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Jews in the News - Aug. 17, 2008

Round and Round


Interview with the Author, Director, Producer, and one of the Actors

JN: You wrote der Garten im Schrank in Vienna in February 1988. Now, twenty years later, you decide to direct the first production yourself. Why?
DIRECTOR: I didn’t write it. He did.
AUTHOR: I tried to launch my own production in 88/89. When the plan fell through, I lost interest and never looked back. Concerning the intentions of the director, you have to ask him.
JN: Why did your own production “fall through”?
AUTHOR: It was denied by the powers that be.
JN: You mean it didn’t receive public subsidy.
AUTHOR: I mean it was censored.
JN: By the government?
AUTHOR: Of course by the government. But I guess, in the end, it was also censored by me and even by you, depending on who you are and whether or not you were around at the time.
JN: I may have been “around,” but I was certainly not involved in any way in your situation.
PRODUCER: He means nothing personal, I assure you.
JN: How did the government “censor” der Garten im Schrank?
AUTHOR: I had a group called “Danger in Wien”, which had developed out of a previous ensemble I had founded and directed in the mid-80’s called “Strangers in Wien”. As artistic director, I applied for subsidies to finance a production of two of my Vienna plays, der Garten im Schrank and Bird Story. The municipal “Kulturamt” turned down Bird Story, while the federal “Kunstsektion” granted the requested funding specifically for Bird Story. Neither notice included any mention of der Garten im Schrank, as if it had never –
JN: I don’t want to interrupt, but –
AUTHOR: A short time later, at a meeting with the Kunstsektion, I asked why der Garten im Schrank had been met with such silence. One of the members, who also happened to be serving on the municipal committee, said that the play concerned a theme – “die Vergangenheit” – that was no longer of interest on the Austrian stage.
JN: That’s what you mean by “censorship”.
AUTHOR: What would you call it?
JN: You said you censored the work, too. How did you censor your own play?
AUTHOR: I resigned. I put the script in a box and forgot about it. The government said it was untimely and uninteresting, and I let its edict determine the fate of the play. Censorship depends on complicity. In Austria, everyone is complicit with a system of intervention in the arts. Politicians control all theater funds and decide, in effect, what may or may not be seen on stage.
JN: If der Garten im Schrank is about the past, why produce it now?
PRODUCER: Perhaps I can answer that. The play is as timely now as it was when it was written, despite the fact that even now, the “curators” of the municipal treasury for the arts still maintain that it’s “uninteresting” for performance in the city in which it was penned. Twenty years have passed since the first official memorial of Austria’s pivotal role in the destruction of European Jewry, yet we still feel each year as a time of remembrance, partly because we still feel the profound absence of all that was destroyed. As Artistic Director of the first Jewish theater company in Austria since 1938 –
DIRECTOR: But that misses the point. The play is about the present, not the past.
PRODUCER: It’s about many things. Do you mind letting me finish?
DIRECTOR: I’ve been sitting here, patiently listening the whole time.
PRODUCER: Excuse me. I was asked a question.
DIRECTOR: I was asked why I chose to direct the production.
PRODUCER: But then I was asked why I produce it.
AUTHOR: No one has even asked me why I wrote it.
JN: I guess I have everything I need –
DIRECTOR: Since this is the first production following two decades of hibernation –
PRODUCER: I would say disappearance.
AUTHOR: Hiding.
DIRECTOR: The staging is true to the original intent, while it also tries –
PRODUCER: I’m not finished speaking. You can have the floor after me.
DIRECTOR: It’s my production and my interview!
PRODUCER: Your production? Now that’s chutzpah! You wouldn’t be directing anything without me!
DIRECTOR: Ha! What other respectable director do you know who would do all this work for no pay!
PRODUCER: That’s not the point! I’m even playing one of the roles myself just to make this production possible. So don’t cry to me about no pay!
AUTHOR: I’m not even getting my royalties for this production, which, by the way, really sucks.
JN: “...really sucks.”
PRODUCER: Would you mind not writing that!
DIRECTOR: Write it! Write it! He doesn’t pay us, the cheap bastard!
PRODUCER: You know our situation!
DIRECTOR: I have a family to feed.
PRODUCER: Don’t patronize me.
DIRECTOR: Don’t Jew me!
JN: I’m sorry, but...we’ll have to stop here. I think I have enough material.
AUTHOR: Don’t you want to know why I wrote the play?
JN: Why?
AUTHOR: I couldn’t stand the silence.
JN: In a few words, what is der Garten im Schrank about?
AUTHOR: It’s about the inheritance of evil.

I. Horrowitz, Aug. 17, 2008

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