Plays of the Season 2013/14 The Question of Authorship

Wolfram Hölls “Und dann” (ie. And then), Schauspiel Leipzig
Wolfram Hölls “Und dann” (ie. And then), Schauspiel Leipzig | © Rolf Arnold

It was above all linguistically and formally experimental texts that made for surprises the theatre season 2013/2014. They were presented at the Mülheim Festival. The Play Market of the Berlin Theatre Meeting and the Theatre Authors Festival at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin blazed new paths in the making of theatre pieces.

When theatre scholars and journalists look back in the near future on this year’s vintage of theatre texts, they will evaluate 2014 as the year of looking inward and reassurance. Perhaps they will also come to the conclusion that the classical play-text has maintained itself quite well in the end amidst surroundings in which the repertoire is more and more dominated by project, documentary and performance theatre – although with some directors and theatre-makers pleasure in the text has for the time being somewhat waned.

The Berlin Theatre Meeting, for instance, in 2014 abolished its discoverer’s forum, the Play Market, in its hitherto existing form: Working on the assumption that German-speaking municipal and state theatre is suffering from a hypertrophy of author promotion, it saw itself obliged to make a commitment to an expanded concept of the author and the text. The focus of the selection was also extended over the whole of Europe. The choice of three not necessarily text-based theatre works was made by the British director Katie Mitchell, the theatre collective Signa and the British theatre author Simon Stephens.

New plays

This was just such a turning point as the decision at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, where a single juror, Till Briegleb, selected for the 2014 Theatre Authors Festival not newly submitted plays but reviewed texts from past years and re-presented the best of them. Still exclusively committed to new plays, on the other hand, were the Heidelberg Play Market and the Mülheim Festival, the latter the most important festival for German-language authors.

The selection presented by the Mülheim jury showed how complex the concepts of “author” and “text” have become, even when a festival is devoted “only” to authors’ theatre. In contrast to 2013, which was dominated above all by the impressive debuts of the authors Katja Brunner, Azar Mortazawi and Marianna Salzmann, in 2014 there was a high proportion of linguistic and formally experimental texts. Looking more closely, it could be seen that they were about not whether a “classical” author was responsible for the text, but rather the process by which the text was developed.

Among the seven nominations for the Mülheim Dramatist Prize was the play Qualitätskontrolle (ie. Quality Control), developed by Rimini Protokoll in co-production with the Stuttgart Staatsschauspiel, which won the Audience Award at Mülheim. In the case of the documentary exploration of a life that Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel realised together with Maria-Cristina Hallwachs, who has been paralyzed from the neck down since the age of eighteen, we should speak of a collective work. The underlying text revolves round Hallwachs’s everyday life and reflects on the fateful question what then is a “life worth living”. Who was active here in the creative use of language, who escalated, edited or revised the story could be answered only if Haug/Wetzel had kept a work protocol.

Infinite texts

The answer to the question of authorship appeared to be somewhat simpler in the case of René Pollesch’s Gasoline Bill, premiered by the Munich Kammerspiele. But only apparently. The work is an infinitely ongoing text by Pollesch in which both the actor’s comic suffering under prestige theatre and socio-philosophical reflections of the Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek find their place, yet Pollesch generates his text together with the actors and has in this way been undermining the classical concept of the author for years.

Something similar may be said of Laura de Weck’s Archiv des Unvollständigen (ie. Archive of the Incomplete), a co-production of the Oldenburg Staatstheater and the Recklinghausen Ruhr Festival. This puzzle-like evening of spoken theatre and music is about apprenticeships in history and in language. De Weck dispensed with a classical plot, developing a text further during rehearsals with director Thom Luz that takes ad absurdum the hope that there could be something like a complete narrative.

Closely akin to this text is Wolfram Höll’s Und dann (ie. And then), an exploration of a childhood in East Germany, transformed into lyric-choral theatre by Claudia Bauer at the Leipzig Schauspiel. It poses the question whether the text was written for the stage at all, and why, having got there, it unfolds such poetic power.

Classic villain

Wolfram Höll was awarded the Mülheim Dramatist Prize. The debutant of the year, Ferdinand Schmalz, presented in his Am Beispiel der Butter (ie., Using the Example of Butter), premiered at the Leipzig Schauspeilhaus, a folk play rich in metaphors and in the tradition of a Werner Schwab. The provincial farce describes the uninhibited market economy mentality of Central Europe using the example of a dairy. Together with Philipp Löhle’s Du (Normen) (ie. You [Normen]) and Rebekka Kricheldorf’s Alltag & Ekstase (ie., Everyday Life and Ecstasy), this text fell into the category of “classical dialogue play”.

In his protagonist Normen, Löhle introduces a standard bad guy who is interest only in capitalist money and power accumulation. The text was premiered at the Mannheim National Theatre. Kricheldorf’s latest play travelled from the Deutsches Theater in Berlin to Mülheim and laid on a family that seeks its happiness in blasting even its happiest moment by analysis. This sort of thing incidentally is also supposed to take place in the somewhat larger family of the theatre.