Bart Meuleman: When did you first become interested in getting into theatre?
Timeau De Keyser: I always said that theatre is what I was going to do. I dressed up, I directed my sister and my cousin and I made films with a cardboard box. I also liked dressing up as a girl. I allowed my aunt and my mother to put makeup on me and then I would run through the house as a girl. One day my grandmother said: “Perhaps he should do drama classes?” That’s what took me to the Kopergietery [creative venue for young people in Ghent].
You often hear people claim they just rolled up there. I didn’t, I had thought it all through carefully.
Bart: How old were you then?
Timeau: Very young, eight or nine. I was put with the youngest kids. My father is an electrician, as is my uncle. As children, they were always building things with LEGO Technics, so I ‘inherited’ technical toys. I thought: ah, I must do that too, I must be clever with my hands, do technical things. But it sapped my energy. The theatre and dressing up didn’t require energy, they came naturally. And the drama teachers always said I was good, which helps too.
Bart: When did you think about going to drama school?
Timeau: From the second grade at secondary school I was totally focused on it. Then I started doing diction because I still had an accent. That was a complete and utter disaster! Four years of diction before going to drama school and at drama school I still failed Speech. And I wanted to see all the films and plays so as to be prepared.
Bart: When you talk about drama school, are you referring to the KASK [School of Arts] in Ghent?
Timeau: Yes. You often hear people claim they just rolled up there. I didn’t, I had thought it all through carefully. My first instinct was to go to Antwerp. Then the last year of secondary school I changed my mind. I heard Jan Steen and Sam Bogaerts speak and I thought: perhaps I should jump on this boat.
Bart: Did you get a lot of support from your family? Was there much culture at home?
Timeau: Even as a young boy, I would go to building sites with my father in his van. But if I wanted a book, my father would say: “Come on, let’s go to the bookshop”, and then he bought me everything. Once I wanted to read something about Shakespeare and he came home with the complete Courteaux collection. I was probably sixteen at the time. So there was that generosity on the one hand and, on the other, those building sites. If it didn’t work out for me as an actor, there was always construction work to fall back on. My parents were always really supportive. They would come and see even my strangest, most incomprehensible shows three times and drag their friends along with them.
Bart: How was that first year at the KASK?
Timeau: Difficult because, as I said, I went in less ‘carte blanche’ than the others. I had already figured out how I would fight to fulfil my dreams. Then I met Jan and Sam – who I really looked up to – and they said: “You over-think everything, you know what you’re doing so well that you’re not in the here and now.” The here and now, just to understand what that is... That’s a process you have to go through and it was very confusing. Even if it was about acting. I could manage pretty well when it came to scripts, but I was performing clichés. Jan and Sam made me aware of that. That changed at the end of the first year.
We were anti-hip.
Bart: What did you do at the end of that first year?
Timeau: I started to say ‘sod it’, to put my foot down. I made a short, absurdist play by Arrabal. I turned it into something abstract.
Bart: When did the people you worked with so closely later on appear on the scene?
Timeau: I met Ruben Desiere, Rasmus Van Heddeghem and Pieter Dumoulin at secondary school and Simon De Winne and Hans Mortelmans at the KASK. I thought: they’re good, I must do something with them. And we did, and we were selected for TAZ (Theater aan Zee).
Bart: Which production was that?
Timeau:Paard: een musical [Horse: a musical, 2009]. The first in our series of Horse productions.
Bart: How old were you then?
Bart: Then Simon, Hans and you decided to set up Tibaldus en andere hoeren?
Timeau: Yes. A couple of years ago we changed our name to Tibaldus. It was less embarrassing for the manager of the bank where we had our account! A year after Paard: een musical we made Paard: een opera (2010). That was our third-year project. That one went well too. In that third year everyone’s role in Tibaldus became clearer. From Paard: een opera onwards, I didn’t act any more. There were twenty men in it, so someone had to look and tell the others where they should stand.
Bart: So you didn’t necessarily want to be the director?
Timeau: I wanted to create, I was quite sure about that. I don’t really know where that ambition begins and where the fear of acting stops. In rehearsals I do like to play.
Bart: Fear of the lights?
Timeau: Personally I need structure and control and when you are on the stage you are in the thick of it and you don’t have any control.
Bart: In the second year you started making productions with Simon and Hans. Did that meet with the approval of drama school?
Timeau: Yes. I have a great bond with Jan Steen and I also think that we may have been one of the first ‘KASK products’ to reflect what was possible at the school. The school supported us because we did away with the typical hierarchical structure and made radical choices. The Tibaldus actors are always sovereign. We tried to see experimentation not as a niche but as the core of every work. As something progressive, something the world tried to re-invent. We were pretty good at preparing dossiers. And theoretically we were competent, we studied hard. We also came a cropper a few times with shows which people left feeling angry. At a certain point we tried to do away with the applause. That was a really bad idea! But we dared to do it. We were anti-hip.
Bart: Did Sam also play a role in it?
Timeau: Sam is an anarchist, I think. He is mischievous, a law unto himself, he dares to rethink things. When I looked at an actor who I thought was good, Sam suddenly said: “What filthy conceitedness, too awful to watch.” Sometimes it was more interesting to see someone messing about than someone flawlessly following acting paradigms.
Bart: Even if it the messing about is bad? Where do you draw the line?
Timeau: I don’t know. But at any rate, it was a starting point for seeing the current acting traditions in perspective.
Bart: Sam got you to look at acting in a different way?
Timeau: Yes. He got us on our way. The idea that it may be possible to replace complex concepts like beauty and truth with the concept of sincerity. I don’t remember if he said it exactly like that, probably not, but that’s what I understood. Actually, the idea is simple: an actor who acts sincerely may be of greater value than an actor who acts beautifully. At the time I was also reading Robert Bresson’s books about cinema and acting. We started to reflect on how as actors we might portray certain things. About what was the right way to act out reality. Not that everything we did was good. But we did ask those questions from the outset and took them seriously.
Bart: Do you still do that research?
Timeau: Absolutely. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only way to go.
Bart: Those are really ideas for an avant-garde.
Timeau: Every good play is avant-garde in some way. Every good Shakespeare is a meta-experiment with all his veiled references, his asides, his role changes, the fact that boys play girls who play boys, etc. In every good play there is a fundamental game with reality. The older I get, the more I begin to understand the value of that tradition. It is a real area of tension between a permanent experimental situation and a theatre tradition. That tradition is also finite. I don’t feel I can invent much that is new. The time of pioneers is over. Now it’s about how subtly we work with that heritage. We live in complex times which require nuanced work. These days grand gestures tend to come across as ludicrous.
Bart: There wasn’t much by way of a script in Tibaldus’ early plays. Is that changing now?
Timeau: During his exam on ‘complex texts’, Hans Mortelmans suddenly got it into his head that he wasn’t going to act his script any more, but read it out loud. He failed that year, and rightly so. But what he did was very important for me. At the time acting was a problem for us rather than something that came naturally.
It is about rearranging things that have no value in such a way that they become valuable
Bart: You didn’t want to act ‘well’?
Timeau: Acting well felt like an exploitation of reality. We didn’t want to make fragile pieces of reality consumable and palatable as a concession to a public looking for entertainment. We imposed a number of dogmas on ourselves with Tibaldus’ first productions: either we eliminated the text and created mime-like situations, or we sang the text, or we read it out loud. We never used recorded music or soundscapes, we did everything slowly and we repeated a lot.A little later we did use acting and text. That was when we worked with actors from Theater Stap in 4:3 and a year later with amateurs in De dood [Death]. For example, we performed Shakespeare with the father of a friend who had never acted before and with a child. Looking at how they approached those texts gave us a better understanding of what acting is about. We took those experiences to the next production.
Bart: The acting in Yvonne was actually based on the experiences with the actors from Theater Stap, with the child, with the father of a friend and with the amateurs, wasn’t it?
Timeau: Yes. They showed me that acting always means ‘relating to’ someone or something. The anarchist form of acting which falls outside the scope of acting paradigms, showed me very clearly that their work denotes a position, a relationship. The actor relates to the script, to the reality, to tradition, to the prevailing artistic idiom, etc.
Bart: So do you have a problem with acting schools?
Timeau: No. Though I don’t think they’re a foregone conclusion. And I don’t think that actors are made well enough aware that acting is always a form, a relationship. But I certainly think they do good work at the KASK. And places like the LesFest in Antwerp are good incentives too. I don’t know as much about the other courses.
Bart: Can you say something about your next play?
Timeau: We’re going to perform Gombrowicz’s The Marriage [Het huwelijk].
Bart: Another Gombrowicz?
Timeau: Yes, one that is less well known than Yvonne [Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy]. I try and read The Marriage as a reworking of, or a sequel to Yvonne. Gombrowicz has characters from the one play appear in the other. But the time feels totally different. Yvonne was written in the 1930s. The Marriage dates from just after the Second World War. The medium itself is questioned and the narrative falls apart. Though you also need to be able to see the productions separately, we wanted to have them flow over into each other so that in The Marriage you suddenly think: but that’s that king from Yvonne! And the Lord Chamberlain from Yvonne disguises himself as the Queen in The Marriage. It should be a sort of ‘offside’ throughout those plays. I think it’s interesting to see it as one big play.
Bart: What is The Marriage about?
Timeau: The play begins with the Prince not knowing who anyone is any more. So he asks: “Aren’t you my father?” To which the father responds: “Well yes”, and then just takes on the role of father. We’re into the second act before they remember their roles again. It’s about rules and they have forgotten those rules, really it is about how we organize society. About the forms we use to create our world. For example, touching someone’s forehead with your finger changes everything, everything becomes charged with meaning. That is very atheistic, because everything is created by and with people, but we do live in a world that is charged with the meanings we ourselves give it. Theatre is a very good medium to talk about that. It is about rearranging things that have no value in such a way that they become valuable. And this ‘arranging’ is automatically about power.
Bart: Will the production have much in common with Yvonne?
Timeau: I haven’t the faintest idea, but I don’t think so. It will be partly the same cast. With the staging I want to try and problematize something very specific again, but it would be tedious to work with a circle once again. We are also going a step further with the music. We incorporated Greek Orthodox monastic singing into Yvonne. This time we’re going to include polyphonic singing. Simon De Winne and three other singers are discussing which pieces they are going to sing and the status of this music in the play.← Back to overview