For Biscayart, the opportunity to work abroad with an actress of Valk’s standing remained a dream until he was nominated for the mentorship. “I wanted to get into an unknown theatre and have the scary feeling of not knowing anyone and just little by little beginning to feel a part of it. Create new places, expand myself – I think that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
“I’d never thought of having a mentor before,” he adds. “But having a mentor is a very personal and intimate experience. It’s been a very unique learning experience for me. I really enjoy the day-to-day work with Kate. We do a lot of work on details and small things, broken gestures and things like that. She has a big book of photocopies of gestures that opera singers use, and we’ve been re-enacting them, sometimes separately, sometimes at the same time. She’s even teaching me her parts! It’s a very creative and very enjoyable way to approach theatrical performance. We see each other almost every day,” says Biscayart, who spent several months of the mentoring year in New York to be close to The Wooster Group.
Nor, he notes, is the mentorship confined to the four walls of the rehearsal room. “We also go to see operas and go to art galleries together, so it’s been a very close working experience. What’s most exciting for me about this kind of relationship is that the only thing that joins us is the desire to spend time together, rather than just keeping to a tight weekly agenda. I believe it’s a good way of learning.”
Like Valk, Biscayart has had academic training, but both agree there is no substitute for getting into the rehearsal room.
“I don’t think you can learn theatre at a school,” Valk suggests. “I had formal training at NYU and with the great Stella Adler from the Group Theatre. I had such a good time with script interpretation and all those things. I had a Shakespeare teacher, a movement teacher and I said: ‘Well, this is fun, but am I going to be an actor? I don’t think so!’ Sending around a headshot and a résumé – I don’t have the ego for that, though sometimes I think it would be nice if I did. The necessity to work with practicing artists was crucial for me.”
Through the year, Biscayart and Valk have been learning not only about each other, but about the theatre – and the meaning of the protégé-mentor partnership. For Valk, “I didn’t expect it to be as much of a two-way street as it has been. Look, I’m not a single artist – it’s about Nahuel being a part of this process, and he has a very keen eye. But it is a formal mentor-protégé pairing, and I like that because I can ask him for things. It’s a heightened, formal and intense relationship, not like anything else.
“I can ask him for help because he’s both close and outside. I’ll tell you, at this point in my work, it’s a very special energy that has given me something – it makes things more buoyant. I can’t define it more specifically than that.”
In a sense, watching Biscayart and Valk together, you sense that this is more than a mentorship — in the tradition of The Wooster Group, it's a work/life collaboration, a formal relationship which has blossomed into a unique professional exchange between actress and actor, joining generations.
Extracted from an article written by George Hunka forMentor & Protégé,a magazine documenting the 2008/2009 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
George Hunka is a playwright and the artistic director of theatre minima, a theatre company based in New York. His writings on theatre have appeared in many publications, including theNew York Timesand theGuardian.