When I look back on the course that my life has taken up to this point, I have no doubt that it has been an ascendant one throughout.
Born on the 23rd of May 1939 on the plains of Brandenburg, in the beautiful town of Neuruppin which was also the birthplace of the German writer Theodor Fontane, the confusions of war carried in 1948 to the south-west of Germany to Tuebingen, in Swabia. In 1962, I returned for a time to Northern Germany, namely to Berlin, but from 1966 onward settled once again into a life in the South, moving back and forth between Tuebingen and Stuttgart. Despite several “escape attempts”, this remained the region I stayed in for many years. It was only with the new millennium that I crossed the Rhine and settled in Eastern France, in the Vosges Mountains. I say “settled”, but where was I ever “settled”? For most of my life I have been, and still am, “on the road”, on tour with my own work or directing the works of others.
What has occupied me most as an artist has always been the building of bridges: the seeking out of new forms of connection between theatre, music, language, movement, dance, pantomime, and the visual arts. The need to achieve something of this sort has been with me from the very start.
After my private training as an actor, and a further training with circus acrobats in Berlin, I became, in 1964/65, a regular actor at Berlin’s renowned Schaubuehne theatre, then based on the Hallesches Ufer in Kreuzberg. In 1965/66 I went to Paris, in order to learn the craft of corporeal mime under Étienne Decroux, while also studying at the Université du Théâtre des Nations.
My first solo performance of the programme that I had developed for myself as a mime artist took place on the 26th of February 1966 in the Berlin Academy of the Arts. (Karl-Guenther Simon, himself a trained mime artist and author of an important book on the art of mime, entitled his review of this performance, which appeared in Theater heute in May 1966, “The Young Giant”). There followed on this first solo performance, in gradually but steadily increasing numbers, solo tours first through Germany and then through Europe, Africa, North and South America and Asia. In many cases the Goethe Institute was involved in supporting and organizing these. I also took part as a mime artist in many international festivals and congresses and made many TV appearances.
Jean Louis Barrault wrote a marvellous text for me (see Appendix). Unfortunately, busy schedules on both our parts made it impossible for us to work together on his “Rabelais” production, as Barrault himself would have wished us to.
When one is often on tour as a solo artist, one feels an ever-growing need to work with other people. In 1972 I took over, as Artistic Director and General Manager, the renowned Zimmertheater in Tuebingen, after I had already directed a production there of Peter Handke’s “The Ward Wants to be Warden” (Das Mündel will Vormund sein), also acting in this piece alongside the marvellous Salvatore Poddine. Despite the strict financial limitations under which I was working, I was able to give form here, in the period between 1972 and 1979, both as director and as actor to the idea of a theatre that would draw on both the poetic tradition and the traditions and crafts of the circus and to work together with many authors, musicians, and practitioners of the visual arts who also were, or became, my friends.
Some of the very important productions, for me, of those years were:
- a staging, authorized by the playwright himself, of Samuel Beckett’s “Words and Music” (1974);
- “School with Clowns” (Schule mit Clowns) by Karl- Friedrich Waechter (1975). Continuing collaboration with Waechter resulted in the play Kiebich und Dutz;
- the world première of Kurt Schwitters’s “Collision” (Der Zusammenstoss) (1976). While taking my production of Peter Handke’s “The Ward Wants to be Warden” on a tour through the USA and Canada, I had gotten to know, in Montreal, Friedhelm Lach, who was just then in the process of editing and publishing Kurt Schwitters’s collected literary works. It was he who drew my attention to this fascinating piece of theatre, by which I was immediately electrified. Although I had conceived and designed, for this production, a revolving stage for the audience, so that I never thought of it as a production suitable to be taken on tour, “Collision” (stage design: Günter Kuschmann, music: Reinhard Karger) was in fact shown with great success at the Berlin Festwochen, in the Stuttgart Kunstverein, at the Festival de Jeunes Compagnies in Liège, at the Zurich Festwochen, and in Paris’s Musée de l’Art Moderne;
- “The Soldier’s Tale” (L’Histoire du Soldat) by Igor Stravinsky (1976) (Director and actor);
- my own piece inspired by the sketches for Oskar Schlemmer’s “comic ballet” Varieté: Varieté, Varieté, Variationen über ein Thema von Oskar Schlemmer (stage design: Günter Kuschmann, music: Geoge Gruntz) (1978); invitations for the performance of this piece were extended by the annual theatre festivals of Berlin, Vienna, Zurich, and Dublin, and by the Premio Roma and the Istanbul Festival and it has been celebrated in many German and European cities.
In 1979 I received the Hoelderlin Medal of the City of Tuebingen.
In my work as a freelance theatre director I have mounted, and continue to mount, theatre productions both in Germany and abroad, and also adapt for the stage works originally produced in other forms. The following are only a selection:
- world première of “Elizaveta Bam“ by Daniil Charms for the 1983 Berlin Festwochen;
- world première of René Kalisky’s Falsch, Théâtre de la Place, Liège (1987);
- There grew out of my work in television with Samuel Beckett (see below) a personal friendship between Beckett and I, which resulted in turn in his giving his consent to my adapting and performing on stage his novella The Expelled, among other works. I have directed productions of several of Beckett’s plays (including a production of “Waiting for Godot” mounted as a cooperative project between five nations (1997), and “Krapp’s Last Tape” (2005), both at the Stuttgart Theaterhaus and both with stage design by Gudrun Schretzmeier).
Intensive collaboration with living authors, composers, and practitioners of the visual arts continues to be a very important part of my work.
TV / FILM (Excerpt)
In 1972 I had a role in the TV movie Der Traumtänzer, directed by Vojteč Jasny and broadcast by SWR (South-West German Broadcasting), alongside the marvellous Edith Heerdegen, with Guenther Luehr and Hap Grieshaber. After this successful collaboration Jasny wanted me also to take on the role of the protagonist Hans Schnier in his film adaptation of Heinrich Boell’s novel The Clown (Ansichten eines Clowns). This proved, unfortunately, impossible, since the Hollywood-based co-producer of the film insisted that a major international star be cast in the role. There was discussion of Dustin Hoffman’s playing the role, but it was eventually given to the German actor Helmut Griem, who was internationally known for his role opposite Liza Minnelli in Bob Fosse’s Cabaret. Griem, however, along with the director persuaded me to play the scenes involving the central character in which he actually performs as a clown.
1978: a recording and broadcast made of my own production "Varieté, Varieté, Variationen über ein Thema von Oskar Schlemmer" by Radio Free Berlin. I was closely involved in the last two television productions made by Samuel Beckett for South-West German Broadcasting (SWR) in Stuttgart, namely a production of his Quad in 1981 and of his Nacht und Träume in 1982. The SWR production of Quad was a world première and the piece was performed in a manner different from its published version, as Quad I and II, II being an abbreviated version in black and white without musical accompaniment.
I was involved in Quad I and II both as performer and choreographer and in Nacht und Träume as performer of the piece. During this collaboration I immediately developed an excellent rapport with the extraordinary artist Beckett.
A committed involvement with contemporary music and contemporary music-theatre has been a constant throughout my career, and remains so still today:
- at the Stuttgart Staatstheater, Mauricio Kagel’s Sur Scène (1970) as performer, and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Renard (1971) likewise as performer, under the musical direction of Bernhard Kontarsky;
- Collaboration with the composers Renato de Grandis, Luc Ferrari and Mario Bertoncini, as well as the singer Karla Henius, followed by a tour through Italy;
- along with Mauricio Kagel and as a member of the Cologne Ensemble for Contemporary Music-Theatre I was closely involved, as co-performer, in the world première performance of Staatstheater at the Hamburg State Opera in 1971. Together with Kagel I also gave guest performances of Repertoire (a section of the work Staatstheater) in Europe and the Far East in 1973 and in North and South America in 1974;
- in 1992 I met with John Cage in order to discuss with him my production of his "Europeras 3 & 4", the German première of which was planned for 1995 at the Leipzig Opera. "Europeras 3 & 4" was also presented at the Dresden Semperoper as part of the 10th Dresden Festival of Contemporary Music and elicited the most lively reactions from the attending public;
- I directed a production of the opera Tag/ Nacht /Traumstaub by the young composer Annette Schluenz for the Leipzig Opera and for Expo 2000 in Hanover (stage design: Daniel Depouteau). The German pavilion at the exposition was officially opened with a performance of this work;
- I directed a new production of “The Soldier’s Tale” (L’Histoire du Soldat) by Igor Stravinsky in 2001, and played the role of the Devil in this piece both in Stuttgart and at the Gengenbach Summer Festival, of which I was Director in 2000 and 2001;
- I also, however, directed a production of the comedy group Tango five: Tango five spielt wie Waldi (2000);
- or at the Luebeck Music Academy Anna Margareta – das Buxtehude Musical (2007);
- or worked out (on several separate occasions) solutions to staging problems faced in concerts by Les Percussions de Strasbourg;
- or wrote and directed the music-theatre production E pericoloso NON sporgersi for the singer Elisabeth Grard and the ensemble Les Temps Modernes from Lyon for the Esch Theatre (Luxemburg) in 2005.
I am also currently working on a whole series of further music-theatre projects, including one with the composer Gordon Kampe.
I find the interface between the visual arts and performance art extremely exciting. This inasmuch as there is a sharp and sudden change in the criteria of aesthetic judgment when one moves from one form to the other. I see here an exciting dialogue between the painter, the sculptor or the performance artist on the one hand and the man or woman of the theatre on the other.
At the famous Weimar Republic institution of the Bauhaus theatre and the visual arts engaged with one another to their mutual and reciprocal enrichment. This was what led me early on to take a committed interest in the productions mounted at the Bauhaus theatre, the Bauhausbühne. I was involved, for example, both in 1968 and in 1979 in the reconstruction of Oskar Schlemmer’s “Bauhaus Dances” (supported in this by Schlemmer’s widow, Tut Schlemmer) and repeatedly developed in the following years new projects/pieces that were directly connected with this idea of the Bauhausbühne:
- Varieté, Varieté, Variationen über ein Thema von Oskar Schlemmer, world première at the Berlin Festwochen 1978 (see above);
- a live performance for the opening of the Bauhaus Museum in Berlin and the public presentation of the “Bauhaus Dances” (1979).
- Bilder Bühne Bauhaus, world première at the Wuerttemberg Kunstverein in Stuttgart in1988, followed by a tour.
- or the new production – site-specifically conceived and designed – of Mauricio Kagel’s Repertoire at the Bauhausbühne in Dessau itself in 1991 (stage design: Marc Deggeler), which was subsequently performed at other locations and also at festivals, such as the Music Biennale in Berlin and the Warsaw Autumn Festival.
Needless to say I have also been involved in many marvellous projects in this area which proved in the end, for one reason or another, impossible to carry into actual execution – as you will well remember, Jannis Kounellis, Tommi Bayrle...
The urge to try and try again, however, is one which never dies.
I was a teacher for many years at the State University for Music and the Performing Arts in Stuttgart, but have also given workshops and Master Classes at many other locations and institutions, such as:
- Harvard University, Massachusetts,
- the Ireland Festival in Dublin,
- the Film Academy in Bombay,
- the Bauhaus in Dessau.