Below, you can read extracts from Peter’s play and see photographs from the final rehearsal and our reading at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, in September 2015. If you would like to read the full play or discuss performance rights, please contact Laura (firstname.lastname@example.org) and she will put you in touch with Peter.
Extract 1: The opening of the play
January 1990. The rehearsal room of a provincial theatre in the German Democratic Republic – East Germany. Two actors, script in hand, wait for the Director and the Dramaturg. The Stage Manager is setting out chairs. He exits. The moment he is out of the door, the actor speaks.
ACTOR Well? Say something! Come on !
ACTRESS I waited for you for over an hour.
(hesitates, overcoming her acted upset)
ACTOR Nobody asked you to wait.
ACTRESS Then I went to your flat. And there you were. With her.
(pause) You wanted to get caught.
ACTOR That’s ridiculous.
ACTRESS Why didn’t you go to her flat? Whoever she is. You do know who she is? Do you?
ACTOR I don’t have to answer to you.
ACTRESS You don’t have to do anything. I got the message.
ACTOR Can you hear yourself?
ACTRESS Yes. I’m disgusting.
ACTOR Oh, please! (looks at her) Look…we talked about this…our relationship…Exclusivity is not the modern way…
ACTRESS Yes, we did…and I agreed with every word you said. I actually thought I believed….
She starts to cry
ACTOR Oh…Really? You’re really going to do this now?
ACTRESS I know. It’s all such a cliche. Every word out of our mouths is exhausted…I don’t how we can bear to hear ourselves.
ACTOR Then we shouldn’t say anything. Just be glad no one’s listening in to our conversations anymore. Just be grateful that no one gives a fuck.
The scene finishes. They relax.
ACTOR Good. Thanks.
(she smiles) Do you want to run over that again?
ACTRESS No. That’s…fine.
ACTOR ..it’s shit…Isn’t it? It’s shit! Don’t say anything…just forget it….
ACTOR …I just can’t concentrate…I can’t…Don’t say anything to…just forget about it…all right? Wanker! Fucking wanker!
ACTRESS Everything’s so weird. So quiet.
(pause) Anton? Did you see his face when he let us in.
ACTOR I didn’t notice.
ACTRESS He wouldn’t look at us. Like he was ashamed.
ACTOR Maybe he’s got something to be ashamed of. We don’t know, do we? We don’t know who’s who. We don’t know anything…
ACTRESS Where is everybody? Where’s the others?
ACTOR Maybe they didn’t call anybody else. Maybe everyone else…Maybe you and me are it. Maybe we’re the only ones stupid enough to be here…This is what’s left of the ensemble.
A door opens in the auditorium. The Director and the Dramaturg enter through the audience.
DIRECTOR Should we make an entrance, do you think?
DRAMATURG No. Let the audience discover us. In our place of work… It’s not like every other year. Actually, I think I prefer this. Let them see us in our place of work.
DIRECTOR (to the actors) Good morning, Rolf, Good morning, Anita. Thank you for coming in.
(to the Dramaturg) I don’t know if I like it. This is such a special room…I don’t know if I want to be looked at in here.
(to the Actors as well as the Dramaturg) It’s not that I believe in protecting the magic of the theatre…I do not believe in hiding the machinery…But we go out there to show them what we’ve done in here…and there is always…I have always felt a sense of loss…the moment we do. Out there, it’s as if the world as it is…with all of its…lies and compromises…contaminates the work. In a rehearsal room, one can behave, perhaps, for a while, for a few weeks…as if we were already living in a better world.
ACTOR We are.
DRAMATURG What was that?
DIRECTOR What do you want me to look at this morning?
DRAMATURG I thought we’d run through a couple of scenes from “The Fire Sermon.” Select one…or two…for the public sharing this afternoon.
ACTOR Is that all? Excuse me again…but…there’s no one else here to say this…There are…five shows in the repertoire…Or have things changed again?
ACTRESS Yes, I…
DIRECTOR Yes, Anita?
ACTRESS Rolf’s right. It would be good to know…what parts we should learn…for the season.
DIRECTOR Yes. Yes, well as you know, Anita…Rolf…
She looks to the Dramaturg, who jumps in.
DRAMATURG Nothing has changed. We felt very strongly that the strongest message we can get across in the season announcement this afternoon…is that we are embracing the new…that we will present the East German premiere of The Fire Sermon…and this is why we only have the two of you here with us this morning. There’s little new to be said about The Broken Jug…
ACTOR If we’ve time, then I have some ideas. New ideas…for a project.
This is outrageous. The dramaturg looks daggers at him. The director blinks.
DIRECTOR Do you?
ACTOR Yes. I do. Perhaps we can discuss them.
Extract 2: The Fire Sermon
The director and dramaturg sit. The actor and actress now rehearse a reading from the play “The Fire Sermon.” In the scene, Oskar Brüsewitz is talking to an Angel. The transition should be seamless.
ACTOR Everything is a love story eventually. Every story is about people choosing to care or not to care for each other…finding out that they do, or that they don’t. Every story is about that.
ACTRESS Every story that starts with the words “every story “ is a lie. It’s your story. It’s not my story. Your story doesn’t tell me who “I” am…or “we” are…You don’t speak for “us” You aren’t telling us who we are. I saw you. I don’t love you. I saw you…outside the church. You did that to me. You made me look. What was that about?
ACTOR I dunno.
ACTRESS You didn’t do it in your house. You didn’t even do it in the church. You drove up to outside the Church and you parked in front. You opened the door of your car. I knew you a little from when I went to church when I was young. So I noticed you. You opened the door of your beaten up old car. And you put a sign I couldn’t read on the roof… And you reached behind you to the passenger seat and you brought out this can of petrol…I didn’t know it was petrol till you poured it on yourself and I could smell it. I couldn’t move. Not many people had noticed yet. I didn’t say anything. Did you see me?
ACTRESS Did you see anyone else?
ACTOR I wasn’t really looking. I wasn’t wearing my glasses.
ACTRESS The children? The people with their dogs. The men coming off night shift. The fruit stall?
ACTOR No. I was waiting for the bells.
ACTRESS What bells?
ACTOR I was waiting for them to start ringing the church bells. For the funeral.
ACTRESS You waited for the bells?
ACTRESS You know that makes you sound crazy?
ACTOR They already thought I was crazy. That’s why they suspended me. I was the one who had been supposed to conduct the funeral in the church that morning. It was a friend of mine who’d died. But I had been suspended from my pastoral duties until further notice.
ACTRESS I didn’t hear any bells.
ACTOR I did. I thought I did. No…I must have done because I was waiting to hear them before I poured the petrol on myself. It was a joke.
ACTRESS What was a joke?
ACTOR Waiting for the bells for the funeral I wasn’t allowed to conduct…to conduct my OWN cremation.
He laughs a little. She looks away. Pause.
ACTRESS I looked away in case you were really going to do what I was afraid you were going to do. And then there was this…flash of heat and that little lapping sound like a wave on a quiet beach. The light changed. It went orange. And I looked back and saw you. You were standing there. Looking puzzled. Head to foot on fire.
ACTOR I had meant to sit down.
ACTRESS I saw you hesitate standing in your pond of flame. It looked like you were thinking about something. You looked confused. Like you’d forgotten your keys…I saw your face quite clearly. Did you see me?
ACTOR I saw someone.
ACTRESS It was me. I was looking at you. I was the only one close. I had a green T shirt and a floppy old hat.
ACTOR I remember.
ACTRESS You turned away, suddenly, toward the church. You were shouting. I thought you might be shouting at someone. There was no one there.
ACTOR Maybe I was shouting for God. Maybe I was finding him at last.
ACTRESS I don’t know. You didn’t sound like someone who was finding God.
ACTOR Was I afraid? Was I in pain? Could you tell?
ACTRESS You started running…What were you running from? The fire? You couldn’t run from the fire. It was all over you like a second skin. Boiling, rolling. You were screaming. Did you hear yourself?
ACTOR I don’t remember. I remember not wanting anyone to help me. And not wanting anyone to get hurt. I can’t remember if that was what I thought before…or…
ACTRESS Do you know WHAT you were screaming? Did you evoke the teachings of Martin Luther? Did you attempt to offer a dialectical critique of actually existing socialism?
ACTOR I don’t know. You heard me. Perhaps I called to Jesus.
ACTRESS You were screaming “me.” “Meeeeee!” “Me.” That’s all.
ACTOR I felt love…
ACTRESS I felt…horror…at what people can do to themselves…And alive…curiously. Watching you die reminded me of life. I thought about me. Just like you were thinking about you. How you existed, finally, in that moment. Differently. More. As something…I don’t know…
ACTOR I don’t know if I knew what I was doing. But I felt something…Maybe that was enough…if you felt something too…
ACTRESS Do you want to know what it said about you in the papers?
They relax. The scene finished.
DIRECTOR Good. Thank you.
ACTRESS Did this really happen?
DIRECTOR A Lutheran pastor in Zeitz set fire to himself in the car park outside his church…in protest against the indoctrination of school children…that’s what the Sign on his car rood said…He put the Sign on top of his car roof then he set light to himself.
DRAMATURG I think the story has a good deal of potential for the audience here…because it’s never been performed here in the East, obviously…
DIRECTOR Back then…the Church was a way of organising people…being opposed but not opposed…you understand?
DIRECTOR Of course.
ACTRESS When was this? The suicide?
DIRECTOR 197…6…was it?
(looks at Dramaturg)
DRAMATURG 76…yes…From what I remember, the direct inspiration for Brüsewitz came from images we’d all seen on television over and over again…A Buddhist monk in Saigon…in Vietnam…set fire to himself in protest against the Americans and their puppet regime…What was uncanny in the pictures was that the monk seemed to be sitting…absolutely calmly…as if the inferno that engulfed him…you could see the flames almost caress his skull…as if he were entirely at peace…Perhaps he’d already died of shock sitting up…who knows…anyway…the image was quite haunting..I thought we might…for the poster…
(to the Director) Would you like to…hear some more?
ACTOR And this play was written…here…for here? Originally?
DRAMATURG Well, no…one of our actors…
ACTOR Daniel Bergander…
DRAMATURG Yes…Daniel was an actor here…he’d written a few things…and he…wrote this…in 1978. But it wasn’t FOR here…
ACTOR You never performed it…
DRAMATURG My dear fellow…of course we didn’t…We couldn’t possibly have programmed anything like this…Daniel knew that…he didn’t expect…
ACTOR But he lost his job, didn’t he? He was kicked out of the Ensemble. He was arrested…
DIRECTOR Strictly speaking…it was for other political activity that he…
ACTOR You sacked him.
DIRECTOR There was nothing we could do.
ACTOR There is something you could have done.
DRAMATURG What? We could have joined in with his martyrdom? What would that have achieved?
DIRECTOR In any case…performing his play…now…is a gesture…we hope…of forgiveness…not for him…for us.
DRAMATURG I wouldn’t go that far, Hannelore!
(she looks at him) Well…I suppose.
The writer enters unseen and listens.
ACTOR Does he know? that you’re planning to use his play…
DRAMATURG Of course he does. We were in contact with his agent…
ACTOR His play…that you banned…
DIRECTOR It wasn’t banned…exactly…things didn’t work like that.
DRAMATURG We never banned the play…we didn’t dismiss him either…His contract with the Ensemble wasn’t renewed…You don’t understand how these things were done…The play was never put forward for production…so…it was never suppressed. It just wasn’t considered. Besides, it became very successful in the West, so…in the end…
ACTOR There was no censorship? Is that what you’re saying?
DRAMATURG We always tried very hard not to let things get that far. There was never any point in causing a fuss.
WRITER (entering fully) There was never any censorship in the German Democratic Republic. There were helpful preemptive discussions. Between comrades.
DIRECTOR Daniel…My God.
WRITER Hello, Hannelore…May I come in?
DIRECTOR We were discussing earlier whether we should make an entrance. You are such an old queen.
WRITER You know me.
Extract 3: Informants
The actor and the actress improvise for the writer and the dramaturg. She speaks directly to the latter two.
ACTRESS I volunteered. They didn’t have to ask me. It was the right thing to do.
ACTOR What was the right thing to do?
ACTRESS Collaborate. Unofficially.
ACTOR With…you mean..with the Stasi!?
ACTRESS I did think it was a funny thing to call it, though. “Unofficially”…when we all took an oath and everything. It was like with everything else. We pretended that there was no spying because there were no spies. We were not paid wages… just expenses…we were given presents sometimes…we weren’t “employed”…so it wasn’t really a job…so we weren’t really spies. It’s funny, isn’t it? They pretended. And I pretended I wanted to protect socialism from its enemies. I pretended to believe them when they told me that sometimes the enemies of socialism didn’t actually KNOW that’s what they were. That they were ill and it was my job to protect them…these people…from themselves…like they were sick…like they were patients and I was a nurse…or they were pupils and I was a teacher…Anyway…We made my reports to my case officer…every month…
ACTOR And were you…were you guided? Did they tell you who to…spy on?
ACTRESS (ignores him, telling the writer) Actually, I used to quite look forward to it. It was like having a special friend…you know…someone you could tell everything. Everything you were worried about. It was like having a therapist…like a rich person in the West who has a therapist…who listens. They pretended not to be anyone… to being just a friend…but it was a bit odd…meeting your friend in different places every month…Like sometimes it was in a hotel…sometimes in his car…or in some stranger’s apartment…It was…it felt…almost naughty…you know…like an affair…in fact I bet you lots of people had affairs…I bet you it did get a bit sexy sometimes…secret meetings…I suppose if anyone caught you, you could say you were just …fucking…you weren’t reporting on anyone…you were just fucking…No…I liked it. I used to look forward to it.
ACTOR What did you tell them….about me?
The actress smiles. The writer applauds.
WRITER That was excellent…
ACTOR Anita, that was brilliant. You nearly convinced me that you were a spy! (to the writer) You see, that’s my idea. That we put a show on where people just talk…you know…about their experiences…improvise…like Anita just did…make stuff up that sounds real…you know? a kind of Fear and Misery in the GDR…Like the Brecht play, Anita…you know?…like we do a scene like the Chalk Cross…only it’s about a girlfriend and boyfriend not in Nazi Times but right here, right now…you know…where they suddenly look at each other and wonder….you know…whether or not every time they fight or fall out about something…the other one is reporting on them to the Police…you know..like it’s almost funny…it’s just part of the fabric of life. And I had another idea…because…you said…in that interview…those interviews you did…that when you were taken to the prison….they came for you in a disguised grocery van…and I thought…that’s brilliant! A grocery van…and it gets stuck at the lights…or it has engine trouble or something…and these chaps who’ve arrested you..who’ve raided your apartment…and dragged you out of bed and put the blanket over your head and crashed you down the stairs and into the back of this pretend grocery van…they find themselves having to deal with all these very angry really scary old women, you know…demanding cabbages…and maybe they even have to sell them cabbages…or the scene…the scene in the Fire Sermon…where Brüsewitz…where Brüsewitz makes all those phone calls…to the friends he hasn’t spoken to for years..and he says nothing…you know…just passes the time of day and you can tell the friend on the other end is really puzzled, thinking, why is this guy calling me, you know? and then he phones his boss and he has to leave a message…and he tells him he forgives him…and then he phones his ex wife back in the West and he tells her that he loves her…and you realize suddenly, just suddenly, that he’s phoning them all to say goodbye…he’s going to kill himself soon…and you know that…the audience know that…because of the rest of the play…and then…right?…at the end…of the scene..he finishes talking to his ex-wife and he puts the phone down…and then he picks it up again…and he doesn’t dial…he just talks…he starts talking because he KNOWS they’re listening…he knows the phone is bugged…He just picks up the phone and says…I know you’re there…right? I know you’re listening…and I’m going to show you something…you bastards…I’m going to light a fire…
WRITER Yes..I remember…I did write that…
ACTOR It was from “The Jewish Wife” wasn’t it…it was from Brecht…I didn’t think of that till just now, but you were doing a pastiche of that scene from Fear and Misery in the Third Reich. So maybe we could use that scene as part of the show…we could get lots of different writers to do it…you know? So it would be like a collective…memory, a collective statement saying this is what it was like, and you don’t have to accept just one voice…there would be lots of different voices saying this is what it was like…And the great thing is…I mean, the theatre is in real trouble because we don’t know about the staff…we don’t know how many actors we’ve got… and funders…we don’t even know if we’ve got an ensemble anymore…but with this idea, we can do it anywhere…we can do it in cafes or in the street at a phone box..it can be living theatre…it can be site specific…it can really be free…like…maybe this is is a prison too…the theatre…maybe the theatre restricts our thinking…maybe it’s too cosy, too bourgeois…maybe we should get out there in the street and confront reality with reality, you know?
WRITER We could film it.
ACTOR We could film it! Because that never happened here, you know…that whole New Wave thing where you could just take a small film crew and a small cast and go out and just make films…you could never do that here…it’s really exciting. What do you think? Professor? I think there are real possibilities…for something new…that’s why I came in this morning…we can make something new, here and now…not like the East. Not like the West. Something new.
Pause. No one knows what to say. Then the actress thinks of something.
ACTRESS Once, when I was about 14…I stood up in a school assembly..and I criticized my Mum and Dad…When they were students, they had been Christian activists…like your Brüsewitz, Daniel…they had started their own peace group outside the official peace group…handed out leaflets…you know? And…well, they never got to finish their teacher training…and I…Years later, it was made clear to me that the education system…has a long memory…and that if I wanted to get my High School Certificate…I’d better show them I was loyal…so I did…My parents and I had a conversation at breakfast about it…and we agreed that’s what I should do…so I stood up in the School Assembly one year…when they gave me a prize for drama…and I denounced them. My parents. While they were sitting there. And everyone was embarrassed, of course, even the teachers…but they all knew why I was doing it…or they could guess. I was defending socialism so that I could get on in life. Because that’s what you do…did…in order to look after number one…you lied about the community…and how much it meant to you. But look at me…it worked…I got to college and I’m here now…I’m an actor….and Mum and Dad come to every show. And they’re very proud.
ACTOR I never knew any of that.
ACTRESS Well, you’re not exactly inquisitive, are you?
ACTOR But…the scene at breakfast, right…that morning…before the prize giving…when the parents encourage the daughter to denounce them…that would be…Do you mind if we use that?
ACTRESS (to Writer) Why not? I mean…nothing is really our own, is it? No one’s story really just belongs to them. Everything is…there’s nothing that can’t be said…
(to actor, indicating the writer) maybe talk to him about writing it for you…
Extract 4: The Dramaturg and the Writer
DIRECTOR Ladies and gentlemen. I apologise…that you have been brought here today under the impression that we would be holding our usual…annual preview for the public. And for the friends of the theatre. Well…It seems that a lot of our friends…are otherwise engaged. Of course…the event has been advertised…and presumably there are some people left who might come…so I will stay and talk to people in the foyer…once they get here. But…I’m afraid it is impossible to announce a season that we have no means of knowing…today..will ever really happen. We cannot make any projections of box office income…or of continued state or municipal support. So it would be irresponsible of me…to go on as if we could. I am asking you…to be patient…and to await further…news…
ACTRESS Are you telling us to go home?
ACTRESS All of us?
DIRECTOR All of us…need to consider our own…situations.
DRAMATURG (indicates writer) Look at him. Look at him sitting there. Grinning at us. Is this why you came? Are you here to mock us? Have you and your friends started conversations…?
WRITER What conversations?
DRAMATURG In the West. (to the others) You don’t think they haven’t talked about coming here…stripping our assets…taking our talent…taking over our theatres with their musicals and American shit… (to the writer) Will you be undertaking the educational work we do? The farm tours? The workshops and performances in factories? Will you? Or will you just lay turds of Cats and Miserables…Going on and on forever like some fascist fantasy of art…all tasteful and pastoral and nothing…like a fucking Disney film?
WRITER What are you talking about? I’m a German theatre artist…no one is as willfully obscure and uncommercial as I am!
DRAMATURG How long will that last? Do you think? How long are your capitalist masters going to keep on paying you to be “artists”? Now we’re gone…now you no longer have to show the world that you’re better than us? How long will they pay for your health services…your hospitals and old people’s homes…now that we’re not there to scare them into it…now that they will no longer have to prove they’re better for the working class than we are? Why the hell do you think you’ve got free schools and services…subsidized culture…in the West? It’s because of us. Well it won’t last for long. How long do you think they’ll let your democracy stand in the way of their profits? Now that we’re not there, how long do you think it will take for them to start choosing between their profits and your welfare? It already happens in the third world, doesn’t it? Governments get overthrown to protect the shareholders and the banks? How long before it happens in Europe? How long before it happens here? And the Yanks won’t stay virtuous. Before you know it the sky will be dark with Yankee bombers and missiles stealing what’s left of the world. Just you wait.
(they stare) This was not a prison, Hannelore…it was not! We went on our holidays to Cuba!
WRITER In the meantime, Hannelore…I’m very happy to offer the rights in my play “The Fire Sermon” exclusively to this theatre…for a year…and ask for no payment or royalties. Look on it as an act of sentimental solidarity. In the name of the good old days.
DIRECTOR Thank you.
DRAMATURG Hannelore, he’s spitting on you…
WRITER And from what I’ve seen of Rolf and Anita this morning, I’d be very happy for them to play Brüsewitz and the Angel
DIRECTOR Thank you.
DRAMATURG Like Brecht said, a gift to a beggar is nothing but a kick of contempt.
WRITER You talk about me like I’m someone else. As if I don’t know every twist and turn in your spine.
DRAMATURG You weren’t here, Daniel. You don’t know. You think you know about us…but you don’t know…
WRITER I don’t know? I lost my job. I was thrown out! I was locked up and thrown out.
DRAMATURG You were bought out. They bought you out with hard currency. With Yankee dollars paid to the socialist state. You were a grubby little deal they made.
DIRECTOR That is all in the past, Professor.
DRAMATURG It remains a simple fact.
WRITER A simple fact? There are no simple facts. You taught me that.
DRAMATURG I’m glad I taught you something you remember through your fog of privilege.
WRITER Listen to yourself…
DRAMATURG I am proud. Proud of all we achieved here. But there’s no point in talking to you…
WRITER “There is no crime greater than leaving” Brecht said…after he left. Why didn’t you leave? What do you think were you doing here? Explain it to me.
DIRECTOR No! …everyone is overwrought. We’re colleagues here…we don’t want anyone to say something they’ll regret.
ACTRESS I want to hear it. We’re in this room. This is the room where we come to tell the truth. Isn’t it?
ACTOR I want to hear it too. I can use it.
DIRECTOR We come here…with respect…it’s the respect that matters…
DRAMATURG No…it’s all right…
(to the writer) Some of us felt…that the best way to …fight for liberal values…was to stay. To keep things going. To argue carefully…for change …for the slow…process…of change.
WRITER You think you made the harder choice? That it was easier for me? To leave my family? My friends?
DRAMATURG We kept this theatre open. We protected a public, civic space where…and if you had been here last year you’d have seen it…where all of the issues and controversies…could eventually find expression. We compromised…of course…but here an audience could be subtly and safely engaged and provoked…and then, when the time came…these theatres were here…they existed… we were ready. These were the public spaces where we made the revolution.
WRITER Jesus. Can you hear yourself? You are actually taking the credit…?
DRAMATURG Yes. Not all of it. Of course not all of it. But we all played our part.
WRITER Is this how you feel about it, Hannelore? What about you, Rolf? You were the one out in front of the audience…standing out from the crowd…
DIRECTOR We all went on stage. To make the declaration.
WRITER All of you?
WRITER Him too?
DRAMATURG Yes…”him” too.
WRITER Whichever way the wind blows…we bend with the breeze…our business lies in escaping…
STAGE MANAGER I didn’t. I stayed backstage. Some of the crew went out there. They liked it. They liked being out there in front of everyone. I didn’t think it was right.
WRITER You a party man, Anton, still?
STAGE MANAGER I never was a party man. I was a Union man.
WRITER Did you disagree with the declaration?
STAGE MANAGER I don’t know. The country was going to hell. Somebody had to do something. If the Russians weren’t going to do it, I suppose it was inevitable that the West take over.
ACTOR The West aren’t taking over. That’s not what’s happening, Anton.
STAGE MANAGER Aren’t they?
ACTOR No…we have democracy now…so we get to decide our own future. Neither East nor West.
STAGE MANAGER Nowhere, you mean? And in this Nowhere, who maintains the roads? Who builds the apartment blocs? Who works in the factories? Polacks?
ACTOR Let’s not fight about it.
WRITER Let’s not fight. Let’s all pretend that no one has to be sorry for anything. Is that what we’ve decided now? That there is no conflict? No one did anything? No one is to blame? All the crimes are forgotten because all the criminals are dead…what does that remind you of?
DRAMATURG Where do you think…throughout all those years…that the pressure came from that eventually broke these walls? How do you think that happened? Do you think that was the likes of you? Who were already out? Those of you who ran away? You didn’t make the revolution. You went off to make James Bond films… It was us. Here. We did it. The ones you left behind to be a star. Oh, you’re the one they put on television…you’re the celebrity…but don’t you underestimate the common struggle, the shared struggle to get by, to make something decent…The shared struggle….of our people to something meaningful out of socialism, to enhance the real achievements of socialism in this country with the values of individual liberty, of free expression… Don’t look at me like that!
WRITER Christ, you collaborated…that’s what you did…you can’t make that sound heroic! Maybe that’s what you all said to yourselves all those years to make yourselves feel better…but Jesus…Now? Listen to yourselves…you make yourselves sound ridiculous! You…censored our work…in the name of freedom. In the name of protecting this …church of yours…you condemned generations of us to the devil. And for what? To end up humiliated, beaten, talking self justifying nonsense in the rehearsal room of an empty theatre where the heating doesn’t work.
DRAMATURG Don’t you dare…tell me…don’t you dare tell me that it was for nothing…that all I did…to protect you…while you sneered at me and looked down your nose at me…don’t you tell me that all the work, all the begging, the pleading…the degradation…the pandering to thugs and idiots…don’t tell me, standing here in your expensive coat…as a hero of liberty…don’t you tell me that that was all for nothing.
WRITER I’m almost sorry for you. I didn’t expect that.
DRAMATURG Don’t insult me. You’re a child. You know nothing. Nothing of what we came from, what we went through to build this imperfect…defeated… (he rallies) This was cunning, this was what our master taught us, Brecht, this is what he taught us…not to posture like school-children in favour of some ideal of society that never has nor never could exist…he taught us to get by, to slide in between the space…and to play our part as the builders of socialism as something real, something, complex and contradictory….we are not fools…we were not dreamers…we…we did our best…and for 40 years…40 years…we kept our people safe…
WRITER Safe? You kept them safe? It was for nothing and now it’s gone. All of it. 40 years of lies. Of pretending. Of hypocrisy. Of cowardice. Of workers robbed in the name of the workers. Of prison doors slamming in the name of freedom…of miserable, depressing lies that no one believed. Gone. My grandfather was a docker in Stettin, my father was held as a prisoner of war in Russia for ten years after the war, came home on his 43rd birthday, went to his bedroom and died within a month. I was in Chemnitz before they changed the name to Karl Marx Stadt on the 9th of March in 1945 with my mother and my baby sister. We were visiting her sister that night on the edge of the city. If we’d have been at home, we’d have been incinerated in the house or suffocated in the shelter on our street like the 800 other people they dragged out the next day. Don’t talk to me about the collective suffering of the German working class.
DRAMATURG I’ve heard that story. Everyone has heard that story. It’s in all of your interviews for Der Spiegel and the New Yorker. When did your experience…our experience…become just another thing you could sell?
WRITER The moment they bought me out. The moment I crossed the frontier trying desperately to remember the words of this play. The night after night I spent when I first arrived in the West trying to reconstruct the play in my mind…writing it down on pad after pad of hotel letter writing paper…before I forgot…before I forgot this little, petty little world of yours… (to director and dramaturg) I’d learned a lot from both of you…staying just independent enough to be good box office..but never crossing the line…never provoking…or not enough to turn he ugliness of the state on me..on you…on us…on the theatre…so we could keep our little room where we told the truth…where we could respect each other…So I never submitted this play…this play in which I toyed with the idea of heroic sacrifice, of divine madness blowing all of our “reasonable compromises” apart…of a political sacrament… of a gesture made incontrovertible by sacrifice…I played with it…for fun…and I sent it to you. I only made one copy. Just one. And you read it…and you told me I was crazy…but that’s okay because I was only playing…no one was ever going to see…
WRITER But they did see it…didn’t they…? They did see it. How do you think that happened, Professor?
DRAMATURG Are you actually accusing me?
DIRECTOR No…you’re not, Daniel…? It could have been anyone. The offices were regularly searched.
WRITER No. I’m asking you. That’s all. In this room. With respect.
DRAMATURG I deny it. I deny it!
WRITER When I was arrested…when I was bundled into a disguised fruit lorry with no fruit, when I was bundled off the the darkness and the hot lights…and the sleeplessness…when I was told again and again that I was either a spy or I was mentally ill…when grey brutes stood over me when I had shit myself because they wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom..when they stood over me and said that only madness or being a paid agent of West German counter intelligence could possibly explain my deviance…they waved the leaflets I’d been handing out at me…sure…but they waved a copy of that script..that script you’re holding now…in my face…I shouldn’t ask you…now…where they got that?
DRAMATURG Daniel…I understand your anger, but it wasn’t me..you’ve got no reason to be angry with me…
WRITER I’m glad. No, I’m glad…that when they open those archives, when they open up the no doubt meticulously detailed records of the state security apparatus…and we find out who was who and who did what…that I will be re-assured.
DIRECTOR Daniel, everyone who was everyone talked to the Stasi all the time. I talked to them, all the Party and state apparatus. I got them the best seats in the house…I fed them in the canteen. Of course I did. I gave them and their spouses backstage tours. I gave jobs to their star struck daughters and secretly homosexual sons. Of course I did. And I didn’t have the choice…to keep you…or not keep you…I was a contracted member of the ensemble, like you…
DRAMATURG Who do you think it was who kept you out of prison for as long as you kept out of there…? She did. Someone had to talk to them…someone always has to talk to those in charge. Michelangelo talked to the pope when he painted the Sistine Chapel…Someone has to keep all this alive. But I never did what you’re accusing me of doing. I never informed on my friends.
WRITER They didn’t need that from you, then. They already had your belief…in the dream. And you, Hannelore…they had you too…because the theatre mattered too much to you…they had you exactly where they wanted you.
(he smiles, unable to resist a last dig) Next you’ll be saying you were only following orders.
DRAMATURG Hannelore…I’m sorry…We…you…don’t have to be talked to like this…Let us you and I go and discuss the season.
DRAMATURG Tonight, then? After you’re finished dealing with this…business…
DIRECTOR Yes. I’ll see you tonight.
The Dramaturg exits
ACTRESS I think I want to go now too.
DIRECTOR Yes. I’ll be in touch. Don’t worry, we’ll sort something out.
The actress goes to collect her things together
ACTOR Director…I may as well tell you now…I’ve been in conversation…with another theatre. And, as you say yourself…you’re in no position to guarantee employment…
DIRECTOR No, Rolf…don’t feel awkward, I understand. You’ve your career to think of. There’s nothing wrong with that.
ACTOR Don’t be like that. It’s the work I care about. Don’t use ugly words like “career”.
DIRECTOR I apologise.
ACTOR It’s not as if you’re entirely without the stain of careerism, is it? Anyway…Hannelore…it’s been an enormous privilege working with you. I’m sure we’ll meet again. (to Writer) Are you staying at the Rathaus Hotel, Daniel?
ACTOR Perhaps I’ll see you later for a drink. There’s a lot you can teach me.
WRITER Oh, I don’t think there’s all that much you don’t know already.
ACTOR Don’t be modest!
WRITER Where? Where is the theatre?
WRITER Oh well…one has to start somewhere.
ACTOR Anita, are you coming?
ACTRESS What? Are you actually asking me?
ACTOR Suit yourself. You know where I am.
WRITER (to the actor) Actually..there is one more thing I can tell you. The free theatre, my boy…the only theatre that is ever really free…is the theatre that no one goes to…and no one cares about.
The actor exits. The stage manager crosses to the Director. […]