‘All right, I’ll do the test once more, to make certain.’
‘All right, I’ll do the test once more, to make certain’, says Azdak the judge, before he asks the child to step once more into the chalk circle and calls again on the two mothers to prove which of them is the real one. It is the most familiar scene in the play: a legend, a ‘very old one’. The outcome of the test is also well known, with the child going to the more ‘motherly’ woman rather than its biological mother. But what if the child is given the choice?
Two mothers put themselves forward and compete for a job, a title, a relationship, a role, an opportunity — but which one should the child choose? The one who has forgotten her own flesh and blood, or the one who has looked at the child too many times to forget him again? The one who can grant the child’s every wish, or the one who barely manages to provide a few drops of milk? The one who is able to get herself to safety, or the one who didn’t know how to help herself and slew a man while on the run? The one who takes care of others, or the one who is used to being taken care of?
And is that it? Are there no other options? Who else is there to choose from? The judge Azdak, who metes out justice even though he has brought an accusation against himself and is really just a village clerk? A lawyer who will do anything to help his client exploit her rights? Armoured riders who risk their lives to do their duty? A soldier in love who doesn’t want to believe that change is possible? A brother without much brotherly love? A man who played a dying peasant so that he wouldn’t have to kill? Those who want to possess or those who can let go?
And the audience — would that be an option? After all, they are just as present as all the others. Who should the child entrust himself to? Who is a suitable role model?
The artists of Theater HORA bring their own rules with them. New rules have to be invented together. Can this ‘old legend’ be told by performers who will probably never have children and rely on others for their care? Take time to reflect: on having children, on raising children, on losing children. Recollect being a child.
Read an answer as a question. Affix a question mark to a manifesto.
Think what is not said; hear what is only thought. Turn to Hans-Thies Lehmann’s book Brecht lesen (Reading Brecht): ‘Theatre had to become something other than a self-celebration of its bourgeois audience. He [Brecht] justifiably saw himself as the Copernicus of theatrical art, who rethought the entire system of the theatre: no longer as a performance in front of and for the audience, but as a performance with the audience.’
Keep going. Clarify what is important enough to try out. And what should not happen under any circumstances. Try out rhythmic motifs and melodic patterns, swap roles, allow the percussionist Minhye Ko and the performers to decide who will play what. Think about floating stage elements and practise walking on hands. Look as if hypnotized at images from a livestream of the Namibian desert: a water hole, a dead tree. Observe how wild animals gather, crowd out other animals, become crowded out themselves. Discover that an audio stream is also available and listen to how the hyenas howl at night. Draw up rehearsal schedules that include warm-ups and breaks.
Experiment with letters: what new words can be formed from existing ones. What letters should be discarded. Continue reading Brecht. Keep listening to Dessau. Keep looking at the water hole. Think about what it is like to flee from home.
Think about what is left behind. Think about how it must feel to be in exile. Think about how a fresh start is an opportunity. Notice how everything changes when one’s gaze settles on it.
See how words fall on fertile ground.
All right, I’ll do the test once more.
Translation: Sebastian Smallshaw