postcards from berlin #15 [one-trick ponies]
ZEPPELIN (r. fritsch) @ schaubühne
herbert fritsch was pretty quickly offered a new home at the schaubühne when THAT THING happened to the volksbühne. one of castorf’s really physically gifted actors, then one of the volksbühne’s favourite directors. since 2012, his shows there have been invited to theatertreffen every year but 2015—but the two invites from shows with other theatres in 2011 could almost make it a clean run. he won the berlin theaterprize this year for his work.
the first time i saw his work it was pretty astonishing. really actor-focussed, colourful, bouncy, round, hysterical, clowny, relatively apolitical for what VB was doing—and actually pretty funny. a lot of things you don’t tend to associate with german theatre (though they really can be quite funny here i promise). it seemed radical and new.
but this time around it felt a bit like a “seen one seen em all.” a large imposing single set piece. a cast with plastic prosthetics augmenting their faces and hairdos. a lot of well-choreographed chaotic clowny energy. it just felt like the same palette of rhythms, sounds, textures, compositions.
you see it a lot here in germany—directors getting hired to reproduce an aesthetic they have pioneered with a particularly vital show or couple shows. sometimes they get boxed in by a pressure to then mass-produce a product. even, perhaps, after their interests shift.
but then i begin to feel guilty about being dismissive. after all, people tell me a lot that there’s an aesthetic thread that runs through my work that isn’t hard to tease out. pink light, lots of fog, whiteface, shrill pop music, all the sound cues louder louder louder, a specific approach to performativity, etc.
even when i feel like i’m really working on something new, looking for a new way, new form, new process, the flavours still come through. people still recognize me in a lot of my directing/making. i’ve been totally certain that i’ve done something utterly revolutionary in my own practice, and people who know me and my work still see me in it.
a big part of it comes down to a question of taste. my sense of humour and my aesthetic sensibility evolves, but doesn’t shift radically. the way i work with actors is the result of several years of trying and failing and watching others work and new ingredients and takes are still supported by an extant foundation.
so back to fritsch. in the last decade he’s finally had a chance to compose on a large scale with physical techniques and compositional dramaturgy that’s probably been cooking for most of his acting career. maybe he just hasn’t answered all his questions about the style yet. he’s working on a very different stage. and it’s also the first time he had a giant hanging steel frame zeppelin. most substantially, this time he’s taken it and applied it to horváth, a very different poetic and metaphysical voice.
i’m also feeling pretty cynical about the schaubühne lately, and maybe that adjusted my framework for viewing.
but i also think that audiences also don’t need to see every iteration of a director working through an aesthetic idea. it’s not even desirable—it would be great to have three different audiences and three different pieces to really go deep into your personal practice. it’s the real value of the staats- and stadttheater system. creators can go and pass their aesthetic gallstones in detmold if they have to. and it's why i love working at universities—it can be a really valuable lab space if you make it that. that is, if a director is particularly inclined to be perpetually engaged in honing her craft. some people really do just want to mass-produce their few good ideas. i’m not sure where fritsch fits, but that definitely applies to a few directors i’ve seen here.
for more on the show click here.