Interview with Nicolas Stemann

H: Firstly, how are you enjoying your stay in London?

NS: It was a very brief trip but, considering this, I saw a lot. Despite spending most of the time meeting people or visiting theatres, I found the time to see an exhibition and have a long walk through various areas of London. It was short but intense.

H: What attracts you to working in London at this moment in time? 

NS: Besides the fact that I feel that there is some interest in people like me working here, it also has to do with the point I am at in my career right now. I have done a lot of things in Germany and at the moment I have a lot of offers, I can work in almost any theatre there and have the freedom to do what I want. In the last couple of years my shows were also shown internationally on several occasions, Wiener Festwochen and Festival d’Avignon in particular, and I became more interested in showing my work abroad and working abroad but also meeting other theatre cultures. This is when your invitation came.

H: What is your impression of British theatre? 

NS: I haven’t seen enough to say anything. I have heard it is much more play-based and attached to a certain form of realism (…) but these are prejudices for me because I haven’t seen anything myself, I can only repeat what others have told me. I guess they might be right. However, with what I saw yesterday at the Lyric Hammersmith, I gained a different perspective. It was very interesting for me to see that they are influenced by German theatre and want to do things which we normally do in Germany but from their own point of view and understanding of German theatre. It was very surprising for me, I didn’t expect that and I guess this hasn’t been the case in the last few years. I believe German theatre is very rich and unique but hasn’t been seen in this way on the international theatre scene. I think there was a big gap between how German theatre was perceived in Germany and abroad. This seems to be changing at the moment which is exciting.

H: Finally, how would you describe your work? 

NS: This is really difficult to answer in short. One of the great things about theatre is that it is both: complicated and easy. It is possible to talk about urgent problems on a very elaborated level – and still be funny or touching. There lies the political potential of theatre. In daily politics things always have to be reduced in complexity. Theatre also tends to do so – but it doesn’t have to. What is important to me is that it is not dead theatre or clichéd theatre, that it is vivid and alive. Also, that the live aspect of theatre is emphasised. It is a mixture between being open for improvisation and the unforeseen and on the other hand giving it a kind of musical structure that makes it possible to somehow communicate, not in terms of meaning or rational communication but in terms of energy. I want an energetic communication with the audience and for this music is very important: not only in the sense that music is part of the show but that everything somehow becomes music. Even when someone talks or thinks, the words can also have a musical structure. For me the rhythm and the structure of a piece are important. And on the other hand, there is the open part of the piece, and I think there is always a tension between the two. There is also the question about the relation between the text and the production. I think they are two independent poles and I think the aim is to create tension between them. I always try to see them as two separate tracks on a musical recording. On one track there is the text and I think it is important that you transport the text to the audience but this doesn’t have to be made only in a realistic way. Even a psychologically written scene is first of all text. If you open the play, it is only words and paper. So if you say, ‘I want to stage only what is in the play’, you have to put the book on the stage or project the words on the scene – which is something I did in some of my production to play with those categories. This is the closest you can be to a text. The other pole is the production, which is the live aspect. I try to create productions in which the tension between those two poles tell a story which is somehow related to both of them and which in the end helps to understand what is written in the text. I want to make theatre where the theatre doesn’t damage the text and the text doesn’t damage the theatre. Because often one of the two happens. Either you do a conventional piece and then you really damage its theatricality because the stage can be so much more than just a realistic setting, you have living people with bodies and longings. I think this damages what theatre can be. And on the other hand, if you do something too avant-garde, if often happens that you damage the text. Also if you do something too psychological with a Schiller play, for instance, or Goethe or Shakespeare, and you pretend that it is a normal, modern day situation – there are many ways in which theatre can damage the text. I don’t know about Britain but in Germany contemporary theatre tends to re-write the text or cut it to make it better to speak, or to leave the verses behind because they disturb the realism. The ideal for me is to make work where those two things can co-exist with each other, maybe fight each other or help each other, but without damaging each other.

This interview was conducted by Henriette Morrison, transcribed and edited by Svetlana Karadimova

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