Live and survive

by Maximilan Traxl, translation by Sanijel Jovanovic, Armin Innerhofer


Theater is at all times a draft of life. Its snapshots, deriving from everyday life’s set pieces, form a picture book of perception. Be it in an attempt of arranging morals or due to its esthetical surprise bag, one thing is always in focus: life’s battlefields.

The aktionstheater ensemble crew now tries to manage this balancing act: ot only do they want to put those battlefields into focus and let the audience emphasize with them, but more so they want to access the world of experience, and show what those battlefields leave the individual with: being on one’s own, in a world of egocentrism that does not provide enough space for so many different egos, and facing, contemporarily, one’s own fallibility. So, in a way, this theatre reveals survival skills that are foredoomed to failure: attempts of escape which, between roots and rootlessness, between living solidarily and solitarily, between being oneself and being someone else, speak for themselves, literally.

So, experiencing pieces of the aktionstheater ensemble crew means being taken back to one of manhood’s oldest dramas: being yourself, while, at the same time, being determined by someone else – an aporia of perception.

 The ME and the US

“Only radicalness is intenseness”, we learned in one of the crew’s former pieces Ulysses Roadmovie (2010/2011). This statement describes the aktionstheater ensemble’s programmatic platform: the decision calculus is radical, their execution, though, delicate. In the end, it is always about an intensive presence, which surmounts common presence by the degree of urgency that comes along with the aching for approval: the fight for identity.

Director Gruber is a philanthropist who, for the sake of personhood, takes you to its very borders. He illustrates the present exactly the way political omnipotence phantasies and the neo-liberal progress-crazed urge of a so-called feel-good society have shaped it. He does so, without getting lost in flagellating moralities. The goal is of a different nature: filtrate the human being and expose it to its very core. His narrative spaces do not even allow one to drift off into self-content in order to impose oneself as alternative: the spaces are solely carriers of thoughts of a saturated society which, due to exceeding egoism, is, in fact, saturated by itself. In a certain way, his theater puts amoralism history, God, and ideology on the same level with a universal formula: utopia. And the body remains its medium.

The aktionstheater ensemble’s work is always about the body: its image and symbol, carrier of perception, fetish, a material. The body becomes the determining element whose effectiveness goes far beyond post-dramatic tendencies of dissolution: in Gruber’s work the body cannot be dissolved – it remains a material and an expression and, therefore, a freedom-restraining corset.

So, the body does not only show movement, but, first and foremost, it is being moved as an echo of actions, rumbling from the stage into the audience. It is Gruber’s huge achievement that the body – not only the material of which an art’s object is built, but much more so an art’s object itself – exposes itself in such a way that the mere process of showing it turns into an excess. Therefore, the audience’s physicalness itself is being questioned.

The aktionstheater ensemble’s art is more of a roadtrip through the veins, a game of intellectual ping pong: more “body” than soul striptease, in its very meaning: what it does with the audience can’t be described by common categories. It motivates one to be active although the outer form is not released in favor of post-dramatic patterns of interaction. The pieces focus much more on a tight-knit net of scenes taking place in front of the audience, consequently reaching the audience on a deeper level: a new form of economics of the point of view, the art of “viewing”. The impulses on stage provoke much greater action on the inside rather than on the outside. The aktionstheater ensemble provokes the audience by shocking, but not in a surrealistic way. It’s much more subtle: the crew cares about the human being, not about the game. And the human being is action, movement: it, in fact, always depends on the gesture.

 Atmosphere readymade

It is the essence of story-telling that settles into the bodies of the actors, but even more so into the bodies of the audience: the stories are told by the body through language, and not vice-versa. A diametric contrast of talking and doing takes place: in the aktionstheater ensemble’s productions, the characters do not talk to survive (as they do in Jelinek’s work), they survive to talk – as only connection with the world out there that is so demanding. But in the end, no one listens, because everyone roles in another way. They talk relentlessly because they want to talk to – and, even more so – about themselves. You talk they way you are – especially to yourself. Doing so, they create a reality completely different from the one they talk about: the character in its pure form, so to speak. Very often, and positively so, the word turn against the picture: while in their streams of words the characters take off to intellectual heights, in their gestures the vulgar urges remain (stuck). It is here that the deduction of the “should” from the “be” is revealed as wrong, the impossible connection between “can” and “want” is illustrated.

In the aktionstheater ensemble’s work the object is replaced by the action, and it goes even further: the action turns into the object which, on its part, after a process of re-experiencing within the same world of feelings, always ends the same way: the inability to articulate, to express one’s intellectual and physical needs. In the end, it is always a scream for attention.

So, the aktionstheater ensemble’s work is expanded theatre because it uses an atmosphere that already exists: there is no need for bringing theatre into the here and now, to maneuver it into socially parasitic contexts – their work is already existing, in the microcosm of the private interieur, between the “want-to-show” and the “have-to-hide”. The self-denial of the individual is the objet trouvé in general that, in the end, becomes state of the art – because, after all, it is theatre where no situation remains without a result. To the point where the scenes end in effects that lack results to such an extent that the fictional question about the AS IF does not even come up. It is just as at your own home, only deeper. The work goes far beyond sketching day-to-day life’s experts, next to dramatic text fields. It’s realities that are shown that, on their part, produce their own fictions – and vice-versa: in the end everything is real

Zeitgeist or what?

The aktionstheater ensemble crew creates fashion: none. Director Gruber and dramatic advisor Martin Ojster are radical when it comes to throwing their amour fou towards tendencies of the future in the ring. The detail-loving operators of reality combine subject, gender and society outside of the here and now. They are always one step ahead of the presence. Their kaleidoscope, so full of contrasts, placed in society’s living room, reveals drafts that are just about to “become society” as a result of civilization patterns. Through the mandatory connection with the “outside”, no world can be regarded as independent. It is, in fact, reality that is played as such, it becomes the play ball of performances which resemble happenings: a sociotope arises which, between unlimited fantasies and limited realizations, is pars pro toto of a culture that lost control of itself long ago. Nevertheless, the antiheroes created by Gruber and Ojster are people on the lookout that have not yet resigned from being human.

And here lies the excellence of their work: one could describe this theatre as radical self-observation. Negotiations of the subject which are, in reality, non-negotiable. And the aktionstheater ensemble crew dares to manage this balancing act between x-raying and portraying without trying to moralize. And without failing in front of the fourth wall, the empty and lonely space between the audience and the actors – here the audience is in charge.

The theatre settles in with the alteration of states, the evoking of emotions, and is always already existing – with a call for self-finding and associating with “being human” a sort of theatre arises that through imitation of society can pave the way for its own rehabilitation or, as Joseph Beuys says: “The only revolutionary power is human creativity. The only revolutionary power is art.”