Rafael Sanchez

© Sebastian Hoppe
Rafael Sanchez was born in Basel in 1975, and lives in Basel and Berlin. He and the author Eberhard Petchinka were awarded the Radio Drama Award of the War Blind and an international Ondas Award for their one-man play Rafael Sanchez erzählt: Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod (Rafael Sanchez Retells: Once Upon a Time in the West) . From 2003 to 2006, he was director in residence at the Theater Basel, where his directing work included Jeremias Gotthelf’s Geld und Geist (Wealth and Welfare), the family classic Peter Pan, Pedro Almodóvar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! , the premiere of Guy Krneta’s E Summer lang, Irina (A Summer Long, Irina) , the operetta Im weißen Rössl (The White Horse Inn) , Ödön von Horváth’s Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Tales from the Vienna Woods) and Heinrich von Kleist’s Das Käthchen von Heilbronn (Ordeal by Fire).

He has worked at many different theatres, including the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus, the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin, the Maxim Gorki Theater Berlin, the Schauspielhaus Zurich and the schauspiel hannover. As of the 2008/09 season, he will be managing the Theater am Neumarkt in Zurich jointly with the director Barbara Weber.

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Portrait: Rafael Sanchez

The title of the play sounds like a joke, and it could also be staged that way from start to finish. Kommt ein Mann zur Welt (A Man Comes into the World) , written by Martin Heckmanns, runs through a human life in a rapid 90 minutes. The premiere directed by Rafael Sanchez is also very funny to begin with, but discordant notes creep in again and again. And when it comes to the death scene, all the furniture that has previously conjured up such a cosily disordered, youthful atmosphere is carried from the auditorium in a great jumble by stage hands. Then Bruno, the hero of the play, stands there utterly alone, with a fat cushion belly and battered body, looking for someone he can talk to for a few minutes. The text would still have comic potential, but Rafael Sanchez does not exploit it. So Bruno dies without sentimentality or cynicism as a very normal failure. "May he rest in peace," says his son, and Suse adds, "He too was just a man."

A Man Comes into the World at the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus is one of the best received productions Rafael Sanchez has directed to date. Premieres represent one aspect of his work, which has also included Anja Hilling's Nostalgie 2175 (Nostalgia 2175) at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg. But Rafael Sanchez also dares to take on the classics in his quite unique personal style. Kleist's Der zerbrochne Krug (The Broken Jug) at the Schauspiel Hannover started very light-heartedly as well. The village of Huisum looked like a colony of allotment houses, the mood was still nocturnal to begin with, and the actors took their time eating breakfast, shaving and jogging. Then the action began, and again the performance slid from comedy into bitter seriousness. For what the village judge Adam did to the young Eve was nothing in the least to laugh about. Kleist lets Adam run away at the end and suggests the people will be able to forgive him. In Rafael Sanchez's production, the village judge was shot, each resident aiming at him once and pulling the trigger. The little houses had long since been blown sky high in the truest sense of the phrase. They hung there under the flies, their walls slipping at chaotic angles, and it was not just the jug, but the whole village that had been smashed apart. It was an image of hovering melancholy, deeply sad and yet light as air.

"Gravitas simplifies things," Rafael Sanchez says, discussing his work. "A light touch allows so much to happen. I would like to give the audience freedoms, a corner of the screen they can fill in themselves. They sometimes know more than we do." Sanchez is not a depth psychologist who digs his way into characters and dissects them from all sides. He relies on situations, sketches in moods. "And what is important emerges out of the gaps in between. Occasionally, the parts of a performance do not fit together. So what?" The director, who was born in 1975, is confident enough to shrug his shoulders once in a while.

For a long time, Rafael Sanchez was based in Basel. His parents, who had both emigrated from Spain to Switzerland, got to know each other there. He performed at the junges theater, a creative melting pot of youthful amateurs and professionals from the city's municipal theatre house. Rafael Sanchez became accustomed to the stage and soon tried his hand at directing. "Otherwise I had no real alternative. At most, I would have liked to have been a gorilla attendant at the zoo. When I look into a gorilla cage, soap operas immediately run through my mind."

Sanchez does a great deal of directing, and has been stirring up the public theatre scene between Hanover, Stuttgart, Berlin and Zurich. Not all his productions have been successful. It is true that his version of Lorca's Blood Wedding in Essen started charmingly enough as a trashy farce set in a tourist Spain. In this case, though, Sanchez did not pull off the transition to Lorca's gloomier poetry with its allegorical figures and roaring blood. However, this was by no means due to the superficiality of which he is sometimes accused by critics. Rafael Sanchez always looks beneath the surface, and this is usually reflected in his productions as well. In Hanover, he seemed at first sight to be adapting Sartre's Dirty Hands to the visual expectations of a cinema audience. To begin with, the assassin was seen being released from prison, a man afraid that his party comrades want to kill him. The story about the conflict between his conscience and his duties as a freedom fighter was told by Sanchez as a flashback. When it started, a large cinema poster descended from the roof. Nevertheless, Sanchez did nothing to assimilate the aesthetics of the film when he got down to the detail of the action. At this level, he worked with long slow scenes, great distances and static dialogues, which gave rise to an interesting aesthetic friction. Sanchez unites the pathos of the cinema generation - for a long time he toured with the one-man show Rafael Sanchez erzählt Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod (Rafael Sanchez Retells Once Upon a Time in the West) - with a genuine feel for the theatre. He will soon be taking charge of the Theater am Neumarkt in Zurich jointly with the director Barbara Weber. The expectations are justifiably high.

Stefan Keim

Productions - A selection

  • William Shakespeare "Coriolanus"
    2012, Deutsches Theater, Berlin
  • Thomas Vinterberg/Mogens Rukov "Die Kommune" (i.e. "The Commune")
    2012, Deutsches Theater, Berlin
  • Sibylle Berg "Nur Nachts" (i.e."Only at NIght")
    2010, Deutsches Theater, Berlin
  • Nach Lion Feuchtwanger "The Jewess of Toledo"
    2010, Theater am Neumarkt Zürich, Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus
  • Anja Hilling, "Nostalgie 2175" (Nostalgia 2175)
    2008, Thalia Theater Hamburg
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, "Dirty Hands"
    2007, schauspiel hannover
  • Martin Heckmanns, "Kommt ein Mann zur Welt" (A Man Comes into the World)
    Premiere: 2007, Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus
  • Heinrich von Kleist, "Der zerbrochne Krug" (The Broken Jug)
    2007, schauspiel hannover
  • Federico Garcia Lorca, "Blood Wedding"
    2006, Schauspiel Essen
  • Richard Dresser, "Augusta"
    German premiere: 2006, Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin
  • Tony Kushner, "Homebody/Kabul"
    German premiere: 2002, Theater Basel/Maxim Gorki Theater Berlin
  • Rafael Sanchez erzählt: Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod (Rafael Sanchez Retells: Once Upon a Time in the West)
    one-man play and radio play