Re-scripting realism: Katie Mitchell and Thomas Ostermeier at the Schaubühne

Fowler, Benjamin (2020) Re-scripting realism: Katie Mitchell and Thomas Ostermeier at the Schaubühne. In: Boenisch, Peter M (ed.) The Schaubühne under Thomas Ostermeier: Reinventing Directors' Theatre. Methuen Drama Engage . Methuen. ISBN 9781350165793

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Thomas Ostermeier has raised the international profile of the Schaubühne over the last two decades as a centre for experiments in a new, contemporary theatrical realism. Since 2010, he has invited the British director Katie Mitchell (b. 1964) to contribute six original productions that bite back against the gendered biases of the conventional realist form. Mitchell adapts dramatic and literary texts into realist scenarios that she then re-frames using technology – often, but not always, involving cameras. This chapter argues that Mitchell and Ostermeier are linked in their (certainly distinct) directorial attempts to measure texts anew in contemporary circumstances, using them to craft highly tangible dramatic worlds while harnessing the materiality of those worlds to convey immaterial forces. In this, their work rehabilitates a much maligned genre of theatrical production. Although what passes as theatrical ‘realism’ has varied over time, contemporary theatre theorists (and some reviewers, too) tend to align it with simple mimesis to signify forces that entrench, rather than challenge, a determinist world-view and naturalise essentialist notions of identity. Realism has come to figure as the antagonist of experiment and innovation that characterise properly politicised forms of theatre-making. Offering an antidote to this prevailing view, I connect the work of Ostermeier and Mitchell as cultural materialists who demand our reappraisal of texts and the realisms they might animate. I do so to insist upon the political relevance of dramatic theatre and realism as a theatrical genre in a highly complex twenty-first century setting.
This chapter examines their separate productions of the same play, Franz Xaver Kroetz’ Wunschkonzert. It also tracks Mitchell’s work at the Schaubühne since Fräulein Julie in 2010, through to her adaptation (with Alice Birch) of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando in 2019. Contrasting, in the final section, Mitchell’s Ophelias Zimmer (Ophelia’s Room) and Ostermeier’s Hamlet (which for a time co-existed in the Schaubühne repertoire), it argue that as the institution has widened to embrace Mitchell’s perspective this has exposed significant blindspots in Ostermeier’s work on Shakespeare, particularly his licensing of the violent anarchic male clown allowed to dominate stage and ensemble. Nevertheless, what links these directors is their refusal to settle for realisms that reinforce, rather than question, the status quo. They create work that arrays itself against any complacent acceptance of the world ‘as it is’, testing the critical purchase of a commitment to texts and to fictive totalities as a potent artistic response to the political crises of our times.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Research in Creative and Performing Arts
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1600 Drama
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
Depositing User: Benjamin Fowler
Date Deposited: 20 Dec 2019 10:48
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2021 13:47
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