German music theatre provides a onceinalifetime experience for the Theatertreffen audience
Here's an example of how a theatre production cannot fit into a conventional theatre venue. Michael Sieborock-Serafimowitsch’s set design for Theater Dortmund’s “The Borderline Procession” has multiple rooms and two levels. The audience is divided into two groups – one sees the interior with 10 different rooms, the other the exterior with a bus stop and beer bar and so on – and they can change side during each intermission.
Theater Dortmund’s “The Borderline Procession” stages at Theatertreffen in Berlin. Photo/Marcel Schaar
When “The Borderline Procession” was invited to Theatertreffen last month, a warehouse in a suburban neighbourhood of the German capital was neatly converted to fit both set and the audience. Three parts were aptly titled “It is what it is” when actions were mostly routine and daily, “Crisis” when tensions arose and developed into violence and war and “Dream-Downfall-Salvation” when most characters turned into Lolitas. The beginning and the end of each part had all the cast members, comprising professional and student actors who blended into a tightly knit ensemble, proceed around the set, singing Tuxedomoon’s “In a manner of speaking”, and then walk into specific rooms and engage in different, yet thematically related, storylines.
The work’s subtitle was “A loop on what divides us” and director Kay Voges and dramaturges Dirk Baumann and Alexander Kerlin used excerpts from various sources and periods in their script—from The Bible, the Arabic translation of “The Merchant of Venice”, Nietzsche’s “On the Genealogy of Morality” to Brecht’s “The Exception and the Rule”, Jonathan Messe’s “Scarlett Johannson-totalmetabolism-manifesto” to a news report of Trump’s recent sacking of the FBI director.
Composer TD Finck von Finckenstein added his original scores and chose selected excerpts from, to name a few, Brahms, Mozart, Philip Glass, David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads and Britney Spears.
Michael Sieborock-Serafimowitsch’s set design for Theater Dortmund’s “The Borderline Procession” has multiple rooms and two levels. Photo/Marcel Schaar
Voges himself was walking in loops around the set, coordinating different elements with his cast and crew, rather like a conductor and an orchestra. Always with him, a video camera on a pulled dolly truck was capturing events in different rooms to be projected on the screens on the second storey of the stage. The coordination was so meticulous that the audience was reminded that not only did we not get to see everything, but what we could see clearly, thanks to the camera’s close-ups, was chosen for us to see. It was an apt echo of the number of cameras now on the streets and the fact that we rarely get to see what actually happens.
While I arrived at the venue half an hour before the curtain time, I only discovered at the last minute that a handout of English translation was available at the information table. And so my experience was divided into watching, reading and, as the order of texts changed from one evening to another, guessing what was actually being spoken, sung and narrated – textually somewhat overwhelming.
“The Borderline Procession” made me think of another once-in-a-lifetime theatregoing experience: “The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable”. The so-called “immersive theatre” by British collective Punchdrunk and the Royal National Theatre fully converted an old postal warehouse into a movie studio from the past where audience members wore white masks and wandered around various rooms at will and experienced, at our own pace, dramatic events. “The Borderline Procession” wasn’t as immersive but a virtual reality programme available near the ticket and information table gave us an opportunity to explore the set, virtually.
While the grand scale of this production, which many German critics refer to as “total theatre” as it makes full use of all elements, may prevent it from overseas travel, I wouldn’t be surprised if an international festival somewhere commissions the creative team of Theater Dortmund to recreate this with a local cast. After all, terrorism is worldwide and, like the fact that we cannot see all the dramatic actions in this play, we never know how it’s being developed and when and where it will directly affect us.
The writer’s trip was fully supported by Germany’s Federal Foreign Office