Communiqué from Berlin 6 point 9

June 9, 2015 / by Brandon Woolf, Fall Fellow


Spring is finally in full bloom here in sunny Berlin, and I am quite new to the blog-as-genre.

In the ensuing posts, I will attempt to give some sense of (and order to) the things I have been doing, thinking/wondering about, and exploring – with the occasional miscellany and often extensive parenthetical thrown in there as well.



Since returning from a fabulous, eye-opening, and most ‘orienting’ week with my new friends at the Drama League, I have been hard at work on two different (and very different kinds of) writing projects.

As soon as the jetlag haze cleared, my longtime collaborator Maxwell Flaum and I resumed work on our new play, The Summer Way, which is loosely inspired by a televised “meeting of minds” between Marshall McLuhan and Norman Mailer in 1967. While I dare not say too much yet, The Summer Way makes use of the expansive conversation between these two counter-cultural icons in order to explore our contemporary TV and media culture, and to ask if it is still possible to really talk to one another in an America (always) teetering on the brink. Maxwell and I are very close to a workshop-able draft, and we are currently speaking with friends, colleagues, and other collaborators about U.S. workshop/reading possibilities this coming year.

Here is a YouTubeTeleport back to those hallowed days of a television medium that did not yet know what it was or could be, when public intellectuals, talk show hosts, rock ‘n’ roll stars, and politicians were still go-go dancing in the same corporate miniskirt, prime-timed to push the threshold of an American psyche that would soon explode in the shattering wake of ‘68.

The second piece of writing is an essay that was accepted into a special issue of a journal out of the UK that I like very much called Performance Research. This special issue of the journal, edited by Gigi Argyropoulou & Hypatia Vourloumis and titled “On Institutions,” is working to explore the often contested (and also very challenging to talk about) relations between theater, performance, and the different kinds of institutional and organizational structures with which these artistic practices are engaged (both consciously and subconsciously so to speak). Here’s how Hypatia and Gigi describe the goals of the issue:

Approaching the figure of the institution as verb, this edition of Performance Research considers how institutions are performance and in turn how performance practices may enforce, destabilize and initiate new modes of organization. Although often read as abstractions of seemingly objective, entrenched and systematic structures, institutions, whether formal or informal, are always social processes. Thus, if institutional constructions and resources are established through repeated modes of action and arrangements, how might certain performance practices constitute radical acts, becomings and socialities, and by extension, potential performances of instituting otherwise?

My essay – with its polemical title: “Putting Policy into Performance Studies?” – aims to contribute to these ongoing discussions about the tenuous, if not paradoxical, relations between art and its supporting infrastructures. This short essay, which stems from my on-going book project about contemporary performance in Berlin, tries to lay out some theoretical background about why I think that theater provides us with both conceptual and practical means to reimagine our institutions of public life. The special issue "On Institutions" should be released in August or September.



Toward the end of the week, I’ll be making two trips to the Volksbühne – one of my favorite all-time performance institutions – to see new-ish productions from two of my favorite artists, Frank Castorf & René Pollesch, who – I would say – have continued to change and to shape the European theater landscape since the 1990s.

On Thursday 6.11: Von einem der auszog, weil er sich die Miete nicht mehr leisten konnte (roughly translated as: About Someone Who Moved Out Because He Couldn’t Afford the Rent Anymore) – a new opera from René Pollesch and Dirk von Lowtzow.

I do not yet know very much – other than Martin Wuttke stars, Tocotronic composed the music, and there is a giant, giant whale onstage. Here’s a rather cryptic albeit also somehow enchanting précis from the folks at Volksbühne:

So that’s it, the story of me and whatchamacallit. It was over. The desire was gone and, oddly though, so was reality. I should have expected to lose my sense of reality, like in the past, when your words and promises and what followed them no longer fit into the framework I had established to understand the setting. But this time it was different. It was in that moment that what is called the ‘real world’ – the world we were just about to understand and tear apart and also improve a little – collapsed and completely dissolved. There is nothing left of you – no more desire, I mean. How could you disappear before I did, I wonder. To say that you’re dead to me is not even accurate, see? Saying that is wiping away the problem, simply ignoring what’s there right in front of me: the primary phantasmatic object…

We shall see…and hear.

On Friday 6.12: Ibsen’s The Master Builder (Baumeister Solness) – adapted and directed by Frank Castorf

Frank Castorf has long been interested in Ibsen – since back in his days as artistic director of a theater in the small East German city of Anklam during the GDR. Here he is in an interview in 1988 (shortly before the end of the Cold War):

The thing which interests me, and what interests me about Ibsen, is moral ethics and continuity – just how long will people stick to a cause, support you, show solidarity and remain loyal? And where is the point when this continuity is suspended and put out of force? I’m talking about opportunism and such things. That’s rather difficult to grasp. You cannot use simple dramatic forms for that. Not even satirical or grotesque techniques like those used in plays by Bulgakov or Mayakovsky will do for the character development of the self-seeking “time-server,” who is backtracking and taking expedient action. It is an exciting task to find a dramatically appropriate form to depict the functioning of opportunism. How people are suddenly maintaining the opposite of what they believed was true just an hour ago, as if on fast forward; in the play it takes days, in real life sometimes years or, depending on the historical context, even decades. That’s what I’ve been interested in from the beginning, in all my productions of plays addressing this theme.

This quotation is eerily relevant in the midst of recent controversies at the Volksbühne – about which I have a lot to say and do not have ample time or space here. But for now: Frank Castorf’s 25-year tenure as artistic director is coming to – or has been brought to – an end, and Chris Dercon, the director of London’s Tate Modern, will take over in 2017. For a sense of some of the issues involved in the debates, have a look at Tobi Müller’s recent article – about which I also have things to say, but maybe at a later date. Suffice it to say, I am a big Castorf fan and am looking forward to the 4-hour bonanza on Friday – to which I will be sure (and have learned) to bring snacks.


I am very much looking forward to spending some time stateside in the fall. One of the challenges of living abroad is that I so often miss out on the work of friends I love and admire. This week I was/am very sad to miss:

Stew on Baldwin at Harlem Stage

Lee Sunday Evans at Clubbed Thumb

Joshua Williams at Ars Nova


And with that, I head off to my Tuesday Talmud seminar, which is surely fodder for a future blog post and – so is my hope – performance piece.

Until next time, then, sending all my very best.