World Premiere: The Visit

By Haug / Kaegi / Wetzel

Reconstruction of the premiere in 1956 and of the events surrounding it, before and after, in the same place, with those who were involved back then, 11 children, 46 life-size black and white photos, and a musician.

In “World Premiere: The Visit” Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel deal with part of the history of the Schauspielhaus Zürich: the world premiere of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s “The Visit” on 29th of January 1956. With eight experts – former staff and audience members of the Pfauen – they search the collective memory and reconstruct the outlines of Oskar Wälterlin’s production with the unforgettable Therese Giehse as Claire Zachanassian from the margins. Former assistant director Richard Merz deciphers the shorthand notes in his director’s notebook, Bibi Gessner, then the director’s secretary, recalls how she typed the pages of the manuscript that Dürrenmatt used to correct every day, stage hand Hans Städeli once again organises the rebuilding of the open stage scenes, and three members of the now grown-up children’s choir sing the welcome song for Zachanassian. One important “player” in this project is also its addressee: the audience, the spectators, who often for decades have sat at every premiere and every world premiere in the same seats in the Pfauen next to their old “neighbours”, founding a community, to which every new piece must prove itself. Businessman Johannes Bauer was in the audience then, as was television host Eva Mezger-Haefeli and Kurt Weiss, then a boy at grammar school.

Using a familiar Rimini approach, these eight “experts” invite us to a ‘séance of memory’ and revive one of the greatest productions in the history of the Pfauen. Old Lady “Theatre” comes to visit. And while Claire Zachanassian demands a justice “that she can afford” this poses on the one hand the question of collective guilt, of venality, but also of collective memory with new acuity. On the other hand, this reconstruction also questions the relevance of such an event and of theatre in general. What place did a visit to the theatre have in theatregoers’ lives? Why did they go? What consequences did the experience have for individuals, for the theatre, for the city? And what memories live on after 51 years?

By: Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi, Daniel Wetzel

With: Johannes Baur, Ursula Gähwiler, Hans Graf, Bibi Gessner, Richard Merz, Eva Mezger, Hans Städeli, Christine Vetter, Kurt Weiss u.a.
Stage sets: Simeon Meier
Costumes: Maja Kuhn
Music: Markus Reschtnefki
Lighting: Sascha Haenschke
Dramaturgy: Imanuel Schipper
Production: Schauspielhaus Zürich

Premiere: Schauspielhaus Zürich/Pfauen (as part of the Züricher Festspiele), 21st of June 2007