Different folks, different strokes – the Hungarian perspective

Eszter Orbán about her surface impression of the rehearsal techniques during LILIOM

It was with utmost curiosity that I came to Munich to take (however a small) part in the production of Molnár’s LILIOM here in the Kammerspiele. As a Hungarian dramaturg, I know this play by heart, every little trick of the text is familiar. And as I am writing my dissertation of theatre translation, I was also intrigued to see how Molnár’s text can be deciphered in translation.
But coming to Germany I was also curious about German theatre practice. In Hungary, we supposedly have the German/Austrian system, thus dramaturgs as well (thank God, I have a profession), as until around 1837, the opening of the Hungarian National Theatre in Pest, the language of official (subsidized) theatre was German, often with German professionals.
First impressions:
The Buffet table in the corner of the Probebühne. However practical, a Hungarian director would definitely go nuts because of it. They would rather have a half an hour break in the middle of a four-hour intense rehearsal than working for the full four hours with people continuously going to the buffet table to get coffee and snacks. (As I was told, Csaba Polgár, the wonderful Hungarian actor and budding theatre director ordered the Buffet table out into the corridor after two weeks into the rehearsals of JULIUS CAESAR at Volkstheater.)
Another surprise, which has possibly a lot more to do with Stephan Kimmig’s rehearsal techniques than the workings of German theatre in general, was the almost lack of common prior analysis. Sitting with the whole team at a table for days on end, deliberating why the characters do what they do, etc.
Instead, the day after the Leseprobe, the actors came fully prepared, text in their head, full of energy, and (possibly seeming) confidence and went full blast onto the stage. Brave, expressive, using their body, their voice… a lot of these first improvisations were so spot on, you’ll see them when you come to see the play.
Instead of prior analysis, Kimmig often guides the actors by actively reacting to their improvisations. The ‘instructions’ come in the shape of laughter, of a clearly audible ‘schön’, ‘ja’, ‘gut’, ‘oh, gotteswill’… Of course feedback doesn’t end there, but there is usually more of a discussion on text issues and problems than the aspects the actors got right.
Some of the differences between Hungarian theatre I got to know and the Kammerspiele have also a lot to do with infrastructure. There are very few theatres that have even a single rehearsal stage similar in size and especially technical equipment to their main stage, not to mention having two or three, and for some of the best Hungarian theatres the idea of a rehearsal stage is, and for the foreseeable future will stay a dream. But this also means that we get more Bühnenzeit, the productions evolve on the stage they will be played on. On the other hand, directors usually don’t have the luxury of having music and especially lighting from Day 1, as it is possible on a Probebühne in the Kammerspiele, for example.
But moving from the Probebühne to the stage, giving the results of 4-6 weeks of rehearsal over to the ‘professional team’ creates a different, in a way very exciting atmosphere. Here every department ‒ set, costume, sound and lighting ‒ starts working simultaneously on the production when it gets to the stage, and they also work/change things during the rehearsal with the actors: the stalls become a beehive, buzzing with people you might not even have met in the weeks before.

Eszter Orbán arbeitet als Dramaturgin in Ungarn. Während der LILIOM-Probenzeit verbrachte sie einige Wochen in München, um die Arbeit an einem deutschen Stadttheater kennenzulernen.

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