ateatro 142.91 2/16/2013 What theatre? Life before, after, and during Living (Part I) di Hans Echnaton Schano (a cura di Anna Maria Monteverdi)
Hans Hechnaton Schano: un poeta per il Living Theatre
A Prishtina in una giornata fredda e innevata di inizio dicembre, poche ore prima del debutto al Teatro Nazionale dello spettacolo per cui io e altri giornalisti eravamo stati invitati (Futurimi mbi teatrin e Kosovës, Qualcuno volò sul Teatro del Kosovo), il drammaturgo Jeton Neziraj ci invita a pranzo in un ristorante a due passi dal teatro. Ci dice che tra poco arriverà una persona molto speciale, un attore austriaco molto famoso, designato come presidente della giuria internazionale del Festival di cinema e teatro Skena up che ha luogo nella capitale del Kosovo proprio in quei giorni.
Jeton mi dice: "Tu dovresti conoscerlo già". Si presenta e il volto mi dice qualcosa ma francamente non lo riconosco subito. "Sono stato attore del Living". E' Hans Echnaton Schano, Polinice nell'Antigone, attore-creatore in Frankenstein, Paradise Now, Masse Mensch, The Yellow Methusalem, nel ciclo brasiliano...
A Pristina Hans lavora già da due anni con gli studenti del Bekim Lumi all'Università, ed è molto apprezzato; a Vienna realizza laboratori attoriali, workshop finalizzati alla produzione e dimostrazioni di lavoro.
Poeta, scrittore, attore teatrale, televisivo e cinematografico, raffinato performer, dopo l'esperienza travolgente e unica del Living degli anni Sessanta e Settanta, seguendo l'onda di alcuni pensatori che ebbe la fortuna di conoscere personalmente, da Marcuse a Paul Goodman, da Steve Ben Israel a Jody Williams, ha continuato l'attività teatrale che lo ha portato in 17 paesi del mondo recitando in 6 lingue. In Austria ogni anno crea un evento in memoria di Hiroshima e Nagasaki.
E' membro attivo dell'Istituto Teatrale Internazionale sponsorizzato dall'Unesco ed è fondatore e regista del One World Theatre.
Gli chiedo un'intervista. Lui abita a Vienna. Ama fare laboratori e insegnare il suo metodo ai giovani aspiranti attori.
"Anna, però fammi domande specifiche altrimenti dovrei scriverti un libro... Ora ho uno sguardo un po' diverso. Ho incontrato il Living nel 1965 e ho lavorato stabilmente con loro dal 1966 in poi incluso il periodo del Brasile con brevi intervalli fino al 1974 Poi dal 1980 al 1982. Sono ritornato nel 1990 a fare una pièce, uno one man show al Teatro del Living a New York nella Terza Strada. Sul mio sito puoi trovare molti articoli sul mio lavoro compreso quello in carcere che fu pubblicato anche su "The Drama Review"."
Hans immagina il mio interesse sul Frankenstein e mi dice subito:
"Fu il primo lavoro importante in cui fui coinvolto con il Living Theatre. Eravamo a Reggio Emilia a preparare la nuova versione di Frankenstein. Per molti motivi è ancora uno dei miei spettacoli preferiti del Living".
C'è un evento a cui Hans è legato e che sta riproponendo, si chiama Pan-Out, realizzato per la prima volta nell'ottobre del 1983 al One World Poetry Festival di Amsterdam dai membri del One World Theatre. E' un workshop che termina con uno spettacolo fatto di un prologo e 12 scene.
Ho deciso che l'intervista sarebbe diventata un testo formato da più blocchi, che corrispondono ai temi che ho chiesto ad Hans di sviluppare liberamente, dagli anni d'oro con il Living Theatre al teatro politico ieri e oggi, alla creazione collettiva. (Anna Maria Monteverdi)
Hans Echnaton Schano
In the fall 1963 David Moritz, a friend of Allen Ginsberg’s, travelled through Europe on his Harley Davidson and we met in Munich. He showed me a book by Larry Lipton, The Holy Barbarians, telling the Beatnik-story. At that time, I had already considered myself to be something like a Beatnik. David said that there was a theatre company in New York; he thought was very close in spirit to the Beat-movement, the Living Theatre.
In early 1965, being one of the “Capelloni” of Rome’s Piazza di Spagna, an American woman whom I had met the day before, engaged me in a conversation about my artistic background and then told me that I had to meet “The Theatre”. I asked her which theatre she was talking about, but she just said, “You’ll see”. That evening I accompanied her to the Teatro dei Satiri, where the Living Theatre performed Mysteries and Smaller Pieces. I had just taken a seat in the audience when David Moritz’s once mentioning a Living Theatre flashed through my memory again.
Had I been working towards this moment without knowing that a certain destiny was already awaiting my next move? And what then happened was truly amazing.
I had never seen anything like this before. A play unfolded that engaged all my senses and then some. In large parts non-verbal and maybe therefore generating an immediate understanding and a sense of that what was happening here, was what I unknowingly had hoped for all my life. This was not play-acting. Here were artists being themselves, laying their own lives on the line. It all began with the audience being allowed to just concentrate on one man, standing there in silence in attention on his spot for what seemed to be an eternity, before the lights came up and the racket of a marching army broke loose to the purposefully orchestrated shouts of other performers, who exclaimed every word printed on a U.S. Dollar note. And it all made sense to me! It instantly revealed the dehumanized automatic behavior the military imposes on its soldiers with money as the driving force behind it. And there I sat, this eighteen year old lad, bobbing my head to the rhythm of the play, and saying “Yeah!” Suddenly all of the noise and movement died down and a fellow, after pantomiming the closing of an imaginary door behind him, shouted out some incomprehensible gibberish at the troupe standing in attention before him, and what did they do? They put all of their frustration into a loud, but still subservient “Yes, Sir!”
Antigone: la sepoltura di Polinice.
Darkness and a wholesome silence then came over the theatre and in this silence the warm and tender voice of a woman sitting in the audience, gently picking an ever flowing melody on her guitar, opened the doors to everyone’s imagination, allowing the listeners to dive deep into the source of its golden tones and created a sense of safe haven. And then, many, many tiny little lights slowly moved across the stage, innumerable incense sticks carried by the performers, stimulating the sense of smell. Soon they came off the stage and joined the audience sitting down amongst us. An aesthetically enormously fascinating appearance of a man took a seat downstage, lighting a candle and proclaiming “Street-songs”. Stop the war! Ban the bomb! Abolish the state! Abolish money! Open the doors to all the prisons! Change the world! And so on. And voices around me began to respond, echo or repeat what the man said, until a whole chorus of performers and audience had formed to proclaim these demands together.
Until that moment I had not known that one could even say such things, but instantly realized that it was right and true. Yes, I had suddenly caught a glimpse of what might be possible if we were all true, through and through.
The rest of the play brought yet more harmony, then broke out in nonverbal banter and eventually yielded to one sound and movement that all of the performers appeared to agree upon to want to do together. But as joyful as this play had become by now, so shockingly painful did it appear to end. Performers, more and more disquieted by hidden causes, crawled under seemingly unbearable cramps and bodily distortions between the rows of seats in the theatre, screaming in pain to eventually die pitifully among the audience. Thoughts about the horrors of the gas chambers came to my mind. Some performers got up again to carry the dead together in a pile on stage. Deeply touched and in awe of a regained sense of reality, we the audience applauded, well knowing that on this evening we were all confronted by an inescapable truth.
All the while during the play I couldn’t resist the thought that, given the opportunity, I could also do what these artists were doing. However, all the artistic endeavors I had engaged in during my young life until then, seemed to fade in face of these Mysteries and Smaller Pieces. This was more than just ordinary theatre. This was a conscious attempt at changing the world.
Learning about the Living Theatre
Following my first encounter with the Living Theatre, I spent a few months getting to know better some of the members of the company and found out more about the history of this extraordinary community of theatre artists. I learned about the beginnings in Judith Malina and Julian Becks living-room, the Cherry Lane Theatre and all about 14th Street, their collaborations with John Cage, Jackson Mac Low, The Brig, the Midnight Cabaret which often took place on the Brig-set after the show, the artists who would perform there, ranging from Bob Dylan to Miles Davis, I heard about Moondog, Tiny Tim and Lenny Bruce, about the occupation of the theatre, Judith and Julian’s trial, the exile, how Mysteries and Smaller Pieces originated and their production of Jean Genet’s The Maids. And slowly I began to realize the significance of this troupe.
I began to arrange my life around the performance schedule of the Living Theatre, so that I could follow them from town to town whenever possible, to see all the plays in their repertory. And about a year after I had first met them, I felt that I was ready to ask to be admitted as probationary apprentice. I heard that the company was in dire need to obtain some laboratory instruments as props for their new version of Frankenstein, which they had begun to rehearse in Reggio Emilia. Would this be my chance? Immediately I hitchhiked to Rome, asked my way through to the next best pertinent manufacturing company, rang the bell and stated my case. Graciously they agreed to let me have some of their rejection laboratory glassware for free and the same afternoon I was back in Reggio Emilia, proudly displaying my acquisitions. My organizational abilities were duly acknowledged, and as the company needed some help in the prop-, stage-managing and lighting department anyway, I was accepted as a probationary member.
Agonia. Bernando Bertolucci, 1967.
Learning about myself
At age sixteen I had decided to turn my back on society, because society generally stood for values and mechanisms which, for large parts, I couldn’t possibly agree with. I had become a loner, not really ever wanting to be part of something that I couldn’t wholeheartedly and fully agree with. And now, barely two years later, I was about to give up this lone-wolf existence to integrate into a community founded on nonviolence, respect for the individual, caring for each other, empathy, compassion, not just pointing at what was wrong with the world but also steadily trying to figure out what to about it, and a work that reflected these values at every step. And once I had accepted the fact that although I may have agreed with all these ideals, I nevertheless still knew very little about how to implement them on a day to day basis, my ability to learn excelled rapidly. Knowing about something wasn’t the same as really knowing it, and I wanted to know it all. The Living Theatre became the university for me which I had always been looking for, one that brought me up to date with the state of the art of life. Once I would have caught up with all the achievements of the past, then at least in my mind, it would also have the right to expect me to take on the task of carrying on the work. And so I shamelessly inquired about everything thinkable until it all made sense to me. This must have been close to annoying for some of my new friends and co-workers, but it soon fulfilled its purpose and allowed me to develop into a somewhat more valuable member of the company. But before I got a real idea of the full range of knowledge all the members of this artistic community were able to impart, there was a lot of work at hand. Frankenstein was being rehearsed. Had Mysteries and Smaller Pieces opened up my mind to unknown possibilities, and had The Brig shown me how a good look at a cruel reality can change my perspective on a lot of things which otherwise might have gone by me unnoticed, and had The Maids suddenly made me aware of my ignorance of the dangers of servitude, so exceeded Frankenstein all my greatest hopes and at the same time made me confront my worst fears.
When a large number of people expect a woman to just simply levitate for them, and she fails to do so, and they bury her alive because she did not live up to their expectations, and everyone who sides with her gets executed in one form or another, than you’ve just witnessed the beginning of Frankenstein. Sound familiar? Isn’t this something that’s still going on all over the world? Small wonder, that the eminent Doctor is compelled to ask how we can end human suffering. And how does he go about? Using parts, which already in the past have proven insufficient, he constructs his solution. Careful not to miss anything important, he makes sure that his new creature gets all the information available to mankind induced during phases of dream. But what rude awakening would await that creature, when all of the historic achievements it learned about meant nothing to the people it encountered, and they turned against what they perceived to be a monster? The creature, now endowed with knowledge and power, imprisons all its opponents, and when these try to break out, they burn the prison down and vanquish in the flames. What a vicious cycle indeed that keeps going on and on until we learn how to transform it.
Helping with the building and the preparation of props, the construction of the set, running lights and watching the members of the troupe engage in scenic improvisations, seeing how they developed and revised these until they would find collective approval, I learned how to yield to the requirements of every given moment. The tensions caused by the shocking reality of the executions and the excitement of the physical and vocal dynamics of the “Automation Collage” during the first act of Frankenstein, dissolved in the beauty of the dream sequences of the second act. Mythology had come alive with Icarus and Daedalus, Europa and Ariadne, Jove and Theseus the hero, Siddhartha Gautama withstood Yasodhara’s veil and became a Buddha. And I was in the midst of it all.
And then the inevitable happened. The actor who had taken on the roles of Icarus, Buddha and Wisdom in the second act fell ill just before the first public dress-rehearsal, for which the mayor of Reggio Emilia was expected, who had been kind enough to provide a rehearsal hall for the Living Theatre. And so I was put through the paces of learning a part in two days’ time, and, to my own surprise did not succumb to the pressure at first. Everyone was extremely supportive of me and one leading member of the company even attested me to have talent for “this kind of work”. The public dress rehearsal went well, but we still had a long way to go before this production would be as tight as it became by the time, when it managed to overwhelm just about every audience in Europe and in the U.S.A. However, to see members of the audience at first uncertain and then shocked and fascinated at the same time, and to later become absolutely enthusiastic with appreciation due to the impulses the play had given to them, and the feelings which were prompted by these impulses in turn stirring their desire to inquire what changes an individual or what transformations a society would have to go through to end the vicious cycle of violence and misuse of power in this world, that was enough for me to know how privileged I was to have been given the opportunity to do that kind of work.
Living with the “Living”
Luckily getting by on just a little or no money at all had never been a big problem for me before, and had someone asked me if the members of the Living Theatre got at least a little money for all the work they did, it would have been easy to say “Yes, very, very little!” But our work was not about earning money. Everyone in the group seemed to have the deep conviction to want to give something back to those who suffered because of other people’s privileges. And behind the beauty of the Living Theatre’s charismatic appearances there was also the doorway to a deep hurt and a profound sadness or, as Judith Malina called it, an “enormous despair”. Individual or collective joy and oftentimes happiness was almost always accompanied by the certainty, that at this very same moment in time, someone was dying of hunger or being persecuted for whatever, like one’s beliefs, gender or ethnicity. Frivolity could not strike roots here and even good fun, although thoroughly celebrated and enjoyed as temporary release, would seldom have the chance to overstay its welcome. Had my attention once centered on my own affectivity or wellbeing, so would the work and the needs of the people around me now take over that priority. My purposely not taking things as seriously as they actually were, soon had to be replaced by the veritable acceptance of the fact, that my optimistic happy go lucky approach to my peer’s problems could hardly solve these. I learned to listen and understand before wanting to be understood. And soon I began to realize that it was not my answers that made the big difference to others, but the answers they would find within themselves.
As the theatre could not afford to just rehearse new productions; it also had to tour the old ones in between; for me a chance to play in Mysteries or help with The Brig. And after almost every performance there evolved a discussion with those in the audience, who chose to remain for a while. Julian Beck and Judith Malina, would sit at the edge of the stage, sometimes joined by others of the group and they would all patiently answer questions, explain backgrounds and reasons how things came to be the way they were, sometimes also inquiring what a questioner would think her-or himself about something to guide us all towards finding the answers. Julian’s specialty was to bring everything into a larger perspective so as to allow the subject-matter to then be found in its proper place, truly a very helpful guide for a better understanding. And Judith could reason like no one else I knew. If there was even the smallest discrepancy in someone’s opinion, she could immediately point it out, question its validity and take a stand. People were fascinated by the clarity brought to their inquiries and once word had gotten out about that, more and more people attended these after-show-sessions. I guess a temporary cult around us evolved because of Judith and Julian’s brilliant ability in touching people’s profoundest desires for change on the one hand, and the unusual attractiveness of the liberating dynamics of a well-functioning theatrical community as a living example for all kinds of comprehensible positive social transformations on the other.
And then there was life within the company. Living and working together required a special sensitivity towards one another. Tolerance alone would not suffice, the ability to cope with different points of view was essential. Differences were generally discussed until a consensus could be reached. If this was not possible right away, there was at least always the binding communal understanding that everyone had come together for a good reason and that trying to make the world a better place required more then to give up in the face of adversity. Whenever interpersonal relations came to such a disturbing impasse that the work would be in danger of not being able to be continued to go on in a healthy fashion, a person most afflicted by the incident, could ask for a “Community-Call”. It had been decided beforehand, that should anyone call for this modern day reconciliation ritual, everyone would have to attend to it immediately. Sometimes it could be agreed upon to postpone it to a more suitable time, but more often it would take place right away. The conflict then was brought to everyone’s attention and collectively and individually acknowledged. Even if sometimes there was no immediate solution to the problem, the harmonious order between all involved could be reestablished simply because the communal support prompted a strong feeling to belong. While society outside our creative community would in case of seemingly irreparable damages or irreconcilable differences generally resort to power games resulting in repressive and punitive measures against a weaker party, so attempted the Living Theatre to achieve a reconciliatory understanding, especially as everyone involved mostly turned out to be equally responsible anyway, for whatever differences had occurred. Our success in finding ways to live and work with one another in openness and honesty strongly furthered the belief that we could help create a path for others to tread on as well.
The beginning of the so called “Golden Age” of the Living Theatre
There was a time when having received a positive review by a theatre critic would cause the Living Theatre to seriously question itself where it had failed. Now its popularity had grown and more and more people openly praised our work. A revolution of desire had taken hold of the spirit of students and intellectuals in Europe, and thankfully it was still a couple of years before the time when political fractions would co-opt this divine development to favor their own narrow ideologies. Many felt that the Living Theatre was the avant-garde of a peaceful and beautiful social movement to come. Doors to societal events suddenly opened for the company-members and most of us took every opportunity to speak about the necessity to stop the war and change the world. I remember Sean Flynn (Errol Flynn’s son, the photo-journalist who later sadly was reported missing in Vietnam) inviting some of us to a party at the flat of a Time Magazine journalist in Paris in 1967. The party was intended as reception for the wives of a number of U.S. generals. And there I was, flowing long hair, clad all in red and black, telling these poor women about the horrors of war and that it was their responsibility to get their husbands to stop the slaughter of innocent people in Vietnam on both sides, and having them in tears before our host realized that his party had just been hijacked by a non-violent activist he first thought to be only some actor. To avoid further disturbances he ordered an attractive Chinese-American lady to distract me long enough to smooth things out again. Later that evening he threatened to kill me if I didn’t leave right away.
Earlier that year we had opened Antigone in Krefeld, Germany. Frankenstein had a set that required a gigantic two-story iron pipe structure, with a hundred colored lights and innumerable props, Antigone only a bare stage and white lights. All was to be embodied by the performers, with the entire cast on stage during the whole play. As it turned out, an absolute innovation in modern theatre. From the prologue, during which the performers casted the audience in the role of the enemy troupes who later would turn out to be victorious, until the end of the play, there was no stop to the action. The cast was divided into elders and people, moving across the stage in ever changing formations, Hieronymus Bosch-like exaggerations of facial expressions and bodily contortions rolling and hammering away, juxtaposed with a concise and deeply human, feeling- and sorrowful Antigone. I got to be Polyneikes, whose nonviolent rebellion caused him to be executed during the prologue and remain lying dead on stage for the remainder of the play, being resurrected only once to walk triumphantly over the tyrant, almost so as if floating through the air. The play did become a big success once the audiences had gotten past the fact that a completely new form of physical theatre and an equally new staging and acting technique would not harm the imperative content of either Sophocles’ or Brecht’s Antigone.
The recent cycle of plays by the Living Theatre had successfully made people feel the need for social change. Now the time had come to tackle some of the questions that went hand in hand with such an aspiration.
One company member, Jenny Hecht, had voiced a strong desire for a “Joy-play”. A piece that might give expression to the joy of living as experienced within the Living Theatre. Although not altogether sure that this was exactly the content of the collective creation we were about to embark on, we nevertheless were full of hope that whatever we would come up with would certainly satisfy everyone’s feelings and desires. The title Paradise Now could quickly be agreed upon, to find out exactly what this would imply, turned out to be a slightly longer process. In Cefalu, at the local Club Méditerranée which was gifted us during the off-season, we experimented with a number of newly conceived group exercises, intended to bring us closer to the idea of a paradisial state of being. Judith and Julian meanwhile worked on a map that would guide through the transformations an individual and consequently a society would have to go through in order to unify the physical and the spiritual within a person and to create social and political conditions imperative for nonviolent revolution and permanent change. Once the map was fixed, we were able to aim our improvisations more adequately towards creating the various different experiences we found were necessary to be shared with our audiences. Later in Avignon, Karen and Peter Weiss, two dancers who had studied with the formidable Anna Halprin, the expert on moving-ritual and dance as a healing art, joined us and were able to add further elements to our internal workshops. The concept of the play turned out to be the most revolutionary to have been seen as of yet and the range of experiences we went through during its creation was astounding. Be it by working our ways through metaphysical jungles as creatures of our own phantasy, or through extending our senses way beyond their normal reach, in experiencing one’s own approach of physical death only to consciously climb an evolutionary ladder from a molecule to a cell, rising from an unconscious organism to a thought creating human being, from a fearful individual to a person trusting not only in its own inexplicable ability to survive, but also in the synergies generated by a community unified in its purpose. All in all, we were well on the way to prepare ourselves for an effective exploration of all known or unknown solutions together with our audiences. And by opening night we had miraculously established all the rituals to prompt all the visions to be enacted by the performers which would then allow us and the audience to plan collective actions together and bring us eight steps closer to a permanent beautiful nonviolent anarchist revolution.
Paradise Now also taught me that being swept along in a collective process, as well intended as it might be, can easily cause all sorts of misunderstandings. Strong feelings can lead to very passionate attitudes which in turn could easily be mistaken for expressions of self-righteousness. During the action parts of the play, performers and members of the audience would sometimes engage in wild arguments and mutual recriminations. The sensory feeling-tone often turned extremely aggressive and had it not been for the superb cyclic structure of our play, it could all have easily gone completely array. But as each action part was followed by another ritual and vision, what may have appeared to be discussions almost at the brink of violence, were always sovereignly channeled back into a flow of harmonious ritual behavior. And so everyone attending a performance of Paradise Now had the chance to catch a solid glimpse of the possibilities of transformation.
With Paradise Now the Living Theatre had not only provided the frame for a greater coming together of actors and audience by completely lifting the barrier between stage and auditorium, but it had also created the possibility for a guided merging of action and awareness beyond the limits of theatre. The proclamation at the end of the play, that the theatre was in the street, implied that the experiences gained in Paradise Now should be taken out into the street to be shared with everyone. Also, that those specific actions which performers and people of the audience might have planned during the play to take place outside the theatre, could either be organized or spontaneously carried out together.