"In der Kunst ist das Beste gerade gut genug."
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"In art, the best is just good enough."
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"In art, the best is just good enough."
And we're back! Last week was packed with trips through the hallowed halls and a foray into a classic German university city, dating back to 1496 . . .
But before we get there, you'll notice I did not start this entry with a Danton's Death quote, but rather with a quote from the good old master Goethe. The Goethe reference is intentional and will come back around a bit later in a rather indelicate way.
I made an important discovery this week, which was that the Staatsgalerie (see pic above), the state gallery of Baden-Württemberg, is free on Wednesdays and Saturdays. So this past Wednesday I took advantage of our mid-afternoon break and went to check it out.
I was of course very excited because I had read that this museum housed two of my favorite paintings from Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. They belong to his Berlin Street Scene cycle, 7 paintings in all, one of which is hanging in Berlin, and two in New York. I was excited to see this one in person for the first time, and was certainly not disappointed.
Let's see, where were we? Ah yes, rehearsals! So I mentioned last week that we are using a live camera on stage. Nuran, the director, has conceptualized the piece as a modern look at politicians and how they operate on camera, off camera, with one another, and with the knowledge that they are almost constantly being filmed. The usually large cast of Danton's Death has been pared down to 8, who are all dressed in contemporary black=tie apparel. Our set is being created to look like a cutaway of the dome of the Reichstag, the German national parliament building.
The play has also been cut heavily and then beefed back up with poems and supplementary material from authors contemporary of Büchner as well as material from current events and even a rap section. The backdrop of the play, the French Revolution, becomes a theatrical metaphor for the current political infighting going on in the German parliament.
To support Nuran's concept we have two projections screens, one on each side of stage, and a live camera that is either on stage being used by the actors, or being run by a camera team that will be on stage during the performance, getting close-ups of the actors and following them around, wherever they go.
I was having a really great time watching all of this, and then on the second day, Janek, the assistant director, had to leave the rehearsal for an hour and a half, which meant that I was in charge. Nuran is always asking Janek for sometime every five minutes. He gets excited about what the actors are doing, and then rushes over to Janek and says something like: "Music off!" or "Lights! Quickly!" or "Tape, I need some tape, we have to tape his arms together!" or "We need papers! Papers to throw around, everywhere! Papers quickly!" and then Janek or I go scurrying off to find whatever it is that is needed.
Sure enough, Janek left, and five minutes later we started working on what would later be called: "Die Kriegsszene" (the war scene). This is the part where Nuran puts on some bumping techno music, and encourages two of the actors to run in from the back of the stage and tear the set apart, building it into barricades.
"Brian! I need a Pusterohr! Quickly, make me a Pusterohr!!!!"
I had no idea what this word, Pusterohr, meant. None at all. Not even the first clue.
The techno music bumped, I stared blankly, the set continued to be torn apart.
Then Nuran mimed rolling something up into a tube and put it to his mouth like a blowgun . . .
Pusten-: blow -rohr: pipe
Got it. So I looked around, and in about two minutes was able to construct a mini-blowgun out of paper, gaff tape, and spitballs. And it worked pretty well! I ran up to Nuran, gave him the Pusterohr, and he handed it off to the actors, who used it to comically antagonize one another throughout the scene while they attempted to get through their big speeches. It went something like this:
Till: "Meine Damen und Herren, Sie müssen verstehen daß der Wohlfahrtsausschuss . . ."
THWAP!!! (Till is nailed by a spitball in the side of the face. Mike laughs uproariously)
Nuran: Ja! Gut! Schön! Perfekt!
. . . and that was day two.
On day three I found out that Karnik, the video artist, was going back to Munich for the rest of the week, which meant that I was going to take over the camera for the rehearsals.
Cut to a shot of the Kriegszene round two, with Mike and Till wrecking the set, and Brian running around with them, filming close-ups and dodging flying set pieces while the techno music bumps. But hey, its a lot more interesting than "Sit down. Be quiet. Watch.", which is what my position could have been. So I'm totally stoked to be playing on stage with the actors when Karnik is not around.
And its continued on in this fashion for two weeks now. We show up, whip out some cameras, throw on the lights and sound, and rock right into the meat of the scene. Afterward, once everybody has had a coffee and a cigarette, then we sit around the table and discuss the scene with the dramaturg. Pretty much the opposite of normal, and totally fun.
After two weeks of politics and barricade-storming, I was excited to be able to escape last Thursday to Tübingen for the evening. My friend Antonio Brunetti back in Chicago had lived in Stuttgart for a while and put me in contact with an old theatre buddy of his, Julian Knab. When I sent Julian an email last week asking if he had time to meet up, he asked:
Julian: "Brian, bist du spontan?"
Am I spontaneous? Is the pope catholic?
So I replied that I was and he invited me out to see a show of his in Tübingen that night. I hopped a train and traveled the 40km out to Tübingen, one of the oldest university cities in Germany and certainly one of the most beautiful medieval towns I've ever seen:
After picking me up at the train station, Julian led me on a walk through the Altstadt, the old part of the city. Daylight was fading and it was starting to snow, but that just added wintry charm to the scene. As we rounded a corner, he told me to look up at a third story window, where a sign hung:
The sign reads: "Here puked Goethe".
And as it turns out, Goethe was staying in that building in the early 1800's, got sick, and spewed out the window. And when the most famous German poet of all time retches on your wall, that's something worth celebrating. Even two hundred years later.
We headed over to the Landestheater Tübingen:
the local theater, and got to know each other over dinner before the performance at eight o'clock.
Julian is an old hand in the theatre, having worked all over the world as well as having been a student of Grotowski's and touring with him back in the early 80's.
Needless to say the piece he directed was masterfully done. It was a one-woman show called "Es war ein Mädchen" ("it was a girl), and dealt with a woman's relationship with her abusive boyfriend and her eventually killing her baby. It was a very physical production, and the actress, Janne Wagler, did an excellent job of switching roles lightning-fast, and bringing the story to life.
Afterward we all had a drink in the Kantine before I had to catch my train back to Stuttgart. We got along swimmingly, and it looks like Julian & Co. are going to come to Stuttgart for the premiere of Danton's Death.
It was very nice to getaway for an evening, and very nice to navigate the regional train system and feel like I know my way around a bit.
Then Friday it was back to work, chasing the actors around with the camera. Never a dull moment!
"Love lost, such a cost,
Give me things
that don't get lost.
Like a coin that won't get tossed
Rolling home to you.
Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that's true."
-Neil Young, 'Old Man'; one of the songs played as underscoring almost every day in rehearsal. Great live version here.