When studying theatre in Berlin, back in the early days of this century, I loved seeing theatre that took itself serious—no make-believe, no drama, no night like any one before (disclaimer: I still do). At that time, performances by René Pollesch (Telefavela, Death of an Intern), Gob Squad (legendary: King Kong Club), Rimini Protokoll (Torero Portero, Deadline, Black Tie…) were all the rage in academia, at least in the small world of theatre studies. Just a few years before, Hans-Thies Lehmann had coined the label “postdramatic” for these and other practices that didn’t rely on a literary work, but rather took off on their theatrical explorations from personal experiences, social or media phenomena (social media didn’t exist yet), everyday and/or professional life, or simply some playful situation. Many among this new generation of theatremakers had graduated in Applied Theatre Studies at Gießen University, so sometimes these groups are also referred to as the “Gießen-school”.
Strange though, in Berlin I had never attended a performance by She She Pop. With their highly self-reflective, personal, performative works, this female collective of experimental non-actors is usually counted among the postdramatics. Finally, in Seoul I got to see their latest and probably most successful work, Testament (유서), invited by Goethe-Institut and Festival Bo:m (페스티벌 봄) to perform at Mary Hall, the theatre of Sogang University. That year the festival was very much postdramatic and presented a solo-piece by Rene Pollesch, the furious Casablanca-cum-capitalism-criticism Ich schau dir in die Augen, gesellschaftlicher Verblendungszusammenhang!, as well as a video-talk with Hans-Thies Lehmann (but that’s a story to be told another day).
Working at Goethe-Institut Korea (주한 독일문화원) at that time, I had written the announcements for the shows and that way had learned a bit more about this quite unusual piece of “reality-theatre”. Although often alluding to Shakespeare’s King Lear, this is merely a red thread that shines through from time to time. The performers of She She Pop discuss—in real-time, live on stage—their generational relations with their fathers, exactly in this double sense. Because they have brought their fathers with them, even to Seoul!
I saw the play twice, first the final rehearsal and then the afternoon show on Saturday. And what can I say? It was really moving to see the 40-something actresses (one male) and their fathers perform what must have become a routine by now, two years (and some international tours) after the premiere in 2010. (And the show goes on! See some reviews of guest performances at the Barbican, in Toronto, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, as well as a moving blogpost from there, and another review.)
Despite the casual and improvised feeling of many scenes, most of them are scripted, some quite ostentatively. But don’t our interactions with family (and friends we know long enough) follow more or less fixed paths and habits? A few images stand out, e.g. the fathers, dressed as kings, judging the lives of their children, or live video montages of the daughters (and the one son) who, now, wear the crownes themselves. And of course the karaoke-style performance of
Celine Dion’s Titanic-theme, more on M-sli©k da ninjA here) “Something’ Stupid”, famously performed by Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy in 1967, is heartbreaking, again and again, and even on Youtube:
Are family ties unavoidable destiny that can only be problematized relentlessly? I believe in elective affinities (I want to, at least), but nevertheless have to admit that time spent together, the first and most impressive years, is difficult to strip off. Future projections, including senior cohabitation (which demands the destruction of books for lack of space—doesn’t that sound quite Nazi-like?) and retirement homes made me think of the years to come. Theatre about the past for the future, certainly not the worst kind!
For further reading (if you can get past the pay-wall), Kate Bredeson has written an extended review of the piece (“The Sum of Testament is Love”, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 36.1 (2014),45–52).
– 14 April 2012 (토)
- 극단 쉬쉬팝과 그들의 아버지들의, 유서, 페스티벌 봄, 서강대학교 메리홀 대극장, 2012년4월13일 (토), 오후 3시~5시.
- She She Pop and their Fathers, Testament, Festival Bo:m, Sogang University Mary Hall, Main Hall, 2012–04–14 (Sat.), 3–5pm.