Writing about performances one has seen is like telling stories of travels - it is not about a shared experience, all we can do is create a new experience. The experience of "I heard about a show where...". This is not always easy to accept, on either side.
The last edition of the Warszawa Centralna festival ended by two shows that deal with the dead-end of civilization as we know it, the fall of paradigms and the attempts to overcome entropy.
Two shows - one is Christoph Marthaler's +-0, the other, Christoph Schlingesief's Via Intoleranza II, ridiculed our attempts to try and do something, and both of them tried doing something, while not managing, but trying, and maybe doing, but not really, but really...
Marthaler's is a beautiful and desperate lamentation after a culture which cannot go beyond itself, which fits nowhere and makes nothing. It still is godly, but useless... For all its beauty, I found it proving its point too well - this high culture does nothing, here. It is a mixture of a deep-rooted feeling of superiority and of despair when this superiority does not help, build or bind. It is a hopelessness I am not ready to accept - or contemplate.
Schlingesief's work (not just this piece) is all about refusing to accept this status quo.
What does Via Intoleranza II do? If you see the trailer, you might get the impression that it's a lively multi-culti show with quantities of fairly classic stage-action and a humanist message. Which, of course, it refuses to be. And which it is, after all.
Let's begin with this: when watching the show, I can't stop imagining Schlingesief-the-director tired of the absolute spectacle with no performative transferrence. Tired of the isolation of art, and, on the other hand, of the happy solutions that are neither happy nor solutions.
And, of course, tired of being sick, of having his sickness define what and who he is (Schlingensief died of cancer short after the premiere).
So he makes one last show. A show where stage is a constant reminder that there is a reality outside. An uncomfortable reminder, one which is to make us feel how ridiculous this place, here, is, and that its one hope is making us feel the need to use it for something very different, really real, really real.
The problem is - unless you leave your culture of distance, pathos and irony, it contaminates everything. But how would you leave this culture? And what tools would you have left?
Please let me out.
How do I get out.
I would love to get out, but can I keep some of the toys? Can I still make it a performance? Can I tell them what I really think, and still keep it a show, and make it unbearable for them to the extent where they themselves will want to leave and act?
Of course, the tools are the tools at hand. The show tools. The contemporary theater tools. The German critical art tools. With a little help from this or that culture or art. It is difficult not to see the presence of the different artistic styles (from traditional Burkinabe music and dance to French-language hip-hop) as a postmodern collage. A playful fairy-tale.
But the question is not: whether, or how, can the real be built on fiction. The question is: what sort of real can we build with fiction?
But first: what sort of fiction can we build with the fiction of being smarter-than-all-this and more-provocative-than-all-this?
Well, in the case of Via Intoleranza II, fiction starts off by looking ridiculous.
Not again - the happy bourgeois laughing at their own pitiful culture. Not again - the spectators suffering joyfully, as it will all be gone soon, so what do I care, if this is real or not.
The first reaction is frustration: I didn't give you my trust and allow you to leave the space (mental space) of theater, so you can come back into theater and make the same sarcastic, self-flagelating stage jokes I know from so many other contemporary theater artists.
Why are you doing this to me. Why are you taking us back into easy bitterness, when your bitterness was difficult and wild, when it was unbearable and over-the-top crazy and it was doing things. Why are you making it seem like it's just a show, after all?
The difference, here, happens, when you know it's real. If you know that there is an actual opera/school being built in Burkina Faso, if you know Schlingensief really was sick and did die, and really did give his social projects everything he had. Finally, if you know these people have something in there - that something is at stake, then it becomes something else.
It's a paradoxical situation: the show can only be performative (which is its explicit aim) if you know it corresponds to something real (in the outside world) already.
Whatever comes out of it, needs us to be prepared, and in a way, needs us to have lived it already. Is this a failure of art-as-intervention?
Maybe. Or maybe we misjudge theater. We still wishfully dream of the play making the King confess his crimes, out of nothing, out of thin air, and making the anonymous spectator become actor, agent, become activist, become action, become real.
This may make for some shallow theatrical provocations. Doesn't the spectator know he is more real than the stage? Because he comes from the outside? What is real, in this show, has already happened, and not onstage. It is the outside world that is working. And I'm not sure if the stage helps its existence in any way, if it provides it with the fictional energy, or if it is just an excuse.
After all, what we see is not what we get. We get everything it is part of. We are free to dive in and out of it, using it as a ficitonal or real weapon of our choice. Too abstract? Let's make it concrete then: the crazy stories about the opera being built exist also once you leave the space. You can help build the place. The child actor pretending to be an adult, is actually an adult actor who has the health condition of physically looking like a child. He says it, but why would we believe him? Because we know it already. Or we suspect it, knowing how the layers of fiction and reality abuse each other constantly.
Which makes it an insider's theater. Moving for those who had been moved even before, out there.
And extremely frustrating, because it makes it safe, after all, to treat this as a trick, a big, truth-filled trick. No matter how many operas you build and how sad the real death is, they remain outside. The show is so precisely full of itself, it is so spectacle-like, that I'm okay. Just when I hoped I wouldn't be.
That's my problem? I'm afraid Schlingensief's heritage makes it clear - it's ours.