ted witzel // blog

a bunch of disparate writings and thoughts on theatre:

some are articles i've written for other publications.

"postcards from berlin" is an exercise i invented for myself to digest a bunch of work i've been seeing.  

there was also that time i went to serbia to see a 24-hour meat orgy and ended up with a lot of facebook watching along with me.  

et cetera.


in september 2017 i went to BITEF in belgrade to see jan fabré's MOUNT OLYMPUS TO GLORIFY THE CULT OF TRAGEDY.  this series originated as a delirious facebook/instagram live-stream of sorts.  i've collected the whole stream in one post here.


mount olympus update 1:

things i have thought so far:

that's a lot of dicks for the first scene of a play. 

i probably should have eaten before coming. 

yep, that's about as much raw meat as i expected. 

even in a durational all-the-tragedies-at-once experience, the choruses are still where you lose the audience. even with all that meat. 

i wonder if the actors think to clean their buttholes before rehearsal with jan fabre. i wonder if they ever forget. i wonder what that conversation is like. 

man equity would never let this happen. 

i hope there's good snacks in the lobby.


mount olympus update 2:

more things i have thought so far:

i wish i could understand what the serbians are whispering about this. 

it's so fascinating to try to deduce the creation process and rules of engagement for durational material. 

i wonder how long they would tech a piece like this. 

i wonder how you go about finding an actor who can stand stock still in front of an audience and get an erection (hands free). is that listed under special skills on a resume? "G class drivers license, conversational french, and high erectile function..."

i wonder about the relationship between radically queer art, international performance festivals, and progress on queer rights. how might this show be colliding with homophobic tendencies among some audience members?

it's such a pleasure to watch that instinct to upstage in really rigorous performers--in ensemble work, where there's not just commitment but showmanship that gets dedicated to a task. it's incredibly sexy to watch. 

did that guy just pierce himself with what appears to be a spaghetti noodle?

i hope they have other things than ham sandwiches next time i take a break. 

a director has a 15 minute window at the very beginning and very end of a play in which they can get away with playing an operatic aria. outside of that window, i'll fall asleep.


mount olympus update 3:

we're 7.5 hrs in. 

more things i've been thinking:

ok so definitely a queer director. there have been more dicks than i can count and so far only one pussy. i wonder if there is still a value for works by gay men who are largely disinterested in women?

i'm trying to articulate for myself an acting style and a relationship to the audience. 

his most successful moments are in creating ensemble-based tasks. 

this is more ritual, enactment, than anything. 

moments of grief and rapture and ecstasy seem a bit superficial. they lack a visceral hookup. 

oedipus, for instance. the shame rage meltdown at the end was directed as a brutal stutter. task-based but the task didn't take him anywhere higher. 

i wonder if the guy beside me will be mad if i eat the peanuts i brought. 

in the end i'm seeing stronger choreography than directing. 

isn't it too easy to reduce pentheus to an american conservative or populist?

you definitely don't want to be the one who ends up out of step in the ten-minute dicksmacking dance. 

i wonder when i'll cave and go to mcdonald's?


mount olympus update 4:

(10 hrs in). 

i'm still thinking things, such as:

oh he was just saving all the pussy for later. 

ah yes a mass castration. i was waiting for that. 

i wonder if facebook and/or instagram has deleted that last pic yet due to dicks. 

i wonder what they serve at serbian mcdonalds. 

it's so stunning to be in a big enough theatre to really appreciate the composition of bodies in depth. and width. and height. 

greek theatre is really about the human body in the midst of a vast incomprehensibility. it wants verticality. 

i wonder what they're using to glue those flower petals to their vaginas?

the beautiful thing about fog effects is their uncontrollability. 

ah, so it's not just canadians who cough inexplicably at the sight of a fog effect. 

let's count what's fallen on the floor by now: rose petals, mud, dirt, body paint, meat bits, blood, flowers, knives, and oh--some accidentally shattered mask. 

they dealt with the shards pretty seamlessly as a company. 

seriously though there is one performer in the ensemble who is a fucking exquisite mover. most of this room must be in love with him right now. 

like all good directors, fabré seems to have a knack for casting actors who can fill in the gaps that don't interest him. there's a few who have given their text some real guts in spite of his lack of interest (i'm perceiving) in text work. 

the real depth that is being achieved here is in the movement though. when he and the performers manage to get to a true place of ecstatic movement its transcendent. 

oh fuck the opera started again and my legs twitching. time to update the internets.


mount olympus update 5:

12 hrs and halfway through

thinking more things:

the most affecting and effective performances come from the performers being really well hooked up to their expectoral systems. directors don't work with this enough. 

in the storytelling he's consistently skipping over the anagnorisis--for me the critical human moment of most tragedies--the recognition. 

i always like trying to figure out a director's basic principles of performance. in this case absolute and utter presence in the ensemble seems to be key to this work. impulses reverberate through the cast thunderously. 

bedsheets make very versatile articles of clothing. 

i wonder how many tighty whities this show goes through. 

also key seems to be launching monologues with a gruelling and durational physical task...he's often more interested in performers takin themselves into a state, an ex-stasis, and then bursting into monologue, than he is in shape. actors are given space to maintain the state rather than be rigidly married to pacing. 

we've managed to go a decent while with no opera. 

so far i don't think i'll succumb to serbian mcdonalds. 


mount olympus update 6:

thinking things still:

who's that guy? he hasn't been onstage yet. 

why's that other guy wearing just one glove?

ah yes, a fisting scene, i should have guessed. naturally it's herakles getting fisted. 

i go to the bathroom and of course while i'm gone the maenads have built a meth lab. 

it's definitely an "outside-in" approach to embodiment. we're all being asked "what happens to the body when..." 

just for fun i'd like to call up equity and tell them i'm gonna do a show where actors do handsprings over raw meat, perform for 24 hrs, set bushes on fire, and put everything from tinfoil to laurel sprigs to hands inside their orifices, don't even leave the stage at intermission, and whip themselves with chains, just to see what they say. 

oh god i bet the sun has risen. 

it's a good sign when breakfast break comes and you don't want it to end.


mount olympus update 7:

breakfast break and 15 hours in

mcdonalds in serbia is a vile hateful thing. at best i expected they would have some local serbian thing like a mcćevapi, at worst i thought it would just be saltier with a charming slavic accent. but oh no dear friends of instagram. i got the only thing i didn't recognize on the menu for the tourist experience and it was some cardboardy meat product puck with processed cheese in the centre, topped with what may once, several drafts ago, have been intended to be a peppercorn sauce, but has in subsequent iterations become a viscous, sour concoction full of ill forebodings. this picture was meant to be ironic but if anything might swing me vegan, it was this sunny serbian breakfast i'm sure to regret.


mount olympus update 8:

hour 17 and i'm thinking less things but they still include:

oh wow we've gotten into real durational territory now. 

there were so many dicks before and now people are just running in circles a lot. it's impressive but not after that terrible mcdonalds. 

usually i'm firmly against acting states but this is pushing me to reconsider. the dramaturgy pf this piece seems to be in states rather than "beats"--but what makes it work is that we're watching the actions and rituals of creating states. watching bodies taken to extremes through physical tasks to hit a place where they can emit grief cries and rage ejaculations. 

yeah that guy just gets sexier. all of them just get sexier. there's something totally magnetic about watching performers so fully occupy WORK onstage. 

oh man it's definitely time to switch from coffee to red bull.


mount olympus update 9:

18 hours in and i'm getting the second wind, thinking:

oh good some glitter. that'll perk me up. 

i wonder if there's a trick to presetting ribbon in one's vagina?

i would love to see the props tables for this. 

if i were to write one of those annoying reviews where you just talk about the version of the play you'd rather see i'd wish the set changed more. but i think this is about repetition and accumulation (there's a serious lot of shit on this stage). 

the power is in the repetition. the phrase "what is left? a raw piece of meat. pleasure beyond belief. unknown grief" is chilling now. 

something so powerful about mashing kassandra with 4 other women's death speeches, past (iokasta, alkmene), present (kassandra), and future (klytemnestra, medea). 

and oh man that's a twist out of left field. klytemnestra's defense speech was the first time we've broken out of ritualistic formalism into a straight up judicial argument. after 18 hours it was actually totally stunning to her someone really plant their feet and argue. 

there's something also really gripping about the mix of languages. english dutch german french italian so far by my count. 

you can really tell the performers who've worked with fabré for a long time. they are just so grounded in this world. or at least i'm making wild presumptions based on ease with this formalist style. 

i wonder how many weeks after the show he's going to have glitter up his butt?


mount olympus update 10:

there's probably more gays gathered here than anywhere in belgrade ever sees. 

the only other event i've been to where people go home and sleep and come back is berghain. 

oh yeah they did say no photography huh?

i bet this finale will be epic and two hours long. 

it's actually quite moving to remove all the gods but dionysos. just a bunch of wriggly humans screaming griefs at the sky. 

ok i think time is broken now. 

i will put up with a little opera if there's drag queens voguing to it. 

the serbian women beside me seem to agree. they've also ignored the photography rule. and they're chanting along in english. 

i don't think i got food poisoning. i'd know by now right?

there are some epic hamstrings on this stage. 

i wonder where all that meat came from. i wonder how many pounds it is. 

i would love to see the SM book for this. 

another new guy. is he gonna get fisted too?

the transformation here seems to be from state to state rather than realization to realization. it's about entering whole new consciousnesses. (see above re: broken time). 

oh god the repetitions are making so much gorgeous sense that i don't want to leave but man i gotta pee.


mount olympus update 11:

22 hours. almost there. thinking sorta jumbly things:

elektra's pussy was meowing as she stroked it. 

a picture of a decadent western democracy threatened by strangers from the east is that it feels very european (aka not north american in the same way). 

first dialogue scene came in at 21.5 hrs in. medea and iason. 

there's a subtle shift from screaming at the heavens to screaming at each other--antigone came next. the gods are disappearing. 

i wonder how much this meat and fisting orgy cost to bring here. 

i think my vegan impulse is passing. mcdonalds was gross but not poison. 

here we go. the final red bull for the final stretch.


mount olympus update 12:

(24 hours)

time's broken. my brain's broken. there's glitter and dicks everywhere. oil wrestling. bleeding buttholes. i'm thinking about banks and french fries and rage and god. "you'd prefer the cozy theatre of hypocrisy and politics." yes. wind machines and confetti and more glitter. it's about all you could end with. it smells like BO in here. let's have a dance number. "now give me all the love you've got."

(curtain call was 20 minutes).