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Frank Castorf at the Volksbühne am Rosa Luxembourg Platz Alienation Techniques and the Use of Mediated Material on the Live Stage Steve Earnest Throughout the latter years of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, the use of film, video, and mediated settings became an increasingly important aspect of scenography at Germany’s largest state theatres. Key developments in stage technology— such as the use of high-powered projectors, the use of glass slides instead of those made of plastic or acetate, and the increasing use of digital video technologies—permitted greater experimentation with live and mediated action and comprised a permanent part of the German theatre landscape . Given the immense technical capabilities of the German state theatres in addition to their high levels of national funding, multimedia advances have been arguably more profound in Germany than in any place in the world. Perhaps no stage director was more influential in this arena than Frank Castorf, noted Intendant of Berlin’s Volksbühne am Rosa Luxembourg Platz. From the mid-1980s until the first decade of the twenty-first century Castorf integrated the arts of theatre and cinema in a manner that both heightened the art of stage direction in Germany as well as modified and advanced numerous theatrical concepts, such as the Brechtian concept of verfremdungseffekt, or alienation. Other ideas associated with Brechtian epic theatre, such as montage and the use of music, as well as more radical techniques of deconstruction and postmodern structure as advanced by Heiner Müller, were also employed by Castorf. Unique in his combination of the dual aesthetic of theatre and film, Castorf’s use of cameras on the live stage has challenged theatre aesthetics by contrasting the live stage figure with the full or partial human face in close-up, by utilizing multiple cameras on different 42 S T E v E E A R N E S T areas of the theatrical space and by incorporating the act of filming and camera work into the action of his works. Three of Castorf’s productions , Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Erniedrigte Und Beleidigte (The Insulted and the Injured), Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and Bertolt Brecht’s Der Jasager/Der Neinsager (He Who Says Yes/He Who Says No),1 serve to illustrate Castorf’s varied directorial approaches and his unique film/theatre aesthetic. Founded in 1914, the Volksbühne has historically been a regular site for live productions that experimented with multimedia and film. The early period of the Volksbühne included multimedia work by Erwin Piscator and the young Brecht; its middle period as a state theatre of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) featured radical experimentation involving Soviet-influenced film and video techniques under the leadership of Benno Besson. Throughout the later years of the GDR and into the post-reunification period, Castorf emerged into the Berlin scene as an enfant terrible, a radical young director who mounted numerous shockingly provocative productions that challenged GDR politics while pushing artistic mores to their breaking point and that subsequently advanced postmodern techniques such as collage structure and deconstruction. An important element of Castorf’s dramaturgy and theatre aesthetic at the Volksbühne was the commingling of live and mediated material as well as the inclusion of rock music (the Rolling Stones and other iconic rock groups have always been prevalent in his work) and numerous references to popular culture. Having served as Intendant since 1992, Castorf steadily developed a reputation as one of the most provocative, innovative , yet notorious directors on the German stage. As a student of Theaterwissenschaft (or Theatre Science) at Humbolt Universität in Berlin in the 1970s, Castorf had studied the theories of Brecht but favored the more radical structure of Müller in practice. Because the strict stance regarding socialist realism had become more relaxed in the GDR in the 1970s, Müller’s synthetic fragments and collage works (such as Hamletmaschine, published in 1971) had become extremely influential among academics. After staging a number of television projects for the East German Television system (DEFA) Castorf began to incorporate ideas of collage structure, including video and other mediated material , into his directorial vision. Alternatively praised...


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