In many cases, theatre today sees itself as an autonomous art that is not primarily subject to the interpretation of the work. Even music theatre work is often not preceded by a finished score or text. Theatre rehearsals begin with an open-ended approach, serving the process of a joint development of musical, textual and scenic material, which only takes on its final form as the work progresses. To support appropriate process-oriented work, the feXm offers its project teams the option of dividing their work into different rehearsal phases. Each team chooses its own path.
Berthold Schneider and his team at the Wuppertal Opera are going through difficult times. COVID has forced them to suspend operations since May and to postpone rehearsals and premieres again. Just now they had planned anew – then came the flood in July. Those who know Wuppertal know how close the opera is to the river: The floodwater penetrated into the lower part of the opera house, it flooded the orchestra pit and damaged many instruments. The damage is now estimated at around 10 million euros. The stage is not expected to be playable again until December at the earliest. It is little consolation that the Wuppertal Opera was chosen as one of the eleven winners of the Federal Theatre Prize for its artistic programme a few days before the flood – another is the Schlosstheater Moers, which presented François Sarhan’s multi-part feXm production “The Suitcase” in 2017 and 2018.
Unfortunately, the NOperas! project “Obsessions” has also been affected by the Wuppertal flood disaster. Even if it is possible to play again in December, it will take much longer to repair the damage to the submachinery. It will also be uncertain for a longer period of time whether the revolving stage, which is indispensable for this project, will be available again for the planned Wuppertal premiere of “Obessions” next March. If at all possible, the date should nevertheless be kept. The search has therefore begun for an alternative venue in the wider surroundings of the city.
NOperas! celebrated its first premiere in Wuppertal in January 2020 with the first performance of “Chaosmos”. At the time, people in the canteens talked with horror about a strange virus that had spread in China and were still convinced that they were at a safe distance. This soon turned out to be a mistake and soon after NOperas! started, the theatre was no longer the same. Corona, then, is about the same age as NOperas!, has remained an uninvited companion to this support programme ever since and continues to force it down improvised paths to this day.
The planned further development of “Chaosmos” on the theatre level did not happen, rehearsals in Halle had begun and had to be cancelled. As so often in the past, a film was made as a substitute, which Bremen and Wuppertal presented on their websites.
Under tense conditions, “Kitesh” then had its first performance in Halle in autumn 2020. But here, too, the virus got in the way. There was only one further performance, the third could not take place due to changes in hygiene regulations.
After extensive preliminary conceptual work on the Wuppertal version of “Kitesh”, the Wuppertal Opera then found itself forced to completely cancel – the lockdown had prevented the planned performances in January, “Kitesh” was initially postponed to May, but even then it could neither be rehearsed nor performed, and the house found itself unable to postpone it again. Bremen, on the other hand, has now saved “Kitesh” for the coming season, where it will be further developed and performed after (!) the premiere of the new NOperas! project “Obsessions” there.
Meanwhile, NOperas! and its partner theatres say goodbye to the season break with a small digital fireworks display that summarises once again what has been created in spite of everything within the framework of this programme:
As a substitute for the announced performances, Wuppertal Opera presents on its website a short film created as part of “Kitesh” – in its theatre productions, Hauen und Stechen work with filmic material in a variety of ways, and here it is now the other way round: a filmic work that extensively incorporates material from the theatre.
At the same time, after three and a half years of daring musical theatre explorations, the Halle-based management team around Florian Lutz is now taking its hat off by staging a festival entitled “Everything Ends” at the end. With live musical accompaniment by Marc Sinan, there will be a public viewing of the “Chaosmos” film on the forecourt of the Hallens Opera House. The event will be streamed simultaneously from a “virtual opera house” created for the festival. For both, see the calendar.
In addition to the short film, which will also be presented by Wuppertal Opera, a second film by the production team on the subject of Kitesh will be available as video on demand during the festival. It will soon be available on this website, “Chaosmos – The Film” can be found here, “Kitesh / Short Film” here.
Recently at the Zoom Symposium of the Austrian Music Theatre Days, NOperas! was presented as a competition. This can be seen as such, but it hardly corresponds to the self-image of this programme. The emphasis is hardly on putting some “best” music theatre project in the spotlight every year, let alone choosing a “winner”. Many applications would have deserved to be selected each time, but neither feXm’s funds nor the capacities of the participating theatres are sufficient for more than one production each.
This year, the jurors had to work faster and more intensively on evaluating the project proposals they received. This time, the current discourse on diversity and the distribution of power in theatre is reflected in a whole series of them. The first jury meeting took place yesterday via Zoom with a largely new line-up (→ see page Jury). Five projects made it to the finalists.
Tua Helve writes:
“Having just finished our latest Obsessions rehearsal period mid-May, I wanted to dedicate this blog entry for time. Time – abundance and lack of it!
However, in performance making, it is not only time but also, and more so, time in relation with what happens around it, with it. In Paul Allain’s preface to The Art of Rehearsal. Conversations with Contemporary Theatre Makers (2017, edited by Barbara Simonsen), time is entwined with ‘a team’ and ‘trust’. These ‘three Ts’ are referred to as ‘fundamental’ for the interviewed theatre-makers. The Ts – time, together with a team and trust – are innate for Oblivia’s way of working as well (see previous posts, e.g., about Trust in June 2020).
Pausing to muse on this once again I realized, for me, trust encapsulates time and the team; the team gives rise to trust; the team need to trust in time. To illuminate this, the ‘fundamentals’ of working with Oblivia, I chose snapshots from the ongoing Obsessions process:
Snapshot 1. Trust – points on paper will become a performance – Please see the drawing above.
Snapshot 2. Time – to fool around (and) to create serious material – Annika and Timo at Eskus.
Snapshot 3rd team – always kept on board – Annika chatting with Meri (Brussels), Alice (Düsseldorf) and Yiran (Stuttgart/Berlin) via Zoom, Anski preparing to record the rehearsals.”
Annika Tudeer writes:
Different ways of writing. Loads of writing. Writing as part of making sense of the growing understanding of what we are dealing with. Here are some examples. The famous lists on the wall in the material gathering phase, but also some more intricate underlying texts. In the Obsessions process we have seen new sides of each other. Tua Helve is revealed as the poet in the “on the spot” process of writing that we have been doing together.”
Obsessions haikus and tankas
My obsessions linger between
how did they say it
Luke-warm intensely nothing
Inconvenience in a lame way
Show myself in a
new font round but light
Read me this way as I feel
Why does it become
so pathetic so easily so
Why where is the joy the strength
the busy prickliness and breeze
Tease out the marvel and bow
Obsession I pity you
you bore me we travel and die
unpack iron clean and go
ex All obsessions marching by
Change me if you can
Cherry-cake fake flight
quiver in the springy fresh air
Fair enough, faint away
Do your trick and don’t come back
Rain down now, then dance
Passion Fashion Wine Sex Lust
Looks Appearances Flashy Mag Girl
Never stop More Always More
Doesn’t go further why so Stop
Must be broken the system sucks
For a longer time, everything will stand still around the further development of “Kitesh”. But the project “Obsessions” in Helsinki is already getting underway. Today Alice Flerl published the first entry in the new “production diary” on Oblivia’s website:
“From our first online rehearsal period in the beginning of December 2020. As no travelling or gatherings were possible at this time, most of us were working from home, some were in the studio sometimes. Each of us made up a task for the others on each day, the next day we would share them.”
Answers (from Meri):
“Materials like these”, writes Alice, “were used for further development in our next online-rehearsal session in January2021: to create sounds, movements, ideas for stage design and costume.”
Two theatres will be involved in NOperas! in the 22/23 season (a third may join in next year). The Bremen Theatre, which is planning its fourth NOperas! production, will be joined by the Gelsenkirchen Musiktheater im Revier. It is a very good acquaintance. In 2006 the feXm realised Lucia Ronchetti’s “Der Sonne entgegen” with it, then in 2017/18 the five-part project “ingolf” by Daniel Kötter and Hannes Seidl. “ingolf #3”, in which there were no actors other than the visitors themselves, later toured several independent venues in Germany and can still be found here on Youtube.
There is a production backlog everywhere. “Kitesh” had to be postponed in Bremen until the following season, when “Obsessions” is also scheduled to premiere there. We discussed for a long time whether NOperas! should even launch a new call for proposals in this situation, before everything that had been postponed had been worked through. But the independent music theatre scene has had two hard years. When it finally starts performing again, it will have to consolidate itself anew. It would be a fatal sign if, at this moment of all times, the only funding programme that exists for them were to be suspended for a year.
Corona, that much seems clear, will keep us in suspense for some time to come. The feXm is also tapping its way into the year twenty-one with uncertain steps.
After almost every forced postponement has been followed by another one, almost all stages are now only driving on sight and hardly plan any further than for the coming days.
NOperas! has to live with this – in January it was supposed to go up, Hauen & Stechen and Oblivia would have met in Wuppertal. But now final rehearsals of the one and first workshops of the other have been postponed.
What will music theatre look like when we see land again? To wean the audience off its new fixation on Netflix, there will probably be Traviatas and Magic Flutes up and down. Still a few bold experiments, though?
The year 2020 has led musical theatre down unforeseen paths. Many ended up in the digital, including that of “Chaosmos”. After its premiere on Nachtkritik, “Chaosmos – the film” can still be found here on our website. Divided into a series of individual clips, this cinematic version includes the possibility for everyone to put together their own version. It is thus just one of the many current examples of how the principle of the interactive, which has increasingly flowed into theatre from digital media in recent years, is now returning to the digital in new ways designed by theatre-makers.
If it is the necessity of closed venues that has led theatre-makers into the digital space in the past year, Christian Esch argues in an article worth reading that this should not be understood solely as a forced retreat, but also as an opportunity for a new theatre. Doesn’t theatre, by renouncing the physical co-presence of performer and audience, forfeit precisely that which has always made it special among the arts, the strange double character of a conundrum constantly shimmering between illusion and materially authenticated reality? It is a kind of twist of mind that the performer and the performer put us into on stage, and they only create it on stage. Even where digital space functions in real time, it can never generate the strange double reality of theatre because it lacks the material counterpart to ground and counter its illusion, to lead into a game of challenging entrenched notions of reality. The “now” cannot be separated from the “here” without loss. It is this double reality that gives rise to the special utopian potential of theatre art – a at-one-ness and at the same time a tension and discrepancy of our authenticated and possible further worlds.
Magic Flute and Traviata notwithstanding, it is to be expected that audiences will still feel all this, and that they will therefore follow us in the end (some people worry about this rather unjustly) when they return to the venues. But there can be little doubt that the digital experience will have changed theatre. This will hardly be a return to the status quo ante.
In music theatre, even contemporary productions are still used to rehearsals being solely for rehearsing. NOperas!, however, provides for rehearsals before there is a finished template, and that a theatre project (it is more about projects than “plays”) itself only takes shape in the rehearsal process.
The production teams are therefore allowed not only longer rehearsal time than usual, but also the option of spreading the duration over separate periods. Not all teams make use of these options – for Oblivia they remain substantial.
At each of the participating houses, two separate workshop phases are initially planned before the actual rehearsal period. A first one was scheduled for January. Due to the pandemic, it is not known when it will take place.
In addition, there will be trial phases, which will be conducted by the performers of the group alone. They are based on the group’s own improvisation techniques, through which the scenic material is developed.
Oblivia have started this work. It was to take place at Oblivia’s rehearsal centre in Helskini. Alice Flerl, a German member of the group, and Yiran Zhao, who also lives in Germany, were supposed to come. Of course they couldn’t.
They now improvise together digitally – the Finns in their studio, the others connected via the internet. We all had to learn how to organise meetings via internet platforms by now. But impro sessions? “I must admit, it’s not easy,” says Annika Tudeer.
The Oblivia doesn’t seem to have spoiled the Christmas mood.
Already at the Kitesh performances in Halle, the audience and performers had to struggle with cold feet. A substitute had to be found after one of the singers caught a bad cold during the dress rehearsal. This is everyday life in the repertoire business, but still a nightmare for every premiere.
The team also got cold feet when it came to the continuation of the production in Wuppertal, which was planned for the coldest part of the year. Everything was rethought with a view to January. The decision was made to move the previous outdoor scenes to the interior of the Wuppertal Opera House. The theatrical penetration and re-evaluation of the urban space – one of the strongest elements in Halle – seemed a necessary sacrifice.
Corona then laid additional hurdles. Hygiene restrictions caused one after another of the indoor spaces to be cancelled. Too few remained as playable. But before it came to worse compromises, Corona – irony of the pandemic – then also wiped the January date off the table. Like everything else in the theatre, this date cannot yet be confirmed as definite, but the planning is now for June.
So once again we had to rethink. Cold feet in June? The urban space is available again!
It is different from Halle and needs new ideas.
Many of them were born on 15 December when the site was finally explored in more detail.
Has a theatre project ever experienced so many forced concept changes?