The Experts of Everyday-Life

The fringe moves closer to the state theatre with little money, but with a strong sense of reality... /on deadline and others

Von Eva Behrendt

01.09.2003 / Theater heute (Jahrbuch 2003)

The fringe moves closer to the state theatre with little money, but with a strong sense of reality. Still, not always as aesthetically. A retrospective on some productions of last year’s season.

“Short-lived is pain, ever-lasting the joy”, are Schiller’s Joan of Arc’s last words as her heavy armour turns into a feather costume and her soul gently flies towards heaven. “Now everything’s good” is what Kleist’s Penthesilea mutters as buries the sword in her own bosoms, and Strindberg’s marriage zombies hope: “perhaps death brings new life”. Dramatic literature is surprisingly rich in hopeful last words, there are numerous very lively actors on Western stages that mimed final sighs and collapses for the sake of the rest of the world. Death and Life: Great theatrical themes of mankind.

But what about the every-day dying, the connected rituals, in short: death on a German average? The independent directors team Protokoll Rimini mistrust dramatic developments and metaphysical sentimentalities. This is why Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel make use of a collection of facts and witnesses reports for their documentation-theatre-project deadline. They arrange statistic quantities, illustrate means of behaviour and let representatives of the system ‘death’ have their say. However, they don’t sort these aspects into an order on account of pedagogic missions or narrative. They rather leave importance, marginality, private and general things, irony and the truth stand equally next to each other.

Who could tell more about death than those who deal with it on a regular basis? Protokoll Rimini hired for deadline Hans Dieter Ilgner, former mayor and constructor of the ‘Flammariums’ which bears not only a somewhat euphoric name compared to the profane crematorium, but it also burns the corpse without residues. Furthermore, there are Hilmar Gesse, the tomb-stone sculptor, Olav Mayer-Sievers, a hobby presenter of mourning speeches, a Rumanian funeral-violinist of the Ohlsdorf cemetery who’d rather remain anonymous, and Alida Schmidt, student of medicine with cuddly pets such as snakes and insects. And there is also the report of a founding member of a pro - euthanasia society presented on a video-screen; his doctor discouraged him from performing live because of health reasons.

The cool stage is decorated with light-boxes, screens and display-cases, later on it is turned into cemetery-chapel with coffin- and grave wreaths, and the experts report in short and perfectly co-ordinated sentences on their work. The sculptor Gesse, as “the man of writing” communicates statistics about death via templates of letters and card-board signs, and for demonstration purposes, Olav Meyer-Sievers put on a false teeth which serve to stabilise the corpse’s jaws. According to the cemetery-violinist the top hit in Hamburg is ‘Ave Maria’ by Charles Gounod which is followed by Hans Albers’ ‘La Paloma’ and ‘Memory’ from the musical ‘Cats’. So is it only a macabre joke “when you still find human remains on a skeleton of a person who in his life-time consumed a lot of preservatives”? In surprise you observe the findings from the off-scenes of death, all these bizarre practices which are meant to help to dispel and ban it. Even deadline has to fight to keep it away.

Still, there is at least one thing to be experienced in a touching, creepy way: The psychiatric nurse, Sabine Herfurth, reports after 30 years of professional experience in a grinding telephone tape-recording that there are no final words. “Old or young, man or woman – all cry for Mama”. “That’s crazy – isn’t it?” she asks into the silence. It is.

Become an insider-tip

Ironically, deadline itself was a funeral, and the last production that took place at the Neues Cinema at Steindamm. This Fringe theatre of the Hamburger Schauspiel which Tom Stromberg created to accommodate his liking towards the experimental had to close down for ever before the season ended. And it’s also an irony that deadline was the first production which Protokoll Rimini did under the umbrella organisation Stadttheater as a co-production of the Schauspielhaus Hanover and Berliner Hebbel-Theater. Independent theatre is dead – long live the independent theatre?

Looking at the past season of the German Independent Theatre scene something is very obvious: Independent scene and (established) Stadttheater are getting closer – still not at all everywhere and in every aspect. On both sides there are separate leagues. The lucky theatre-people are the ones that can find a spot in the urban network which connects in always changing constellations the leading independent theatres like the Sophiensaele in Berlin, the Düsseldorf Forum Freies Theater, the Frankfurt Mousonturm, or even the Podewil Berlin, Kampnagel Hamburg, Theater Rampe Stuttgart, or the semi-independent stages TIF Dresden, and the Theaterhaus Jena. Admittedly, the money is tight there as well, but if you can put down the name of such stages who are at least financially sound in you funding application your chances are increased considerably. And on top of that, many Stadttheater – usually the more progressive ones with a tendency towards experimental – co-operate with the independent stages or amongst themselves to try the more efficient model of the independent: Former ideological frontiers have long turned into temporary alliances (see also the conservation on pp.64 of this yearbook). It is much harder for the Second League – independent groups and theatre who work in the cities and the provinces where stages are neither supported nor are able to draw upon such a network: You are hardly noticed nation-wide or end up pottering away by yourself. Only way out: Become an Insider-tip or move away.

Real People

These are problems Haug, Kaegi Wetzel and Bernd Ernst (who is not involved with deadline) who are all former students from Giessen don’t have to deal with. They have been active for the last three years in various team-constellations of “Rimini Protokoll” and “Hygiene Heute” and quickly gained high reputation nation-wide and internationally. Ever since Wolfgang Thierse denied them access to the former Bonner Parliament for their ‘representative-democracy project’ Deutschland 2 and their name was in all the papers they are famous. They worked with experts as well as with theatrical ready-mades, directed the perception of the audience with head-phones and binoculars and proved their inexhaustible interest for the world: for the Viennese Congress(Europa tanzt, “Hygiene Heute”), Swiss traditionalism (Shooting Bourbaki, “Rimini Protokoll”), Hanover (Sonde (Probe)Hanover, “Protokoll Rimini), unemployed Argentinean porters (Torrero Portero, Stefan Kaegi), or the sending out of Dieter Dorn’s Faust-production (Physik, Hygiene Heute). Except of Dieter Dorn, all of this had never happened before in theatre  - at least not in the Stadttheater.