Marta Górnicka | Interview

The Theater Is A House Of Hope

Marta Gornicka

The author and director Marta Górnicka about her play STILL LIFE.

Your STILL LIFE is not a still life.
The chorus is always on the move. It is restless, loud and monstrous: a picture of our time and our situation. The most terrible and simultaneously most beautiful still life. We were rehearsing in the extreme conditions of the pandemic. Now the chorus starts to breathe again but has also stopped speaking in literal sense. It lip-syncs, creates a new form of chorus theatre. It works on the edge of recorded sound, live sound, spoken word, music and silence. As if there is no return to what has been. However, in the final scene, SONG OF ALL BEINGS, we hear eight live voices singing an old Jewish song about a calf going to the slaughterhouse. In a new German translation, which is more close to the original than before. But we can also recognise Joseph Schmidt’s voice, singing »This is the most beautiful day of my life«, rhythms of Namibian tribes, kids… A chorus of people and animals, living and dead. Voices of people murdered in the Holocaust, voices of extinct tribes from the Amazonia. Even the life that has benn killed, the still life, speaks to us. It is a utopia. An artistic and a social one. That's what I'm working on.

The choir speaks in big words, in punched sentences. Lots of quotations.
Oh yes, and they’re wildly mixed up. I love playing with words and ideas. Language is never a transparent tool for me. In the Manifesto scene we hear calls for work on the political idea of a RE-INVENTED SOCIETY written during the pandemic; I clash it with Britney Spears: »We can still be together« and the robotic phrase »please donate.« We live in this thicket of ideas and we all live with these phrases. I use some to repel others and others to repel me from some. »Together, together« – that's what it's all about. But in the end, »together« no longer sounds like a chorus of people, but like a machine. Utopia is always threatened with a tipping over into catastrophe. We live in uncertainties. The theatre is the place where we can endure this.

In the chorus?
I don't get anywhere with the psychological theatre that dissects the individual. My theatre is space, and post-language. Our language is worn out, hijacked. Music allows for laughter and transcends meanings into irony or protest. Musical tools can be a weapon, always bringing small changes. Everything is happening between voice, language and silence.

German critics bristled at your Holocaust phrases.
I feel I have put my fingers into the wounds of the German body. In the play there is a chorus of mothers who survived the Holocaust. They speak of the Holocaust. And the mechanisms that bring it forth again and again. These mothers also say: history repeats itself, and nothing repeats itself as often as Auschwitz. 

It is not something unique?
The fundamental mechanism of the annihilation of life is always the same. »Auschwitz kein Ende«, as Heiner Müller said. It’s been a central point of my work for years. Never again can always turn into Auschwitz no end, but frankly speaking, nobody listens to the survivors. The main picture of the production shows the wall of biodiversity from the museum of natural history. A magnificent panorama. The biggest still life in the world. You stand in front of it and know, all these creatures belong together. But then you realise: It doesn't just show life. It also shows death. As beautiful as the picture is, it is also terrible. A Western theatre of death disguised as life. This is a metaphor, a big sarcophagus of many forms of life. Through this one can look at the history of extinct species, violence and genocides. The mechanism of annihilation of life is invisible but alive.

How can you live with that idea?
In front of the wall, there is a multiplied Dionysus on the stage. The god of indestructible life. I defend life with every breath. As long as we breathe together, as long as we live. Do you understand now why the chorus is so important to me? The Chorus is not just a performance. It is a practice.

The Holocaust is alive. But you still have hope?
I believe in the choir of multitudes, in the possibility of a good future. To bring people together, and at the same time to let the individuality of each person emerge, that is always very difficult. If we can do that at the theatre once in a while, why not in the world? The theatre is a house of hope.

Interview: Arno Widmann
Photo: Esra Rotthoff via zoom