You can find all kinds of things in a landfill site

You can find all kinds of things in a landfill site

If you have ever wondered who the narrator is who constantly looks over the shoulder of the anti-hero Brenner in Wolf Haas’ crime novels, you should attend a reading by the author himself.

In Graz, the venue for such a reading was moved at short notice from the casemates on the Schlossberg to the Orpheum. The venue on the Schlossberg was difficult to reach by cogwheel railway due to maintenance work. Despite the fading, extended weekend and the heat that had just set in, the hall in the Orpheum was not badly filled. While readings usually take place in bookshops, someone like Wolf Haas actually fills larger halls. On the one hand he has a loyal reading community, on the other hand many know him because of the film adaptations of some of his books. In it, Josef Hader plays Inspector Brenner, who soon leaves the police force and then has to solve many a case on his own.

On the one hand, it is this special character that fascinates the reading public. This grumpy, solitary and at the same time lovable man slips into criminal cases against his will and without doing anything.

In the process, he – like the majority of the audience – has to deal with everyday adversities, which he tries to avoid in a highly unconventional way. On the other hand, it is also the easy-going language that appeals to many. Despite this lightness, profound world problems are discussed en passant, as if they were marginalia. This special mixture guarantees great reading pleasure.

His new novel “Müll”, from which Haas read in Graz, also contains all these factors. He not only lent his voice to the narrator, but one could get the impression that the narrator is a kind of alter ego of Wolf Haas. However, with the paradox that this alter-ego, were it to be brought to life, would not have much in common with the writer himself. For Haas leaves the impression on stage of a calm, level-headed and intellectual person with a high capacity for linguistic expression. His narrator, on the other hand, speaks with umpteen repetitive standing sentences like “You don’t believe that”, “Don’t ask” or “You mustn’t forget one thing” and loves to make comments in sentences without verbs. In “Rubbish”, this slang adapts like a second skin to the characters in it: They are so-called “Mistler” of a Viennese rubbish dump who find a dismembered corpse in their rubbish tubs. There is a reason why Simon Brenner is among them. He works there himself and considers his job to be the best he has ever had. Whether Udo or Mr Nowak, whether the young intern or Brenner himself – Haas succeeds in creating wonderful character studies of men who, as permanent employees of the City of Vienna, know a lot of bosses about them. Nevertheless, they are proud rulers in their working environment, deciding who may or may not deposit manure for free. They keep a watchful eye on the correct placement of waste in the tubs provided for this purpose and that a little tip usually leads to special helpfulness – who is not familiar with this procedure in Austria?

Brenner lives in a chic flat high above the rooftops of the city – but only as a “bed-walker”. As such, he uses empty flats to spend the night, with the noble aim of leaving no trace.

The great art of Wolf Haas is the interlocking of socially relevant themes with a crime story in a language that – although artful – comes across as loose and fluffy, as if he had picked up and written down every sentence in beer-swilling inns or at tent festivals. Whether it’s the rubbish problem or the organ mafia, whether it’s relationship stress or bourgeois ways of life, there seems to be nothing that Haas can’t deal with profoundly and humorously at the same time. At the same time, the tragic story of a man whose body parts ended up in a landfill is served up in easily digestible morsels.

As a surplus, Haas offered the audience of his reading a highly amusing story about the difficulties of translating his texts into Japanese. In “Müll”, translation heads will start to smoke at the latest at the point where “Spuckerl” is the name of a small cleaning trolley that Brenner puts into operation – clearly unauthorised. The scene in which he involuntarily cleans the shoes of hundreds of passers-by in Vienna due to a defect in the vehicle’s spraying system, which cannot be switched off, is not only one of the most humorous in the book. It also shows Haas’s literary skill in making a complete film scene play out in the reader’s mind with just a few sentences.

Conclusion: Readings by Wolf Haas are worthwhile. Reading his books anyway.

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Only stagnation means freedom

Only stagnation means freedom

Imagine your radius of experience is limited to four walls and you don’t mind at all, you even find it comfortable. Imagine you have your own assistant who takes care of everything for you. Call her Isadora and talk to her like your best friend. Imagine that everything is so conveniently arranged for you that you can even receive friends at the virtual lunch table. Imagine you are completely independent of the outside world and happy as can be – only you never go outside because you are afraid of it.

This is exactly the setting Caroline Peters offered with the Ledwald group in the play “Die Maschine steht nicht still”. The production is a paraphrase of a text by E.M. Forster’s “The machine stops” from 1909 and was created as a reaction to the pandemic in which most of us became much more dependent on computers and the internet.

Amazing visuals by Eric Dunlap, a permanent live camera guide by Andrea Gabriel (also responsible for recorded videos) and a perfectly coordinated light and sound design by Lars Deutrich add an electronic layer to the performance that is not only absolutely zeitgeisty, but also makes sense here. The text, adapted by Caroline Peters, tells of a woman who receives a call from her father one day. Like her, he lives 2.5 km away from her in a setting like the one described above, wants to tell her something and asks her to take to the road and come to him not just virtually but in the flesh.

This initial situation puts his daughter in a quandary, as she is supposed to leave her protective environment against all orders and go into a terrain of which she has no idea what awaits her there. Mindcontrol has progressed so far that any experiment outside of one’s own four walls no longer seems desirable and the maxim applies: standstill is progress and what I don’t try can’t go wrong. Towards the end, however, the daughter actually succeeds in freeing herself from her monitoring companion Isadora, who immediately invites comparison with Alexa, Siri or other currently active electronic helpers. In addition to the description of everyday life, which Peters renders with high acting skill, whether it is a cooking recipe she wants Isadora to implement, taking voice calls or watching video lectures, she is fascinating in multiple roles in the scene at the table with her invited friends. They have all been recorded by her beforehand and, at the push of a button, gather around the laid table in virtual space to – as is familiar from real life – show off, look frightened, be amazed or be admired, just like the respective characters.

Lars Deutrich on the electronic sound machine and Andrea Gabriel in the role of the mute Isadora, who captures everything with her live camera and also saves it, are permanently present on stage. Both Peters and Gabriel wear poison-green costumes with a spider pattern – a symbol of imprisonment in the web, which is nevertheless perceived as chic and essential. (Costumes Flora Miranda) It is not only the illusionistic setting that impresses, but also the text, which has a whole series of dazzling sentence pearls such as: “Since the pandemic, we know that viruses and technology grow exponentially”, “Knowledge is a kind of fiction”, “Deep Intelligence is also just another kind of cheating” or “To time its loop, to the loop its freedom” – a rewrite of the Hevesi slogan emblazoned over the Vienna Secession. These are just a few, few statements that one would like to read at home because of the further abundance of philosophical ideas, bon mots and visions of the future.

The clever, open ending leaves a taste of relief and fear at the same time and in no way glosses over the digital future we already find ourselves in.

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An animal election campaign

An animal election campaign

Designed as a “walk for the figure”, it invites the audience to move from the backyard of the theatre to the Arne Karlsson Park opposite with a conferencier. There, at various stations, it discovered a whole series of animal figures who prove to be election candidates with flaming speeches.

The monkey Sunni, awarded such numerous titles that in the end there is nothing left to do but address him as Sunni only, releases the audience with their companion Markus-Peter Gössler into the wild. There they meet a Cheshire Cat, under whose guidance the candidates for the election can be tracked down.

A rat from the underground brandishes a flaming speech against the injustice with which the nimble squirrels are favoured over them. A mysterious rabbit entertains the audience with equally mysterious election promises, who after questioning them know as little about themselves as they did before. Two ancient maggots try to win their clientele over to their side with poppy sounds – much to the amusement of children present, who have broken away from their game and enjoy the unexpected maggot spectacle. And finally, a former general in the guise of a boar offers meat loaf to the interested electorate present, to be able to increase the protection of his homeland with their votes.

For all those who belong to the regular audience of the Schubert Theatre, the little trip is also a wonderful opportunity to see the individual characters again. The two fat, greedy maggots had their big appearance in never-never land XX, the rat beast likewise in Ochkatzlschwoaf. The Ebergeneral comes from the play Go West! And the white rabbit was in ALICE.

Whether you join the little tour as a newcomer or as an old acquaintance, however, makes no difference. The joy of puppetry and its well-known secret, that the people who serve them disappear behind them and yet remain visible, is always the same.

Directed by Simon Meusburger, Soffi Povo, Angelo Konzett and Markus-Peter Gössler merge with their puppets and yet remain visible in their likeable acting performance.

Further dates every June weekend, Saturdays 2:30 & 5:30 pm, Sundays 11:00 & 3 pm.

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Quo vaditis, Rabtaldirndln and toxic dreams?

Quo vaditis, Rabtaldirndln and toxic dreams?

There was a time when some of her formulated thoughts made your heart stop almost every minute. There was a time when you knew: Wherever Rabtaldirndl is written, there is wit, esprit and intelligence inside. Rebelliousness and demonstrative self-empowerment, but also intelligent questions about the female state of mind ran light-footedly alongside the great plot of the chosen title. Whether jam was refined into a “golden sentence” or one was allowed to litigate in the open behind the “Uschi Kümmernis”, the flashes of inspiration always sparkled and the ensemble always encouraged reflection and rethinking.

The name Toxic dreams stands for unconventional theatre experiences. It stands for putting social conditions in a theatrical light that reveals what seems almost unspeakable without it.

In the production “The unreal Housewife of Vienna vs. The unreal Housewives of Graz”, the two companies joined forces to address the topic of “wealthy housewives”. The reality format “The real housewives” served as a model for this, in which the audience is allowed to look into the supposed inner but also outer life of the rich and beautiful.

The current production, directed by Yosi Wanunu, the artistic director of toxic dreams and an experienced theatre man, cannot really live up to the expectations of this collaboration. This circumstance has several causes. Translating a TV format into theatre is no easy task, especially since there are already stage parodies for this series in particular.
Secondly, it may be that one or the other finds it entertaining to see women psychologically unmasking themselves and going at each other like crows. But this kind of entertainment did not really sweep the audience present from their seats.

Thirdly, there is the question of the sense of juxtaposing Viennese and Graz women’s cliques from the wealthy milieu and having them compete against each other in a showdown like in an arena. The black and white big-city elegance, versus the colourful, fashionable costume, makes it clear which shark women are in charge here internationally and which are national at most. Whereby the costumes by Susanne Bisovsky, a Viennese fashion great, are the absolute highlights of the production. The fact that the Graz women define themselves more about their possessions and rant about them, while the Viennese women indulge in more introspection right from the start, but then also make disparaging remarks about what they hear in each case – this difference alone does not make the evening exciting.

Whether it’s the chic white interior of a Ruckerlberg villa or the dignified brown leather sofas in a flat with a view of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (stage: Götz Bury, Paul Horn), whether the ladies dress up in tennis outfits or sauna coats – the navel-gazing of Graz’s haute volee or Vienna’s high society tires relatively quickly. Possibly this feeling was also intensified by the permanently rising heat in the hall of the Kristallwerk.

The musical interludes that are performed live towards the end don’t help either. The text that is used does not reflect anything other than what one has already experienced before. Whoever is rich and beautiful can get away with anything, whoever is rich and beautiful, no matter how he or she got there, only needs to care about others for the sake of form. And – not to forget: Those who are rich and beautiful suffer from their meaningless lives. One suffers a little more, the other a little less, but it’s not easy for them either!

What is missing is the biting wit that can expose socially toxic structures that are geared exclusively to the principle of my house, my car, my yacht. What is missing is linguistic finesse, for which the Rabtaldirndln in particular stand. Their Styrian dialect chunks, often thrown down so casually, are usually far superior to High German in their conciseness and turn many a supposed aside into a long sparkling, intellectual diamond.
But there is also a lack of feeling for how many platitudes a text can take without ending up in boredom, repetition and predictability.

In short, what is missing is that moment when the spark jumps over to the audience and ignites their emotions. Those who belong to the section of the population that is targeted here with not particularly suitable means will not really feel addressed. And if they do, they will fiercely resist it in a kind of defensive position. Those who are not part of the chic scene should not expect any profound psychological insights into the ladies who are embodied on stage. The text offers them all too little personal contour for one to be able to identify with them.

The second series of plays will take place at the brut in Vienna from autumn. Perhaps there will be adaptations by then that will make a visit seem more worthwhile. Slips are allowed and are part of the theatre business. “The unreal Housewife of Vienna vs. The unreal Housewives of Graz” should in no way contribute to not visiting the upcoming productions of the Rabtaldirndln and toxic dreams. The focus on their own core competences and, above all, on exciting themes will certainly provide the audience with interesting and highly emotional theatre evenings again.

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An exciting mixture

An exciting mixture

Bouchra Ouizguen has been part of the touring schedule of cooperation partners in contemporary dance for several years. France and Belgium play a prominent role in this; but the idea of supporting productions across countries is also becoming more and more popular, especially in the festival business in this country.

Although she has now staged her seventh production, she is still a border crosser in contemporary dance. In interviews, she repeatedly says that neither she nor her dancers have had any training in this field. What distinguishes her work, or rather the beginning of her work on this project, is the tracking down of people who still master traditional song and dance forms.

In “Elephant”, Ouizguen has set herself the goal of bringing Moroccan dance and music onto the stage in order to snatch them from oblivion and disappearance. As a metaphor, she has chosen the elephant, which is an endangered species and may already be extinct in the coming century.

Together with three other protagonists – one younger and two older women who have already worked with Ouizguen – she presented the result of her musical and dance search for clues in the programme of the Wiener Festwochen at the Odeon. She intuitively and creatively processes the material she finds into a one-hour piece. A piece that not only reveals the traditional, but also wraps this traditional in a new cloak.

Before her spectacle begins, however, the stage floor is cleaned by two women with large floor rubbing cloths. Then they come on stage – no longer dressed like cleaning ladies, but in festive robes – with two other dancers to clean the space with the help of incense. Here it becomes clear that what will be shown is partly taking place in the ritual realm. And indeed, a dancing creature appears with a colourful headdress, trimmed all around with bright bast strings. Soon it is whirling across the room.

Unlike at the very beginning, the music is not coming from the tape now. Now it is the women themselves who sing live on stage. Polyphonic litanies form the main volume of the musical events. Starting with a female singer, they are echoed by the others and at the same time rhythmised by them with the help of djenbes, small bongo drums. This musical setting remains the same throughout the performance, but the individual danced scenes change. One witnesses a solo performance by the youngest woman, who collapses in exhaustion, whipped up by the music, which gets faster and faster. But the women also perform an impressive group choreography.

It forms the artistic climax of the performance. Designed as a contact improvisation, it is, however, anything but improvised. After pieces of clothing have been pulled offstage – which can be understood as a haunting metaphor of human demise – and the women have intoned a litany of lamentations, the three dancers group themselves into a single organism. They move it through the hall in ever new combinations with the help of lifting techniques. The impression is that they hold each other in their grief and pain and never let each other fall. This is a highly emotional and meaningful scene. It shows people in an exceptional situation that they can only overcome through mutual cohesion. How they connect with each other, let themselves fall into the others, are pulled or pushed by them, how they nevertheless do not go down in their loudly articulated pain, but support and hold each other over and over again, can also be read metaphorically to the highest degree.

The mixture of traditional music and new choreography does not seem artificial at this moment, but quite natural. It enables the audience to think far beyond the dance. The fact that Bouchra Ouizguen’s work almost automatically finds itself in a larger, cultural-historical context also makes her work interesting for other disciplines such as musicology, cultural anthropology or sociology.

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What a time!

What a time!

People go to the action theatre ensemble for various reasons. Because you want to know what kind of theatre this troupe does, because you are taken by friends and have no idea what to expect, because you appreciate the kind of theatre you get to see or because you have the feeling of meeting old acquaintances again. But if you’ve been following Martin Gruber and his work for a while, there’s another reason to watch every new production. It is the fascination of gaining creative access to our current events and of looking at events, emotions and social structures from a different angle than the one we are confronted with every day.

It is precisely this approach that makes every visit a new experience. In the meantime, Gruber generates the respective cast from a large ensemble pool, which also has newcomers every now and then. Zeynep Alan, Babett Arens, Michaela Bilgeri, Luzian Hirzel, David Kopp and Tamara Stern are in action for “Lüg mich an und spiel mit mir”. The stage action is complemented by live music by Dominik Essletzbichler, Daniel Neuhauser, Gidon Oechsner, Daniel Schober. This time they have a strong part of their own and are not only responsible for an underlining soundtrack.

Without exception, they all enter the stage with black-rimmed eyes. An obvious message that what is to come will not be fun trallala. How could it be – in times like these! The pandemic has not yet disappeared, the environmental problem will never go away and the war in Eastern Europe has repercussions far beyond Ukraine. The zeitgeist that surrounds us is filled with fears, but also aggression, which we try to suppress as best we can.

It is precisely on this wound that Gruber puts his finger. The longer the performance lasts, the more this wound is opened, from which a lot of blood eventually flows. That which many of us carry out within ourselves is allowed to act out its ensemble before us and for us. There is insulting and shouting, people puff on each other and irritate each other until rage bursts out of everyone and the law of the fist enters the stage.

Right from the start, Tamara Stern gives free rein to her negative emotions, and at times so violently that she resembles a wild animal. What initially manifests itself only in violent verbal injuria tips over into physical aggression, which leads to violent attacks and fights that gradually spread to everyone else.

The stage is bordered by a concave screen showing photos that slowly change. A map of Ukraine can be seen through small peepholes, later the theatre of Mariupol can be seen – shot up, bombed, with a partially collapsed roof. None of this is commented on, but is subliminally permanently in the room, underpinning the sentences with another layer. One not only begins to understand that the horror and the threat could just as well affect us, sitting in the protected theatre space. One also begins to understand, to realise what one always feels anyway. We can talk ourselves into a better reality, we can look positively into the future and try to push away what doesn’t suit us or simply overwhelms us. Nevertheless, “it” is there. It happens while we are trying to enjoy ourselves.

It doesn’t help to look enviously at the Swiss population. According to Babett Arens and Luzian Hirzel, there is a place in a shelter for every citizen there. Under the theatre in Mariupol, people also thought they were safe. But what use is any hiding place, no matter how fortified, if we ruin our environment with every wash? Even organic detergents end up in the drain and destroy our waters. How can we distinguish good from evil when beggars we have known for many years suddenly ask for help not as Roma but as Ukrainians? What about the Ukrainian refugee from the east of the country who found refuge here with us 8 years ago, fleeing Ukrainian repression? What message did we not hear, did we not want to hear? Is it permissible to attack Russians who attack us, but not Ukrainians? And what absurdity, or perhaps even monstrosity, is revealed in the fact that a president who has proven himself to be an outstanding dancing star is now bitterly fighting for villages and towns that are being reduced to rubble? What are facts, what are lies? How much do we participate in it and why? At one point a momentous sentence is uttered, albeit casually: “We say we live in a functioning democracy and lie back until it’s true!” But there is also the realisation that lying holds us together.

The hard beats contributed by the black-clad musicians, the droning of the sounds support anti-aggression exercises and at the same time push the idea of having to gear up for an upcoming fight. In parallel, the images on the big screen change to show shots of human skin surface. That which we want to push far away hits us relentlessly and threatens us physically very close. But images of people also flash through your mind. People who are fighting for naked survival. Perhaps one or the other of the audience associates this with other things.

This fact alone shows that the theatrical universe of the aktionstheater ensemble reflects exactly that which corresponds to our current world of experience and feeling. We are surrounded by uncertainty and have to deal with questions for which we have no clear answers. At the same time, however, we are all allowed to feel privileged, each and every one of us who attends a performance. For the duration of about one and a half hours, we are allowed to experience again something that we have been missing. We get to experience something again that we didn’t know before how much we would actually miss one day: We experience a community that makes us laugh and marvel at the same time. We experience a community that makes us laugh and marvel at the same time, that makes us feel anger and plunges us into helplessness, from which we then rise again thanks to a clever dramaturgy. We are allowed to experience that people want and need people. The idea that theatre can’t achieve anything turns out to be an illusion. Fortunately for everyone involved – whether on or in front of the stage.

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