Alles wird gut! Alternative Schlüsse für alle Theatertreffenstücke

Uns gefällt es nicht, dass die beim Theatertreffen inszenierten Textvorlagen zu meist grausamen, finalen Szenen führten, wo Leichen herumliegen, wo Beziehungen am Boden zerstört sind, wo keine Hoffnung mehr herrscht. Daher bieten wir als exklusiven Service schönere, frohere Enden an. Ja, alles kann gut werden! Continue reading Alles wird gut! Alternative Schlüsse für alle Theatertreffenstücke

Das 50-Zeichen-Fazit

Verehrte Leserinnen und Leser, wir fassen uns kurz und haben unser Fazit passend zum 50. Theatertreffen auf 50 Zeichen eingedampft. Das ist weniger als ein halber Tweet. TT-Juror Vasco Boenisch hatte definitiv Recht mit seiner Vermutung bei der Jury-Schlussdiskussion, dass der Trend zur Kurzkritik geht. Die Stipendiaten des Internationalen Forums zogen übrigens für die letzte Folge von TTtv ebenfalls in ein paar Worten ihr Resümee.

Summer Banks: Depressing but formally-fascinating big budget ballast

Eva Biringer: Sound: Apparat Karussell tolle Frauen in zu hohen Schuhen.

Eefke Kleimann: #TT50 verbindet. Gartengespräche. Doppelkeks. Magnolie.

Clemens Melzer: Hauptprogramm merkwürdig, Rest bemerkenswert. Denkbedarf.

Dirk Pilz: Sandra Hüller, Wiebke Puls, Constanze Becker, Risto Kübar

Nikola Richter: Witz von Jürgen Holtz, Winken von Julia Häusermann. Wir!

Henrike Terheyden: BerlinOhneBerlinZuSehenTuscheUbahnTippenScannenBäm!

Regietheater, auf Englisch

We’ve done it again. We’ve borrowed a word from the German and made it our own. After “schadenfreude and “zeitgeist, “Regietheater” has now surpassed the translation “director’s theatre” in common usage.

I first realized how serious this trend had become when Alex Ross used it in his commentary on new opera productions in New York over the past season. Note: of course we don’t exactly use the term correctly, in English, “Regietheater can basically be plastered across any non-historical staging of a work.

I would propose, however, that we haven’t earned the right to use the term all. Because Regietheater really only applies if the director actually means something to begin with. And in the States in general, the director is a glorified medium for the playwright or librettist – he or she is there to bring the author’s text, according to his (or her) intentions, to life. This is one reason why there are endless discussions of what Shakespeare really meant, if he would have objected to women playing Macbeth and who the hell “he” was anyway. Non-historical stagings are then approached with the somewhat mystical question: “How would the author have imagined the piece if he or she were alive now? Would he choose McDonald’s or Burger King? Drive a Chevy or a Toyota? Go to Disneyland or the Playboy Mansion?”

And as soon as our directors stray from this melt-behind-the-text role, we automatically cry “Regietheater and dismiss it as, pardon my British, disrespectful wank. So you can also understand why our most talented directors turn toward film. At least there they have some respect and creative control.

Katie Mitchell's direction intensive production of Night Train, invited to the Theatertreffen this year.
Katie Mitchell’s direction intensive production of Night Train, invited to the Theatertreffen this year. Photo Credit: Stephen Cummiskey

Of course there’s also a couple that have made it to the continent, where directors are the geniuses and celebrities, for better or worse. British director Katie Mitchell‘s description of her first encounter with this status change:

“When I went to Salzburg for the first time, I was sitting in the square and there were three banners with three middle-aged men’s faces on them advertising three shows. I asked, ‘Are those pictures of the playwrights?’ No. ‘Are those pictures of the leading actors?’ No. ‘Who are they of, then?’ The directors. And I thought, this would be impossible in the UK: the directors’ faces on their shows? That would be a travesty.” (From a conversation in 2010)

So my perspective on the discussion “Theatre directing is…” on Sunday was a bit coloured by wonder at the fact that such a discussion would even be held. And most of the conversation revolved around predictable historical reminiscing about the emergence of dance theatre and watered-down descriptions of the craft: i.e. “Directing is making decisions.” But there was one nice moment of drama.

Claus Peymann (artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble, slowly increasing in volume): “Don’t we have the theatre that we deserve today? The minimalisation of pieces, actors turned into slaves, into director’s puppets, a contempt for drama, a disdain for literature, isn’t all of this is the expression of our ahistorical society…? Theatre like that of Rimini Protokoll, which represents the triumph of dilettantism and totally disregards literature, isn’t that what we’ve earned?”

Thomas Oberender (director of the Berliner Festspiele, standing up in the last row, and shouting): “That’s enough! What you’re saying is terrible. You still try to explain the world with Brecht and then you denounce the next generation.”

Peymann: “I’m just saying that I think Rimini is a symptom. I, myself, was one of their subjects: they made a whole production about me. Sure, it has an alleged authenticity, but it has nothing to do with the art and skills of theatre.”

More shouting, accusations – thankfully no guns.

So the director discussion on Sunday took a turn toward a discussion of the direction of theatre and society in general. But that also reflects the relative position of the director in German theatre (and theatre in German society). This is a real Regietheater. It’s the director that decides what subjects and aesthetics the theatre should tackle. And directors define generations, not playwrights. Crazy.

The discussion moderator segued out of the Peymann vs. Oberender conflict by saying, with regard to directorial styles: “We should preserve diversity, that’s clear.” At least it is for Germany.

But who knows, maybe the American theatre zeitgeist really is ready for a little bit more Regietheater.

It's a woman's world! Schauspielerinnen beim Theatertreffen

Immer ist die Rede vom Regiekonzept. Selten die Rede von den Darstellern. Wir finden: Dieses Theatertreffen ist eine Woman-Show. Auffallend viele der zehn bemerkenswerten Inszenierungen bestreiten Schauspielerinnen.

50. Theatertreffen
Sandra Hüller nahm heute per Skype den 3sat-Preis entgegen. Vor dem roten Vorhang an der großen Bühne, Haus der Berliner Festspiele. Foto: Piero Chiussi

Und wir hatten recht: Heute Mittag wurde der Alfred-Kerr-Darstellerpreis für die beste schauspielerische Nachwuchsleistung vergeben. Er ging an Julia Häusermann in „Disabled Theater.” Und auch den 3sat-Preis bekam eine Frau: Sandra Hüller für ihren Auftritt in „Die Straße. Die Stadt. Der Überfall.” Gratulation!

Es ist leicht zu entscheiden, ob einem deren Spiel gefällt oder nicht. Schwierig bis nicht machbar ist es hingegen, zu benennen, was die da tun. Zu begreifen, was diese Schauspielerinnen auf der Bühne vollziehen, wie sie ihre Worte zum Klingen bringen, mit welchen Bewegungen sie den Raum füllen. An dieser Aufgabe kann man nur scheitern (sagt unser Mentor Dirk Pilz). Die Frage ist, auf welchem Niveau. Wir versuchen es mal: deutschsprachige Rollenporträts zu Constanze Becker, Sandra Hüller, Judith Rosmair, Julia Wieninger und englischsprachige zu Lina Beckmann, Lena Schwarz und Kate Strong.

Continue reading It's a woman's world! Schauspielerinnen beim Theatertreffen

"They suck these strangers dry: there is a vampire side of the system." An interview with Sebastian Nübling

Sebastian Nübling’s German-language production of American playwright Tennessee Williams’ 1957 Orpheus Descending for the Münchner Kammerspiele delves into the complexities of being an outsider, and was praised by the Theatertreffen jury for its “timeless value”. Tonight and tomorrow it is shown at Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Why did you decide to take on the job of staging this little-known work by Tennessee Williams?
It’s a clear story and not too psychological. It’s more like a parable, sort of an evil fairy tale, of a story really going wrong. It’s about how these kinds of situations can develop and not about one single very specific situation. The second reason for doing it was that (Estonian actor) Risto Kübar would play the male lead; that was the main click to say, okay, now it makes sense to produce the play because we have an actor in the centre of the play who is able to perform something between cultures, between languages and also on the gender level between the sexes – so you can understand a bit why this whole community where this stranger lands becomes so troubled on different levels.

How is the relationship of us vs. them portrayed?
It’s not all that simple: we have this kind of community where a stranger comes in and they get a lot of energy out of this guy, a lot of fantasy and projections on a sexual, emotional and violent level in the end. In a way you get the feeling that they need this kind of an other. On one hand to define what they are themselves, and on the negative side what they are not. And on the other hand they suck these strangers dry: there is a vampire side of the system.

Getting cocky with some baloons. Photo Credit: Julian Röder
Getting cocky with some balloons. Photo Credit: Julian Röder

The community plays a larger role in this work than in William’s more popular plays, like A Streetcar Named Desire or The Glass Menagerie…
There are stories from individuals you can connect to, but he also tries to build a bigger social network around the centre plot. He tries to communicate something about social circumstances and about the big questions: how do we live together and how do we want to live together and what stops us from living together the way we would like to?

Is the inspiration behind the staging still 1950s America?
I think Bavaria is not so far away from America to be honest: it has, you know, the cowboy hats. It’s sort of a mixture it’s not really like “this is in America” but more like prototype characters from movies and that I think it’s good for that stuff because it’s about prototype situation. It’s in German but you have this actor who doesn’t speak German in real life and so he learned the role on a phonetic basis. Continue reading "They suck these strangers dry: there is a vampire side of the system." An interview with Sebastian Nübling

Day 16

1. Finishing translating an interview about Hebbel am Ufer’s next festival.

2. Spending the evening along the Panke (the other Berlin river).

3. There’s a reason why there’s no major Theatertreffen event tonight: Eurovision.

Wish: To finally understand Ku’damm, with the help of Rimini Protokoll and members of this year’s International Forum workshop.

"First I'm a drunken old pathetic mother and then I'm like a fuck monster" – a chat with Kate Strong

Praised by the jury for her “wonderfully overwrought, stylized circus figures,” British Berlin-based actress and dancer Kate Strong is performing in the Theatertreffen for the second year in a row in a production from versatile director Karin Henkel. Gerhart Hauptmann’s “The Rats” is set in an end of the 19th century Berlin and interweaves a traditional narrative with commentary on the nature and societal role of theater.

Summer Banks: Part of the concept for this “The Rats”  from Schauspiel Köln is that the performers use different styles of acting. How do your three characters, and speaking English, work within that?

Kate Strong: For the first two I’m completely fake: it has to be completely artificial. First I’m a drunken old pathetic mother and then I’m like a fuck monster. The last one’s from the Rhineland and the text that she has is a long, long monologue which is basically garbage. She’s just inventing stuff and it’s embarrassing, because she wants to present herself as better than she is—in the upper social class and not the lower. She talks rot basically, so I do it in English.

Kate Strong dons a wig and a ridiculous dress as Frau Hassenreuter. Photo Credit: Klaus Lefebvre
Kate Strong (on the right side) dons a wig and a ridiculous dress as Frau Hassenreuter. Photo Credit: Klaus Lefebvre

Hauptmann’s work also incorporates commentary on the attempt to bring current issues in society to the stage through a form of naturalism. How does this come out in this production?

The whole time we’re talking about social dramas. Can you justify doing, bringing, can you bring social themes to the stage? Does it make any sense to change your voice and speak in different way and act as if you’re someone else? The whole time we’re questioning if you can do that or not. At the same time, we’re doing it because we use accents and dialects and we are playing fake and real and artifice.

So what do you think about naturalism? 

Boring. What your grandma can do. And that’s discussed all the way through the piece. At the same time, Lina Beckmann is in it completely. She’s a fantastic actress and you believe her all the time. You have an empathy with her: sometimes she’s offensive, but you’re still with her because she’s fucking good at what she does. In that sense, it does bloody work. Continue reading "First I'm a drunken old pathetic mother and then I'm like a fuck monster" – a chat with Kate Strong

Blackface fail

Even after I heard that the production of Brecht’s Saint Joan of the Stockyards from Schauspielhaus Zurich not only used full body black facing but incorporated a “booty enhancer” as well, I went through with the decision to go watch it. I was determined to keep an open mind, because there should be freedom of art. Right?

Since the beginning of 2012, blackfacing on stage has sparked controversy in Berlin, spurring multiple protests, but I’d managed to steer clear of personally experiencing it myself. I was raised in post-Civil Rights Movement U.S.A., thankfully only saw the minstrel show tradition in books and wanted to keep it that way.

But when this piece was chosen as one of the 10 “most remarkable” productions in the German-language theater world, I had to suck it up, put my American political correctness aside and face it.

And it was disturbingly terrible: an exaggerated reproduction of a “black other” that more closely resembles 19th century caricatures and “darkies,” than any sort of 21st century, repressed by global capitalism, “African” that the character Mrs. Luckerniddle is now (there’s no reference to origins in Brecht’s text) allegedly supposed to represent. I felt sick to my stomach.

I mostly wanted to forget the experience as soon as possible, but I cannot help but feel outraged, especially since public funding was used to bring this piece to Berlin. (They also failed to mention the use of blackfacing in the jury’s decision AT ALL). So I wanted answers. Fast.

Thankfully my fellow Bloggerin had interviewed the director Sebastian Baumgarten. Justification?

Baumgarten: “I deliberately chose blackfacing, among others, as a technique for presentation, heightened presentation. That is a tool of art.”

Yes, blackfacing is a tool for presentation. And it’s been used to propagate negative stereotypes for centuries. To put this technique on stage and not create a venue within the work for the analysis and questioning of this historic usage deliberately ignores the explosive nature of this “tool of art”.

I still believe that art should be free. And that there might theoretically be a production in which even a technique as negatively-charged as blackfacing could be intelligently and powerfully addressed on stage. And that it could even be chosen as one of the 10 “most remarkable” that year. But this car wreck of clashing stereotypes (let’s not forget the squinty-eyed, noodle-slurping portrayal of Mulberry) certainly isn’t it.

The audience discussion after the second performance last night was just disappointing: the director was back in Zurich and the dramaturg was left to fend for herself. Yes, they were aware of the controversy, but they needed “images” to represent the globalisation of capitalism. Right.

The actress who portrayed the “African” was notably absent. Why?

“I think she’s still in the shower.”

Woman vs. Theater

I’m Bear Grylls (well, not really, but bear with me) and I’m going to show you the skills you need to survive at a German theatre festival anniversary.

The two four-to-five hour productions of Every Man Dies Aloneand War and Peace have helped me prep my stamina for the marathon Saturday.

And now it’s time for the real challenge: the anniversary party weekend, 11 and 12 May. Wilmersdorf appears quiet during the afternoon, but I shouldn’t be lulled into believing that it doesn’t have some hidden dangers. Reality is thinner than it appears: theatremakers sneaking networking into conversation, actors acting on and off stage and audiences maneuvering for free/scalped/waitlist tickets.

Natives preparing to board the bus.
Natives preparing to board the bus. Note the white bags containing pretzel, sekt and map. Photo Credit: Piero Chiussi

First I have to get through a bus tour in a luxury Mercedes Benz 40-seater. Motion sickness is problematic – especially after four bottles of Rotkäppchen in a fit of boredom – as vomit on leather seats can prove deadly.

I resist the temptation to jump out of the windows to actually go see the Deutsches and Maxim Gorki theatres, hidden behind the suddenly leafy spring trees. (Remember, theatre is about imagination: I don’t need to see with my eyes, I see with my mind.)

Back once more in Wilmersdorf, I’m primed for potential dangers. Head for the pretzels; salt and bread will help me sober my senses. Resist the temptation to dance to the Balkan beats-live soundtrack of the Theater Composers Orchestra. It’s still light outside, someone might see you. More free Sekt.

The final stage of the theater jungle before finally reaching food.
The final stage of the theater jungle that must be navigated before finally reaching food on the right side. Photo Credit: Piero Chiussi

The following two-hour plus prelude of gossip and memories to the buffet (the free food that everyone was waiting for) threatens to challenge my theatre/reality sense again. The hostess, “Theatertreffen voice” Sandra Hüller, faints not too long after the blackfacing scandal is mentioned (yes, there’s still blackfacing in German theatre) and someone starts shouting from the audience. Did she really faint? Was it all planned?

Turns out it was real. So an improvised break, costume change and more Quatsch must be endured before I finally reach the food on stage. The line toward the buffet is curved around the moving centre-stage platform, which slowly rotates the hungry away from the promised food. Is this a symbol for the plight of world hunger? An intern’s practical joke? Simply a coincidence?

The endless possiblities threaten to send me into a death spiral of interpretations. What does it all mean? Does it even have a meaning? What is meaning anyway?

Finally boulette and deviled eggs bring me back to my senses. There is no greater meaning, this is just an awkward company party-like ritual with a cash bar and too many sober people. Nothing I haven’t conquered before.

The leader of the musical ritual at the end of the evening, Lars Eidinger. Photo Credit: Piero Chiussi
The leader of the musical ritual at the end of the evening, Lars Eidinger. Photo Credit: Piero Chiussi

By the time the DJ – some sort of demi-god or shaman named Lars Eidinger – takes over the music, the dancing begins and the following quote eventually appears:

“If Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we’d all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.”

Even, though here, we are not, the self-referential commentary has come full circle, and I’m still on my feet. Until next time.

Day 11

1. Listening to the differing perspectives at the Disabled people on the stage – artists or exhibits? symposium.

2. Counting the number of Primark brown bags on the U9 on my way to the Uferstudios for an interview.

3. Waiting for the reactions to the premiere of Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe. Will Bühnenwatch show up?

Wish: To catch the International Forum in Wedding. And eat some çiğ köfte.