Getting through anxiety and fear with László Göndör and ‘Living the Dream with Grandma’

László Göndör is one of the young talented personalities on the theatre stages in Hungary. His performances are distinguished by their playful and ironic elements. In 2020, Göndör won the Staféta Award, which supports the most promising young Hungarian theatre creators. In the festival selection, he is participating with his one-man show ‘Living the Dream with Grandma’ which brought him international fame. Göndör shares more about the performance with Desislava Vasileva.

Mr. Göndör, this year, Varna Summer International Theatre Festival presents your performance ‘Living the Dream with Grandma’. The show is already a huge hit. How has the performance fit into your work in recent years?

This piece was produced in 2021, and I’ve been working on it since 2020, so since the pandemic. It has been about four years that I’ve been busy with creating and performing the show. This was an essential first step in autobiographical theatre-making for me. I had a lot of time to immerse myself in theatrical research because of the COVID pandemic. This allowed me to take a significant step in my artistic career.

I think it was the first international hit at the beginning of my career. But since it has been four years, I’m now busy exploring other directions. Currently, I am more focused on humour, particularly ironic meta humour. I am studying at university and writing my thesis on the matter of irony. However, this show also contains many humorous elements and tools. ‘Living the Dream with Grandma’ was my first autobiographical piece, where I could use my humour, which is ironic in nature. The irony successfully connected the personal topic with my sense of humour.

Although now I am interested in different topics, this project was very important to me, both artistically and psychologically. It helped me overcome some of my anxieties and fears. We are planning to make a second part of the show, a sort of spin-off or closing chapter of the grandma materials. I recorded almost 40 hours of her stories when I lived with her. With such a treasure in hand, we felt compelled to produce a second part, which will be introduced in 2025. It will focus more on my grandma’s life and themes of grief and letting go, thus closing this chapter of my life artistically and moving towards new challenges.

In ‘Living the Dream with Grandma’ you blend really well humour and very important questions about mental health, trauma and identity crisis. What challenges did you face in this approach?

This is always a very big challenge, like walking on a tightrope. Balancing serious questions related to trauma or the past with humour might seem paradoxical. Sometimes, you cannot joke about certain things, and that’s what interests me – how to joke about sensitive topics. This is one of my main interests in my artistic career. I think self-irony allows you to joke about many things because you’re not attacking someone else, you’re not punching somebody down; you’re punching yourself. This is a basic principle in joking about sensitive topics.

In ‘Living the Dream with Grandma,’ it’s mostly self-irony, which is like joking with trauma. Because I’m personally involved in it, it acts as a self-healing and self-protecting mechanism. Irony and jokes can be important tools to express trauma and pain, providing a certain distance from a sensitive topic. However, it is important that only those who are involved in the topic joke about it. We have to be very careful, so I only make jokes about myself.

In what way did your grandmother’s stories influence your perception of your own identity?

I’ve been hearing my grandmother’s stories since I was about 12 years old. Growing up with Holocaust survival stories has made them a part of my identity. This show reflects how these stories are integral to my identity and our relationship. The show is influenced by the Holocaust because it is a part of me, but it’s more about how these stories impacted my relationship with my grandmother. They brought us closer because I was the first in the family she shared her stories with. This created a significant trust bond between us. However, this also brought transgenerational trauma into the family, complicating our relationship. There had to be a lot of trust, but it was also challenging to handle and integrate these stories into my identity.

What role do the multimedia elements play in enhancing the storytelling of ‘Living the Dream with Grandma’?

The voice recordings used in the performance are crucial for bringing my grandma into the theatre, creating the illusion of her presence on stage. Sound was a crucial part of creating this atmosphere, alongside with videos that contribute to the entertainment aspect and the deeper layers of the show’s dramaturgy. Initially, the show might seem like a funny, entertaining performance, but it gradually delves into the deeper and more complex aspects of the relationship and material. We decided not to show my grandmother directly on screen. Instead, we used elements from her flat, like personal objects and little details, allowing the audience to form their version of my grandma. This was an important decision to avoid embodying her directly.

How did the collaboration with Zsófia Bódi and Kornél Laboda contribute to the final text of the show?

I wrote diaries after I moved out of my grandma’s flat, and all the material is documental, with nothing altered or changed. Zsófia and Kornél did not write new material but edited and selected from the existing recordings, diaries, notes, and writings. Working with them was a great pleasure.

You claim that you are interested in expanding the concept of one-person shows in innovative, self-reflective manners. Is there a new project you are currently working on?

Currently, I’m interested in exploring irony and how to approach sensitive topics. It’s a tricky area nowadays, with people being very sensitive to certain subjects. I understand that, but self-expression sometimes requires humour and irony. I’m investigating new forms of irony in dramaturgy and theatre to express sensitive subjects, even those related to trauma. I have a new performance coming up at the end of September, and I’m beginning to develop its concept.

I want to explore new forms of humor and how we approach sensitive topics today, what is allowed, and what the limits are. I believe that ‘Living the Dream with Grandma’ is audience-friendly; it shows that humor can bring us closer to certain subjects.

Watch ‘Living the Dream with Grandma” on 4 June, 18:00, Puppet Theatre as part of the International Selection.

In Hungarian with surtitles in English and Bulgarian language.

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