Rafael, your theatre work refers to world politics: Lupenrein is set in the time of the civil war in Sierra Leone, Flaschenbrand and Waffensalon address political resistance in Western European societies. What role do you think political theatre plays in social discourse?
Lupenrein was a play about Europeans with good intentions travelling to the warzone in Sierra Leone, but they end up furthering neo-colonial interests. Flaschenbrand and Waffensalon were plays about political radicalization of the individual in response to socio-economic changes. As a private person I don’t condone radicalization, but I can understand it emotionally and intellectually and so can the audience. As a director and playwright, I analyze human nature in a perpetual quest for knowledge. I try to better understand why and how we do things and I try hard to keep ideological bias out of my work, because ideologies no matter how good their initial intentions can become tyrannical and hinder freedom of speech and expression. I fear theatre is on the verge to purely become a medium for political ideologies and instead of producing art at some point it might devolve into a medium of propaganda.
Penitence focuses on a Catholic priest’s handling of the seal of confession and “attempts to humanize those who have chosen to become priests”, as you write in the synopsis of your play. What exactly do you mean by that?
If we think “priest”, we think “church”. We very quickly just see priests as part of big institutions, like the stormtroopers in Star Wars we often conceive them as nameless drones. But every priest is a human being with their own story, their own trauma, their own hopes, like everybody else and I wanted to shed light on that. You are a believer yourself. Is faith still important in a postmodern society and what significance do you accord to faith in theatre? Theatre at its origins was a religious ritual and there are few other workplaces where superstitions are as deeply rooted then in theatre: we spit for good luck, we avoid certain words and sentences, just to name a few examples. So you can still feel vestiges of its ritualistic and spiritual origins. Catholic faith on the other hand, is not very popular in the theatre community, those who are faithful keep it mostly secret, because they fear discrimination or needless discussions. When I first mentioned that I believe in God and pray regularly, some directors and actors were shocked, asking: “How a rational being as myself can believe in God?” I simply answered that faith is what lies beyond rationality, and I would add that spirituality is part of human nature and therefore will be present in any society.
You have already staged your own texts before Penitence. How does that feel? Is the work different from pure stagings?
Not really but people tend to think the director knows all the answers beforehand, which is not the case. When you start rehearsing, you always discover new aspects of a play.
Interview: Pit Ewen, Mierscher Kulturhaus.
When faith and rationality collide
by Rafael David Kohn