NE PLUS ULTRA: ROLF HEIM / by Nathan Webster

Rolf Heim, Director

Rolf Heim, Director

Born in Switzerland Rolf Heim trained as an actor at the Institute for Stageart in Sweden 1984-1986 and later as a director at The School of Stage Arts, Theatre Cantabile, 1989-92. With actor and playwriter Claus Beck-Nielsen under the name 20th Century Ghost he directed the plays: Andy Warhol, Rupies and Balls and Theatre Butcher. Rolf Heim is artistic director of the Boat Theater in Copenhagen, where he has staged numerous productions. Aside from this appointment there he has also staged Miss. Julie at the Kaleidoscope Theater for which he received the significant Danish theater acknowledgement: The Reumert Prize, and later the Nick Cave Theatre concert at Aarhus Theatre in Denmark.

Rolf is part of the collaborative team for NOW-ID's next big production EXODUS - we are excited to see his incredibly creative and original mind set in motion. Please see our most recent NE PLUS ULTRA interview here


Charlotte Boye-Christensen

Tell us a little bit about your background; you originally trained in dance, why did you make the change to theater or was it more of an organic evolution as opposed to an intentional decision? 

I only worked for a short period of time with dance and as I am not a trained dancer, physical theater was always my main focus. Already as a child I expressed my emotions physically, when I was happy I had to run or dance and when I was sad, I went for long walks.

How do you think your background in movement has influenced your work in theater?

It clearly gave my work a very physical and visual expression. For me it was never enough as a director to have actors who only felt something on stage, I wanted to see that emotion in action, expressed through the body. My work on stage is seldom traditional or naturalistic - it always has a physical expression.

Your work strikes me as having a really strong stylistic point of view - interpreting a text through movement language seems important to you - can you talk about why? Also, on that note I loved hearing about your puppet theater piece "Jernring" (Iron ring) - what can Puppet Theater add to your form that you wouldn't have been able to achieve through human performance?

Theater is a "live" event, things are happening right now on stage for the audience. So energy is important. I want to see and feel the actors at the same time. To only pretend is not enough. 
Puppets are magical as they only come to life through animation. An animated puppet is still not a living human being, but it gets life, or becomes alive through the imagination of the audience. It is in the mind of the audience, that the puppet gets feelings and movement. On stage you see the actors, how they move a puppet, but as a spectator you choose to believe that the puppet is alive. We become like children again playing with a toy, giving life to it only by imagination. 
So engaging the public, without them being aware of it provides them with a more powerful experience. And a puppet is never embarrassing or too sentimental, etc., something, you can't always say about real actors.

Do you consider your work to be more performance art than Theater and in reality do these kinds of terms and distinctions even matter anymore in talking about performances? 

My work is very much influenced by Performance Theater. Meaning - there is no hierarchy between text, light, set, actions, actors, and so on, everything or any effect can be used in order to resolve a scene or tell at story. Normally in theater, the actor and his/her text is the most important thing, the rest is just decoration. 

Do you see a difference in the direction that theater/performance is heading in Europe compared to the States and can you talk about what those difference are? Also, what city in your opinion has the most exciting contemporary theater?

I do not really know so much about the theater in US. But in Europe, it differs from country to country. Avant-garde and Performance Theater are both very strong in Germany, The Netherlands, and in Belgium. All of their city theaters are working with directors, who think about art and not only about the entertainment value. Theater is seen as an art form in those countries, it is well funded and has a public, which appreciates innovative theater.



Tell us a little bit about "Baadteateret" in Copenhagen? It is quite unique because of size and placement - how do these features play into the shaping of your repertoire?

It is a unique and intimate stage with only 80 seats on a boat situated in the middle of historical Copenhagen. Perfect for Puppet Theater! We can afford to be experimental, because we are so small. Ticket sales don’t really influence our budget, as there are so few seats. So we focus on developing puppetry, doing research and having a laboratory attitude towards our work. Ironically, that has made us very popular and we often sell out our shows.

Tell us a little bit about the highlights of your career so far?

I think those shows where I worked very uncompromised, not thinking about success or how the critics would receive the work. Instead just following my intuition and taste. Those have become huge successes, which feels in a weird way very cool. 
A show about Andy Warhol in the beginning of my career had that effect, and opened a lot of doors to the more established theaters for me. Then The Nick Cave Theater concerts became a huge thing some years later, and lately I would say “Jernring” (Iron ring), puppetry show on Baadteateret. So highlights for me are the ones where my innovative, artistic work reaches our audiences and critics.

What is your creative process like - is collaboration important to you and if so why?

More people have more ideas than one person. So I listen very much to my actors, sound, set, lighting designers. I always tell them that 80% of my ideas don’t work and that counts for every body. So throw in ideas, but do not insist on them. 
I always know one moment at a time what we are heading for, but not where we end. Having a team, which works under those circumstances, demands that you as a director really motivate and lead...

Who are some of the people who have inspired you the most in your work and why?

"The Wooster Group" (a New York City-based experimental theater company known for creating numerous original dramatic works) because of the way they rehearse - they keep on trying things out, until it works. They also taught me, what musicality is in a dramaturgy, and the basic rules of Performance Theater.

Robert Lepage (A Canadian Theater artist) in his early years, showing magic realism on stage.

Peter Brook (A British Film and Theater director), because the research of an artist never ends.

La La La Human Steps (A Canadian contemporary Dance Company under the direction of Edouard Lock, which has unfortunately closed down in 2015) because they produced shows which can’t be further away from what you normally see on stage, but it knocks you out...

Where do you look to for inspiration? Do you watch a lot of theater in your spare time or are there other mediums that interest you more? There seems to be a real cinematic quality to what you do, hence my question.

Film yes, visual art in general, museums of any kind, kids playing, watching every day life and of course theater - mainly abroad.

What is your favorite quote?

"This little finger, still doesn’t obey me". Pablo Casals, a world known cello player, who has won every award you can win in classical music, and played all over the world. The quote was his answer to a journalist, who asked him when he turned 80-years old. 'You have reached everything a musician can dream of, what is left?

This became or is my main motivation in work, 'keep on developing, never stop...."

Who is the actor that you have always wanted to work with and what is the project that you have always wanted to do?

Actors - none. Projects - lots. 
But my experience tells my, that when you after years of waiting finally are allowed to make your dream project, it becomes a disappointment. Dreams are here to be pursued but not to be fulfilled. So I turn it around and say, the project I work on right know, is the only one I want to do. And that works!!!

Looking towards the future – where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing in 25 years?

I will be 70-years old, and the answer is quite conservative: looking at my children and being happy about who they have become. 
And besides that: painting, writing, taking a walk with my dog, ... and maybe doing a show once in a while.