by Barbora Vaculová
Concept: Authenticity and “The View from Two Sides”
To create this work, the young playwright Barbora Vaculová has cooperated closely with the Theater Letí team of performers. This decision was not least based on her desire to use the play as a vehicle to explore the other team members’ authentic family stories.
When it came to selecting the performance team, one essential factor was the direct experience of German-Czech relations in each team member’s own biography. This criterion was not introduced to meet some notion of “Internationality”. Instead, the basic concept of the play required a theatre group where people were drawn both from Germany and the Czech Republic and worked together on the performance – ensuring there was indeed a “view from two sides”. On that basis, it was only logical to select two directors perfectly embodying this idea: Martina Schlegelová was born in the Czech Republic and lives there, but her family comes from Germany, while Susanne Chrudina, the other director, was born into a Czech immigrant family living in Germany. Other performance team members also had parents who did not both come from the same side of the “Wall”. In her new play, Barbora Vaculová takes these personal family stories as her main theme.
Since the play comprises a series of episodes, we decided to stage it as a form of cabaret. Aleš Březina, a well-known contemporary Czech composer, wrote the music – and this, as live music, is designed as a key element in the performance.
We see cabaret not just as a vehicle but also as having a symbolic value. It not only provides a means to move freely through time and space, but also allows us to use a very stylised form of music and action that is important in the contact to an international audience. We understand cabaret as a symbol because it often mirrors contemporary events and those events, in turn, often resemble cabaret. Cabaret can bring people together from different backgrounds and languages, and with different fates. Cabaret is free and simultaneously cruel, funny and, at the same time, sad. In cabaret, women are young, beautiful and hopelessly abandoned – rather as they are in border cities, in the midst of war or in a city divided by a Wall …
The plot of the play begins and ends in the present, shortly after the Czech Republic joined the Schengen area. The action takes place in the Sudeten region, in a little village called Himmlisch Ribnei directly on the former border. It is the evening of All Saints. On the night when the dead rise and the past comes alive, the cemetery shimmers in the flickering light cast by thousands of candles. This eerie atmosphere contrasts starkly with the down-to-earth discussion of three young women in the cemetery – all members of the local volunteer fire fighters who have just put out a blaze caused by a candle falling over. One of the young women was born in the village, where her father was a former border guard; the other two moved there to work for the customs authorities. Otherwise, only old people have stayed in the abandoned village; the young men have all left. The only young people are these women, all dissatisfied with their lives.
Suddenly a mysterious woman called Eva, who seems to be German, appears at the border crossing point. She is standing next to a strange old bus that no one heard arrive. Eva wants to drive across the border. The three young women are surprised. They ask Eva what brought her over the border and she replies: “Tonight, I’m going to take you all across the border!” Eva promises the three young women that tonight they can be anything they want to be – actors, or singers, or take on any other identity they like.
This signals the start of the cabaret. Eva transmogrifies into a cabaret animal, accompanying us on a journey across time. There are three main stops – the Second World War, 1968 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the end of the play, we return to the village in the Sudeten region – day is just breaking and the girls discover they spent the entire night driving around the cemetery wall. Eva reveals her last secret, tells her last story. She has a very good reason to come to this village – she wants to see the place where border guards shot her father. And at that point, the stories start to interconnect …
The individual cabaret scenes always comprise a story and a song. Every one of the scenes shares the same common denominator – a moment when historical events concretely intervene in the young women’s fate.
Much of Barbora Vaculová work here is with text collages juxtaposing the dialogue of her figures with contemporary documents. This form strongly contrasts the “personal” and “public” experience of history. The “songs” either serve to summarise the stories on an emotional level or else are performed at the start of an episode to drive the action forwards.
Since we assume we are performing for an international audience, the play is performed in both German and Czech. This bilingual requirement has also influenced the form of the text. The concept underlying the direction of the play focused on this linguistic experiment and the potential forms of its realisation (Susanne Chrudina has already worked on a German-Romanian performance). It was here that, through the choice of a pair of directors, we wanted to apply the principle of “the view from two sides”, as can be illustrated in an example of how we went about this in practice. A situation is played twice, once under one director and once under the other director. First, the situation is presented from the perspective of one figure, then from the other’s perspective – and though the view of the situation and its interpretation changes, the words remain the same.
One of the actors in the scene always speaks Czech and the other speaks German. When the situation is repeated, the actors switch languages. In that way, everyone in the audience gradually understands both figures until, at the end, they have an insight into the context in its entirety. The narrative is non-linear – the audience knows the entire text and sees the situations twice in differing interpretations – and then they are free to choose their own version of the truth.