A few years ago, my friend and colleague Mats Staub gave me a five-year diary as a present, in which I can write entries every day and then go back through the book again year after year. It’s a beautiful invention. But then, at the back of the book, as well as a travel log, there is also a book log, where I can write down which books I’ve read in the year. I dutifully filled in every page. In addition to realising that I was in Baden-Baden on the same day two years in a row, I noticed how much I had been reading. Every time I read a book, I’m afraid that it is going to come to an end. Now suddenly, this list seemed to be making me afraid that soon I might run out of good literature: this made me start thinking about my relationship with literature. I like reading – but what do I actually read? Suddenly I saw the list and a lot of things that are a long way away from any kind of theatre. The list helped me to recognise firstly that I have developed a strong affection for a certain kind of literature – and that conversely the types of theatre I particularly like are those that are as unlike literature as possible. For me, this was the only way that both worlds could happily and peacefully co-exist – until one day I went to the wrong play.
At the beginning of 2019, I went to the HAU, the Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin. And on this evening, the two worlds collided with each other and something came together inside me. I went to the theatre and had to READ. I was irritated and looked around helplessly, but everyone else was sitting in their seats, reading. So I read too:
You are sitting in front of a stage that is almost entirely dark.
You’re seeing LA PLAZA by El Conde de Torrefiel.
A piece that is performed simultaneously on 365 days
in 365 theatres all around the world.
The production takes place in a black,
subtly lit space.
The element on stage is a landscapeof flowers and candles, like a commemorative altar.
Such distant cities as Kyoto, Cairo, Medellín,
Antwerp, Barcelona, Portland, Damascus, Gondar
and Belo Horizonte
have joined in and are showing this project.
It was strange, somehow, but also fascinating, because I wasn’t reading alone: everyone was reading together, simultaneously. The way the frames of the surtitles changed created a rhythm of collective reading:
During the performance
the public may come and go as they wish
and even pass their tickets on to others,
so they can see the performance.
For a whole year you’ve kept coming round,
to sit here for a little while.
In the production, absolutely nothing has happened.
The same image every day for a whole year.
During the hours you’ve spent inside the theatre,
your attention has automatically been focussed on
Instead of wandering back and forth
between actors, dancers, videos and lighting effects,
your brain has paused and made you
the protagonist of the play.
So inevitably the question arises for you:
How long are you in a position to enjoy
looking at one and the same image?
What happened on stage had nothing to do with what was described in the text, but this overload slowly started to be fun. On stage, people with stocking masks walked back and forth, pushing bikes and children’s buggies in and out again, standing around and moving nonchalantly. An interesting mixture of choreographed images – but with text laid over the top. Literature.
You begin to digress.
You’re thinking about the future.
You think about the future a lot.
When you were young, you read Isaac Asimov and Jules
and now you’re a fan of the series Black Mirror.
But it wasn’t possible to digress. Rarely have I been so awake in a theatre production. And afterwards, I felt electrified. Even the next day, I spent the whole time talking about this event. What had happened? Conceptual literature and post-dramatic performance had become enmeshed, but was that really the source of my excitement? I felt it was something different and discovered: the trick was actually quite simple – the text spoke to me the whole time using direct address and kept me alert and the gap between the text and the performance awakened my imagination. My enthusiasm for this work was the oldest and simplest trick in theatre history, the tool that all good works use: my own powers of imagination. Plays that show everything or say everything out loud seem boring because they leave no scope for your imagination. And here it has been unleashed. I was proud, but it wasn’t that much of an insight after all, because we were told at the beginning of the production: THIS PERFORMANCE HAS MADE YOU THE PROTAGONIST OF THE PLAY. And later: THE LACK OF IMAGINATION IS THE BEGINNING OF ALL VIOLENCE.
A little later, I contacted the artists Pablo Gisbert and Ta-nya Beyeler, and a series of conversations ensued about working methods, philosophical views and their current project. They want to investigate the underlying theoretical and artistic constructs that hold our society together. Beneath all these, there are ideas rooted that are considered natural and real, such as the structure of the market. But what does reality actually denote? How is it constructed and to whose advantage? I start reading Mark Fisher, who is often quoted by Pablo and Tanya: »In capitalist realism we are subjugated to a reality that is infinitely malleable and can reconfigure itself at any time. The highest form of ideology is the one that presents itself as an em-pirical fact and necessity... Reality oppresses the real. As a result, one strategy against capitalist realism should be to call on forms of the real that underlie the reality that capitalism presents us with.«
This sounds plausible and makes sense. But then the Covid pandemic breaks out and the entire discourse shifts. Questioning reality and exposing centres of power, bio-politics and critical readings are suddenly no longer the domain of French philosophers like Baudrillard and Foucault, but statements by obscure right-wing populists from Thuringia and nativist proponents of selection from Swabia. I notice that a discourse has not only been taken away, it has been destroyed – and the consequences of this will still be felt long after this pandemic. But what can we do? El Conde de Torrefiel had already highlighted the pleasures of subversion, the collapse of society and the impossibility of understanding each other in their play GUERRILLA. How would they now deal with all these loose threads, half-completed thoughts and philosophical challenges? As preparation for the new piece they made some initial test drillings, ULTRAFICCIÓN 1–4. At the Santarcangelo Festival, a flock of sheep runs through the amazed audience at an open-air performance, while shortly afterwards at the Museum of Modern Art, deaf mutes present a story, and in Barcelona architecture students assemble a totem and then destroy it. I am thrilled, I can’t put it all together, and I can’t write about it either – all I can do is read:
You decide to go to bed,
not to think any more and to remain silent.
Because of the silence, you hear your stomach rumbling
and feel your heartbeat.
You think about the fact that the essence of the blood
that keeps you alive
is the desire and the ambition
of a single, primitive cell,
that has spent millions of years constantly transforming
and reproducing itself,
that has entered countless bodies,
so that precisely this single, primitive cell can survive.
This single, primitive cell,
which came into existence millions of years ago,
will live on in other bodies after your death.
And the same cell is also present in the beggar
who asks you for money in the street.
It is also found in the friend you meet every day,
in tourists visiting your city,
in the child asleep in the house opposite,
and in the mother who one day passed this cell on to you.
In all the anonymous faces
you encounter in the street every day,
there is a bit of you.
Sleep comes at last.
Today you got up and travelled across the city
to the theatre, to see the last
night of a play
that has been on for a year. Finally, your eyelids close very slowly,
and you sink into a deep sleep.
Isn’t it good, that sleep separates the days from
ALJOSCHA BEGRICH, has been reading since 1983, began working as an assistant and interpreter at La Fura dels Baus in Castell-defels, Barcelona in 2000. Works as a dramaturge at the Ruhrtriennale since 2021.