The doubled gaze
by Susanne Chrudina
When the production of ZAZDENA/ MAUERSCHAU was premiered in Prague on 14th September, we were looking back on one year of collaborative work. The idea to realize this special project together came about in May 2008 in Berlin. Martina Schlegelová and myself had received scholarships at the International Forum of the 'Theatertreffen' in Berlin. Martina began telling me about the "After the Fall" project at the Goethe-Institut, and after a few minutes it became clear that we were going to do this together. Our family backgrounds are vivid examples of recent European history, and our own biographies are influenced by the fact that there was once a wall that divided Europe. Other members of the ensemble joined the team in Berlin too: Tereza Richtrová and Claudia Schwartz were likewise participants at the International Forum.
The two directors, Martina Schlegelová and myself, are like mirror images in terms of our respective biographies. Martina was born and grew up in the Czech Republic, but her family is German. My parents are Czech, but I was born and grew up in Germany. As a result of our family lives, we are familiar with life on both sides of the Wall, and have learned from our parents how biographies have been affected due to the dividing line across Europe. Each of us has this "doubled gaze", and in combination as a directorial team we had the possibility of bringing together our views of different sides of the Wall.
For my part, I can say that the fact that Europe was divided and the existence of the Iron Curtain have most certainly influenced my identity. The political climate and the reality of life in the ČSSR in the 1960s was what caused my mother to reach the decision to leave her homeland. At the time, it seemed like a conclusive decision: a tear in the Iron Curtain and less so its fall seemed unthinkable. In possession of a temporary vacation permit to West Germany, she was one of six Czechs who left the country on 21 August 1968, the day that the Russians occupied the ČSSR.
My father followed in 1969. I grew up with the knowledge that my parents loved their country, but due to the reality of life there, they decided to make a new start in Germany. I knew that our relatives lived in the ČSSR, and there was, of course, plenty of contact with them. Therefore, in contrast to many of my friends, the 'Eastern Bloc' was constantly present in my life. The Wall that once divided Germany was also the reason that I no longer have Czech citizenship. As a child at primary school I was granted German citizenship alongside my Czech citizenship. A subsequent school outing in the then divided Berlin caused my concerned teachers to contact my parents. They were unwilling, given my surname and my citizenship, to take me on a trip across the GDR to East Berlin – after all, my parents had left the country illegally, which was classed as a felony in the ČSSR. At the time, my parents hastily took the pragmatic decision to use the opportunity to buy me out of my Czech citizenship. Other members of the ensemble are 'products' of recent history too. The actress Claudia Schwartz, for example, is the child of parents from different sides of the Iron Curtain who fell in love despite this seemingly insurmountable barrier.
The author Barbora Vaculová used the family stories of ensemble members as inspirational material for the piece. She herself has often dealt with the theme of the Sudetenland, in which the German and Czech cultures, as if in a pressure cooker, encountered one another in the past.
The ensemble members' personal experiences of a divided Europe were to be an integrating component of the project. It was clear to us all from the start that this was to be a daring experiment, the outcome of which we could not foresee. The Wall has two sides: history is perceived differently on each side and has been experienced differently. Our aim was to connect these perspectives, to gather stories from both sides of the Wall. But in concrete terms, this also meant bringing together theatrical artists from two countries; working and acting in two languages; unifying the signatures of two directors in one evening of theater; and combining different aesthetic approaches and working methods. During the working process, certain differences became apparent that we had not really been aware of at the outset: For example the theatre terminology, the jargon, was not mutually understandable – or the different rules relating to production operations, or the fact that we had been exposed to different theatrical influences.
It was our goal to develop the piece further with the bilingual ensemble; to formulate the viewpoints and the artistic signature of both directors in one evening, which also provided the space to place different aesthetic and contentual perspectives side by side and to use fields of tension and fractures as a constituent component of the evening; and to express, in the production, our own contemporary commentary on the existence and fall of the Wall, the ensemble members all being "products" of history. It was clear that this undertaking would demand a search for new, appropriate working approaches and expressive means. An experiment for all concerned: an exhilarating time.
Now ZAZDENA/ MAUERSCHAU has been brought to the stage.
I would like to thank all our sponsors and supporters who have supported this work and made it possible.