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.
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?
Every NOperas! production confronts the participating opera houses with unusual challenges. That “Kitesh” would hardly stand back was clear from the beginning, but not that Corona would step in and take everything to the limit. After a strenuous hurdle race last Sunday, “Kitesh” had its premiere in Halle.
Two performances were played on this day of the premiere. Only seventy-five people were allowed as audiences in each case, which could not be heard in the thunderous final applause. Not only did “Hauen und Stechen” achieve something superhuman on the last stretch of the preparation, but also – with all its departments – the Halle Opera!
After the austerity programme of the digital space into which the theatre has retreated in recent months, after all the 19-inch formats in which it has been staged since then, “Kitesh” can be experienced as a circus-like spectacle that sweeps the audience away into the long forgotten world of exuberant total theatre and thus as an almost defiant act of insisting on a sphere of the sensual and immediate.
With the disappearance of the invisible city of Kitesh, the nmz (Neue Musikzeitung) sees at the same time “a happening celebrated about the disappearance of the opera. Not only of the concrete work from the beginning of the last century, but of the whole genre.” And it continues: “What [Hauen und Stechen] attempts to unleash in theatrical violence comes close to the work of art-the aesthetic of the future, which at the Halle Opera has controversially stimulated the discourse on the possibilities and limits of music theatre […]. But this […] series and its parts always remained in the small form appropriate to it.”
Now at least Richard Wagner, who coined the term “artwork of the future”, is not exactly known for his preference for small forms. Instead, he believed, it was a matter of “thinking the borders [sic] to the widest possible extent to be extended” (Wagner KdZ, Leipzig 1850, p.33). To do this, he said, one must “first examine the nature of the types of art which today, in their fragmentation, make up the general art system of the present day”, in order to then combine them into a “large, general work of art” [Wagner, p.36].
It can easily be argued that music theatre as an art form has always (and not only with Wagner) aimed at integrating all the individual arts existing at the time. It is therefore worth considering whether this evening in Halle was perhaps less about the “disappearance of the opera” than about a new revival of its innermost ideas.
Here is the link to the nmz article: www.nmz.de/online/todesvogel-und-blubblub-kitesh-an-der-oper-halle
Neither poncho nor umbrella could protect at last. The main rehearsal of “Kitesh” didn’t fall into the water, but quite a lot of water fell on them in icy temperatures before the course around the opera house led into the dry. Thanks to Corona, the performance can only last one hundred and five minutes. By about thirty minutes it was still too long at the end. Kill your darlings! A few beautiful scenes will never see the light of the theatre. Only the trial audience of the main rehearsal will remember them, wet feet were not too high a price to pay.
“Operation Warp Speed” (Captain Kirk sends his regards) is the slogan in the USA since yesterday. By all means, Trump wants to give his country a vaccine before the election. Putin promises to be even faster, but his laboratories are considered to be sufficiently reliable in the field of toxins.
The theatres are back from the summer break, back from the corona misery. Precisely because the situation has changed little in the meantime, it is no longer the same as before. The longer the virus keeps us in suspense, the more the view of it changes. And just as it is still impossible to travel through wormholes, with all this it does not look as if we will soon be back in more secure or manageable conditions.
In the theatre, too, this is now getting on our nerves. Intermediate solutions are no longer sufficient when the exception has become the rule. With its notoriously cumbersome structures, the music theatre business in particular is paralysed by the question of where it should orient itself and how it should plan.
NOperas! is also groping its way forward on this uncertain terrain. The word “experiment”, which the feXm carries in its name, has unintentionally acquired a second meaning. After “Hauen und Stechen”, Yiran Zhao and the group “Oblivia” are the second team this season that is mainly made up of women.
“Obessions” is due to have its first performances in Bremen, but the first working meeting last week was held in Wuppertal. It was a test of patience to organize it, there were constantly further cancellations of flights from Helsinki. With less arrangements in their pockets than usual, they went home afterwards. The basic uncertainty about the conditions under which theatre will be performed in a year’s time keeps Wuppertal’s schedule in abeyance. After all, the recent premiere of a “Zauberflöte” (The Magic Flute), which (apart from the limited ticket sales) did not allow Corona compromises to be seen or heard, is giving an emotional boost: at last, you can feel the theatre floor under your feet once again.
At the same time as Corona, the audience in Halle has to struggle with further complications. After the internal dispute between the artistic director and the commercial manager, both are no longer at the theatre, which is provisionally managed by production manager Maximilian Grafe. “Kitesh” – in its reworked so-called “Corona version” – is only affected by all this to a limited extent and is moving quickly towards the final rehearsals. Ticket sales for the three double performances in October are extremely limited. If you don’t want to wait for the further developments in Wuppertal and Bremen, you should quickly switch now.
Two productions are to be in progress in the NOperas! framework, one in the pre-planning stage and a second in the rehearsal and performance stage. According to such planning, “Chaosmos” would have been completed by the summer. However, after Corona led to the cancellation of rehearsals in Halle in spring and rehearsals in Bremen could not even begin, this production is still in progress. So there are three of them NOperas! is juggling with right now. Like many other theatre projects of the past season, “Chaosmos” also switched from stage to digital. The material is in the final stages of post-production. The final decision is still pending as to whether it will be presented as a coherent film or as a collection of individual clips.
It is already clear how much Corona will change the form spectrum of the theatre.
Due to hygiene regulations, “Kitesh” now had to be completely rethought and redesigned in essential points. Only 75 spectators will be allowed per performance. Instead of the originally planned three-hour performance, there will now be two performances of 1 ½ hours each evening, so that at least 150 people can be reached. Together the audience should be led through a parcour of several outdoor locations, but this will also not be possible due to distance rules. Three groups of visitors will now walk separately through these outdoor locations, each in a different order. Logical conclusion: Instead of playing one after the other, these sites must now be played at the same time, which considerably increases the personnel costs. More singers, more musicians and more support staff will be needed for all this. The participating theatres have agreed to this additional effort. What they cannot cushion themselves will be absorbed by the feXm. Kunststiftung and KULTURsekretariat mobilised the necessary funds and increased the amount of funding by 20,000 Euro. In fact, on July 6th, the planned week of preliminary rehearsals will take place, which was recently called into question due to weekly changes in hygiene regulations.
Five applicants were selected by the feXm jury as finalists for the third season of the NOperas! programme. On June 23rd they will have an in-depth interview with the jurors in the new domicile of the NRW KULTURsekretariat. For most of those who came to Wuppertal for this event, it is the first trip after a long time. Each team had the opportunity to meet with the participating stages beforehand in order to further specify their concept if necessary. Until the evening the jury has not come to a clear decision, an additional meeting (via internet) for the coming week has to be arranged. There the decision will be made. The sponsored project of the 21/22 season is called “Obsessions”, the sponsored team is the theatre collective Oblivia together with the composer Yiran Zhao.
Oblivia was founded in Helsinki in 2000. The group has made a name for itself throughout Europe with performances that address major themes with minimal theatrical means. Yiran Zhao comes from China and has studied with Carola Bauckholt and Caspar Johannes Walter, among others. In addition to the performative, her musical work often incorporates visual media.
In the context of her first joint work with Yiran Zhao, Oblivia ventured into the terrain of music theatre for the first time last February. “Obsessions” continues this collaboration, but now also includes the ensembles of two municipal theaters in addition to the members of the group. Oblivia wants to work with different means on each of the two stages, two separate variants of a theatrical sweeping blow to the motif of the loss of rational control are to be created in this way. The extent to which the theme “Obsessions” plays into the social realm is obvious. As a leitmotif, however, it also runs through the history of music theatre: it forms the basis of the Opera Seria, continues in the Romantic Opera and extends – with “Salomé” and “Lulu” – right up to the phase of the last classical opera works.
Students of drama studies will at some point look at how we (and that doesn’t just mean the feXm, of course) tried to rock the theatre through this strange time. We will then be able to foresee what traces and changes it left in it, how it changed and possibly renewed itself, which of its earlier ways and methods remained obsolete afterwards. One will know what remained of him, how much of him remained, who remained of him.
Marc Sinan already posted it on Facebook last week: “Unfortunately, it is sadly certain that even ‘Chaosmos’ can no longer take place this season at Theater Bremen due to Corona. “It is already foreseeable that the German Language Society will declare this expression as their “Word of the Year” due to corona.
For “Chaosmos” this does not mean a premature end. Whoever takes part in the NOperas! program is prepared to understand that a project status achieved in each case is the starting point for further development. Inevitably, this further development also leads “Chaosmos” into the digital world. A stroke of luck remains: Unlike the many who have to earn their spurs in this field, this team is as at home here as on the theatre stage anyway.
Thoughts have been pondered and methods have been explored since January to find ways in which a theatre audience could become even more involved in the events on stage. Admittedly, all that was definitely a waste of time. However, the digital product is now also to become interactive in orientation to the original basic idea. The feXm has also held on to the fact that the theatre, where it doesn’t have to be, is not completely sacrificed to the home show on the PC, i.e. that on the basis of filmed material in Bremen and Halle there can still be forms of a performance in which singers are involved.
The will not to let the corona get you down is demonstrated by the clips that Konrad Kästner has posted on an interim basis in social media and (under the menu item “Media“) on the NOperas! website. His last one, recorded in the empty Halle opera house, was quite spooky, though, and seems a bit like a remake of Spielberg’s “Close Enconunters of the Third Kind”.
The course for “Kitesh” has hardly been set in a similar way. Although every state is currently following different rules, at least everything points to the fact that all theatres will be able to play again in October. But what will the conditions be? “Kitesh” won over the feXm jury with the idea of leading the audience through different stations of a common course one after the other. According to an adapted idea, these stations could be played simultaneously, with visitors divided into small groups. If, on the one hand, it can be assumed that even with such an adaptation there is no way around a considerable limitation of the total number of spectators, on the other hand, the number of participants will increase considerably, since now it is necessary to play everywhere at the same time. This remains an unsolved problem for the participating houses and for the budget managed by the group.
Not only wearing masks and washing our hands keeps us alive. It is part of the necessary mental hygiene not only to think manically about rescuing those in danger, but also to have the courage to plan something new despite everything. Last Monday, the feXm jury set the course for 2021 via an Internet conference, and NOPeras! will then enter its third round.
Finally, all website information for this call for entries was now also available in English. There is a clear increase in applications from other European countries. For the first time this year, the call for applications was also widely distributed among migrant and post-migrant cultural associations. But hardly any effect can be seen when looking through the applications. Is the idea of a music theatre, which, according to the wording of the call for applications, “in the field of a performative understanding of theatre, a questioning of the relationship between musical sound and space, language, theatre action and digital media”, possibly limited in its scope to certain circles?
Thirty-three teams have applied. Once again, it was extremely difficult to break down their applications to five finalists who were to be invited to an in-depth discussion. As the applications show, music theatre as a contemporary art form that goes far beyond opera is full of new and lively impulses. The feXm alone is hardly sufficient to provide the support it actually needs and deserves.
Display of a Halle pharmacy between the market square and the opera house: heads of twelve pretty mannequins present models of masks available here. Depending on the lifestyle concept and state of depression, there is a choice between cheerful colours that reflect the season and muted colours that reflect the current attitude to life. None of them yet bears the label Dior or Hugo Boss.
A laughing and a crying mask serve as symbols of the dramatic arts. A world upside down – not on stage but in the auditorium the mask will now experience its theatre renaissance.
Is that Florian Lutz there in some distance? As intended – everything looks a bit like a badly sold performance – the participants of the “Kitesh” rehearsal sit spread out over the half-dark auditorium, only the hairstyles above the masks give an idea of who is which. Names are called into the room, arms stretch out for recognition. Walkie-talkie of the technical director from the stalls while testing the angle of vision from the second tier: “How many are you up there?” – “Fifteen!” – “One downstairs, please. The rest of you, spread out.”
Everything is still so far from the ground that it’s hard to remember the situation of the day before yesterday, all planning for tomorrow is in the shadows. In order to be able to interact directly with the audience, the “Hauen und Stechen” team was still struggling with Bremen and Halle to limit the number of spectators – both houses (see blog entry from 06.04.) held on to the number of two hundred people. Due to the distance regulations, nobody expects more than one hundred to be allowed now. But the problem for “Kitesh” has hardly been solved: theatre that focuses on proximity to the audience will remain impossible for the foreseeable future. The deadline was too tight for “Hauen und Stechen” to be able to react to the new theatre situation. The rehearsal of the building on this day will therefore inevitably remain oriented towards a performance concept that does its calculations without Corona. A Skype appointment in the coming week will then deal with ways to adapt it.