Directors Talk:
Nicolas Stemann
and Yana Ross

With the series Directors Talk you can bring our in-house directors Alexander Giesche, Suna Gürler, Trajal Harrell, Yana Ross, Christopher Rüping, Nicolas Stemann, Wu Tsang, and co-artistic director Benjamin von Blomberg along with you into the productions of the 2021/22 season in eight conversations. During the second lockdown they met on Zoom to talk about here, now, and tomorrow, mainly in pairs and once round-robin. The conversations are part of the season preview, which presents the 2021/2022 season and is available now in all our venues, as well as free to order online.

published on 25. August 2021

"You don't need to get it to get it."

[10:30] Yana Ross: Hello! Nicolas Stemann: Hey, Yana! Wow, you look so relaxed! What is the phase that you’re in right now? I’m really absorbing a lot of different fields of research. I’m doing porn studies: it’s a kind of new field in academia and comes from queer and feminist studies. It is very interesting to me: this way to look at pornography also as a reflection of mood in society, the fears and also phantasies. It’s a lower body experience that we tend to suppress. You know, I’m working on David Foster Wallace¹ at the moment and this has always been my dream project for the last ten years. I have tried to offer it to some theaters that I have strong relationships with; and they were always somehow either really scared of the topic, the sexuality, or some circumstances did not work out. What is it that attracts you so much to this idea of the project and to the book? I dare to say that this book can be read through a radical feminist angle. Wallace is giving us a really disgusting, horrible portrait of toxic masculinity and he is choosing to leave the female partner as a reader, not as a character. All the dialogues in this book happen between a man and a woman. As if he is not just talking about somebody (and women in particular) but with a woman – with her. And that speaks to me, of course, as I identify with the pronoun “she”. And I see the prophetic nature of his writing. He wrote this 20 years ago. 20 years! Already challenging genderheteronormativity, already pointing out how toxic male sexuality can be if framed by the patriarchal society. And by exposing it in such incredible high literature, but also such low, disgusting physicality, he is incredibly vulnerable. Very vulnerable as a writer, as a cis-male, and that always reaches to me. What about you? Do you have a dream text or dream project? hat’s not so easy to answer, because I always try to avoid to work on things that are not totally important to me. But I certainly have a list of unfinished plans. One of them is, and has been for several years, to do something based on the Bible; a huge project about the complete craziness that we find in this book. Another idea is to do a project about the history of the Pfauen, Die Pfauen-Saga, something like that. This is such an interesting subject for a play: full of stories and references to the present that all have this theatre in the centre. Also, an occasion to investigate the reality of Switzerland’s neutrality during the Nazi period. Nice! I’m curious, Nicolas: I was wondering, what is the first performance you saw in your life that made a huge impression on you. Is there something you remember, a moment that you carry with you when you felt: this is theater. When you ask about my first encounter with theatre, this goes back to my childhood memories and to children’s theatre – though, of course, this didn’t bring me directly to this strange conclusion to become a theatre director. I believe it takes several experiences and things you saw that turn you into this. It started with puppet theatre. I was so impressed when I was a kid by puppet theatre and at some point in my life I thought I would become a puppet player. I created my own puppets, and really loved it. I loved the Muppet Show and Jim Henson’s puppets and I built my own puppets with this “Klappmaul”. But, of course, there are also other influences on my work than The Muppets. Though, I’ve sometimes come back to this reference, especially in my Jelinek productions. Puppets love to recite Jelinek-text. How about you? Do you have an answer to this question? Do you have memories where theatre for you goes back to? I really had to grasp some performances that affected me subconsciously and that keep coming back. Some festival in Europe and I remember a production from Italy. I had written it down somewhere and found it later in my early teenage journals. It was Teatro Brescia and they made a Heiner Müller production of Hamletmachine that played on a big stage. At that time, I had no idea who Heiner Müller was. Of course, I knew Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and I tried to put these two together that didn’t really have any kind of direct relationship on stage, but I felt something. It was very visual, very disconnected and stunning somehow, really exciting to see something that you don’t necessarily understand literally or which doesn’t really have a narrative. This is so interesting because when we think about young people as a target group, we think about how to talk to them in a way “that they understand” – but there’s also a positive way of overwhelming somebody, right? Totally! Or just confronting. It’s so important that you see things that you don’t understand, that you can’t understand, and you read things, and see art, and you go to the theatre to see shows that are explicitly not meant for you to understand. Exactly. And somehow these experiences are so important later, because they shape your way of thinking and liking things. And connecting. I think we tend to rationalize somehow too much or overanalyze. Because, what possibly could you understand by an avantgarde production like Hamletmachine by Heiner Müller.In Italian, also! You don’t need to get it to get it. If you’re struck by these things that you don’t understand, you use the next years of your life to find out what it was that you didn’t understand.Hard cut: What is for you the hardest thing with this new position of being artistic director?Hard to tell, because everything was so exceptional so far. I guess I sometimes miss the freedom of just being a director and the time to only work as an artist. On the other hand, I knew this before and thus am not surprised or complaining – plus: I’m so glad that I’m not alone in this, that there is Benjamin with me – and on all levels quite a lot of people that are part of decisions and the shaping of this institution. Like you and the other in-house-directors.I think the idea of two artistic directors as well as eight in-house directors is really beautiful and fruitful. The idea of artistic sharing, of the joint power of artistic impetus just by eight people being physically in the house and being creative; we generate a certain magnetic field. If you step into that field, whether you like it or not, you get affected, and I find this is really beautiful and strong. I’m glad to hear that.I think it is really brave to go with this idea. But within this frame, of course, we are crashed by the coronavirus because we physically cannot enter the building or at least not the eight of us at the same time. So, this energy, this magnetic field, becomes something more of a meta-concept that we are of course connected, but we’re not; like our physical energy of creating in the eight rooms of the same building is not always there. That is painful in a way, that we are experiencing this together, that our time at the Schauspielhaus is also happening under extreme circumstances. We’re going through a global disaster, but we’re going through this together, which, I think is an experience that we will also cherish for the rest of our lives. We all remember where we were on 9/11.And we all remember where we were on March 16, 2020.​​ Exactly. March 16. I will remember forever how we were sitting in the sun outside of the Schauspielhaus and we were really not sure how to say goodbye, if we were going to hug, or are we not allowed to touch each other anymore. And this moment will stay with me forever. So, it’s really a unique experience that we are going through this together on different levels, on this physical and also metaphysical. But, of course, the complexity of our artistic desires is not so easy. We have very different theatrical languages, we have very different backgrounds, we are also researching different subjects, and we all have millions of standpoints, demands and requirements that the art work is calling for. And that makes the regular way of running the house a real challenge.​​ I really love talking to you. Let’s hope that there will be a season with audience and with theatre. Let’s hope, Yana, that all our different projects will be shown. I remember us talking about our projects one year ago, when there were reasonable and – as we know by now – justified doubts that there was a normal season ahead of us, and everyone decided to ignore that and said: Well, let’s pretend that it happens, because if we don’t, we don’t do anything. Let’s hope it’s different this time. Another season full of cancelled or postponed plans would be hard. Though many nice things occurred instead. It showed that we’re all quite good in dealing with the unforeseen.​​​ Let’s hope and see. We do our best and hopefully we can see each other soon. I’d love to. Bye-bye, Yana!Bye! [11:46]

1 Yana Ross’ new production is based on texts by David Foster Wallace, primarily on Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.