so, apologies for a slight hiatus. i had the clever idea that i would fix my computer all by my retarded self and ruined everything. basically backed everything up, erased it, borrowed some startup disks and—the start-up disks failed. gott sei dank for this cafe i have taken up semi-permanent residence in, because after a week of typing on german keyboards where all the punctuation is hidden and the z and y are backwards, i was lamenting facing a $200 repair fee when some dude here heard me, walked around the corner to his place, and came back with magic computer fairy dust in his hands. so i'm back in business. just in time to write another pile of grants and other applications.
rehearsals are hurtling forward, and the process is rather interesting. the director seems to switch back and forth between really wildly inventive and extremely naturalistic moods. i don't know if he's just tired on the naturalistic days or if there's a strategy underlying them. if i had to guess, i'd say he's trying to bring the actors along on his train of thought. ie, start with the straight naturalism to figure out the situation so the actors know the relationships, and then introduce elements of the strange and grotesque gradually to change the situation while telling the same story. i hope that's the plan, because frankly with some of the crazy stuff we have going on, the naturalistic stretches are just dull.
and as it's a play written in eight dreams, there's a lot of room to theatrically exploit that notion. dreams and the theatre are no stranger to one another. there have been dream sequences in plays since the greeks (eumenides opens with apollo, god of dreams, talking to the furies, and it may or may not take place in orestes' head). shakespeare used them (richard iii), and with the advent of psychoanalysis they started becoming more and more integral to theatrical storytelling. because the theatre is by definition a place of illusion, it lends itself well to dreamlike forms of expression. strindberg played heavily with dream dramaturgy in his more mystical phase (a dream play being an obvious example), and symbolism, surrealism, and expressionism in the years from 1890-1930 played with dream elements in different ways. all through this period playwrights in europe were exploring the vast realm of the subconscious and its theatrical possibilities.
interesting though, that bulgakov uses this dream structure rather differently. compared to symbolists, expressionists, and surrealists, bulgakov's play is rather tame. one can do a totally naturalistic reading of his text, and by and large, it works. bulgakov's sense of the grotesque and carnivalesque is much subtler than artists who either self-identified with or were later classified into the aforementioned movements. it's only once in a while that a seemingly naturalistic text lapses into something beyond reason. after four rather straight-forward scenes of the bourgeois white sympathizers being pushed out of russia in 1920, the play jumps a year later to constantinople in a totally different time and mood. charnota, one of the main figures in the play, is off gambling, again. but instead of at the horse races, he's at this messed up carnival of cockroach races. the dialogue remains logical and natural, but the situation is just not quite right.
we've had seeds so far of heading towards this direction of a quasi-naturalistic use of text juxtaposed against a mood or situation that's not quite right. the production will ultimately have constant video and music playing throughout to help create this disjunction of mood and temperature. hopefully we push further that way. something i've mentioned to the director that might help get the dream situation clearer (because in bulgakov's text most of the dream is suggested by the stage directions, which we've done away with, and therefore need to create through the staging) are the recurring rhythm of dreams—like they get stuck on a loop or something. the funny thing about dreaming is your dreaming mind never learns to know better. even if you're aware that you're dreaming, you still manage to be frightened each time by recurring nightmares. the same shapes can appear in different dreams over time, weird figures that haunt a mind that has no reflex to recognize and reason them away. and bulgakov's text is clever, certain situations recur with slight variations, and the thematic imagery is strong: cockroaches, gambling, winning and losing, exodus—these things get taken and transformed but persist through all eight dreams.
it's hard because i feel like i've grabbed on to the logic of the piece as sebastian is trying to construct it, and would love to get up and start directing myself. it's been months since i directed anything, almost a year, and i'm getting an itch again. in a serious way. but i am here to watch and make coffee with occasional observations thereto. it's certainly hard sitting still. i like this line of work normally because it means i can squirm and jump around and make strange noises, but there are other people on this production whose job that is. sebastian's way of directing is rather different from how i prefer to work. he's much more discursive—the actors try something and then we talk about it. i would keep them on their feet trying and trying physically instead of sitting them down. but i'm a bit more high strung / wound up.
the other point i'm having trouble with is how much stuff we're accumulating as props and costumes. i'm not minimalist, and i like a lot of crap onstage, but i prefer that it's used in strange ways. example: we start with five trunks onstage. then we acquire beds, tables, and all sort of other furniture. i'd be more impressed if the trunks became the beds, tables, etc. but that may just be a sign that i'm not quite understanding the stage logic as yet—maybe this weird procession of more and more stuff is the point. but then with dream dramaturgy and the sense of the recurring, i think minimalism might be useful—certain objects that just won't go away, popping up all over russia and turkey and paris, following these people around, haunting their consciousness.
the tough thing is having these ideas and things i want to try, but then facing the obstacle first of it not really being my place to say them all the time, and second that expressing them in my third language is a bit tricky. day to day talk is one thing, but getting all theoretical is a little harder. the longer the sentence, the easier it is to mash up the grammar. i look forward to working in my native language and my own shows again.
being in rehearsals all day i have a lot less time to go and see the theatre happening here, but i did make it to see something on saturday. actually i was seeing it for the second time, having been so overwhelmed and blown away by the first seeing of this production. judith is a co-production between the schauspielhaus and staatsoper here, in conjunction with the salzburg theatre. the opera component is actually an oratorio by vivaldi, who may not be known for being the most surprisingly inventive of baroque composers, but as an ex-violin player i have a huge soft spot for him. there's an almost mathematical simplicity to his work, elegant in the same ways calculus can be. the text was half taken from the book of judith (excluded from jewish and protestant versions of the bible/torah, but retained in roman catholic and eastern orthodoxy), and partly adapted out of friedrich hebbel's 19th-century tragedy of the same name. a large chunk of it was also written by one of the actresses.
the production is a triumph of dramaturgy. these different texts are woven together to tell the story through elements of theatre and music, abruptly alternating between highly classical and sharply modern. the story of judith takes place in the reign of nebuchadnezzar, when the assyrians were attempting to conquer judea. actually, they did, eventually, but in the story a beautiful widow named judith goes and seduces the general holofernes, gets him drunk, cuts off his head, and thereby saves judea.
the story is widely depicted in visual art, theatre, and music, and the performance referenced aspects of this poly-representative history. there were four opera singers, who did some magnificent rhythmic text work with the book of judith, five holofernes, a countertenor in a giant baroque skirt, and three judiths. the three judiths were interesting in that despite there being so many representations of her, none of them actually stood for a 'real' judith—each of them were just a different means of representation. the was an opera singer, singing the religious oratorio, in baroque costume straight out of one of the paintings, a judith out of hebbels' tragedy in bourgeois 19th-century costume, and a modern-day judith, played by a wicked little actress from salzburg who wrote her own text. she was easily the most interesting—as a parallel to the judea-saving judith, this girl too was desperate to save her 'world', with a breathless long monologue about bottled water and mcdonalds. at one point the holofernes got together and the opera singer holofernes was combatting the monologue by trying to start an aria—these different modern and classical, theatrical and operatic elements battling each other.
the head-cutting came as no surprise. actually the play started with four pink wax holofernes heads onstage, and the holofernes' came and destroyed them with a sledge hammer. when we first met all the judiths, they were manufacturing more of the heads onstage, pouring this pink stuff from bucket to bucket, mixing it and pouring it into molds. the plan to save the world was there for the beginning. but to do so, they knew they had to sell out. that is, seduce holofernes. and that scene was brilliant. everyone onstage, bottled water splashing everywhere, the countertenor running around trilling, some of the holofernes' raping the plastic heads, the opera singers, each other, and of course the judiths, the whole stage a chaotic mess and out of nowhere a bunch of out of tune saxophone while operajudith crooned a lounge ballad. and when the time came for the head chopping, it was with the counterpart to modernjudith, one of the holofernes' with some of the most crazy physical acting work i've scene. the chopping was done as a series of tableaus, and at the end after he was definitely dead, came one more tableau with the other two judiths gone, and they got up and wandered off totally nonchalant—story told, let's go home.
what made it so successful was that as a text collage it emphasized the differences in styles and modes, and they often interacted with one another, instead of being separated. it was an opera with a sense of humour, and a wide range of perspective expressed in it. each other the judiths expressed an totally different point of view on the action, which rarely were in concord with one another. and they found the interesting point in the story as this naive hope to change the world, and the hard lessons of sacrifice that come with the good intentions. after modernjudith wandered off with the holofernes that they killed as casual boyfriend and girlfriend ("oh wait i forgot my jacket" was her last line), the bouregoistragedyjudith was left on stage saying something in high verse about not wanting to bear holofernes a child. and then blackout.
in other news, i wrote the gorki theatre few weeks back, it being my favourite theatre here in germany and also having the added advantage of being in berlin, asking after international work opportunities. i've got an interview in december when i'm back in berlin, so we'll see how it all goes. it would be unbelievable to work in berlin at this crazy theatre. the job would likely not be happening until next season, and i haven't a clue how long it would last or if it would conflict with existing commitments i've made, but if it magically worked out there's no way i could say no.