postcards from berlin #9 [artistic jealousy]
IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE (r. rüping) @ deutsches theater
we’re all subject to it, from time to time. i generally like to think i have my jealousy under control, mostly because i really dislike all the behaviours that ensue from it. it’s not useful, so i try not to give it much space.
christopher rüping is one of my favourite directors working in the staatstheater system right now. susie and i saw his (absolutely gutting, heart-breakingly alive) romeo and juliet in 2015 and another of his pieces “100 seconds, why live?” also at the deutsches theater. he’s been invited to theatertreffen and is house director at the münchener kammerspiele.
and every time i see his work, i have these competing feelings of utter admiration and vicious, ugly jealousy.
he’s working in a lot of the aesthetics that i love to live in. our work isn’t dissimilar, in design, in performance style, in sense of humour. (and also in microphone use Christine Brubaker). but in spite of the similarities he often manages to surprise me with outrageous moments of brilliance, be they erupting spectacles of confetti or quiet moments of devastating intimacy. i really admire his imagination.
and sometimes, i fucking hate him for it. probably because we exist in similar categories.
his most recent one at the deutsches theater is actually the weakest of his i’ve seen. it lacks nuance of argument, as an antifa polemic. his source material also does, but that should be neither here nor there. and he nonetheless once again has some really incredible staging and design ideas. so i spent a lot of time trying to figure out the envy bubbling up in me as i watched it.
it’s a two-part reaction. the first is benign—quite simply that i wish i had his imagination. which i think is a nature-nurture thing. he’s got some innately incredible impulses, and he’s also nutured, trained, and experienced in a system that encourages big thinking.
the second part of my jealousy is a question of scarcity, and it’s maybe the more interesting to deconstruct, albeit the more futile. here is a young director (my age) who is clearly at a place where he is confident in his craft, which makes him free to experiment, being supported by institutions across the country, given space to work and create, with access to terrific resources (even the small stage at DT has a revolve, flies, and at least 4 stagehands on the show), and relationships to a few companies that have allowed him to build a vocabulary with a few ensembles (benjamin lillie, wiebke mollenhauer, and michael goldberg are in all his DT shows). he’s just come into the top of his game and he’s getting supported with the tools that will allow him to continue to play.
if i didn’t come from an environment where there’s a real dearth of resources, i’m not sure i’d be jealous. here, it feels not just unuseful but also like an exception. maybe still in the benign sense, jealous of his imagination, but not of his platform. back in canada, we bogart the little scraps of access we manage to collect, even while trying to appear community-minded and beneficent; the general hunger out there can make us possessive and ungenerous (though we are LOATH to admit it). whereas here, the theatrical ecology is generally robust, and there’s enough to go around. i’ve been surprised time and again to see people sharing connections and ins, “hey just call this guy,” “oh here’s the way in,” etc. because to do so doesn’t threaten one’s own position.
or maybe i'm passing the buck and trying to generalize away my own pettiness to broader systemic questions.
so. eat your heart out thomas hobbes. some days i’m a naked ugly wriggling nasty creature. we’re not always our highest selves, even (especially) when we encounter something we really admire. his work is still so exciting that of course i will squirm through it, be moved and astonished, applaud louder than anyone at the end, and try to ignore the beast in my gut on my way home, while i turn over his lingering images in my mind (i saw the show two weeks ago and the autotune anthem at the end is still vivid and luminous in my mind).
for more about the show click here.