By Martin Pesl
24.02.2021 / Falter
“Worst case, we’ll run Black Box for a month,” new director Kay Voges responded in October to what he’ll do if he can’t open Vienna’s Volkstheater on January 8th due to lockdown. He’s currently running Black Box every weekend for a month, that “phantom theater for one person,” which Stefan Kaegi of the Rimini Protokoll collective created in the first lockdown and adapted for Volkstheater.
At the new (and space-saving) coat check set up beneath the stands of the newly renovated building, guests are equipped with audio guides and sent off individually every five minutes. A gentle navigator’s voice and colored markings on the doors point the way on all floors and into almost all spaces. More simply, Black Box could be described as an individual tour through a theater repurposed as a museum, but it’s much more. On their way through Volkstheater the wanderers, separated in space and time, yet together, write their own little play. First, in places where the audience usually doesn’t go, you hear conversations among outside professionals and those who work here. The costume manager is explaining her work to a fashion designer. A pragmatic technician doesn’t have time for a philosopher’s pontifications on the subject of light; he has to set up the spotlights.
There’s even information from the technical director about the air conditioning. It smells strange in the room it’s in. Is anyone even allowed in here? One furtively looks around for the Do Not Enter sign. From the beginning you have tingly sensation of being followed. There’s hardly anyone who doesn’t keep turning around on the tour; that’s how real the steps on the headphones sound.
After a very short bathroom break, in the second part participants circle around and even get to go on the theater’s main feature: the stage. The tour first turns the guest into the star and in the end into a fan of the other guests. “Great performance! Bravo!” read a note I found at the Red Bar. What I don’t yet realize: someone is observing me as I read it.
That Black Box would be informative was to be expected. That the tour was also poetic and hauntingly beautiful makes it a highlight of the theater year before it could even start.