Schaubühne – Pearson's Preview https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/index.html?rss=1 Pearson's Preview de-de service@salzburger-landestheater.de service@salzburger-landestheater.de Schaubühne – Pearson's Preview https://www.schaubuehne.de/images/schaubuehne.png https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/index.html?rss=1 890 116 Schaubühne – Pearson's Preview <![CDATA[Stars and a Siberian Forest. Anne-Cécile Vandalem’s »Kingdom«]]> https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-kingdom.html Fri, 08 Apr 2022 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-kingdom.html by Joseph Pearson

In 2019, the Belgian theatre-maker Anne-Cécile Vandalem told me, »We are so tied to reality and, for me, theatre and poetry are forms that allow us to see from a different point of view. It’s said that if you look at a star in the sky straight on, you have trouble seeing it. It’s only when you look a little bit to one side that you see it better. For me, this explains my approach to theatre.«

A trilogy of such fictions––the three sister stars of Orion’s belt?––will be completed by »Kingdom«, premiering at the Schaubühne’s FIND 2022 festival this weekend. The previous instalments, »Tristesses« and »ARCTIQUE« showed at FIND in 2017 and 2019 respectively. I appreciate Vandalem’s star metaphor because it gives a sense of the great spaces that attract the director. It also suggests her reflections on failure, the impossibility of touching the ideal. I ask her about the relationship between »Kingdom« and the preceding plays.

Vandalem explains, »I work in cycles. I like the possibility of multiple stories that interweave my intuitions and preoccupations. It is also a search for devices that allow us to reveal more. In this cycle, I wanted to reflect on humanity’s failures––political in »Tristesses«, ecological in »ARCTIQUE«, although both subjects are imbricated. In »Kingdom«, I wanted to consider what failure means for the future, for those who will exist in an ever more perilous and uncertain future. I thought of the device of focusing on encounters with children: how do they see their futures, as opposed to me, an adult. It was at this point in the project that I came across the work of Clément Cogitore, when his study of families living in the Siberian Taiga was still in exhibition form, rather than a film.«

Clément Cogitore is a French filmmaker and installation artist. His 2017 documentary film, »Braguino«, about a remote community in the Siberian wilderness, is an atmospheric journey that began with research into the Old Believers, or those practising Orthodox rituals dating before 17th-century reforms. After meeting Sasha Braguine, who brought his family to the Taiga in search of a utopian existence, Cogitore returned with a cameraperson two years later to document the family’s lives. The result is a poetic, open-ended work: helicopters move in and out of cloud; bears are hunted and dismembered; the children of the family play on an island that protects them from wild animals. But the Braguines are not alone. Another family, the Kilines, have also planted their flag in this remote locale, engaging the Braguines in a bitter rivalry. The Braguine children play at a wary distance from the Kiline brood––separate childhoods, with taught resentment of the only other beings their age.

Vandalem tells me that Cogitore’s art intrigued her precisely because it did not answer so many questions, »In Cogitore’s work, the children are not given much opportunity to speak, particularly in the exhibition. I wrote to him, he met me, and I said I would like to make a work based on his work. I made it clear that I would not be adapting »Braguino« to the stage––that would not be interesting––but rather creating a fiction that answers the questions that the film posed for me. And he accepted.«

»Is it that your work is fiction which distinguishes it from Cogitore’s?«

»One cannot say that »Braguino« is strictly non-fiction and documentary, and my story fiction. His is, of course, an artist’s film, a poetic point of view, and it only tells one part of the »Braguino« story. My theatre, however, does not just change the material, such as the characters, but also re-interprets it. For example, I took this film to different places, to publics from rural communities and little towns with limited access to technology and »high culture«, and they were shocked by the documentary, and what they perceived as the egotism of Braguino in exposing his family to the life they ended up living. It is a form of Occidentalism to think of Braguino’s world as a utopia––this return to nature, to virgin territory. I wanted to revisit the Braguino story through mistakes and failures rather than through utopias. This is possible through fiction in way that it is not through the documentary film.«

Certainly, Vandalem’s observations resonate with my reactions to »Braguino«, in which the artist’s helicopter descends, the camera staring down his anthropological subjects. Looking more closely, the lives in this wilderness are impoverished and the conflicts seem petty. It is a view that invites revision, which »Kingdom« offers. In Vandalem’s work, there is a habitual tension between the myth of a promised land––she’s done her tour of Nordic landscapes from a Danish island to the frozen ocean off Greenland to the Siberia Taiga––and the horror behind the promise. As she tells me, »There is a contradiction of the imagination of these spaces and the ecological and political realities, which are terrible.«

I ask, »Instead of Old Believers, you set your remote community among animists. Could you tell me how important the animal world is to your art? I can’t help but think of the sudden appearance of a polar bear on the cruise liner in »ARCTIQUE«.«

She replies, »In »Kingdom«, the whole ensemble of living things is important, even plants. The question of animism runs through the piece. In this play, there’s no bear but there are dogs, real ones. When I started to write, I knew they would be there, even before I saw »Braguino«. The animals would tell the story along with us. The rehearsals would be conditioned by animals, the actors would be influenced by the presence, as they would be by the presence of children on set. They oblige us to position ourselves differently in the space. I realised the limitations of working with props in »ARCTIQUE«, with the polar bear. We worked with him but he didn’t work on us. He was hard to make exist, not like real three dogs.«

»I have heard that the forest also has a role. It makes music––«

»Unlike »ARCTIQUE« where we had a band on board the ship, here we have a family that accompanies all their daily steps with songs. They sing at work, about love, for the loss of a family member. No matter what happens, song is present. All the instruments are made from natural materials––wood, stone, horn, fibres, rocks––and the players are difficult to see behind a forest. The music is live but we might not immediately remark on it.«

»Let’s return to the children«, I suggest, to conclude, »In »Braguino«, Cogitore is filming their everyday lives. As documentary subjects, they are unlikely to be making an abstraction of their roles. How do you work with children on stage?«

»When working with them«, the director replies, »It is difficult to make them believe in the fiction. They always know they are playing. We can tell children to imagine they are thieves, but they know they are not. Their relation to belief in the creation of something is difficult; you need to give them concrete examples: imagine someone taking away your house, your parents. But the children are self-protective; they tend to laugh in response. It helped that we worked with them for a long period: one and a half years before the premiere. I wanted them to grow with the story over a long period, and not just experience it for eight weeks. I wanted them to incarnate their characters slowly. It was only this way that they would begin to believe in their world.«

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<![CDATA[Robert Lepage’s Works of Memory. A Retrospective at the Schaubühne]]> https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-ota.html Sun, 03 Apr 2022 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-ota.html by Joseph Pearson

This year’s international festival at the Schaubühne, FIND, has Robert Lepage as its artist in focus. Lepage might be an icon of not just Québecois, but international avant-garde theatre and cinema, yet he presents as the most natural, relaxed, and friendly person you can imagine––affable and thoughtful behind his heavy-set glasses. Often, one observes how artists put on a persona of distanced importance to confront a competitive milieux. But just as often, the greatest artists dispense with mondain pretence and engage you directly.

We meet in what feels like a terrible place: a storage / practice room behind the Schaubühne studio––a location I had forgotten existed in the theatre’s innards, filled with stacked chairs and a rudimentary table waiting in the gloom attended by a bottle of still water.

But Lepage motions to the perfunctory space, telling me: »Something really moving happened here. We have been using this room during the past days to rehearse »Seven Streams of the River Ōta« and suddenly––when we were really into it, working with the lines––an actress recited a monologue about the Hiroshima disaster, about a man who is blinded explaining how the fire enters his eyes: »don’t you see, the buildings with people trapped inside them, burning.« And we were taken with this moment. We never tried to make the connection to what is happening in Ukraine. But it was there. In a seven-hour show, there are many such moments.«

Like in any interview, I have come prepared with my theme, and it is precisely this: how do Lepage’s works, appearing in a retrospective for FIND 2022, necessarily resonate differently as times change, faced with different mentalities, new audiences, and new generations? »887« is from 2015, and a reflection on the director’s childhood and working-class struggles during the political awakening of Québec in the 60s and 70s. »Seven Streams of the River Ōta« was first produced between 1994 and 1996. It is an endurance piece of seven hours that considers the tragedies of the 20th century, from the concentration camps, to Hiroshima, to AIDS. It now plays with a new vigour on the Berlin stage, with war, only 800 km distant, having returned to Europe. Lepage says the significance of »Seven Streams of the River Ōta« today is present, but »without trying or justifying«. Nonetheless, the audience cannot help but think about an atomic threat differently from one year ago.

The last time that »Seven Streams of the River Ōta« was performed was in London at the very beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020. Now, it returns at what feels like a hiatus in the emergency. He tells me that the first thing his troop, Ex Machina, noticed, when recently viewing a video of that production, is how »through the whole thing, people were coughing, in a packed house, with no masks. You hear all the coughs and think: what the fuck  

I suggest, »Just as the theme of atomic warfare and its effects on civilians resonates with the present, frightening, geopolitical situation, so too does the question of pandemic. »Seven Streams of the River Ōta« is also about AIDS. We have all been through a different pandemic these past years. Can we make comparisons?«

Lepage tells me, »Thinking of the presence of the AIDS crisis in the show, you need to consider that when we first wrote »Seven Streams of the River Ōta«, in the early 90s, AIDS was killing in great numbers. It is an »exercise de mémoire« to show a situation in the early 90s when we talked about »exit programs«, palliative care, hospices… when we were learning how to die. Now, a lot of people have since forgotten or don’t know about these times. They are maybe people who became sexually active in a different world, or–– at least in some parts of the gay community––describe HIV as an »inconvenience«, without reflecting how AIDS was once a death sentence.«

»How then does it feel to reflect on this after Covid?« he continues, »Of course, you can’t really compare the two: but the end result is that elderly people are now seen the way people looked at the gay community then: their potential to get infected and die. At the same time, you can’t direct or redirect these themes. They are there: you will draw your own conclusions. It would be very pretentious to make too close a comparison, to say, as a director, »that’s the reason why«. All I would say is that the show has a lot of potential for triggering reflections, even when we find ourselves now in a different place.«

Lepage has already spoken of his work as an »exercise de mémoire«, or a memory exercise (a deceptively difficult concept to translate to English as it suggests both »the work of memory« and the ethical imperative to remember). He expands: »It struck me that’s what we are good at: theatre as the sport of memory. The first compliment that you are given when you perform is »what a memory you have!« It is about making people remember and placing something in their memory: one they can experience through their senses that they might not experience through books. It became my thing. Actors, performers, poets, chansonniers, opera singers, bards can be the carriers of memorial culture––even when a culture is being erased. You feel you have a purpose: as someone who reacts, as a performer, whose role is to refresh, remind, as history comes back to the surface.«

»But when you revisit a production––like »Seven Streams of the River Ōta« or »887«––years later, do you feel you need to make changes?« I ask.

‘You will have to repaint, take the dust off.« And he makes a comparison to how his company Ex Machina rebuilt their rehearsal and theatre space in Québec City. What was essentially a derelict site, where they first improvised »Seven Streams of the River Ōta«, was renovated and beautifully restored. They revisited the first version of »Seven Streams of the River Ōta« in the same location, but with the theatre space renewed.

He explains, »But the thing is, with »Seven Streams of the River Ōta«, we didn’t do any rewriting. When we took it out of the mothballs, we simply sandpapered the edges a little––«.

»And what does it mean to »sandpaper«?« I ask.

»In the case of Ex Machina, thirty years ago we weren’t anti-literature, but we did not come from literature. We were interested in the theatre of mime, masks, commedia dell’arte, Pina Bausch. That’s what we were into. It’s also when we did »The Dragon’s Trilogy«, which propelled us. The dialogue was of little importance, the written word was simply invited in. All this to say: since then, we’ve learned to write, to work with the sense of telling a story, with dramaturgical structures, and how they work, and when to break them. To know when the stakes are not high enough, or when things are not well-structured. That is where the sandpaper stuff comes in.«

»I think you are being rather hard on yourself… you probably already knew how to write!« I laugh.

»Well––not to be coy––let’s just say we became better writers because our knowledge and education got better. The audience and the reviewers inform you about what they think you are talking about. You tour the world. There’s dialogue. You revisit your text. You correct little things. Also, one thing I noticed is the insecurity of our younger works, the tendency to repeat things. That there is so much redundancy. To be understood, you feel you need to repeat, and then twenty years later, you realise it’s redundant. Say it once and say it well!«

»You talk about an »exercise de mémoire«. We’ve talked a lot about memory but let’s talk more about the exercise. What is the exercise?« 

»If I understand you correctly, it’s a question about what the difference is between the Ex Machina’s process and other groups’ processes. Let’s say we are doing a show about war––war in Ukraine, for example. We collect a group, sit around. All of us are of different ages, genres, classes, there are those with higher education or little formal education. We have different points of view and different takes on the subject matter. Now, normally, the process would try to reconcile these points of view and we would make a lot of compromises. But the problem is that the more compromises you make, the less interesting the piece will be. So, we never start there. We don’t even start with a theme, like Hiroshima. We start with something intimate instead.«

»For example?«

»For example, an anecdote, about which can all respond. When we started the »Seven Streams of the River Ōta« project, I had already been in Japan, and visited Hiroshima. Our guide had lived in Hiroshima all his life and was six or seven when the bomb happened, and he spoke to me about a young lady who had been disfigured horribly and was prevented by her clinic from looking at herself in the mirror, in case it would upset her. But she kept a shard of a mirror hidden under her pillow, which she used to put on makeup, and then she would rub off her lipstick so the doctors would not notice. Our guide said you can disfigure a woman, but you cannot take out from human nature the desire to be beautiful. The atomic bomb and its horrors never touched me as much as, suddenly, that story. That is what I get from people around me. From an anecdote, you start to play with an idea––one that makes it all the more human, truer. That’s what we do. We don’t start with a reflection on atomic war. The reflection happens instead on its own.«

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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<![CDATA[Bodies of Power. Teatro La Re-Sentida’s »Oasis de la Impunidad«]]> https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-oasis.html Fri, 01 Apr 2022 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-oasis.html by Joseph Pearson

One of the most memorable pieces of the (pre-pandemic) FIND 2019 was by the Chilean Teatro La Re-Sentida: »Paisajes para no colorear«, or » landscapes not to be colored«. Its unblinking investigation of femicide and gender-based violence was articulated on-stage by young Chilean women, 13 to 18-years old. Their raw emotionality was a tangible shockwave that passed through the audience.

The Venn diagram of state structures, capitalism, liminal groups, gendered violence, the body, and the stage, is the stuff of director Marco Layera’s theatre. He returns with his fourth FIND production this year––and world premiere––»Oasis de la Impunidad«. It is a production of Teatro La Re-Sentida and the Münchner Kammerspiele––with the Schaubühne and Matucana 100 in co-production. I also spoke with dramaturges Elisa Leroy and Martín Valdés-Stauber, who collaborated both in Chile and here in Germany.

Layera is affable and restrained, and at first keeps his ideas to himself before they froth and spill over articulately. He speaks emotionally about »Paisajes para no colorear« (»landscapes not to be colored«) as »the most beautiful theatrical experience he had ever had. It was an important moment to combine artistic with social practice, to create, transform, and relate to a community

After the completion of that theatrical project, and its close engagement with young people, La Re-Sentida experienced a convulsive political moment in Chile, beginning on 18 October 2019. It is known as the »Estallido Social«, or »social outburst«. Beginning with a reaction to something as basic as the rise of public transport prices in Santiago, the protests escalated to confront the country’s slide towards privatisation and social inequality. Millions took to the streets and the government responded brutally.

Layera recounts, »With these events, the mask fell in Chile. Everyone showed who they really were. As an artist too, it was a challenge. With all this effervescence in the street––the body on the street the protagonist––as an artist you are put into question. What do you do now? Do you repeat the recipes and strategies from before or do you harness impulses, energy that propels you? But even if we were to start from what happened in Chile, we were never interested in replicating what happened on the street. It would be impossible, even ethically unsound, to reproduce it semiotically or semantically. Since the masks had fallen, everything seemed already to have been openly said. So, we tried to do a more conceptual, abstract work, based on the body.«

The events of the »Estallido Social« will be remembered internationally for the widely reported incidents of violence by the Chilean national law enforcement police, or »Carabineros«. Human Rights Watch later reported that, between 18 October and 19 November 2019, 9 000 protesters were injured and 15 000 detailed. Many were blinded by anti-riot guns. Sexual abuse, homophobia, and rape were widely reported in detention.

Marco Layera tells me, »From those protests, a colleague on stage has the remains of a bullet in his leg. My left hand was broken––«

The events brought back memories of past abuses by Chilean officers during the 1973 to 1990 Pinochet dictatorship, and the aftermath brought Chile to a reckoning: it voted to change its constitution and ushered in a new government, with Gabriel Boric, a leftist, in power from March 2022.

Teatro La Re-Sentida, not wanting to draw exclusively on the experiences of its own artists, issued an open call. Two hundred young people––of five hundred who applied––took part in a theatre laboratory. They confirmed the human rights monitors’ findings that the experience of violence was not isolated but rather systemic, standard practice. Layera explains, »These very young people were the protagonists of this social unrest and 80% of them had experienced police violence. We also observed that this younger generation no longer perceived the police forces as legitimate representants of the state’s authority. The police were delegitimated for them in a way it was not in previous generations. All this related to the fact that security forces, military and police, were not reformed or re-established after the dictatorship. They remained authoritarian.«

One area for inquiry during the workshop was how democratic societies contain institutions within them responsible for violence. Layera elucidates, »Practices that are the extreme of barbarity are contained within democratic structures that project civility. In an event such as a protest, this barbarity manifests itself from behind the veneer. I can give you an image that summarises this: a police officer at a protest, in the first line of confrontation, is armed with a gun. All police officers are required to have name tags on their uniforms. But this officer had replaced his name tag and renamed himself »Superdick.« In what way do we understand this image? Someone who represents himself as »Superdick« is given a role with the capacity to do whatever he wants to us as civilians«.

»And yet, can you imagine a society without legal enforcement?« I ask.

Layera replies, »We know we need police forces. It’s a relationship between need and them also being enemies, part of a culture of fear and terror. There is not one of us who does not feel terrorised when a policeman approaches. When they stop your car, you know something bad will happen. The question is: are there other practices that a democracy can develop to channel this violence differently? So that the police are not an alien caste? For now, hegemonic masculinity is the parameter for being a good police officer. And the implied structure of the Chilean police––and I would even dare to say the police in the West––is racist, classist, and patriarchal.«

Dramaturge Elisa Leroy follows these observations to describe how this manifests itself on stage, »It’s very subtle, very implied. All the bodies on stage, both female and male, incarnate this hegemonic masculinity. You see how they strive for it, how this idea is present, but also how it doesn’t correspond to the bodies exactly and remains imagined. It is aspirational, adulating masculinity. Or a training for a masculinity that signifies power over others.«

The conceptual and abstract approach of La Re-Sentida is based on magic mimesis, but not of the victims of the street violence, but an imitation of the perpetrators: the police officers, an imitation through which, to use Layera’s words, »we might liberate ourselves, find catharsis, even expiate the police’s sins.«

I ask how important traditions of contemporary dance are to the production, and its desire to find a new language with which to confront the theme, and I’m told it is not a coincidence that there are two dancers on set. Neither is from contemporary dance: one is a street dancer and the other one a show dancer. Another fruitful collaboration in the production is clearly that of the various institutions––both Chilean and German––and their cooperation to bring this international premiere to Berlin as producers that acknowledge long-standing bonds and express their artistic trust by producing this company’s show and featuring it in their programme.

Layera turns to me finally and says, »I feel all artistic processes are transformative. Everyone is affected in distinct ways. For me, »Paisajes para no colorear« was very transformative, but also here there is transformation. This one is also an expiation, an atonement. A very painful one. It evokes enduring pain. When will this pain vanish? When will there be justice in my country? There’s a debt to be paid.«

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<![CDATA[From Broadway to the Schaubühne. Tina Satter in conversation about »Is This A Room«]]> https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-room.html Thu, 31 Mar 2022 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-room.html by Joseph Pearson

Director Tina Satter was working in experimental theatre and teaching playwriting in New York City when, in late 2017, she came across an FBI transcript that caught her writerly eye. She brings its staged re-enactment, »Is This A Room«, to the Schaubühne’s FIND 2022.

»I wasn’t even looking for a script, which is something I would have written myself. Normally, I write and then direct my own work. But in this case, I stumbled on this content. A magazine article on a whistleblower named Reality Winner, with a link to the PDF of a transcript of events happening on June 3rd 2017. Reading it, I thought: this is like a play.«

Facets of the dialogue between FBI agents and Reality Winner––surprised in her home in Augusta, Georgia by officials, and later sentenced to five years under the Espionage Act of 1917 for leaking documents to »The Intercept« about Russian interference in the 2016 US election–– immediately caught the director’s attention.

Here was a strong female protagonist, a seemingly banal set-up full of tension and detailed realism (»it read to me like a Richard Maxwell play«), a script that recorded every cough and sigh (»we honour all those stutters«), and the intriguing jargon of an in-group such as a sports team or high school clique (»Heathers«: I love that movie, the way those girls talk. People with security clearance have their own lingo, lots of words you don’t understand but in context they work«).

Satter continues, »I thought of it as a writer at first; I could be inside those words. The playwright in me responded to it. But it was the director who said: this is something we can make.«

The way theatre-makers craft their works and how that process is later formulised by theatre scholars and art writers, I’d say, usually differs. I wonder whether Satter already had any interest in the genre of »verbatim theatre«––the use of found texts as spoken material for a play––when she started working on the Reality Winner story.

She laughs, confirming my hunch, »It’s really funny. It must have been in the leadup to opening at The Kitchen [the play’s original downtown venue] when an interviewer asked me about the history of verbatim theatre. I hadn’t even thought of it. Oh right, verbatim theatre! There’s this tunnel I get into when I am working with words. That’s how I work. There’s fascinating verbatim work out there but I don’t think of myself as working the lineage. Still––there it is. It’s a verbatim play.«

»Is This A Room« is one of these rare New York experimental, avant-garde productions that made the jump to Broadway. Satter first premiered her show, with Emily Davis in the starring role, in January 2019 at The Kitchen. They moved to a commercial off-Broadway venue, The Vineyard, where they had a three-month run. It was then optioned for Broadway, a deal that was secured in June 2021 for a run starting that September.

»I’m still processing the Broadway run: such a fast and furious and potent moment. In many ways, it happened so quickly.«

I suggest, »Many avant-garde filmmakers worry that a Broadway production, with its commercial expectations, can change the initial intent and aesthetic of a production.«

Satter replies, »Broadway was never the dream. I started downtown, in that corner of New York City, in that contemporary avant-garde scene. I looked to the model of the Wooster Group, the New York City Players. We aspired to venues like The Kitchen where we premiered, or PS New York, Walker Art Center, REDCAT in LA. And then, for the show to have a life, there’d have to be international touring, like to FIND. I never thought commercially. I remember when I had a breakfast with the Broadway producers and they said that maybe our main actor, who had garnered all the great reviews, could be replaced by a movie star! But we weren’t going to replace our extraordinary actors. It was essential to keep working the way I wanted to work and, in the end, luckily, no one ever really demanded that the show be different. Maybe it’s because ours was a low budget endeavour and we needed to think more about translating it to a physically bigger house. Then, I felt under immense pressure for the show to succeed, and we had to remind ourselves it had already been well-received at The Kitchen and the Vineyard. Thankfully, for our peace of mind, it was extremely well-reviewed, with the show still looking like it did at The Kitchen, with our production values and aesthetic, and with no movie stars.«

»This is unusual for a New York avant-garde production––«

»What I can say about avant-garde New York now is that there are fewer places to support the kind of early, more DIY experimental works that lead into the avant-garde. There’s less real estate even than when I came up. And I’m not the original guard. Richard Maxwell was ten years before. The Wooster Group started in the 70s. There was Elevator Repair Service. When our group came into being, as Half Straddle, in 2008-9 a lot was already gone. I talk to young artmakers all the time: and they ask us, how did we do it? You fight. Many playwrights and theatre-makers in the US have been moving to TV. There’s so much more money, and that’s turned the landscape. The blood, sweat, and tears, and martyrdom necessary to make the truly weird avant-garde is not there like before. There’s less space and hunger for it, because you can say: I am a good writer, and I have good ideas, and I can do that on HBO.«

 

»You’ve mentioned your lead actor and I wonder whether, in the preparation for the play, she had any contact with the real Reality Winner.«

»To make the play originally: we couldn’t talk to Reality. She was in prison. And we only had the written transcript, not the audio of her encounter with the FBI. Emily Davis had two back and forth emails with her, like pen pal letters. But very purposefully, we didn’t want to ask her about that day. I was like a weird dance. And it took me a while before I really formed: these are real people! Reality’s mom contacted us a couple of months into working on the play, writing me out of the blue: »I heard you are working on a play about my daughter.« I was so worried she would say »please stop« but she gave us this gift: an amazing endorsement to do the show. She saw it the first night we performed. She was so very moved by the play. It was an emotional experience to know we were all doing it with integrity.«

I say, »I can’t help but think of it like walking into the page of a book one’s been reading and meeting the characters. There’s something magical about this encounter––«

»Cut to when Reality gets out of prison, and we could talk to her too! And I did. I remember being nervous. »Now I will talk to her.« The first time I saw her on Zoom, I froze. She, of course, looks different from our actress. More different than I imagined, and it was weird how I’d imagined her for so long. Then we talked and continued to be in touch and there was this hope she could come to the Broadway run. But she is not allowed to travel. Her ankle monitor is off now but she is still at her mother’s.«

»Did you think of your play as political activism? To free and exonerate Reality?«

»I will tell you that living in the US, when we started working on it in 2018, there were so many questions about Trump and the rise of the extreme right, also internationally. The leadup to Trump’s election also asked many questions of artists. Do I still do art? Do I become an activist? I thought about this a lot. And I thought: I better keep doing what I’m doing. I’d done a lot of work with trans actors, queer/female people, and I thought that if I stuck to my instincts, I could put less-seen things on stage. And I think this piece is offering something fascinating and important, to see the United States at work in a private citizen’s home. It’s not my artistic aesthetic to push this show as »Free Reality« but it felt important to all of us to engage with content. To think about what it means to whistleblow, or to have a whole class of people with high-level security clearance in a country, or––the big takeaway––to think about how outdated the Espionage Act is. Some will say Reality’s a traitor. But I want to show that some people have no recourse to certain defences. I wanted to be true to the document we were staging and to reflect on what happened in a very small room.«

 

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<![CDATA[The Stage, Empty but Full <br> Marcus Lindeen’s »L’Aventure invisible«]]> https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-laventure.html Mon, 28 Mar 2022 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-laventure.html by Joseph Pearson

I am intrigued when Swedish director, playwright, and filmmaker Marcus Lindeen tells me that nothing visible happens on his stage:

»The audience and the performers sit together in a circle, which is interesting to me as a theatrical situation. It brings intimacy because we sit close to one another, and the characters use their normal speaking voices. Like sitting around the fire telling stories. It’s soft-spoken. The scenography is composed of a round seated structure on three levels, inspired by the arena stages of antique theatre––or the anatomical theatre with medical autopsies as the spectacle––except we do not use the centre as a stage. The stage is gone and replaced by a conversation situation. I’m not that interested in creating a spectacle, or virtuosity of effects. I am more interested in the rawness and concentration of pure storytelling in dialogue form and the images it hopefully creates in the minds of the spectators.«

Is there not, then, something happening in this voided centre? Something suggested by the title of the piece––»L’Aventure invisible«––that Lindeen has brought to the Schaubühne in Berlin for the 2022 iteration of the FIND Festival: the inward journey, our thoughts out there in the middle? The centre of the action is just one that we cannot see.

Marcus Lindeen, now based in Paris from Stockholm, is well known for the first two instalments of his trilogy: »Regretters« and »Wild Minds«, both of which appeared at past FIND festivals. The final piece, »L’Aventure invisible«, comes more than a decade after the first, and in French. The entire trilogy will be presented this fall, at the Festival d'Automne in Paris.

Lindeen tells me, »It came retrospectively that these three works have something to do with each other. »Regretters« was my first work as playwright and director, at that time I didn’t imagine that it would be the beginning of a trilogy.«

»What were the connections that you saw between these plays?« I ask.

»A search for a deconstruction of the I. Who am I? The questioning of the idea of identity as something singular, solid, hidden deep inside, that we are supposed to unveil through our lives in search of ourselves. All three plays question that somehow. I am interested in this not only in an existential way, but also in a particular way, in terms of being queer: what does it mean to present yourself, as gay rather than straight, in my case. In all three, the queer theme is there.«

He explains how »Regretters« is about the identity gymnastics of those who come out as another gender, go through reassignment surgery, and then regret their decisions. »Wild Minds«, on the other hand, is about extreme fantasizers, who begin to live more in their secret fantasy lives than in their real lives.

»In »L’Aventure invisible«, he explains, »It’s the same quest, but in different ways, with three different stories of individuals that go through different identity transformations, and how that changes them.«

The first of these stories is that of Jérôme Hamon, the first man to receive two facial transplants, in the years 2010 and 2018 in France.

»Hamon goes through a radical transformation twice because his body rejects his first face, and he almost loses his life as a consequence. His story has a tabloid side, but it also has mythological value. I scan a lot of material, saving a lot of stories, and when I stumbled upon Hamon’s story, I knew I could make something of it. Even if he told me what I already knew from the newspapers, I knew I could do something with it––«

»But I presume you found out much more––« I suggest.

»Yes, in the process of interviewing him, he took me places I never expected. There is this moment in the middle of the second transformation when they couldn’t find him a new donor immediately. He ended up spending six weeks in a hospital with no face. He was closed-up inside of himself, with no way of communicating. He had no mouth, he could not see, he had trouble hearing. This blew my mind: I was curious about what happened inside of him because he was awake and not in a coma. »You will go through something horrible«, said his surgeon, »You need to prepare yourself«. He talked about keeping his mind active, building mental labyrinths before he got this new face––this third face––which came from a man much younger than him. I wondered what it meant to be in this in-between stage when you don’t have an outer identity. And will Hamon be the same person afterwards? Is he only changing masks?«

The other two characters––and do come to the show to learn more––are Jill Bolte Taylor a brain scientist, and author of »A Stroke of Insight«, who has a stroke which leaves her without a memory of her previous identity, and the British visual artist Sarah Pucill, who reflects on the photographs of the queer French artist, and anti-Nazi resistor, Claude Cahun.

»Cahun was the starting point for the whole project. I started to research her life: a story of her and her girlfriend’s lives on the island of Jersey, and their secret resistance to the German occupation there. I had also started to read her surrealist poems and there was a title that caught my attention: »L’Aventure invisible«. There was something profound and mythic about it, but at the same time, it also sounded like a naïve cartoon. It’s like the title of a Tintin album. I loved that. It was beautiful and stayed in my notebook for many years. I knew I wanted to do something with the title: the »Invisible Adventure.«

»And so, when I got a commission from a theatre in Normandy to make this piece, I went with my French-Swedish dramaturg, translator, and artistic collaborator, Marianne Ségol­-Samoy, to Jersey, to her grave, to her archive, I re-enacted aspects of her life. »L’Aventure invisible« became eventually a play based on three interviews, coming together as one fictional conversation. Even if the texts are those of me talking to each of them––Hamon, Bolte, and Pucill––the piece creates the illusion of them talking to each other.«

The actors on stage are, in fact, listening to a script through earpieces, imitating the voices of other readers. Lindeen’s technique––also used in »Wild Minds«––of mimicking someone not present on stage, creates a feeling of defamiliarization, of disconnectedness. It recognises both the dependence on documentary sources and their transformation by the director. Perhaps too, in this mimicry––like a mirrored mirror––there is a sense of the identity problems that are at the heart of the piece. What makes us who we are? Do we take a mentalistic (or »Lockean«) or physicalist position on the subject? And what happens when we are mentally, or even physically, substituted? And how can we, when these transformations happen invisibly, recognise them?

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<![CDATA[Spotlight on Angélica Liddell <br> FIND 2021’s Artist in Focus]]> https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-angelica.html Fri, 01 Oct 2021 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-angelica.html by Joseph Pearson

One of the first FIND productions I ever saw at the Schaubühne, back in 2014, was »All the Sky above the Earth (The Wendy Syndrome)« by Madrid-based director and performer Angélica Liddell.

Holy shit. My friends and I are still talking about this production. We still try sometimes to imitate the frenzied, stuttering call of her Wendy, a broken and violent edit from the Peter Pan story: her travelling to a Norwegian island piled with the bodies of dead children. Her electrifying presence on-stage. Her anger. Her self-involvement and embodiment as the consummate artist. Her ability to push her vision to its limits. Her invitation to follow, not just as voyeurs.

Angélica Liddell is not for the faint-hearted. The infamous octopus scene of the FIND 2018  performance »¿Qué haré yo con esta espada?« is a case in point (go on, google it). Liddell offends and embraces her audience in turns, with the frank, brutal, erotic, violent, and erudite. Not everyone likes what she does, which is rather the point. If you prefer theatre to be a safe experience, well, then … visit a different Norwegian island.

As Liddell told me three years ago, she »does not work with shock but with poetic violence that restitutes intimacy with our instincts. I am interested in spiritual conflict. The relations of man with himself are inevitably violent, that descend into areas of the unconscious that emerge through symbols … The violence is the need for these works to hurt our sensibilities, to hurt them deeply. The relief that poetry provides is its ability to wound ever more deeply, and it does this without warning because that is what we all want: for theatre to hurt us«.

A Liddell production is more than the way it wounds. Both the art and the artist is uncompromising. Not just in terms of her references to a challenging intellectual inheritance.  But also how she bucks trends in neoliberal theatre, designed to please and to cash in. Those who value the adamant avant-garde have something to look forward to with her two productions at FIND 2021: »Liebestod« and the »Scarlet Letter«. I spoke to the theatre’s dramaturge Florian Borchmeyer about why the Schaubühne chose her as their first FIND »artist in focus«.

*

»From this festival edition onwards«, Borchmeyer tells me, »We plan to focus on one artist each FIND. They will not dominate the whole festival, but we will have the opportunity to create space for many of the world’s most important theatre artists, who would not otherwise not have a large location, with suitable budget, to showcase their guest performances in Berlin. Yes, their work might be produced here on important stages with German actors, and at smaller theaters who invite many excellent international performances as part of their season. But there is no actual festival format, like the Berliner Festwochen, decades ago, apart from FIND, that today fills this gap. Next year, we look forward to featuring Robert Lepage. And, of course, this year we have Angélica Liddell«.

»Was inviting Liddell something that has been in the works for a long time

Borchmeyer laughs, »We saw »Liebestod« only this summer in Avignon, a little more than two months ago! And then we decided to do something ambitious, insane really: to bring an extremely complicated show to the Schaubühne at short notice, one involving special permits, with babies and animals on stage. We had space due to a cancellation and this also allowed us to make her our first »artist in focus« with two shows that have not yet been seen in Berlin. As for why we chose her, it is because she is one of the world’s most impressive theatre artists«.

I suggest, »I think you use the word »artist« judiciously, as she can’t quite be reduced to the singular words »actor«, »playwright«, or even »director««.

»Yes, but her perhaps most impressive point is her text performance. She is an amazing spoken poetry performer. Her texts are voluminous and also violent. But also very human, touching and emotive. Her performing technique reminds me of a tender machine gun. There is extreme speed and power in her execution. These texts are about very contemporary problems, often from a completely irreverent and often not very politically correct perspective. Sometimes, she is classified as a feminist, although she refutes this. She is not about sustainability, or about social problems. She is about love and art, or their absence. That’s what interests her. She is nourished by the counterculture avant-garde – think Artaud – and also by the counterculture of philosophy––think Foucault. I see connections too to Marina Abramovic, to Buñuel, and the Spanish avant-garde of the early 20th-century«.

»The Schaubühne has been consistently bringing her work to our stage over the past years. Is this to expose Berlin to theatre that is atypical here, or to a level of fury and emotion to which we are unaccustomed?« I ask.

Borchmeyer says, »I would say that there are a variety of styles in Berlin but that she doesn’t fit into any of the genres that exist here. She is, of course, not Kammerspiel, nor is she post-dramatic. She doesn’t do anti-representational theatre. She is completely sui generis in her style. She is contemporary but mixes her work with elements that are completely against modernity. She is interested in the Old Masters of painting, for example, (and will even leading a small group through the Gemäldegalerie while she is here, to speak about Caravaggio). But this encounter is not humanist. German theatre is still a moral institution. She is an immoral institution. That is something which makes her like a UFO in the German theatre tradition. People here are fascinated by it, it challenges them, because it is not what we know«.

»Her first performance at FIND is »Liebestod«, which does reach deeply into both the German, and Spanish tradition, bringing together the unlikely combination of Wagner and bullfighting«, I say.

»Yes, case in point. She reflects on Wagner while glorifying bullfighting. This really should be an impossible field of exploration, and you can imagine that it’s not designed to make her the darling of the German left. What I found interesting is her passion for the bullfighter, Juan Belmonte. He had a disability and this impediment made him develop particular bullfighting techniques, which required remaining very still. In some sense, her reflection on bullfighting is a spiritual, rather than an intellectual practice.

Borchmeyer concludes, »The subtitle of the piece is »El olor a sangre no se me quita de los ojos«. The smell of blood won’t leave my eyes. It’s a synaesthetic, Baudelairian image. In this is the clue to her interest in Richard Wagner, and his »Tristan und Isolde«. The theme of death is something that combines bullfighting and Tristan: the bullfight is a place of death, someone has to die in the end, most of the time the bull. But there is always the risk that the bullfighter will be killed himself. Like a soldier, he is always exposed to death. Tristan too is dominated by death as the only spiritual solution. This obsession is something she works through in the play. Something we can’t quite get out of our eyes«.

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<![CDATA[»LOVE« Stripped Down <br> Alexander Zeldin at FIND 2021]]> https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-love.html Thu, 30 Sep 2021 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-love.html by Joseph Pearson

In the past months, perhaps you have overheard:
»I have a friend looking for an apartment.«
»Do you know of anything becoming available?«
»How much can she spend? What neighbourhood?«
Maybe you have heard:
»I have a friend losing his apartment.«
»They can’t afford to stay in the same Kiez.«
»We should have bought a decade ago.«
»The neighbourhood isn’t the same now that everything is so expensive.«
And perhaps you have wondered:
»Whatever happened to the people who lived downstairs?«
»Where are they living now?«
and »Where did that man begging in front of the U-Bahn use to live?«

Housing is the eternal topic of exchange in capital cities – London, New York, Berlin – where it is scarce. Shelter is the conversation of any location where it is considered a commodity and not a right. The subject dominated too the recent German election, with the successful referendum in Berlin on the transfer of apartments from private (Deutsche Wohnen and co.) into public hands.

Alexander Zeldin’s »LOVE« comes to Berlin from London at this topical moment, to examine housing from the perspective of a society’s most vulnerable. The play explores individuals’ experiences in a shared space: a temporary housing shelter.

Dean and Emma, with their two children, find themselves in a single room, with a shared bathroom with a middle-aged man and his ailing mother, and two refugees, from Syria and Sudan. Each is confronted with scarcity (of housing, of private space) and authoritarianism (of a Kafka-esque benefits system they must negotiate to improve their lives). Zeldin paints their realities, ones that resonate too with the situation in Berlin, using an idiom of »stripped-down« naturalism.

Homeless in London, Homeless in Berlin

I admit that when I heard that a play about homelessness in Britain was coming to Berlin, my reaction was to point across the Channel, and distance myself from the problem:

»Well, what do you expect from the rampant neoliberalism of that post-Thatcherite island? A Britain where money is king?« Margaret Thatcher, after all, famously said in 1987: »There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first«. I, for one, am in the habit of thinking of social exclusion as being as British as Earl Grey, lemon drizzle cake, and corgis.

A little research on the situation in Berlin, however, quickly corrects any impulse to confine the play’s commentary to one place.

What is the situation in the UK, the context in which this play unfolds? Government support for temporary housing was capped in the recession that followed the 2008 market collapse, precisely at a time when rents began to skyrocket, and many people could no longer afford their homes. »LOVE« premiered at the National Theatre in London in 2016 and the picture has only become grimmer in the post-Brexit country facing the pandemic.

Since the premiere, rents have continued to increase, by 45% in the last five years. Meanwhile, there has been an 88% increase of single people claiming social security payments since March 2020. Families too suffered during the pandemic, with 60 000 households becoming homeless last winter. Homelessness increased almost 10% during the pandemic despite an evictions ban.

Looking at the total numbers, of those who have fallen through the cracks into homelessness, is disheartening:  300 000 in England are now either in temporary housing or sleeping rough. According to the Trust for London, a poverty and inequality NGO, 52 000 families are in temporary housing in the British capital alone. The chief executive of the charity Shelter recently warned, »Despite the clear danger that homelessness will rise, the government remains focused on expensive homeownership schemes, rather than anything resembling truly affordable housing. If the government wants this country to recover quickly from the pandemic, investing in a new generation of secure social homes is an absolute must«.

One in 200 are homeless in England. But if one expects that post-Thatcherite Britain to be worse than Germany, one should look first at the 2019 numbers published by the BAG Wohnungslosenhilfe e.V. According to them, the number of homeless is even higher in this country: 678 000, or 1,6 per 200.

While there are many charities in Berlin helping those sleeping in the streets in Berlin, especially in the winter months when there are deaths from cold, the availability of emergency housing is in crisis. The situation is made worse by the well-known pressure on Berlin’s housing sector due to lack of availability and rising rents. In 2018, 37 000 lived in emergency shelters in Berlin. 21% of them have had to remain in such institutions for up to two years before finding affordable solutions. Temporary housing in the German capital––the head of Caritas in Berlin, Ulrike Kosta, says––means »lack of space, lack of money, and in some cases the lack of minimum standards of care, and something urgently needs to be done«.

Neoliberal Britain is not such a distant island after all.

Naturalism, stripped-down

As spectators will realise, »LOVE« confronts an audience, well-heeled enough to pay for their seats, not in a didactic or heavy-handed way, but rather with the quietness of ordinary activities, the minute naturalism of the everyday, to elicit compassion and empathy, perhaps even love. Mixed with pity is also terror; the family moving into the single room, after all, speaks with middle-class accents (something perhaps not immediately noticeable to a German public).

The Schaubühne dramaturge, Nils Haarmann, tells me about the production from the theatre’s perspective: what attracted the Schaubühne to the play’s particular voice, why it was invited to FIND, and the future collaboration already planned with Zeldin.

»What comes first to mind when you think of Zeldin’s play?« I ask him.

He laughs, »There is a lot of sitting. Micromovements. People cooking tea. He gives everyday activities the duration of everyday life. And somehow he makes them absolutely fascinating for the audience«.

»But it’s not kitchen-sink naturalism – «

»A temporary kitchen sink! Zeldin distinguishes himself from this tradition by stripping down naturalism to its bleak bottom. The expected dramatic conventions of dialogues ending with clever punchlines, a heightened dramatic pace, or dramaturgical plot twists, are replaced by long awkward silences. But it is never banal or boring, it has an over-arching form, and it smashes many conventions of theatre«.

»It smashes too the fourth wall, by all accounts – «

»Yes, he really pushes it forward. Even the lighting grid of the stage extends very far over the spectators. The audience is sold seats right on stage. Actors sit among the audience, but only address the other characters. We are drawn into their world but there is also a feeling of voyeurism that remains, as if you were a camera. You are sitting in their world, but you are also separate. It is a delicate relationship, one that invites us to observe, and ultimately to empathise«.

»It strikes me as the opposite of the Brechtian tradition, apart from its social engagement«, I suggest.

»It’s a theatre that uses mimesis to the extreme. It doesn’t use microphones, there is no music, nothing is stylised. If a light goes off on stage, it’s because an actor has touched the switch. It also situates itself in everyday places, those used by socially-marginalised groups. In another play, »Faith, Hope and Charity«, it’s a community choir space. Zeldin writes the scripts himself, and I sometimes compare what he is doing to Maxim Gorky, and his »The Lower Depths«. In a way, he is catching up with Gorky and Stanislavski, in a version that works for our times«.

»How does he engage with actors?«

»He began by working with amateur theatre in community centres, in Birmingham at first. In »LOVE«, some of his actors are on stage for the first time, while others are well-known professionals. It’s an intriguing mix. He’s brilliant at creating ambiguity on stage between the professional and non-professional actors, between characters that are devised based on lived experience, and those who follow borrowed examples. It’s a permeable theatre: Alex goes to temporary housing centres, he speaks to these people, and then he invites them into the theatre. He is also well-known for sending his actors out into public spaces, in character––to a bakery, or a jobcentre––to refine their roles«.

»This is Zeldin’s first foray into German theatre«.

»Correct«, says Nils, »LOVE« is his German debut. But it won’t be his last time here. »LOVE« is the second play in a trilogy on marginalisation called »The Inequalities«, the first being »Beyond Caring«, and the final one »Faith, Hope and Charity«, which I mentioned before. In the Spring, he will direct the Schaubühne’s ensemble in a German-language version of »Beyond Caring«, set in a meat-packing plant. It’s the workday of people who live in real precarity. All the actors are cleaners, based on real cleaners in the plant. They will be invited into the theatre to work with us. They will lead«.

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<![CDATA[Two Absent Artists at the Schaubühne <br> An Interview with Kirill Serebrennikov about »Outside«]]> https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-outside.html Mon, 27 Sep 2021 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-outside.html by Joseph Pearson

Two artists working in authoritarian regimes, two who have paid a price for their work: the Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov and Chinese photographer Ren Hang. At the 2021 FIND festival at Berlin’s Schaubühne, they cross paths but neither is present. Serebrennikov was put under house arrest in Moscow in 2017, the year of Ren Hang’s suicide in Beijing.

Convicted in June 2020 for ‘embezzlement’, as a reprisal for his politicised theatre and film, Serebrennikov was also banned from leaving Russia for three years as part of his sentence. In February 2021, he was forced out from his position as the artistic director of the Gogol-Center, which he had steered for eight years. The order likely originated with Russia’s security services.

I first met the Russian director during FIND#14, when his »Idiots«, based on Lars von Trier’s film, came to Berlin. He was fiercely critical of the climate in Russian, telling me then: »It’s quite clear that violence is part of Russia’s mental climate nowadays. Our idiots are more tragic in this sense. In today’s Russia, to be an idiot is very very very dangerous. And this danger is deadly.« Seven years later, his production of »Outside« arrives at the festival without its director.

»Outside« is a reflection on the images and poetry of Ren Hang’s work, known for its lush, playful, genderqueer depictions of the naked body. Hang ran afoul of Chinese censorship laws; one can speculate on the extent to which political bullying, as well as depression, brought him to suicide at the age of 29. Berlin’s C/O gallery exhibited a retrospective of his work just before the pandemic (Love, December 2019-February 2020). Seeing Hang’s contorted bodies, set against public spaces – parks, the roofs of buildings, before the vast impersonal cityscapes of Chinese megalopoleis – one wonders at the challenge that the intimate, delicate, and particular poses to authority.

Serebrennikov and Hang came together quite by chance in a Stuttgart bookshop. There, the Russian director found the last copy of a book of photographs by the Chinese artist.

Serebrennikov tells me from Moscow [I interviewed the director in March 2020], »It had a scratch, was slightly worn out; I even got a discount. That was Hang’s album. The moment I opened it, I realised I had come across a thrillingly interesting photographer whose work was something unexpected ... I knew I wanted to make a project together. We were supposed to talk by phone but it never happened. He committed suicide just a few days before our scheduled phone call. That had an impact on me. I realised that some kind of fate was at play and our collaboration needed to continue no matter what. I don’t like postponing my plans. And death isn’t a good enough reason to quit communicating«.

Some critics have reduced Hang to eroticism and provocation; I ask Serebrennikov what he sees in Hang’s work.

»Many accuse Hang of these things. The Chinese Government, for example, and those who protect public morals. What I see primarily is humour, a view on humans and their sensuality and freedom characterised by attention and respect. I see constant thirst and search for beauty whatever the circumstances. It turns out a person can produce a masterpiece with nothing but a vase and a flower in an empty room, and a simple camera in his hands«.

»How does your approach to art and power compare to Ren Hang’s?«

»I don’t know how to answer this question without using big words. A great artist and director, Jan Fabre, paid us a visit. We’re good friends. Before his lecture at the Gogol Center, I asked him to leave a message on the wall where guests inscribe ideas or wishes. He wrote down this phrase: »Always safeguard beauty«.  I think this is also true for Ren Hang. He always sought beauty, he created it and asserted it«.

»And speaking of yourself, how much of your biography is in »Outside«? What are your thoughts about confessional or autobiographical artworks?«

»There is a famous Flaubert saying: »Madame Bovary is me.« In this work, there is as much of me as in any other, and that is not so much. Obviously, an author who writes a piece builds something of his or her own experience into it. Still, the hero is not quite myself; it’s a kind of projection or a phantom. The hero, played by Odin Biron, is not to be identified with me. Yes, all of it came to be because I was under house arrest and I had nothing but books at home and no way of getting out. I opened Ren Hang’s album to connect with him, then I opened Robert Mapplethorpe’s album and I realised that the two artists have a lot in common. This is the only link between the hero and myself. Also, I include some memories I have about going to the club Berghain. Everything else is fantastic reality«.

»Does directing from a distance, via videos/telephone conversations – as a metteur en scène who is not »sur scène« – create unusual and creative results? Is it possible that artistic output can benefit from distance?« I ask.

»This show was rehearsed in Moscow, so I made it in person. It was produced on a different stage though; the adaptation was created in Avignon with the help of an amazing team of my friends and co-authors. Theatre from a distance. There is something to it. It happens when you cannot do it yourself physically but I don’t think I’ve discovered some specific method in this art. These days, wonderful Iranian film directors win many awards at film festivals and they are forbidden to travel. Their work has been officially banned, they are forbidden to make films, every new film is at the risk of a prison sentence. Luckily, we don’t have such laws yet, so long live freedom«.

»Finally, since you cannot be with us for the festival, is there a message you have for your (I know, beloved) audience in Berlin?« I conclude.

Kirill Serebrennikov replies, »I want my work to spark interest towards Russian culture, and towards the international subjects of freedom, beauty, human coexistence in art and social matters. I want our show to bridge gaps between people. It’s important to do this at a time when so many forces, political forces among others, strive to crush such bridges and lock us in towers of solitude. We need to do whatever it is in our power to oppose this for as long as possible«.

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<![CDATA[Ödipus, aber keine Neufassung]]> https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-oedipus.html Mon, 30 Aug 2021 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/pearson-oedipus.html by Joseph Pearson

Das Schicksal

Viele Jahre lang hat das Athens Epidaurus Festival mit seinem Amphitheater, dem größten Theater der antiken Welt, Thomas Ostermeier dazu ermuntert, einen griechischen Klassiker zu inszenieren. »Ich habe immer abgelehnt«, berichtet der Regisseur, »weil ich nicht an das Konzept des Schicksals glaube«.

Es ist nicht verwunderlich, dass ein Mann, dessen Arbeit sich in den letzten Jahren – in Produktionen wie »Rückkehr nach Reims« und »Im Herzen der Gewalt« - der Überwindung von Grenzen wie Klasse, Geschlecht und Heteronormativität durch den Einzelnen gewidmet hat, vor der Theologie der Antike zurückschrecken könnte. Ostermeier erklärt: »Letztlich heißt es in jedem griechischen Stück, dass man keine Grenzen überschreiten soll. Ich konnte mit dieser Kosmologie nicht umgehen, aber das Festival hat mich immer wieder gebeten, ein Stück zu liefern. Also habe ich Maja Zade gefragt.«

Die Dramatikerin und langjährige Mitarbeiterin von Ostermeier sitzt neben mir in den Räumen der Schaubühne. Ihre Kammerspiele, die im häuslichen Umfeld (»abgrund«) oder am Arbeitsplatz (»status quo«) spielen, fangen die Sprache des Alltags ein, aber mit einer attischen Klarheit, die schon die Menschen der Antike zu schätzen wussten.

Zade berichtet: »Als Thomas den Klassiker vorschlug, dachte ich: Könnte das als psychologisches Kammerspiel funktionieren? Als wir Sophokles lasen, Quellen hinzunahmen und Exposés austauschten, wurde uns klar, dass wir beide sehr daran interessiert waren, wie das Leben eines Menschen von einem Moment auf den anderen völlig zusammenbricht. Wir haben auch Themen gefunden, die heute noch aktuell sind.«

Das Ergebnis ist ein neues Werk, Zades »ödipus«, in dem die Götter abwesend sind.

Doch was passiert mit der Handlungsstruktur und anderen dramatischen Elementen, wenn dieser Hauptmotor, die Konfrontation zwischen Mensch und Göttern, wegfällt? Welche Möglichkeiten ergeben sich für ein Stück, wenn es die griechische Kosmologie verlässt? Diese Fragen sind mit einer grundlegenden Aufgabe verknüpft: Was bedeutet es, Ödipus in die heutige Zeit zu übertragen? Ein Stück, das die griechische Welt eng auf die zeitgenössische überträgt, ist zwangsläufig künstlich, denn nur wenige von uns leben mit denselben Überzeugungen wie die alten Athener. Wir haben nicht dasselbe Menschenverständnis.

Das Zögern Ostermeiers, das Stück überhaupt zu inszenieren, ist also nicht nur eine Voraussetzung für seine Mitarbeit, sondern auch für die Inszenierung eines Ödipus, an den wir glauben können.

Neuschreibung

Wer bei der Premiere von Zades Stück im antiken Theater von Epidauros darauf wartet, dass die beiden Versionen einander entsprechen, wird (absichtlich) enttäuscht. Maja Zades Stück ist keine Neufassung von Sophokles.

»Ich wollte keine Überarbeitung schreiben«, erklärt Zade, »aber ich wusste, dass ich einige Elemente des Originals beibehalten würde: dass es sich an einem Tag abspielt, dass es sich auf wenige Hauptfiguren beschränkt. Ich dachte darüber nach, welche Motive und Themen interessant wären. Es wurde zwangsläufig komplizierter als meine anderen Stücke, weil die Handlung von ›ödipus‹ komplizierter ist als bei anderen Stücken. Und wir haben auch über den Titel gesprochen: ob es ›ödipus‹ heißen sollte oder nicht, aber ich dachte, es sei eine spielerische Anspielung auf den Klassiker. Ich würde nicht sagen, dass es im Dialog mit Sophokles steht. Vielmehr ist es davon inspiriert.«

Und dennoch kann das zeitgenössische Publikum mit gewissen Anlehnungen an den Klassiker rechnen. Diese Freude teilte auch das Publikum der Antike, die mit den Mythen vertraut waren und aufmerksam auf die Variationen der einzelnen Tragödiendichter achteten. Es war aufregend für sie, wenn sie etwa Varianten in Euripides' Nacherzählung der »Orestie« von Aischylos bemerkten.

Zade berichtet: »Ich persönlich würde nie auf eine so abenteuerliche Handlung kommen, vom Vatermord bis zum Inzest mit der Mutter. Wir würden denken, das sei völlig weit hergeholt und melodramatisch. Aber es hat Spaß gemacht, das Ganze auf eine psychologische Art und Weise zu gestalten, die man nicht für absurd hält. Das war eine Herausforderung und hat Spaß gemacht – es zum Funktionieren zu bringen.«

»Das Publikum wird das mögen«, mutmaße ich. »Es ist ein seltsames Vergnügen, der Vollendung einer Geschichte zuzusehen, die man bereits kennt ...«

»Ja, man erwartet, dass es eine große Offenbarung geben wird«, so Zade. »Aber wie schafft man das? Natürlich macht es Spaß, kleine Andeutungen im Text zu machen, die das Publikum versteht, die Figuren aber noch nicht.«

Ostermeier ergänzt: »Es geht nicht darum, was passiert, sondern darum, wie es passiert. Das ist das Vergnügen. Zuzusehen, wie es sich entfaltet. Mein Rat an die Zuschauer in Epidauros: Es ist gut, wenn man das Stück kennt. Dann weiß man zu schätzen, was Maja daraus gemacht hat, die Veränderungen, die Nuancen. Die Freude ist größer, wenn man den Mythos kennt.«

Macht

Trotz dieser Distanzierung vom Klassiker durch Autorin und Regisseur gibt es eine Resonanz zwischen der heutigen Zeit und dem Athen des Sophokles aus dem fünften Jahrhundert.

Die antike Kosmologie ist natürlich auch ein Motor der Spannung. Sie gibt der Handlung dieser Stücke einen Sinn. Die Grundstruktur beruht darauf, dass den einfachen Sterblichen die Allwissenheit der Götter fehlt. In ihrer Unzulänglichkeit und Hybris leiden sie unter ihrem Wissensdrang, ihrer Illusion vom freien Willen und darunter, dass sie sich nicht mit ihrem Schicksal abfinden. Das Publikum erwartet die Umkehrung und den Untergang des Schicksals. Die Bestrafung durch das Schicksal ist schließlich sowohl ein Höhepunkt als auch eine theologische Lehre, auch wenn sie von den wagemutigeren antiken Dramendichtern manchmal in Frage gestellt wird.

Dieses Schema verkörpert »König Ödipus« von Sophokles, das Aristoteles als »vollkommenste Tragödie« bezeichnet. Hier wird der Held zum Detektiv und sucht nach den Gründen, warum Theben von einer schrecklichen Seuche heimgesucht wird. Ödipus kann trotz aller Beweise nicht begreifen, dass Detektiv und Täter ein und derselbe sind: »Ich ... habe meinen Vater getötet und meine Mutter schändlich geheiratet. Nun bin ich gottlos und ein Kind der Unreinheit, gezeugt aus demselben Samen, der mein elendes Ich schuf. Wenn es ein Übel gibt, das schlimmer ist als ein Übel, so ist es das Los des Ödipus« (l. 1357 ff.). Ödipus sticht sich die Augen aus, um symbolisch für diese Blindheit zu büßen.

In Zades Stück stellt sich die Machtfrage nicht zwischen Mensch und Gott. Die Konflikte, die hier die Handlung vorantreiben und Spannung erzeugen, sind für das heutige Publikum glaubwürdiger und vertrauter. Die Nachforschungen drehen sich hier um eine Umweltkatastrophe, und der Konflikt entfacht sich an den unterschiedlichen Wegen, mit dem Unfall umzugehen – unterschiedliche Formen der Herrschaft, die sich während der Ermittlungen herauskristallisieren.

Zade erklärt: »Ich denke, in dem Stück geht es um Macht und darum, wie man regiert. Wie man seine Macht ausübt und wie Männer und Frauen sie unterschiedlich nutzen. Bei Sophokles ist mir aufgefallen, dass Iokaste kaum eine Rolle spielt, außer als sie wegläuft und sich umbringt. Es war mir wichtig, dass es auch ihre Geschichte ist und dass es eine gleiche Anzahl von Männern und Frauen in der Besetzung gibt. Deshalb gibt es Theresa und deshalb mache ich eine Frau zur Chefin.«

Ostermeier ergänzt: »Vor allem in den ersten beiden Akten geht es bei Maja um einen anderen Machtkampf: Die junge, wache Generation, die von Ödipus verkörpert wird, kämpft mit dem Patriarchat, das von einem alten, familiengeführten Unternehmen und Managern repräsentiert wird, die glauben, dass das Unternehmen über allem steht. Das macht das Stück so lebendig, relevant und überraschend: Es gibt viele sich überschneidende Konzepte der Machtausübung.«

Ödipus als Vertreter einer kritischen, jüngeren Generation ist an der Wahrheit interessiert und daran, das Richtige zu tun – im Sinne der antiken Tragödie sein »Makel«. Er gerät in Konflikt mit der alten Garde, was in der antiken Tragödie in der Auseinandersetzung mit Kreon zum Ausdruck kommt. In Zades Version will er die Ursache des Unfalls mit Pestiziden unbedingt aufklären. Doch die ältere Generation sucht nach Möglichkeiten, die Katastrophe zu vertuschen.

Eine interessante Parallele zum antiken Stoff besteht darin, dass diejenigen, die nach der Wahrheit suchen, immer noch besiegt werden. Aber nicht mehr von den Göttern, sondern von einem System der Unternehmensführung, das außerhalb der göttlichen Moral steht. In diesem Sinne ähnelt die alte Garde der Geschäftsleute wohl den Göttern, die selbst außerhalb der Moral stehen und, von wenigen Ausnahmen abgesehen, tun, was sie wollen. In diesem Sinne steht die moralische Haltung der Unternehmer für unseren heutigen Umgang mit den globalen Krisen.

Dazu sagt Zade: »Ohne es zu offensichtlich zu machen, ist die Art und Weise, wie diese Figuren über die Führung des Unternehmens diskutieren, auch die Art und Weise, wie politische Diskussionen ablaufen. Wie ehrlich ist man? Wie kann man Dinge drehen? Wie regiert man ein Land?۫«

Umweltverschmutzung

Das Stück dreht sich um einen ökologischen Zwischenfall und auch darum, wie wir mit unserem Planeten umgehen. Welche langfristigen Lösungen haben wir im Falle einer Verseuchung? Diese Formulierung, »das Land verseuchen«, ist genau die Sprache des Sophokles, wenn er eine Seuche beschreibt, die Theben heimsucht. Am Ende ist Ödipus der Verursacher – und so sollten auch wir unsere Rolle bei der täglichen, unbedachten, schrittweisen Zerstörung unserer Umwelt hinterfragen.

Dieses Stück hat etwas viel Traurigeres und Deterministischeres als das antike Original, denn die Verseuchung ist ein Fleck auf dem Land, der sich nicht so leicht entfernen lässt. Er ist fast unauslöschlich. In der antiken Welt gab es die Hoffnung, dass die Götter die Torheiten der Menschen korrigieren oder rückgängig machen. Die Nemesis kann bestrafen, aber auch retten. In unserer Welt existiert keine höhere Macht, die uns hilft.

Zade erläutert: »Wir haben darüber nachgedacht, was für ökologische Katastrophen auf diejenigen zukommen könnten, die ein großes, erfolgreiches Unternehmen leiten.«

Ostermeier: »Wichtig war, dass es eine Verbindung zwischen Ödipus' Handeln und der ökologischen Katastrophe geben musste. Das hat unsere Möglichkeiten eingeschränkt. Wir dachten an eine nukleare Katastrophe. Wir zogen auch eine Pandemie in Betracht, konnten uns aber nur schwer vorstellen, wie Ödipus dafür verantwortlich sein könnte. Ich bin froh, dass wir diesen Weg nicht eingeschlagen haben. Wir brauchten eine eher metaphorische Lösung, kein Theaterstück, das anderthalb Jahre nach Covid-19 spielt. Das wäre zu banal gewesen.«

Ich möchte wissen: »Hat die Corona-Pandemie das Stück trotzdem beeinflusst?"

Ostermeier: »Nicht nur anderthalb Jahre Corona, sondern alles, was mit der globalen Krise zusammenhängt: die Hitze an der Westküste, die 45 Grad in Vancouver, die Brände in Griechenland. Nicht nur die Überschwemmungen, die wir in Deutschland erlebt haben, sondern auch die in Bangladesch und China. Das sind alles vom Menschen verursachte globale Katastrophen.«

»Auch Covid-19 wurde von uns selbst verursacht«, werfe ich ein.

»Ja«, sagt Ostermeier, »und das hängt mit meinem Verständnis des ›ödipus‹-Stücks zusammen. Ich möchte Ihnen eine Anekdote erzählen. Als am 13. November 2015 die Terroranschläge im Pariser Bataclan-Theater verübt wurden, sollten wir am nächsten Tag in Paris die Inszenierung ›Ödipus der Tyrann‹ von Regisseur Romeo Castellucci aufführen. Viele in unserer Truppe weigerten sich, dorthin zu fahren, aus Angst. Andere hielten es für eine wichtige Möglichkeit, sich mit den Parisern zu solidarisieren. Der Intendant des Théâtre de la Ville, wo wir auftraten, trat sogar vor das Publikum, um die Werte der Aufklärung zu verteidigen: Wir müssen auftreten, auch wenn wir in Gefahr sind, auch wenn es Terrorismus gibt.

Als ich diese Inszenierung sah, habe ich das Stück ›Ödipus‹ verstanden. Es geht um ein Problem, das eine Gesellschaft in Gefahr bringt. Man untersucht die Ursache des Problems und findet heraus, dass man es selbst ist. So lese ich auch die Terroranschläge. Alle Pariser Terroristen sind in Paris aufgewachsen. Sie sind Teil unserer Gesellschaft. Nicht irgendwelche Extremisten aus Afghanistan. Es sind Menschen, die aus unserer Gesellschaft ausgestoßen wurden. Im Mittelpunkt des Stücks stehen solche Probleme, unsere Spaltung in Arm und Reich, Migranten und Dazugehörige, die Umweltkatastrophen, die wir verursachen. Wenn wir also eine globale Pandemie erleben, was ist dann die richtige Geschichte, um sie auf die Bühne zu bringen? Es ist nicht Albert Camus' ›Die Pest‹. Es ist ›Ödipus‹. Es ist ein Stück darüber, wo wir im Moment stehen, denn wir sind das Problem.«

Und so kehren wir zum Anfangsthema der Diskussion zurück - dass nicht die Götter schuld sind.

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<![CDATA[Eine Antwort auf das Abstand halten: »Michael Kohlhaas ]]> https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/index-2.html Wed, 18 Nov 2020 00:00:00 +0000 https://www.schaubuehne.de/de/blog/index-2.html by Joseph Pearson

Ich sehe Schauspieler_innen, die regelmäßig getestet werden, ohne Masken auf der Bühne. Es ist eine Probe von Heinrich von Kleists »Michael Kohlhaas« an der Schaubühne. Sie stehen dicht beieinander, umschlingen sich, teilen die gleiche Luft. Die Videokamera konzentriert sich ganz auf die Gesten. Die Inszenierung spielt mit Intimität und erzeugt so eine Sehnsucht nach anderen Zeiten.

»Berührungen sind für diese Produktion unglaublich wichtig«, sagt mir Regisseur Simon McBurney, »und die Art und Weise, wie die Menschen Berührung wahrnehmen, ist als Folge des Coronavirus natürlich gesteigert«.

»Ich vermisse die Selbstverständlichkeit von Berührungen«, antworte ich.

»Haben wir nicht Glück?«, lächelt Co-Regisseurin Annabel Arden, seine langjährige Mitarbeiterin und Mitbegründerin von Complicité. Sie blickt auf die Bühne: »Es ist uns wichtig zu sagen, wie viel uns das Publikum bedeutet und wie wir das menschliche Bedürfnis geltend machen, uns zu versammeln und gemeinsam zuzuhören«.

An der Schaubühne ist nichts wie sonst: Die Aufführungen im November wurden abgesagt, das öffentliche Café ist nicht in Betrieb und an den Glastüren hängen Schilder mit dem Wort »geschlossen«. Ich habe das Gefühl, in das Gebäude einzubrechen, als ich an den Warnhinweisen und den Desinfektionsmittelspendern vorbeikomme und von den Mitarbeiter_innen beobachtet werde, die die Einhaltung der Abstands- und Hygieneregeln gewährleisten. Die Anzahl der Menschen auf der Probe ist begrenzt. Ich sitze mit einer Atemschutzmaske auf einem Stuhl in der Ecke. Die Produktion arbeitet hart, ohne zu wissen, ob die für Dezember geplante Premiere stattfinden kann. Bereits zum zweiten Mal musste schon die Premiere von Thomas Ostermeiers »Das Leben des Vernon Subutex 1« aufgrund der Pandemie verschoben werden.

Simon McBurney ist an der Schaubühne bereits bekannt. Ich habe ihn zum ersten Mal während des FIND 2015 für seine Stückentwicklung »Amazon Beaming« interviewt. Im Jahr darauf kehrte er zurück, um mit dem Ensemble an Stefan Zweigs »Ungeduld des Herzens« zu arbeiten. Deutschsprachige Literatur ist es nun auch wieder mit Kleist geworden. Zwischen diesen Produktionen gibt es Gemeinsamkeiten: innovatives und feinfühliges Sounddesign (bei »Amazon Beaming« trug das gesamte Publikum Kopfhörer), ein experimenteller Umgang mit den Figuren (die Schauspieler_innen teilen und verwischen Identitäten), eine spielerische Mischung aus szenischer Lesung, Theateraufführung und Videoprojektion.

Das minimale Bühnenbild wird heute von einer riesigen Leinwand hinter der Bühne und zwei kleineren Leinwänden an den Seiten dominiert. Ansonsten sehe ich während dieser Probe nur ein paar Stühle und Requisiten. Angereichert wird die Szene mit der Gestik der Schauspieler_innen und den Projektionen: frühneuzeitliche Porträts von Junkern, den Körpern von Pferden, historische Szenen aus der Welt von Kleists Novelle.

McBurney reflektiert: »Das Bühnenbild spiegelt die Welt von Michael Kohlhaas wider. Wenn er eine Ungerechtigkeit erleidet, wird die Ordnung der Dinge gestört, und seine Welt beginnt, in Fragmente zu zerspringen. Die Strenge des Buches spiegelt sich in der Strenge des Bühnenbilds und in den Bildern der Fragmentierung und des Zerbrechens wider. Indem man alles entfernt, ist alles im Hier und Jetzt. Das ist genau so, wie es in diesem Moment sein muss, in einem Moment der Corona-Pandemie, im Chaos der Welt. Corona verstärkt das Gefühl der Trennung, aber es ist ein Teil der Gesellschaft, in der wir leben. Die meiste Zeit achten wir nicht auf diese Distanzierung, und dann wird uns plötzlich bewusst, wie tief wir voneinander und von der Natur getrennt sind. Die Tatsache, dass die Bühne völlig leer ist, scheint mir auch der Natur dieser Geschichte und der Natur unserer Zeit sehr angemessen zu sein, da wir versuchen, alle möglichen verschiedenen Fragmente zusammenzusetzen und sie zu einem kohärenten Ganzen zu machen«.

Ich frage McBurney was »das Ganze« wohl sein könnte.

Er betrachtet die Zusammenhänge: »Die Geschichte sollte uns, so hoffe ich, in die Zeit von Kleist zurückführen. Kleist selbst springt über 250 Jahre zurück zu Michael Kohlhaas, um zu zeigen, dass wir im Zusammenhang mit der Vergangenheit stehen. Die Vergangenheit ist nicht losgelöst von uns, wir neigen aber dazu, so darüber zu denken. Genauso wie die Natur es nicht ist. Die Geschichte zu erzählen und sie jetzt zu erzählen - die Mittel zu finden, um sie zu erzählen - ist auch ein Akt der Verbindung, sicherlich ein Versuch dazu. Es ist nicht nur eine Möglichkeit, die Geschichte lebendig zu machen, sondern auch den Geist des Mannes zu spüren, der die Geschichte geschrieben hat. Dadurch verbinden wir die heutige Zeit mit dieser Zeit, so wie er die vorangegangene Zeit mit seiner eigenen verbunden hat«.

»Ist die Corona-Pandemie eine Gelegenheit oder ein Moment um nachzudenken, um diese Trennungen zu überwinden?«

»In der Theorie ist es eine Gelegenheit wieder damit zu beginnen. Aber nicht jeder macht das. Wir reden darüber, wieder zur ‘Normalität zurückzukehren’, aber man kann nicht zurück. Zeit und Raum bewegen sich vorwärts, und deshalb können wir nicht rückwärtsgehen. Die Frage ist also, in welche Art ‘Vorwärts’ wir gehen«.

»Michael Kohlhaas«, 1810 von Kleist geschrieben, basiert auf den realen Nöten eines Pferdehändlers aus dem 16. Jahrhundert. Ein Adliger fügt Kohlhaas Unrecht zu, indem er seine Pferde festhält und hungern lässt und seinen Einfluss vor Gericht nutzt, um den Mann daran zu hindern, Gerechtigkeit zu suchen. Nachdem Kohlhaas' Frau in den Streit hineingeraten ist und mit ihrem Leben bezahlt hat, führt der Händler Krieg gegen seine Feinde, brennt deren Besitz und Städte nieder und fordert Gerechtigkeit.

Der Weg von der Novelle des frühen 19. Jahrhunderts bis zur Bühne ist kein geradliniger. Es ist nicht einfach, eine Geschichte auf der Bühne zu erzählen, die in Burgen und Städten, mehrheitlich im frühneuzeitlichen Europa spielt. Aber die Sprache ist überraschender Weise eine noch größere Herausforderung. Liest man »Michael Kohlhaas« auf Deutsch, stellt man fest, wie verzwickt es ist.

Die Autorin Maja Zade, Dramaturgin der Inszenierung, erklärt, dass »die Sprache bei Kohlhaas sehr forensisch und detailliert ist. Es gibt nicht viele Beschreibungen der Motive oder Gefühle der Menschen. Die Sätze haben gewöhnlich mehrere Nebensätze und oft Nebensätze innerhalb von Nebensätzen, und manchmal wechselt ein Satz auf halber Strecke die Richtung und geht einen anderen Weg als am Anfang. Man muss also viel Zeit darauf verwenden, herauszufinden, was der Satz tatsächlich bedeutet, bevor man dann versuchen kann, ihn so zu sprechen, dass er für ein Publikum Sinn ergibt«.

McBurney reflektiert: »Ich fühle mich durch das Werk und die Arbeit mit ihm im Original an der Schaubühne sehr demütig. Kleist verwendet bewusst einen nüchternen, distanzierten Stil, der aber auch eine unglaubliche Geschwindigkeit, Unvermeidlichkeit und Kraft hat. Das wird schon im ersten Satz der ganzen Novelle deutlich:

An den Ufern der Havel lebte, um die Mitte des sechzehnten Jahrhunderts, ein Roßhändler, namens Michael Kohlhaas, Sohn eines Schulmeisters, einer der rechtschaffensten zugleich und entsetzlichsten Menschen seiner Zeit.

»Alles entfaltet sich aus diesem Paradoxon, das in gewisser Weise ein mythisches menschliches Paradoxon ist. Wir können rechtschaffend sein, aber wir sind auch entsetzlich. Alles entfaltet sich aus diesem Paradoxon. Der Stil, mit seinen vielen Nebensätzen und riesigen Hauptsätzen, modelliert die Situationen fast mit Worten. Er verwendet Wörter wie Lehm oder Ziegelsteine oder Baugerüste. Dann müssen wir uns in diese Konstruktion hineinversetzen, anstatt uns vorzustellen, dass wir diese Person sind, weil wir uns mit einer bestimmten Stimme identifizieren, und uns auf verschwommene und emotionale Weise in ihr versenken, weil wir mit ihr sympathisieren. Hier ist es viel anspruchsvoller und strenger und sogar seltsam absurd«.

»Wenn wir über die moralischen Aspekte des Textes nachdenken: Kämpft Kohlhaas für das Allgemeinwohl oder ist er ein Kleinkrimineller? Ist Gewalt ein angemessener Weg nach vorn, wenn der Staat nicht für Gerechtigkeit sorgen kann?«, frage ich.

»Die Frage, wie man es schafft, Gerechtigkeit zu erfahren, ist sehr komplex. Die Grundvoraussetzung ist, dass dieser Mann, Michael Kohlhaas, der voll und ganz an die Gesellschaft glaubt, entdeckt, dass sich die Welt für ihn verändert hat. Alles beginnt sich Stück für Stück aufzulösen. Die Welt ist nicht unbedingt geordnet, sondern ungeordnet. Eine sehr einfache und winzige Unordnung kann letztlich zu einer außergewöhnlichen Unordnung führen. Der Mensch versucht, Ordnung in das Chaos zu bringen. Es gibt etwas, das Gesetz und Gerechtigkeit heißt, und das sind Systeme, an die wir glauben. Aber wir werden ständig daran erinnert, dass es sich dabei um menschliche Konstrukte und nicht um ewige Absolutheiten handelt, die sich, wenn sie einmal gestört sind, vollständig auflösen können. Aus dem Chaos können viele verschiedene Dinge auftauchen: ob es Donald Trump ist oder ISIS oder alle Arten von Extremismus. Was wir für richtig und ausgewogen und möglich halten, wird plötzlich in Frage gestellt. An diesem Punkt sehen wir vielleicht die Grenzen des Menschseins: die Zerbrechlichkeit, die Schwächen, die Tatsache, dass dies alles menschliche Erzählungen sind. Sie sind keine ewig währenden Gesetze«.

»Wie bewerten wir dann seine Reaktion auf diesen Zerfall?«

»Letztlich ist Michael Kohlhaas' Antwort auf Ungerechtigkeit Gewalt. Nur so kann er sich vorstellen, ein Unrecht zu korrigieren. Er kann keine andere Möglichkeit sehen. Er rechtfertigt sie, weil er sich selbst als moralischen Menschen sieht: weil die Gesellschaft ihm nicht erlaubt hat, innerhalb der Gesetze dieser Gesellschaft Gerechtigkeit zu erlangen. Deshalb wird er an diesem Punkt zu einem Ausgestoßenen, und einmal außerhalb der Gesellschaft hat er das moralische Recht zu wählen, wie er sich verhalten will. Nun gibt es eine andere Art, sich zu verhalten. Wenn man das Thema geschlechtsspezifisch behandeln wollte, könnte man sagen, dass dieser Rückgriff auf Gewalt eine grundsätzlich männliche Reaktion ist. Interessant ist, dass es einen anderen Weg gibt: nämlich Widerstand durch Gewaltlosigkeit, wie im Fall von jemandem wie Chelsea Manning, die die Ungerechtigkeit dessen, was geschieht, aufdeckt, dann aber sofort jede Strafe akzeptiert, die damit einhergeht. Aber der Widerstand gegen Ungerechtigkeit ist im Fall von Kohlhaas und Manning gleichermaßen stark«.

»Welche anderen Personen haben dein Narrativ inspiriert? Was bedeuten ihre Reaktionen für unsere Zeit?«

»Jemand wie Edward Snowden, der Ungerechtigkeiten offenlegt. Andere Menschen, die sich Ungerechtigkeiten widersetzen, wie zum Beispiel Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria, der für seine Überzeugungen gestorben ist. Ebenso kann man auf zeitgenössische Persönlichkeiten verweisen, auf Arundhati Roy oder auf Organisationen, die gegen Klimaungerechtigkeit kämpfen wie Extinction Rebellion. All diese Menschen stellen konventionelle Narrative in Frage. Die Antwort des konventionellen Narrativ ist immer wieder, dass es richtige Wege gibt, durch die man gehen muss. Es gibt eine Regierung und man muss den Weg der Regierung gehen. Aber die Frage, die Michael Kohlhaas am Herzen liegt, lautet: Ja, aber wird das etwas ändern? An seinem Beispiel sieht man: Es wird sich nur ändern, wenn ich dafür sorge, dass es sich ändert. Wenn wir die Veränderung sind. Mit anderen Worten: Sei die Veränderung! Wir müssen die Veränderung sein«.

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