Willkommen Multimedia: In the Birthplace of Buchner, an Overload of Multimedia Effects Creates a Technical Breakdown

By McGrath, Bob | American Theatre, May-June 2004 | Go to article overview

Willkommen Multimedia: In the Birthplace of Buchner, an Overload of Multimedia Effects Creates a Technical Breakdown


McGrath, Bob, American Theatre


In February 2004, Bob McGrath recreated his multimedia production of Mac Wellman's Jennie Richee at the Staatstheater in Darmstadt, Germany. Performing with a German cast in English, Daniel Zippi reprised his role as outsider artist Henry Darger, with songs by Cynthia Hopkins and movement by David Parsons.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"ICH KAHEN NICHT ES TUN!" HE YELLED.

The stage manager--screaming "I can't do it!" and dropping his headset--walked out. It was the middle of our second dress rehearsal for the German remounting of our production of Jennie Richee, a kaleidoscopic journey into the mind of outsider artist Henry Darger.

I'd arrived in Darmstadt, Germany, seven weeks before, fresh off my production of the opera The Death of Klinghoffer at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I'd been eagerly looking forward to Darmstadt's beautiful state theatre, the Staatstheater, and to the exceptional German performers, technicians and craftsmen who would be at my disposal.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The company I head, Ridge Theater, is known for its fantastical productions: large-scale visual and aural works that use original musical scores, film and slide projections and meticulously staged ensemble movement. Our shows are necessarily "tech heavy" and call for thousands of cues. We're used to the demands of our kind of work and know how to do it. But our approach is not the German system. I knew this might present problems. Until the German stage manager up and bolted, I did not realize how many.

Eight weeks prior to my flight I'd received an e-mail listing the Staatstheater's schedule for our rehearsals. Since Ridge productions call for all aspects of the production to work in tandem, over a two-week period we always simultaneously prep the sound, lights, mikes and projections.

In Germany, however, everything is compartmentalized--each aspect is done separately. The schedule called for one day for teching the lighting, separate rehearsals for the performers and another day for dealing with sound. Moreover, elderly stand-ins were to take the place of the actual performers during prep. The stand-ins spoke no English, while I speak no German.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Other aspects of the re-mounting were better than problem-free--they were fantastic. Rehearsals with German performers were very focused on dance and movement; they often did not want to begin the work without 40 minutes to an hour of full-body warm-up. …

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