postcards from berlin #8 [dramaturgy of atmosphere]
SKELETT EINES ELEFANTEN IN DER WÜSTE (r. agha) @ maxim gorki theater berlin
there’s an interesting and exciting aspiration in setting out to put the audience inside of an atmosphere. i like the idea, and the way it immediately forces us into new dramaturgical idioms. but it’s a really tough thing to pull off.
this one tries to put us inside the syrian war. they’re taking artaud’s proposition and making a photonegative of it—instead of loud and chaotic, they’re going for the uncanny and incessant silence, marked by the occasional rocking explosion. (i normally hate preshow chats but nicole and i were grateful for this one).
i like the aim, in principle, but it’s so rare that it gets pulled off in a really fulsome, satisfying way. (i found this attempt on the more successful end of the spectrum).
there’s a challenge in the nature of the theatrical event itself, and the social contract the audience makes when they buy a ticket and walk out of their loud, bright, relatively safe metropolis into an environment. there’s a transition period. it doesn’t actually work to just slam us into an experience—those first 15 minutes, even just 5 minutes, we’re not neutral and open, we’re carrying a lot of baggage from outside, we need to be seduced somehow.
it’s maybe like the thing with plays about boredom. they’re often boring, unless people are doing extraordinary things to combat a violent boredom.
i think the challenge is in the stakes. when we walk in, our stakes are different, and to ask us to raise our stakes from “night at the theatre” to “there’s a fucking sniper on the roof”—well, it’s hard. we've come with the expectation of fiction and it raises our threshold for loud noises. (that said, a better sound rig with three subwoofers would've definitely gotten my visceral stakes up). so we make ourselves safe by detaching, disconnecting, spectating—it's what we'd planned on anyway. i guess it’s that transition that needs to be reckoned with above all in this kind of work.
for more on the show click here.