World Theatre Day at the Playwright’s Guild

I wish I‘ d had more time to write the last week but there was a lot to do, many places to visit, work to be done. Been to Waterloo and London, read from my novel, got surprised by a little snowstorm in Waterloo that was – even for my limited Toronto experience – only a baby storm… There are so many things I’d like to discuss with open minded people from Toronto and I am glad my last „performance“ at the Playwright’s Guild gave me the opprotunity to do so.

The evening was not about the novel but about the play ZALINA (www.zalina-theatre.com), a site-specific performance a group of artist-friends and me did in Sibiu, Romania, last year. Amela, Diane, Jutta Brendemuehl managed to conjure up a cozy dark-lit corner with snacks and red wine and Cranberry juice ( the latter is perfect for people as I am, who as Arpad Soelter said, like to pretend they are drinking). I wanna do a little name-dropping in this entry because tonight I want to express how grateful I am to these people for making my stay so interesting and diverse. Last night I had dinner with great people, last weekend I was brought to two canadian homes which gave me material for at least four short stories, and this morning I worked with a wonderful actress and woman, Pamela is her first name – I never managed asking for the last name since from the very first second we met we had such an intense conversation we never came to asking things women normally talk about… Oh, I managed to ask for her hairdresser though…

The evening at the Playwrights Guild was again an example of how glad I am for the chance of exchanging my work with the people here. In general it is an interesting experience to be abroad, observe people, compare lifestyles to your home country. But coming to a country presenting your art is a challenge. You never know whether your issues are really interesting to people in different contexts. This evening’s atmosphere to talk about the work in Romania was just full of interest. A lot of questions were asked, even afterwards. I was touched that, for the second time, people asked me how I feel about the responsibility of what we did there, how it feels to leave the children and people behind after such intense work and I must admit it is a tough issue. Both leaving them and leaving them alone. We sometimes think of art as someting elitist but there I experienced that expressing the world you perceive is nothing special but a basic human need. I started getting this impression back in Germany when I saw the amazing performance of a composer-friend of mine. The topic was so-calles primitive art in caves. There I got my first insights about how old the human need is to express something, to add something to the world. The strong performance culture I got to know in Toronote strengthened this impression. People want to and need to tell their stories. The people in the romanian village Hosman needed it just as much as the performance artists I met here. We could all survive without it, but life is about survivng in order to do something with the fact that we survied. There was honest interest and afterwards people kept asking about the conditions of a sitespecific work in a village, about how to deal with the different cultures in the village that, till that day, didn’t have to deal with each other if they hadn’t wanted to. All of s sudden they were creating a play together, acting the lives of their neighbours. Pamela gave strong example-performance, an intensive monologue of Zalina so I could explain the play and give the people an impression of what it mus have been like to be there. We had a letter from Robert Lepage in which he talked about the need for theatre to be open to the changes of the world including new media. We might burn ourselves but we might es well be enlightened. Something like that was the ending which was the most powerful to me. How can theatre stay conservative when the world around is changing so fast? Isn’t there a need, a necessity to question modern phenomena by putting them onstage and this way questioning them?

Many of questions after the interview were interesting to me since they mirror what you evoke in people while you talk. One woman said that she found the faces in the subway looking very sad and drained and that she’s wondering if late-democracy countries ar now starting to tire its people. We had talked about Romania as a transition country before so the question was plausible. What are the differences, the hopes the disappointments of each social concept? One seems to have failed already and surely there seems to be a fear that we are running out of our hopes for the second without having a third option. The question showed me how much people care and how unsafe the world seems at the moment. For sure, I couldn’t give an answer. All I can say is that the subways in any city I have ever been to look like they are driving- sleeping- seats- for- its- wornout-inhabitants. Be it New York, Berlin, Toronoto, I wouldn’t want to judge urban life by the faces of the people sitting in the subway. It’s like the underground air took away the people’s beaming.

It‘ not easy being here and being asked about the impressions I had here. I feel like I know so little. Too little to judge anything. I got to know the snow and the winter and the dinners people give to keep themselves in good company in spite of the cold. I learned about the clear blue sky in Winter that I first got to know in New York and get to miss everytime I’m back in Europe. When it comes to comparing theatre I really am very reluctant since my work as a scout in Croatia showed me how much you have to dive into a thetare scene to really understand it and be able to judge the function it has for its society. I wish I could have seen something from Lepage. I heared about urbanvessel and a project in a swimmingpool that sounded damn interesting. I’ve seen „Democracy“ at Terragon Theatre and I found it very different from what I see in germany but I can’t compare the many performances I’ve seen in Germany to the one I’ve seen here. The only thing I can say that in that play there was a more expressed sentimentality. I don’t mean emotional but really the ability to let a character (the spy) express all his feelings about what he did. In Germany this psychological aspcet is left open, the audience is to judge whether Guillaume was a corrupt spy or a human being like us. In „Democracy“ he got all the space to talk about his doubts and how he himself felt just as used and abused. This was new and irritating to me. I love German Thetare, I think it’s one of the best things germany has to offer, the whole culture around it, the open space after performances to talk about it. And the need to talk about it often stemsn from the gaps that were left open in a character. So talking about this play would have been a totally different conversation. I tried to act as a spy myself and listen to the converstaions but all I could hear was an older woman who said : “ Wow, that‘ s a great stroy. I‘ ll get that googled: Willy Schmidt“. I also realized how used I am to screens on stage, in certain moments I missed it. This is how you become aware of you habits. On the other hand, I as writer was charmed by the respect the perfromance had for the play itself. In Germany the writer’s play is mere material, the ultimate phantasy belongs to the director. It both has its pros and cons and it’s in the end the people on stage and in front of it who turn a theatre night into a magical one or not. I hope the people who were at the Playwright’s Guild tonight felt the magic I did which is why I wrote this blog entry right afterwards so I can give something back to those who will check the blog and hope for a feedback. Thank you for a beautiful evening.

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One thought on “World Theatre Day at the Playwright’s Guild

  1. „We might burn ourselves but we might as well be enlightened. (…) How can theatre stay conservative when the world around is changing so fast?“
    I think this says it all. Theatre seems to be among the few places still willing to risk a burning, and a theatre’s audience seems to be still (more or less) willing to get bruised a little themselves. It’s like the old game of kings and jesters – the latter can be bold (meaning true) in what he or she says because of the playfulness involved – because of what a jester is. one can only hope it stays that way.
    as for willy schmidt – well, maybe magically the message wasn’t completely lost, and what’s a name anyway?

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