Directors Talk:
Christopher Rüping and
Alexander Giesche

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 30. August 2021

“The gods and heroes perish and make way for – for what, actually?”

[19:18] Alexander Giesche: How far away are we from each other? 511km as the crow flies from Zurich to Rühle Bodenwerder. Christopher Rüping: Aside from the physical distance… I’d say that when we do see each other, we’re close after all. But I still think this conversation is an insane task. Well, not for us, but for the people who have to edit it. I mean, how do you do interviews? I always rewrite everything. Yeah, I do too, usually. Have fun, editors! You’ll edit, send it back to us, and then we’ll rewrite it again. Yes, absolutely. You haven’t done a conversation yet, right? No, no. I’m going to Suna’s tomorrow, virtually. Oh, nice. I already spoke with Trajal and have the following question for you. Wu posed it to Trajal, Trajal me, and now I’m posing it you – like we used to do with chain mails, remember? So the question is: would you like to do an opera someday? I get requests to do them all the time now. Isn’t it… …yeah, right?! That’s what I figured, Alex! I can really picture the opera houses thinking, wow, Giesche... Funnily enough, I can’t imagine it and that’s why I think it’s so interesting. I’ve been doing theatre as of late. Yeah, you won’t be getting out of that one anytime soon… how long would you say you’ve been making theatre for? When you say: as of late. That was coquetry, of course. I always have. I’m a theatre-maker. But it’s suddenly perceived of in a different way from the outside. I know that people looked at Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän differently because there was suddenly this headline above it. The headline of a canonical text? Max Frisch? Yes. To be completely honest, I didn’t know the title Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän That’s why it worked so well, everybody came with the expectation: “Max Frisch, oh, high culture,” but nobody had a clue… and in the end, nobody dared to say: but that wasn’t anything like the book! I think it’s Frisch’s most exciting text and also the most grateful. Yeah, who knows what expectations you would have had to deal with had you rounded the corner with Homo Faber… Is your plan still to stage Momo next season? That’s the plan, yes. It’s so crazy to be in a production right now which was still being speculated last year and still hasn’t materialized this year either and to already be talking about the next one. Then I’m also asking myself: How long will we keep playing this game with the season previews? Until the audience really doesn’t take a look anymore because they no longer believe that it will eventually happen? I understood, though, that in the season program, which this conversation will be in, no announcements of new productions will be made for exactly those reasons…right? But we’re supposed to talk about what we’re planning to do, right? Exactly, we’re supposed to talk about them. That’s why I’m going to try make a very smooth transition. Momo! That’s definitely a text that everyone has an association with. It’s not for… in your announcement it says: Not for children, but for adults. A fairy tale for adults? That’s interesting, also in regard to Holozän. With Momo, I want to explicitly test what happens if I apply the “visual poem”¹ principle to material which people have an tons of expectations about. I know how jealous I was of Trajal [Harrell] in Munich at the Kammerspiele that he just did Juliet & Romeo². He can do whatever he wants with it then! That’s not true, of course, but I thought: How cool to work with material like that, material which people bring many emotions to on their own already. And Momo is, in my opinion, one of the defining works of my generation. The nicest thing about the character of Momo is that she can listen. Yes, exactly, she’s the best listener in the world… Because she takes her time. I’d like to be able to do that more often. Listen and not interrupt people. To be calm enough to do that. I remember that Momo threw me into an existential crisis as a child. Because time stops at some point – and when it starts up again, nobody can remember how it ground to a halt before. So I thought, I thought: If time were to stop for thousands of years after every hour, we wouldn’t notice it. That would just be our life. Every hour is followed by a thousand years of the silence of eternity. That’s unfair because you can say so much about Momo while I have to admit I hardly know anything about Wagner. Segue! Besides for the fact that I was blown away by Wagner for the first time, musically speaking, in Melancholia³. Otherwise, I’m only interested in him because of his term “Gesamtkunstwerk,” and because of his invention of darkness. The darkened audience only exists because of Wagner. Why? It didn’t exist before that. He introduced it in Bayreuth so that you can focus on what’s happening on stage. It wasn’t planned to be so radical. But it was suddenly pitch black because there were technical problems when the opera house opened and the gas lighting completely stopped working. He liked that – and, in turn, so do I. But everything else, all of the misuse of his works… I’m totally clueless about what those sagas are about, really completely clueless. Well, I’d say it’s about the downfall of the Norse gods. The twilight of the gods, that is. And it comes across as a monumental phantasy of doom with dwarfs, giants, people, and horses who are ridden into the fire. Before I began to get know him and his work, I had somehow remembered that Wagner’s art was appropriated and misunderstood by the Nazis. But that’s not really true: Wagner was a nationalist, a staunch anti-Semite and obsessed with the idea of the unity of a people, of the Germans, that is. That’s why he planned to create a Gesamtkunstwerk under whose banner the German people could gather. And that “Gesamtkunstwerk” was also supposed to be just as uniform as its audience, of course, ideally coming from one pen, namely his own. So Wagner writes the music, the text, turns off the lights in the audience, builds a roof over the orchestra, conducts himself, directs himself, does the costumes himself, does… does everything himself, actually. Doesn’t allow for other perspectives. Not even in the text. There are the Germans – and there are the others. But the others simply aren’t supposed to talk too much. Later they’ll still be believed. And now you’re supposed to think that in the end those Germans will win, Siegfried and Siegmund, Sieglinde and whatever their names are… Siegfried died just recently. Or was it Roy? No, both of them. Both of them are dead now. All I know is that the one had a sister who’s a Catholic nun who’ll inherit everything now. Oh, really?! So in the end it’s heavenly reconciliation after all, or what? The nun inherits the tiger money… In any case: you’d think that Wagner, the staunch anti-Semite, the staunch nationalist that he was, would say that in the end, the German race would establish the thousand-year Reich and sit enthroned over a world in morning dew. But that’s not the case. It gets destroyed. With all of the trombones and trumpets that Bayreuth has to offer, of course, but that remains the twist on the Ring. The gods and heroes perish and make way for – for what, actually? Wagner doesn’t say. You spoke about the audience expectations with Momo and Max Frisch. These expectations make it quite difficult for us sometimes. But they’re the foundation for Necati⁴, the author of our Ring. He’s interested in correcting canonical works which are no longer performable. The more well known the work, the better it works – only then does a correction really make sense. You’re not wasting any time then with the wrong original, of course. The question with a work as problematic as the Ring is always whether dealing with the work doesn’t automatically mean bowing down to them – no matter how critically you look at them. But I think that a piece like the Ring is now a pillar of our collective cultural subconscious, regardless of whether you engage with it or not. And I think it now makes sense to check the load-bearing capacity of these pillars before the whole building collapses onto us. That’s is the only way to decide if it would be better to do without certain supporting pillars from now on. Ignoring them doesn’t change their existence. Maybe there’s a kinship between Momo and the Ring in this respect, because although Momo is much less toxic, what they both have in common is that they’re pillars of many people’s cultural identity. When you stage works like these, there’s always the question of how to deal with the expectations attached to them – you’ll definitely disappoint them in one way or another. But how can you make this disappointment productive? I’m also wondering how that’s possible. We have our first workshop block for Momo in late May… So, soon! Yes, to read the book with Karin [Pfammatter] and Maximilian [Reichert]. So Karin and Max were in 100 percent of your productions at the Schauspielhaus Zürich. I originally came to Zurich for these continuities. Nadia, Ludwig and Felix⁵, but also new encounters as well as reencounters, like with Thomas and Daniel⁶ now in AFTERHOUR. I know that from other work constellations: It’s great in the beginning, but it doesn’t really get interesting until the third work. That’s something I long for. Continuing to create and work with people. Experiencing something together and making a long-term change. Yes, the same goes for me. Covid unfortunately upset our plans for the time being – both in terms of continuing to work with people we know and in terms of meeting and getting to know people who we don’t know yet. But hey Alex, we’ve been talking for over an hour. I think we’d better stop. I really don’t know how they’re planning on distilling anything coherent from this…[20:07]

1 Alexander Giesche often refers to his productions as visual poems. A visual poem is a condensed space of atmospheric imagery whose coherence doesn’t so much as follow the laws of logic in time and space or a narrative, but rather the imaginative rules of poetry on a stage landscape, animated by human and non-human bodies, light, sound, movement, and language.

2 Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

3 A film by Lars von Trier, featuring “Liebestod” from Tristan and Isolde.

4 Necati Öziri is a German writer and lives in Berlin. In 2019, he wrote Die Verlobung in St. Domingo – ein Widerspruch for the Schauspielhaus Zürich and in doing so corrected Heinrich von Kleist’s original. He’s a big fan of sweatpants and is the head of the International Forum at the Berliner Theatertreffen.

5 The stage designer Nadia Fistarol, the musician Ludwig Abraham and the visual artist Felix Siwiński have been members of Alexander Giesche’s artistic team for many years. Nadia Fistarol also redesigned the Pfauen lobby together with Alexander Giesche.

6 Thomas Wodianka and Daniel Lommatzsch are members of the Schauspielhaus ensemble.