène. Will you do something similar for Rhino?

Indeed, those were very interesting experiments. In the case of Rhino we are not going interactive with the audience.

Tik Tok videos serve the purpose of creating the external backdrop to the action that is confined to a special event cinema during the rhinoceros’ attack.

Talk about theatre in the age of social media . What’s the relationship between stage and mass media nowadays?

You know that I have been experimenting with interactivity in the live performances – through YouTube and other platforms. It yielded some amazing results.

Unfortunately, as the whole world had to perform on Zoom in the last three years, I feel that there is a certain Zoom fatigue which affects other similar experiments. We have all longed for the live theatre feeling so we will give that a chance for a bit, I think.

Please put this adaptation in context with Glendon and your teaching. What does one learn doing this sort of show? And how does it differ from a more classical approach?

Well – I wrote the play in four days and then had a student, Emilie Varga, read it over, edit, add some even more absurd elements including adding me as a character in the play. And we all keep adding Gen Z language to keep it light – so the process essentially reflects my general teaching philosophy – include the students in the process and respect their discoveries/contributions as if they are your own. The most rewarding moment for me is when I see that students take pride in their work. I owe that to my teachers who made me discover myself in theater.

Where and when is show to be presented?

Glendon College/Glendon Theatre, March 9,10 and 11. The shows start at 7:00pm

Is there anyone you’d like to thank, acknowledge for their input / influence / assistance?

Other than the whole Glendon Theatre community for inviting me back to do a show, I have to thank my kids for making it easier to make fun of myself.

Aleksandar Sasha Lukac


Rhino runs Thursday March 9 to Saturday March 11th, performances at 7:00 pm.
Click link to get tickets.
Suggested donation $10.00.

This entry was posted in Dance, theatre & musicals, Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Aleksandar Lukac discusses his adaptation of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros

  1. Pingback: Rhino | barczablog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s