plays

Very Large Rabbits

Easter is upon us and as an aggressively blasphemous non-believer, my one sole takeaway from the Easter holiday is the delicious chocolate bunnies (extra long ears are my favorite). With images of bunnies and rabbits poking their heads out this week, it is time to honor the best of the fictitious very large rabbits.

harvey

1. The king of them all–Harvey. The 1944 Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase was adapted into a film starring Jimmy Stewart. This is such a stunning example of classic film and very large rabbits.

Wilson: Who’s Harvey?
Miss Kelly: A white rabbit, six feet tall.
Wilson: Six feet?
Elwood P. Dowd: Six feet three and a half inches. Now let’s stick to the facts.

donnie darko

2. I recently rewatched Donnie Darko after many years and I have to say, I still quite like it. I hope you’re reading the rest of this post while listening to Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Killing Moon.” Amongst other strange occurrences, titled teenager Donnie Darko seems to be followed by a rather tall rabbit by the name of Frank.

Donnie: Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?
Frank: Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?

roger rabbit

3. Perhaps, not as “very large” as the two preceding rabbits, Roger is still bigger than your average Easter bunny. For those who do not like Who Framed Roger Rabbit you are dead to me.

Eddie Valiant: Hey, Judge. Doesn’t a dying rabbit deserve a last request?
Roger Rabbit: Yeah, nose plugs would be nice.

 


Images [1] [2] [3]

 

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Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind

spring awakeningSpring Awakening (or The Awakening of Spring as it had been translated into in the past, or the more closely Spring’s Awakening because of the original German title, Frühlings Erwachen) is a particular favorite of mine. Wedekind wrote the play in the late 1800s, but it was not performed until 1905. I have never seen it staged before–although, I know there was some kind of musical adaptation a few years ago–but, as a written text, it works very exquisitely.

“Oh, this feeling of shame!–What good to me is an encyclopedia that won’t answer me concerning the most important question in life?”

These are the words that are declared by Moritz, one of the three main characters of the play. Spring Awakening concerns itself with the fourteen year old school children of the village. There is not much distinguishing the adults (except their funny names: Knochenbruch, Zungenschlag, Fliegentod, tr. broken bone, tonguing or a manner of speaking but literally “tongue hitting,” fly’s death) and they serve to illuminate the lack of sexual education that the children are getting and are often the abusers both physical and emotional.

The play deals with abortion, sex, homosexuality, rape, suicide, and incest, which to say the least, were shameful topics to discuss during the time of the play’s conception. Young Wendla’s older sister has given birth and when her mother goes on about the stork delivering the baby, Wendla insists that her mother tell her the truth. She becomes flustered and refuses to tell her the truth. Instead, her mother concocts the idea that babies only come to women who are married and extremely in love with their husbands. I’m sure, close reader, we all have an idea how that will end. Meanwhile, Wendla’s schoolmates, Moritz and Melchior are also discussing sex. Melchior seems to be the only one of the school children to know anything about the matter and tells Moritz that he will write it all out for him with diagrams included.

The play sometimes carries the subtitle, A Children’s Tragedy. The story unfolds unpleasantly for the three characters because of the undue stress they are put under and the uselessness of the adults. The plot itself is quite intricate for a piece that takes about an hour to read. In his introduction to the 1909 translation, Francis J. Ziegler writes: “‘Frühlings Erwachen’ may not be a pleasant read exactly, but there is no forgetting it after one has perused it; there is an essential strength about it which grips the intellect.”

He is so right in these few words. I could go more into the plot of the play but it would be ill of me to ruin it for those who have never read it. It is boiling with misery, emotions, and brutality. The writing feels like it is part of modernity and a bold piece of art from the later 19th Century. The characters of the children are fleshed out even in just the written word without the help of a staged performance. Each sentences oozes desperation and melancholia. Moritz, Melchior, and Wendla’s frustration is vivid.

You can read Spring Awakening for free at Project Gutenberg (English translation) or Amazon (original German).

This is Number 2 on The [International] Reading List.

Emerging German playwright, Juliane Stadelmann talks writing, theatre, and jet skis

Not only is Juliane Stadelmann a talented emerging playwright, she is [I hope!] the first  in a line of interviews on Acid Free Pulp. I wanted to showcase her talent and get her perspective on writing and publishing outside of the US.

Juliane is originally from Salzwedel, Germany. She has studied as an actor, worked as a surf instructor in Hawaii and France, and co-edited Tippgemeinschaft 2013. This past year she worked in collaboration with an American playwright to translate and stage dramatic readings of both of their plays in New York City. She currently studies writing at Deutsches Literturinstitut Leipzig and was awarded a place this year in the Stuck für Stuck program at Schauspielhaus in Vienna.

js1How did you make the leap from actor to playwright?

It was not really a leap I think. I’ve been playwriting even before I started acting and going to drama school in Berlin. It was more a thing of changing priorities. After drama school, I felt like I loved being on stage but at the same time I realized working as an actress cuts my personal freedom in a really weird way. From psycho group processes in a company over weird castings to how the fuck am I gonna earn money with that?? So I decided to focus on writing and applied at the Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig. I got in and finally had the space and flexibility I needed to be creative and happy but still theatrical.

You recently were involved in a translation project with an American playwright. I know this was the first time you had your work translated. How was the process? Were there aspects you expected or didn’t?

The technical process was getting in touch with each other by a workshop in Leipzig lead by the translator, Uljana Wolf, and then work on our translations over the winter and present the work in New York in April where we had another great workshop with the distinguished Walser-translator Susan Bernofsky. The process on a personal level was quite unusual I think: I met my translation partner here in Germany personally which has been a quite luxurious situation because usually you are not interacting with your translator on that personal level I guess. Still it was hard for me to give my text away to him. (Maybe, especially because I got to know him.) It was harder than giving it to a theatre (because that’s what naturally happens with dramatic texts). Maybe because I was afraid he’d change too much by putting it into English. While our annotations went back and forth via email I was thinking all the time: Hopefully he understands what it all MEANS! Like literally. I know I shouldn’t have but that’s the truth. Putting text on stage is an act of translation, too, but it allows room for interpretation whereas putting a text into a different language might change it completely. You really have to trust your translator. I had to learn that.

But also I appreciated the things I learned about my own language. And it’s true what [another collaborator] said in one of our presentations: You don’t have to be fluent in the language you are translating but you have to be perfect in your own language. And there is something really true about it. You sometimes touch the border of almost untranslatable phrases…that’s where it becomes really interesting not only as a translator but as a writer.

You’ve been involved with prestigious awards and workshops in Vienna and Graz recently. What have these experiences been like?

For me it has been great. I know that other writers feel different about it, but I think I have a very competitive character. I would trying being an athlete if I wasn’t trying to become an author. And if I was 15 pounds lighter, of course. But that’s a different issue. I like this mixture of competition and creative gathering, because usually those drama awards go hand in hand with some workshops before. So it’s not just about winning. You come together with other authors, in groups of maybe 4 to 6 and some mentors (dramaturges, directors, theatre heads, writers – anyone who is already successfully making a living with words or theatre work) and you read and discuss your text. Sometimes, as in Graz, you even get a director and actors to try some first rehearsals and stage concepts. So it’s a great chance to really work with your words! Critiques in those workshops are often sharper and maybe more honest than in the seminar-situation of my writing class in Leipzig, beause we don`t know each other that well and we all want to have “the best play in the universe” to MAYBE win the award at the end. I really enjoy it though it can be frustrating sometimes of course. You are compared to each other all the time and influenced by the critical words of the jury maybe more than by your own ideas. But that’s something you have to learn to deal with in general.

Although, Austria and Germany share, to an extent, the same language and certain historical and cultural points, are you finding any differences in the theatre world between the two countries?

That’s a hard question. I guess a real theatre-reviewer could write a whole essay about that issue. I can only say that theatre in the German speaking world is diverse in general. Even from Hamburg to Leipzig you’ll find different theatres with different concepts and a different approach to scenic work. That’s the nice thing about theater and playwriting: take one sentence out of a play and every group of a director and some actors will create something different out of it. Besides this, the ensemble-system exists in both of the countries which still is something really “old-school” that other European countries don’t have anymore in that strong of a way. I think tradition still plays a big role in German theatres on stage and also behind the scenes–in some more, in some less. But the hierarchies inside the business are strong and it’sworth being reformed in Germany and Austria. But that’s my personal point of view.

What is the German literary world like? How is it for young, emerging writers and what is the process?

That’s another question which is hard to answer. A common and popular way to get some attention is to win some “Literaturpreis” (literature prize) given away by some publishing house, TV stations or magazines. You apply and you can be awarded with some cash and maybe some publishing deals but there’s no guarantee to be successful after it. Also many young writers think the way those awards are given away are cheesy and you have to write “commercially” to be successful in this game. I’d love to know how you write commercially though…I’d be ruling the world with my books then! But I guess everyone has to decide which game to play. I like having those workshops around any award or prize because whatever you win or don`t win, you can always get some work done with those people and you have a well crafted text after that process. But not all the prizes go with workshops. Some are just pure gambling: Win or loose. I never took part in one of those.

Another way is residencies given away by German cities or states (Bundesländer). They usually go with a free apartment for some months and a little grant. So you have a chance to focus on your work for a couple of months. But usually those are given away to people who already have had some little success or at least got printed somewhere.

And then you can of course just do your own thing. Publish your stuff by yourself and try to keep it underground and individual. There are good possibilities to get support for those projects, at least here in Saxony where I live right now. It’s a lot of organizing and paperwork but you are free do make your own decisions and you also get to know other people publishing.

In general, I guess in the literary world it’s still more complicated to get one’s foot into the door than into the playwright world, because I feel like the general need for good young plays right now is bigger than the need for another novel. But I don’t have figures to proof that. It’s just a feeling.

Jet ski or 100 bottles wine? Which is a better prize?

Are you kidding me?? Every author should win a JETSKI! We would all be better writers and human beings, I`m sure. And I could finally work on my big-wave-career because from a certain wave size on you need a jetski that pulls you into the wave as your human paddle-arms are not able to speed up the way a jetski does. You have to be as fast as the wave to be able to catch it. That’s what I’m talking about!

Václav Havel

vaclavhavel.cz

The writer of one of my favorite plays has died: Václav Havel. Unfortunately, it has been a week of several writerly deaths (Christopher Hitchens, Gilbert Adair). Havel was a prominent leader who helped bring down communism in Czechoslovakia. He was both the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic and a playwright. I’ve only read one of his plays, The Garden Party, but it’s truly a favorite. The play is a critique of conformity during communist rule and an enjoyable Kafkaesque work.

The protagonist is Hugo Pludek, who is an average person from a middle-class Czech family. His parents are worried about his future so they arrange an appointment for him with the influential Mr. Kalabis at the garden party of the Liquidation Office. Hugo does not find Kalabis but instead a sequence of absurd encounters starts. All of the functionaries of the Liquidation Office speak in a degenerated, ideological, content-free language, as is expected from their role in the bureaucratic system.Hugo is intelligent and adaptive, therefore is able to adjust his behaviour. He learns to speak platitudinally, using clichés that do not mean anything real and finally becomes the head of the newly created Central Inauguration and Liquidation Committee. As the result, he completely loses his identity.

I tried searching for a copy of the play on Project Gutenberg but no results were found. The play is from the 1960s and probably still retains its copyright. Because of his death, I have pulled Havel’s collection of plays that I own off the shelf and have added it to my winter break reading list. I’m very much looking forward to re-reading The Garden Party and becoming acquainted with his other plays.

The Garden Party also reminds me of a Czech film from around the same time period called A Report on the Party and the Guests. I’ve been searching for this film for almost two years on Netflix and Amazon. I don’t think it’s available in the US but it might be available in the UK. It is fantastic and also offers 71 minutes of the bizarre and absurd. If you’re like me and can’t get your hands on the film, in the very least, pick up or borrow a copy of Havel’s plays.

“If there are any theatres left that base work entirely on the writer’s text, theatres that value the development of poetry in drama, then Havel’s plays will never be out of the repertoire.”  –Milan Kundera

A photo I took in Prague of a haunting memorial dedicated to all of the victims of Communism.