Wednesday, 23 December 2009

theatre/literature of cruelty, in some ways

Last summer I first came across Rainer Maria Rilke's short story “Frau Blahas Magd” (1899) and immediately felt it contained more (about) theatre than most 'theatre productions'. So it's not surprising that although it is not very well known, Frank Castorf (the artistic director of the Volksbühne has apparently repeatedly used it as material for his productions. This is perhaps beside the point, but as the German media keep slagging off his productions for being simultaneously "worse than those in the 90s" and "exactly the same as in the 90s", I wanted do drop in his name positively - his new production of Friedrich von Gagern's trash-piece "Ozean" is definitely not rubbish, or perhaps it is rubbish burned live, releasing huge amounts of energy into the audience.

Back to "Frau Blaha's Magd" - a little translator's preface: on a linguistic level, the story reads very strangely and I had trouble with the translation as the tenses and aspects of the verbs sometimes change within a sentence; particularly the long descriptions of habitual action (“every day, every now and then, she would do this...”) are awkward in German and even more so in English. So while the story seems like an old-fashioned straightforward narrative at first sight, some of its sentences are internally fragmented in a subtly untranslatable way or an untranslatably subtle way – and sometimes it seems just as if Rilke had never proofread it. My initial plan was to send this translation to various friends (probably including YOU) as a Christmas present, but because of my problems with the translation and because the idea suddenly seemed more narcissistic than generous, I decided to publish it here instead.

I'd still greatly appreciate any response (particularly concerning mistakes/clumsy expressions; or if you know of a previous English translation) and hope the story will give some of you a Christmas-puppet-theatre-blank-faced-morbid-or-other form of pleasure or sadness.

P.s.: The German version can be found here: (or in the insel-edition of Rilke's Erzählungen).

Frau Blaha's Maid

Every summer, Frau Blaha, married to the minor Turnau Rail officer Wenzel Blaha, went to her hometown for a few weeks. It is a town in flat and miry Bohemia in the area of Nimburg and rather poor and insignificant. When Frau Blaha, who regarded herself as somewhat urban already, saw all the small miserable houses again, she believed herself capable of an attempt to do good. She went to see a peasant's wife with whom she was acquainted and whose daughter she wanted to take into her service in the city. She would pay her a small and modest wage, and, moreover, the girl would have the advantage of being in the city and learning many a thing there. (What exactly she might learn there wasn't fully clear to Frau Blaha herself.) The peasant's wife discussed the matter with her husband who kept squinting; his only immediate reaction was to spit on the ground. After half an hour, he came back into the room and asked: “Well, and does the woman know that Anna is like this?”, swaying his brown wrinkled hand back and forth in front of his forehead like a dry chestnut leaf. “Fool” – made the peasant's wife, – “obviously we won't!...”

That's how Anna came to the Blahas. Most of the time, she would spend the whole day on her own. Wenzel Blaha was in the office while his wife was out sewing, and there were no children. Anna would sit in the small dark kitchen with a window into the courtyard and would wait for the organ grinder to come. This happened every day before dusk. Then she would lean far forward into the small window; her pale hair would hang in the wind and she would dance on the inside until she became so dizzy that the high and dirty walls were swaying towards each other precariously. Frightened, she would begin walking through the whole building – down the dark and dirty stairs into the smoky tavern where every now and then someone was singing in the onset of drunkenness. On her way, she would find herself among the children running around in the courtyard for days without anyone missing them; oddly, the children always wanted her to tell them stories. Sometimes they would even follow her into the kitchen. But then Anna would sit down at the stove, covering her empty pale face with her hands and say: “Must think.” And the children would be patient for a while. But when Annushka kept thinking and the dark kitchen became all quiet and frightening, the children would run away and not see the girl tenderly and dolefully beginning to cry and becoming tiny and helpless from being so homesick. What it was she longed for is uncertain. Perhaps also a bit for the spankings. But most of the time for something undefinable which had existed at some point or which might just have been a dream. With the children demanding so much thinking from her, she slowly began remembering. First red, red, and then many people. And then a bell, a loud bell, and then: a king – and a peasant and a tower. And they speak. “Dear king”, says the peasant …. “Yes”, replies the king with a very proud voice: “I know.” And, indeed, how should a king not know everything a peasant has to tell him. –

Shortly thereafter, the woman once took the girl to the shops with her. As it was an evening in Christmastime, the shop windows were brightly-lit and filled exuberantly. In a toy shop, Anna suddenly saw what she had remembered. The king, the peasant, the tower … Oh and her heart beat more loudly than her steps sounded. But she quickly looked away and walked on beside Frau Blaha. She had a feeling as if she mustn't give anything away. And so the puppet theatre remained behind them, as if unseen; Frau Blaha, childless, hadn't taken notice of it at all. – Shortly after this, Anna had her Sunday off. She didn't return that evening. A man whom she had previously seen in the tavern below joined her; she couldn't remember exactly where he had led her. It seemed to her as if she had been away for a year. When on Monday morning, she came back to the kitchen, tired, everything was even colder and greyer than usually. On this day she broke a soup terrine and was severely scolded for this. Frau Blaha hadn't even noticed that she had stayed out that night. Roughly until New Year's, she stayed out three more nights. Then she suddenly stopped walking around the building and started locking the flat anxiously; she would no longer come to the window every time the organ grinder was playing.

Thus, winter passed into a pale, timid spring. In the courtyards, it is a season of its own. The buildings are black and damp, and the air is light, like often-washed linen. The badly-cleaned windows twitch and glow and various small pieces of rubbish dance in the wind, past the various floors. The sounds of the whole building are more clearly audible, the bowls clank differently, more brightly, higher-pitched, and the knives and spoons clatter differently.

Around this time, Annushka gave birth to a child. It came completely unexpected to her. After she had felt bulky and heavy for weeks, it suddenly emerged from within her one morning and was part of the world, God knows where from. This happened on a Sunday, and everyone else in the building was still asleep. She looked at it for a while without her face changing in any way. The child hardly moved, but suddenly a very high voice started from within the small chest, and at the same time Frau Blaha shouted and a bed cracked in the living room. At this point, Annushka grabbed her blue apron hanging close to the bed, tied its strap around the small neck and put the whole blue bundle into the bottom of her suitcase. Then she went into the living room, opened the curtains and began making coffee. On one of the following days, Annushka counted the wages she had received so far. They came to fifteen guilders. Then she locked up the door, opened the suitcase and put the blue apron, which was heavy and motionless, onto the kitchen table. She slowly untied it, looked at the child and measured its length from head to foot with a tape measure. Then she ordered everything else as before and went out. But, unfortunately, the king, the peasant and the tower were much smaller. She still took them and some other puppets with her. That is: a princess with red round dots on the cheeks, an old man, another old man who had a cross on his breast and looked like St. Nicholas because of his beard, and two or three others which weren't as beautiful or important. A theatre as well – the curtain of which could be raised and lowered so that the garden behind would emerge and disappear.

Now Annushka had something for the loneliness. Where had the homesickness gone? She set up the big beautiful theatre (it had cost twelve guilders) and positioned herself, as one is supposed to, behind it. But sometimes, when the curtain was open, she would quickly run to the front, and now she would look into gardens and the whole grey kitchen disappeared behind the high magnificent trees. Then she would step back and take two or three figures and let them speak their minds. It never developed into an actual piece; but there was speech and response; it also happened that two puppets would suddenly bow to each other as if frightened. Or both would bow to the old man who couldn't do it himself as he was completely made of wood. From gratitude, he fell over each time.

The children rumoured about Annushka's playing. And since then, at first suspicious and then increasingly trusting, the children of the neighbourhood would gather in the Blahas' kitchen and stand there when dusk fell in the corners, keeping their eyes glued to the beautiful puppets which always spoke the same. Once Annushka's cheeks were all hot and she said: “I also have a very big puppet.” The children trembled with impatience. But Annushka seemed to have forgotten it again. She placed all figures into her garden and leaned those that didn't remain upright against the scenery on the sides. Among the others, a kind of harlequin which the children couldn't remember emerged; he had a huge round face. Increasingly excited by all the splendour, the children asked for the “very big one”. Just once, the “very big one”. Just for a moment: the “very big one”.

Annushka went to her suitcase in the back. It was already getting dark. The children and the puppets stood opposite each other, inanimate and similar to each other. But from the wide-open eyes of the harlequin which looked like they expected something dreadful, such fear burst upon the children that, without exception, they suddenly ran away screaming.

With the big blue one in her hands, Annushka returned. Suddenly her hands were trembling. After the children had left, the kitchen had become so quiet and so empty. Annushka wasn't scared. She laughed quietly and knocked over the theatre with her feet and stepped on the individual thin boards which signified the garden, making them split in half. And then, when it was already completely dark in the kitchen, she went around and clove in two the heads of all puppets, including that of the big blue one.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Quest(ion) of Elitism

If Beckett's Endgame was performed in a two-performer version among the crowd of protesters at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, which performance would seem more silly/embarrassing by comparison: Endgame? Or the demonstrations?


Monday, 30 November 2009

audiences running away

(from Anais Nin's diaries)

“The light was crude. It made Artaud's eyes shrink into darkness, as they are deep-set. This brought into relief the intensity of his gestures. He looked tormented. His hair, rather long, fell at times over his forehead. He has the actor's nimbleness and quickness of gestures. His face is lean, as if ravaged by fevers. His eyes do not seem to see the people. They are the eyes of a visionary. His hands are long, long-fingered.


Artaud steps out on the platform, and begins to talk about 'The Theatre and the Plague'.

He asked me to sit in the front row. It seems to me that all he is asking for is intensity, a more heightened form of feeling and living. Is he trying to remind us that it was during the Plague that so many marvelous works of art and theatre came to be, because, whipped by the fear of death, man seeks immortality, or to escape, or to surpass himself? But then, imperceptibly almost, he let go of the thread we were following and began to act out dying by plague. No one quite knew when it began. To illustrate his conference, he was acting out an agony. 'La Peste' in French is so much more terrible than 'The Plague' in English. But no word could describe what Artaud acted on that platform of the Sorbonne. He forgot about his conference, the theatre, his ideas, Dr Allendy sitting there, the public, the young students, his wife, professors, and directors.

His face was contorted with anguish, one could see the perspiration dampening his hair. His eyes dilated, his muscles became cramped, his fingers struggled to retain their flexibility. He made one feel the parched and burning throat, the pains, the fever, the fire in the guts. He was in agony. He was screaming. He was delirious. He was enacting his own death, his own crucifixion.

At first people gasped. And then they began to laugh. Everyone was laughing! They hissed. Then one by one, they began to leave, noisily, talking, protesting. They banged the door as they left. (…) More jeering. But Artaud went on, until the last gasp. And stayed on the floor. Then when the hall had emptied of all but his small group of friends, he went straight up to me and kissed my hand. He asked me to go to the café with him.


He was hurt, wounded, baffled by the jeering. He spat out his anger. 'They always want to hear about; they want to hear an objective conference on “The Theatre and the Plague”, and I want to give them the experience itself, the plague itself, so they will be terrified and awaken. I want to awaken them. They do not realize they are dead. Their death is total, like deafness, blindness. This is agony I portrayed. Mine, yes, and everyone who is alive.'


He grew gentle and calm. We walked again, in the rain.

For him, the plague was no worse than death by mediocrity, death by commercialism, death by corruption which surrounded us. He wanted to make people aware that they were dying. To force them into a poetic state.

'The hostility only proved you disturbed them,' I said.

But what a shock to see a sensitive poet confronting a hostile public. What brutality, what ugliness in the public!”

Sunday, 8 November 2009

sense ... non/

carrots are vegetables and apples are fruit / 
until vegetables and fruit
include carrots and apples
   then vegetables and fruit believe carrots are apples 
 and carrots hate apples because vegetables are fruit.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


- tickets almost run out book now -


3 free performances:
Thursday 29
Friday 30
Saturday 31 October

7pm (2 hours duration)

Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio,
Basement, Faculty of English,
9 West Road

50 seats maximum per show: please book your seat by writing an email,
specifying which night you would like to attend:

Age rating: 8+
A few explanations:

A company of artists ~performers & musicians from various disciplines~
collaborate in reading, playing & enacting one of Mr William
Shakes-peare's great divided master-works.

The texts we use are a newly configured edit which presents the quarto
of 1608 and the folio of 1623 together. So sometimes a scene itself
falls into a dialogue of its own division:

Albany. He knows not what he sees, and vaine it is
That we present us to him
Edgar. Very bootlesse.

Albany. He knows not what he saies, and vaine is it
That we present us to him
Edgar. Very bootlesse.

This is a collaborative piece of work which intends to be a committed
inquiry into text and performance. Also it is a clown show, a great
stage of fools. We call it 'UNFOLDING King Lear' because the work is not
about definitive readings or interpretations, nor is it about closing
down on the perpetual questions of what it means to be a play, or a
person, or a thing.

These performances are prepared collapsing together our combined
disciplines in performance, art, puppetry, dance, improvised music,
critical inquiry & personal curiosity. So the players are at odds as
well as at one with one another, in humour and in body, as they make
something in front of you: reading from the page but also by heart,
playing and questioning what it is to play a play ...


Comments on a previous work by Jeremy Hardingham,
Unfolding king lear a model
(a solo show which is attempting to be a collaborative work)

" a solo in which Hardingham seems to be, at one and the same time,
chewing and regurgitating King Lear, in a sort of terrible parody of
circular breathing techniques ….. it is the complexity, not as styling
but as argument, that ultimately is moving and impressive and jags in
the mind: for all the ferociousness of his inquiry into language and
object and abstraction and absence, as ever his work is alive with the
essentially theatrical discovery of how the individual, buffeted (as
Lear is) by what seem to be malign extraneities, contains and embodies
all the graces and desolations of properly collective response, and
spells out in poetry and grunting the massed chorus of aloneness."

- Chris Goode

" Terrifying, painful and utterly compelling"

- Lyn Gardner (The Guardian)

See also?

Andrew Haydon's blog:

and for more information see:

Thursday, 20 August 2009

tempelhof endurance performance - first sketches

it’s always morally elevating fun to watch bearded mystical muezzins and cute capitalist kids on stage – a Protokoll on Rimini Protokoll

Since the 1970s, Greek tragedies have been produced more often in German theatres than all previous performances of Greek tragedies ever counted together. The clash between most theatres working like museums and the audiences’ longing for productions which don’t consider themselves as slaves to a small selection of canonical texts has led to the emergence of a few trendy theatre groups in Germany. One of these is Rimini Protokoll (, the name of which alone, however, also evokes associations of museums, of archiving, saving, documenting. And indeed, the productions we’ve seen by Rimini Protokoll over the past year in Berlin are museum-exhibits in the contemporary edutainment kind of way; even worse, their piece Radio Muezzin (dir. Stefan Kaegi), currently travelling through Europe, resembles anthropological museums of ye olden times of ye Empire when scholars weren’t yet afraid of in-yer-face Orientalising.
Egypt is about to centralise the muezzin's call to just one person transmitted live by means of radio to each mosque. 30 muezzins have been selected to transmit the call in alternation. Rimini Protokoll proclaims never to work with actors, but with what they call "experts of the everyday" (Experten des Alltags). In this case, they picked four Egyptian muezzins who spoke about their everyday life, introduced each other to us, showed some projected photos and videos, made tea on stage, etc. Of course, it is interesting: in the same condescending way anything ‘Oriental’ has been interesting to interested West Europeans over the past few centuries. One of the outstanding Orientalist moments is the kneeling down of the muezzins to show ‘us’ – clearly a presumed non-Muslim audience – how praying works: as one of them tells us, they will only show us "the form of the prayer; we're not really praying because it's not praying time." Orientalising aside: isn’t that acting – to show the outer form of something without feeling it, without living through it at that point? Why is acting by the "experts of the everyday" necessary after all, particularly when the performance is engaging with a religious act which is generally a holy rite for those now pretending ‘as if’? The atmosphere of Rimini Protokoll’s show makes that act of prayer banal; something which is supposed to have a really deep ritualistic function becomes a hollow form to be performed to staring Europeans who then clap each other on their shoulders for being so interested in the multicultural.
Perhaps Rimini Protokoll in fact wishes to make the prayer banal, to show it as something of the everyday rather than holy. But in that case, they seem to lack awareness of how problematic an almost scientific presentation of their “experts of the everyday” as objects on stage must be. Similar problems have turned into a troubled meta-discussion by anthropologists over the past decades. When Rimini Protokoll presents us its objects of study, by contrast, it does not in the least show any self-consciousness as to the grey area of voyeurism it is moving in. A similarly objectifying stance towards their subjects was already created in Airport Kids (dir. Lola Arias, Stefan Kaegi), an exhibition of so-called third culture kids from the International School at Lausanne who preferably talked about their nice houses and rich parents. The audience adored the cuteness of the blond little girl and enjoyed chuckling whenever one of the children would come up with a particularly materialistic childhood dream. Basically, the show seemed like a presentation of the conditioning of children under globalised capitalism – something which the children, of course, didn’t realise, talking about their lives in full earnestness. At the same time, the audience was seated above them in an ordinary fourth-wall situation and metaphorically, too, situated on a meta-level; the whole performance to what Rimini Protokoll must have known would be their usual mainly left-liberal-youngish audience suggested one main conclusion making everyone happy in their moral superiority: ‘awwwww, cute materialistic blond well-off children with their capitalist dreams of a fulfilled life.’
Of course, it’d be possible to say that all of this is true Brechtian epic theatre, exhibiting the gestures, postures, habits, conditioned minds, living conditions of various "experts of the everyday" and in this sense, true political theatre. If this is what Rimini Protokoll attempts to be, however, it fails from lack of critical engagement with its own work processes, with issues of voyeurism or agency. Ultimately, it is no worse or better than any edutaining TV show offering superficial information, in this case to theatre audiences clasping at any straw in order not to have to see the old pieces again, and again, and again…

Monday, 8 June 2009

theater (noun): the failure to not express oneself.


theatre communicates the failure to communicate. which is theatre and what theater necessarily fails at in the same instance.

the performer stands before the audience and shares his (the performer's) suffering with that audience. he thereby lessens it. but the performer's suffering is all he has that is not at base a lie. to share it is to lessen the only true thing that that human being, the performer, has. it is the only thing he has worth having, and thus the hardest thing to keep and endure. it would take real courage to NOT communicate one's suffering and instead to keep it; to feel it fully. but theatre unavoidably fails to not communicate. the performer will confess and console himself. because theatre communicates the failure to communicate, it fails in its aim - to not communicate. but it must fail. its failure is intrinsic.

if theatre condensed into its basic constituents is one human being stood before another (without geography/biography/text etc.) then the unavoidable fact that he is bodied and therefore languaged means that even to stand still before another is to communicate. an actor's exercise might be to stand before another and attempt to communicate Nothing. hours of standing still before another will not really achieve this task. john cage noticed while in an anechoic chamber that he could not find silence because always the pumping of his blood and the ringing of his nervous system persisted. there is no such thing then, as the co-existance of silence and life. if those two human beings before each other are alive, they must communicate. at base, we can see them and hear them, however minutely. the performer necessarily fails to not express himself, even if all he is expressing is his aliveness.

theatre must aim to express Nothing. it must necessarily fail in this aim. but the attempt, knowingly pointless, is all theatre is.

practically manifested this might not be quite as desolating as it first seems. in konrad bayer's 'idiot', the idiot - 'a' - rails at the man who 'want[s] to force me to see you, ... want[s] to force me to hear you.' he rages at the man who forces communication, and audiences laugh at the fact that 'a' communicates his hatred of the man who forces communication so communicably: 'a' expresses his desire not to express himself with exceptional powers of expression. he fails, and there is humour in his failure to not communicate.

there is a similarly dark humour in the 1923-24 correspondence between artaud and riviere; 'it is my peculiar weakness and my absurdity to want to write no matter what the cost, and to express myself' writes artaud. riviere dryly points out the 'extraordinary precision' with which artaud expresses this self confessed 'impossibility of expressing myself.' he is rendered comically absurd in his desire to express the sense that he cannot express himself. artaud's claim that self-expression is impossible links closely to bayer's point that 'you cannot understand what i say just as i can't understand what you say.' the failure to not express oneself does not suggest that perfect communication of one's suffering to the audience is achieved albeit in the shadow of this basic failure (to not communicate). we fail in every direction. we cannot say exactly what we mean because we mean to say Nothing. so when the performer says that he suffers to the audience, he is not truly understood as there is an 'impassable barrier' between them. the communication is a deception.

for artaud there might have been more of this theatre in his day to day experience of himself in his language that there could ever be in a theatre-room. but even in the theatre-room, or within what might be more usually defined as 'theatre' or the making of a play, practitioners face this same unachievable task of non-expression. billie whitelaw's accounts of her work with beckett reveal an endless effort to rid text, actor and stage of meaning and interest. 'it takes courage to be boring' says beckett to the actor, 'less colour'. it takes courage, one might continue, to not act, to not communicate, to not share anything - to instead allow the 'unbridgeable chasm of misunderstanding' between the performer and the audience to be felt. billie whitelaw never claims to have finished a role, or to have achieved the total absenting of herself from beckett's texts, but she felt that to be the aim. 'get out of the way' she told herself before each performance of footfalls. in beckett and whitelaw's performances, there are still words, bodies and meanings; communication does occur. but there is a struggle against this. there is a failed attempt to not communicate at its base.

the idea of an actor with out meaning behind his text, without biography behind himself, without significance behind his objects but rather unintelligible and closed, not expressing Nothing, is unachievable. but the failed attempt at this goal is as close as we might come to theatre. we make theatre because we cannot achieve the unachievable goal of suffering in silence.

Sunday, 31 May 2009


PERFORMANCE NIGHT, 15.06.2009, from 9pm,

bring beer, get soup, bring a performance of rough, fragmented, unrehearsed, unfinished, experimental (or the opposite) music, writing, performance-art, theatre, anything else which cannot be named; get an audience.

Let us know by 08.06. whether and what kind of work you'd like to perform, how long it might take and whether you'd like to take a look at our flat in advance (you can also e-mail and/or perform in German or any other language) - and forward this e-mail to anyone else who might be interested in performing.

Or just come to our flat and watch .... idiot and much more!
Weisestr. 48 (near U8 Boddinstr),
ring at Jeschke,
4th floor on the right.

If at all possible, please try to be on time as constant ringing during the performances is a bit disruptive... but also don't worry if you can't make it on time, just come late anyway!

the antigone project:



2 P E R F O R M A N C E S



ROOM 302, Theaterhaus Mitte, Koppenplatz 12.

D I R E C T I O N S :

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Wiener Gruppe

"lalala", sang goldenberg.
"blablabla", antwortete braunschweiger.
hierauf waren beide, braunschweiger und goldenberg, minutenlang glücklich.

(aus Konrad Bayer, der sechste sinn)

I don't know if this needs any translation, but anyway:
"lalala", goldberg sang.
"blablabla", braunschweiger replied.
upon this, both braunschweiger and goldenberg were happy for minutes.

If you ever don't know what to say...