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SALZBURG FESTIVAL BLOG

Brian Mertes and Julian Crouch about the new production "Jedermann"

7 JUN 2013

by FESTSPIELKIEBITZ  15:15 h;
published in: Drama

Brian Mertes / Julian Crouch (Photo: no details available)
When the Salzburg Festival first asked us whether we could imagine taking this job, we had no hesitation. We knew instinctively that this was a challenge we wanted to accept.
Mystery plays are a chance to encounter theatre in one of its original forms. Simple stages, hastily erected in public places, plays which appear to or maybe really do provide spiritual enlightenment while at the same time providing an audience with entertainment. The simplest techniques, creating an intimacy between the actors and the audience outdoors, naïve yet bold storytelling, emblematic characters who could almost be woodcuts.
Of course there was also the question of how to engage with the Christian religious aspects of Jedermann. Jedermann is more than a play: it is a tradition and a ritual – and one with a very large and diverse audience. Our production will only succeed if it is able to touch people of all faiths and cultures. Some of those watching will view the proceedings from the perspective of their own religious belief, others will not. Given the simplicity and directness of the story, we hope to be able to create a performance capable of engaging the imaginationand the emotions of the many different individuals who go to make up our audience. Jedermann belongs to everyone.
The inevitablity of our own mortality is simultaneously its greatest mystery. That all our efforts, our property, our merits will ultimately come to nothing is a blow which we repress until it irrevocably catches up with us. The fact that our lives are so provisional and death is so final is a threat from which we try to escape, in part by imagining a life after death, something which every culture has done in a variety of ways.
Death and God, these two universal themes, about which we can have hunches but no direct knowledge, are what make the play so resonant. If it was simply pious and evangelizing, the piece would not have survived – not even in the beautiful Cathedral Square. Its longevity is thanks not only to its affirmation of God, but also to its articulation of the fundamental matters we do not and can never know, those mysteries after which the whole tradition of medieval drama was named.
And here we come to our second source of inspiration: Max Reinhardt, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the foundation of the festival.
The attempt to transform the entire city into a stage, to use a medieval theatrical form in front of the cathedral deliberately in order to escape into the pre-modern era and to set an artistic “work of peace” against the overwhelming experiences of the First World War must have been anachronistic and naively magnificent at the time.  From a contemporary perspective Jedermann seems thoroughly established, but in 1920 it was anything but a safe or obvious choice. Yet it succeeded brilliantly. Many artists dream of gripping the popular imagination, of reshaping reality through the power of art.  Reinhardt, Hofmannsthal and company genuinely did so.  They are a wonderfully inspiring group of colleagues and collaborators. Jedermann is a play about death and those who first created it here are themselves dead.  This brings with it a great responsibility to be true to their original gesture.  But in being true to that original gesture it is important that we should not allow ourselves to be overburdened with responsibility to the past.
We have spent a long time in our preparations looking at Reinhardt and Hofmannsthal’s work. We have studied the set, costumes and music of the original Salzburg production – as far as these have been recorded – and drawn on these where we felt it appropriate.  In a change from previous years the stage (which like Reinhardt’s is made out of wood) will once again be free-standing, set apart from the Cathedral and rising up on two levels. The music we are using will also feature variations on the themes used in Reinhardt’s production, along with folk songs and music from the period of the original Salzburg production – the 1920s.   
Above all we are interested in story. Story is our god. The story of Jedermann is transformation at the most profound level. The word Hugo von Hofmannsthal once said best described the heart of his own work: “Verwandlung: transformation, a moment when nostalgia and necessity collide, when the past is turned inside out and becomes a future that both repudiates and resembles what it has replaced, when we forget in order to change, and change in order to remember.” 
There will be a procession from the Festival Theatre to the Cathedral Square to start the play. Ultimately we will be in collaboration with nature, the elements, the city, each other and you our companions as we create the story of Jedermann, whose journey and transformation will unfold in procession and celebration.
We are keen that the fairground character of the play should not be forgotten and that it should empower us. Jedermann's life has to be one which is rich, pleasurable, overflowing – for the audience too. On the way to his conversion he encounters a series of dynamic theatrical characters. Like a medieval troupe, we will use spectacle and humour to engage our audience, to take it with us and invite it to follow Jedermann’s journey and understand this as its own. At least for the two hours the show lasts. To do this the theatre has to use every means at its disposal which the location and the nature of the work allow.
After long and intense preparations, the real work has now finally begun. A wonderful ensemble has assembled who surprise and enlighten us every day, and we look forward to the challenge of doing justice to the content and form of the play in Reinhardt’s chosen location. In less than two months we will have something for you to come and watch. In the meantime, we thank you for your interest.

Brian Mertes and Julian Crouch

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