zur Spielzeit 2020/21

When we meet again in the Burgtheater in the autumn after an uncharacteristically long break, then it will be under the precept of a “new normality”. This term is well chosen: it describes two processes at the same time, and implies that they are both already concluded. On the one hand, “new normality” indicates that new rules (norms) govern it, and on the other hand, that these have already been accepted and have become “normal”. What the term doesn’t contain is how such a new normality is achieved, i.e. things like controversial public debates, opinion-forming processes, the democratic selection and naturalisation of norms, and the gradual, continually critically reflected shift to a wide consensus of accepted normality. Do these ideas already belong to a bygone, “old normality”?

Who decides what’s normal and what methods are used? Who is heard and who is disposed of?

There is, however, no reason for hasty nostalgia. Even in the old democratic normality, there were a great many people who were merely subject to politics, on whom policies were enforced. Who were shoved back and forth at the borders, who were classed according to health policies, who were locked up, locked out, counted and written off. Srećko Horvat’s analysis in last November’s Burgtheater magazine, in which he described human bodies, in the context of the crisis in northern Syria, “as purely mathematical quantities and as physical units – expressed as a kind of living currency, as something that can be exchanged in the name of political interests”, has become even more extreme.

Who decides what’s normal and what methods are used? Who is heard and who is disposed of? Who has the control over human bodies? The “naked” human with no rights – the “body natural” – and the symbolic body of power – the “body politic” – as they were defined in the Renaissance, are two key players in the upcoming Burgtheater season. Rarely can one expect them to enter the stage from opposite sides, but they are often to be found in one and the same person.

Who has the control over human bodies?

In both Calderón’s comedy DAS LEBEN IST EIN TRAUM (Life Is a Dream) and Shakespeare’s RICHARD II, two young kings, both truly bad at their jobs, and their antagonists are at the centre of fundamental disputes relating to the legitimacy of sovereignty. At the other end of the season and the historical spectrum it encompasses, we have the long-awaited new play by Rainald Goetz, REICH DES TODES. POLITISCHE THEORIE (The Kingdom of Death. Political Theory), which describes the systematic suspension of fundamental democratic rights in the historical state of emergency following 9/11.

And symbolic power and physical powerlessness, the administered body and its unadministrable, resistive impulses are at the core of many of next season’s plays. In Thomas Köck’s new play, Antigone[e1]  drags countless bodies that have been washed ashore from the beach into the city and demands they receive a funeral; in the German-language premiere of Lucy Kirkwood’s DAS HIMMELSZELT (The Welkin) twelve female jurors exercise power over the body of a young woman sentenced to death for murder in that they must decide her fate; and at the end of a lost war, the TROERINNEN (The Trojan Women) fight against the male power of disposal over their bodies. The dark side of the Enlightenment and of its obsession with the anatomical dissection of the human body lies at the heart of a new ZAUBERFLŒTE (Magic Flute). Classical modernist texts such as Anna Gmeyner’s AUTOMATENBÜFFET, August Strindberg’s FRÄULEIN JULIE (Miss Julie) and Maurice Maeterlinck’s PELLÉAS UND MÉLISANDE (Pelléas and Mélisande), on the other hand, detect power structures in the personal clashes of bodies. The eponymous Czech protagonist in Peter Handke’s latest play, ZDENĚK ADAMEC, ultimately sees only one function for his body: that of a torch and beacon – against everything.

The naked body and the embodiment of power are probably most clearly set in opposition to each other in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale DES KAISERS NEUE KLEIDER (The Emperor’s New Clothes). While the emperor’s politically versed subjects acknowledge the magnificent accoutrements of power, the children see – nothing. It is the utopian power of the fairy tale (and of theatre) that allows the childish inability to recognise power to be seen as the clear point of view and (for once) to triumph. Next season’s plays therefore afford momentary flashes of insight into hitherto unknown, “completely new” normalities, a description that will likely no longer apply by then.

Burgtheater, Wien, Europa

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