The Future Archive of Theater

Over the course of the festival, I’ve been asking theater makers within and without tt10 about the state of German theater by asking them about the past of theater from the perspective of the future. I’ve been asking the theater makers to assess or reassess their position to the theater of now by looking out from an imaginary future. This tactic, which has been developed by two critical theorists, Manuela Zechner and Anja Kanngieser, is called the future archives and it provides a space to think about the possibility of change. I’ve asked:

Imagine you’re living in the year 2050.  Please describe the theater of 2010 as you remember it.  What’s improved?  What do you miss?

In my correspondence with theater makers, some have said they’d prefer not to discuss the future of German theater or the future at all. Others have said such speculations of ‘visionaries’ have proved to be dangerous over the course of history. But others have agreed with Manuela Zechner and Anja Kanngieser, that talking about the present in the future in the now can help us reframe our desires. These answers can be read and discussed here.

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The Contract of the Audience

99 pages of text, 4 hours of theater, no scheduled intermissions. Sounds like a marathon, right? Sounds potentially aggressive, potentially cruel. Did I mention that “Die Kontrakte des Kaufmanns” by Elfriede Jelinek is about the financial crisis and the evils of capitalism? Did I mention that the text resembles Jelinek’s “Women as Lovers” in its structural patterns? That the text spins around and around and goes almost nowhere? Did I mention that the text is 99 pages and that the piece is 4 hours without an intermission? But out of these daunting circumstances, Nicolas Stemann has created a wonderful, inspiring evening of theatre.

Who's Afraid of 99 Pages? Photo: David Baltzer

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Notes on Money and Science Fiction

Money – It Came From Outer Space! No, this is not a long lost Sun Ra record, it’s the working title of Chris Kondek and Christiane Kühl’s workshop for tt 10’s international forum.

This year, the international forum, which brings together some of the best and brightest theater persons from around the world, focuses on the questions: ‘How can theater deal with the world? And what are the realities created by the art of theater?’

In their workshop, Kondek and Kühl have developed an interesting way to deal with the world, and with money in particular. They have asked the question: what happens when we talk about money as if it were a foreign creature, as if it weren’t the self-evident means to an end whose presence we take for granted everyday? And, furthermore, what happens if we look at money as we do science fiction films? What happens if we understand money as one of these abominable creatures? Continue reading Notes on Money and Science Fiction

Questions About Representation

Say what you will about “Die Schmutzigen, die Hässlichen und die Gemeinen” (“Ugly, dirty, bad”), but don’t accuse Karin Beier of being naive. In her 2010 theater version of Ettore Scola’s 1976 neo-realist film about a shanty town family, Beier is fully aware that neo-realist methods are risky, if not suspect, in this day and age. In portraying the violence, adversity and sexual perversions of a very poor family, Beier seems to suggest that it is no longer possible to simply bare these terrors in an art context, that it is passé to merely represent them, to put “real life” (whatever that may mean) on stage.

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To the Affective End: the “Marthaler Effect”

To turn the old adage on its head, describing a play by Marthaler would be like dancing to architecture. Yes, we could concentrate on “Riesenbutzbach”‘s formal gestures, yes, we could talk about the stage design and the costumes, yes, I could outline the “plot”, which is less of a plot than a series of impressions, and yes, I could copy/paste the festival’s description of the play; but none of this would come close to describing what Marthaler does to the viewer, none of this would replicate the experience nor make the beauty and urgency of it felt.

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Optimistic Young Authors

Conflicts and crises are better partitions than cubicle walls. Crises separate the wheat from the chaff, the optimists from the pessimists. While the pessimist may fall into existential angst and question whether or how one should continue, the optimist keeps hoping that things aren’t all that bad and that they will get better.

Young stage writers in Germany have been faced with a theater specific crisis: the Heidelberger Stückemarkt held back its prize this year, and last year Vienna’s Burgtheater cancelled its workshop for young dramatists. In other words, the current dramatic output has been categorically put into doubt. The question “what’s to be done?” would seem to naturally arise in face of this conflict. Are these events reason to worry for the general state of theater? Or do they serve as motivation for young authors to flex their dramatic muscles? This year at Theatertreffen, things look rather optimistic. The jury has not only selected a group of (relatively) young writers, but these writers themselves are (mostly) hopeful. I asked them about critical optimism, their hopes for the Stückemarkt and the types of questions theater can answer that, perhaps, other forms of art are unable to.

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Contra “Die Stunde”: Handke 2.0

Peter Handke’s texts for the theater have always been a challenge to the theater. “Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wussten” is no exception: “Die Stunde”s text, which concentrates on a plaza and the movements that take place on it and which has no dialogue and reads more like stage directions, explicitly asks questions as if it didn’t know what to proscribe; it suggests movements but then negates them, stating that they should, in fact, not appear on stage.

Sing-along. "Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wussten". Foto: Kim Keibel

Considering such openness and the theoretical apparatus of Roland Barthes’ death of authors, it is no surprise that Viktor Bodó has taken Handke’s source material and gone in a totally different direction. While Handke offers us old fishermen, Moses, football teams, firemen (who may or may not be running across the stage to a fire or a drill) and women with baskets full of mushrooms, Bodó “updates” Handke’s text with club kids, violent drunks, frustrated bureaucrats and museum guards. Bodó, in other words, challenges Handke’s challenge to theater, eschewing all of Handke’s suggestions and questions with ideas of his own. Sounds admirable, right? The problem, however, is that if you’re going to challenge/update a text or take it in another direction, you’re obligated to make it as good if not better than the original; otherwise, finding another title for your work seems advisable. Bodó, unfortunately, did not live up to his own challenge.

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The Sadness of Machines

I just saw “Kleiner Mann – was nun?”, an adaptation of a novel from 1932 written by Hans Fallada in a production by Belgian director Luk Perceval – and I was so stunned, I think it’d be better if I said this to you in person by way of machine, i.e my video camera …

Survival Techniques

Dea Loher’s play “Diebe” has everything this year’s tt theme promises. Wolves and crises, the return of Nature and problems. Unfortunately, this new work from a living dramatist failed to excite my imagination, my hopefulness or even my willingness to sit in the theater.

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“We Want People to Eat More Vegetables”

Based on transcriptions of telephone conversations that Pavol Liska conducted with collaborator Kristin Worrall, the Nature Theater of Oklahoma has created a marathon musical worthy of the word epic. “Life and Times – Episode 1 derives from the first conversation Pavol Liska had with Kristin Worrall, wherein Kristin makes the first attempt to tell her life story; spanning from her birth until her eighth year.

I sat down with founders Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska to talk about epic theater, boredom, conceptual writing and the Super Bowl.

Pavol Liska. Photo: Kim Keibel
Kelly Copper. Photo: Kim Keibel


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