Reality According to Georg

Today's "The Foreigner" rubric (dedicated to actors and directors, who do theatre work in another country, with another mentality, in another language) features Germany's Georg Genoux, who spent virtually all of his adult life in Russia, a good fifteen years.  

His name is tied to the creation of three Moscow theatres. First was Teatr.Doc, then came the Joseph Beuys Theatre (that German artist was convinced that any human activity, any story can become an artistic event), and, finally, the Fourth Theatre, whose productions are based on the archives of the Memorial Society – these tiny but very important "rivulets" that  gradually melt the ice of public amnesia.  Genoux likewise did quite a bit of work in the Russian provinces, from Vladikavkaz to Sakhalin (where he is currently releasing a production focused on the conflict between Sakhalin puppeteers and the local administration; Moscow theatre-goers will see this production in December). 

Georg recently made a decision to return to his homeland, but he is not  planning on putting an end to his work in Russia. 


A Soccer Player, an Actor, a Caretaker, a Teacher, a Director…

"My parents are artists.  I rebelled against them as a child.  Everybody had normal apartments, but ours was some shapeless art studio. So I devoted myself to 'anti-art' – soccer and basketball.  I was serious about it, too.  When I turned 13, I was already supposed to be placed on a youth team (of which I had no doubt, being a team captain and all).  I couldn't, however, find my name on the list.  I was sure that there had been some mistake, so I went to see the coach.   But the coach suddenly became very formal with me and said, 'I watched you, and I realized that in about a year soccer will cease being interesting to you.  You will be taking up literature or theatre.' He turned out to be a good judge of character – a year later I was already playing  a part in 'Romeo and Juliet'.  

 An officer at an army recruitment office was another good judge of character. I must say that service in German military is not a very appealing prospect. It resembles a sports club, where you are employed for a year, make good money and have one or two days off per week.  But it is very difficult to dodge.  And I actually wanted to go in the army – as a medic. I passed all the necessary tests and came in for an interview. And there I was told that my tests show just how much I don't want to serve.  They must have had second sight, too: I was obstinate even as a kid, thereby creating quite a bit of trouble for my teachers, so there was no way that I would have been able to handle a situation, where I'd be standing at attention and having someone yell at me.   

There were other possibilities as well – to work it off in some type of social service but for a longer period of time.  Or to go to another country for social work at your own expense.  And this is exactly what I did, when I found out from my Russian language teacher that a school in the city of Zhukovsky, in the Moscow Region, needed a caretaker.  That was a good law.  Too bad it was repealed.  I believe that social work in another country does more for war prevention efforts than any weapon-related activities.  

It so happened that a teacher of German in that school in the Moscow Region got sick, so I began substituting for her.  I had poor grasp of Russian.   I spoke only German to the schoolchildren, on principle, and I probably wouldn't have made a good teacher.  I did a better job staging productions with them than teaching them grammar.  But I'm still friends with many of my former students, and I even get them involved in my projects; and the teacher that came to replace me is actually my godmother. 

When I came back, I got admitted to a directing department in Hamburg. And I became bored: we were studying without actors, spent all of our time learning some theory. So I returned to Russia – the law allowed me to take an internship here for a year, and I had fond memories of Leonid Heifetz's workshops, which I tried to attend any chance I had.  

That year, though, it was Mark Zakharov that was taking on students, and I was admitted to his class knowing nothing at all about him.  Soon, however, I got strong reasons to stay here: I met a girl, with whom I lived together for a very long time; Peter Todorovsky confirmed me for the lead role in the movie 'The Taurus Constellation'; and I also met the folks who organize the Lyubimovka Festival and later created the Teatr.Doc. 

Mark Anatolyevich supported me, even though we are not at all alike.  My fellow students couldn't figure out why I was spending my time working on some social issues that had nothing to do with theatre, with no money, in a dirty basement.  Yet when a big review of my first production came out, our workshop teacher got all the students together and read it to them in full.  And already my thesis production of 'Zeitnot' featured my – still apprehensive – fellow students.  I spent two years putting together the material for this work, interviewing those who went through [the war in] Chechnya.  I could not shake the feeling that eighteen-year-old boys who came back from that war were much older than my twenty-three-year-old self.  And I felt helpless before them; I had no idea how to talk to them (Yura Klavdiyev and I experienced the same feeling when talking with the residents of the Norilsk commune for the HIV-positive).  They could no longer become integrated into normal life. We see the same thing now in Germany with young Germans, who return from the meaningless war in Afghanistan.  Another incident that struck me was a meeting with a Chechen, who was literally trading on his misery – his son's disability as a result of a bomb explosion.  Even though, as we understood it, after the explosion his son got out on his own.  I have never seen such cynicism in my life."


The Drama of Memory

"In school I was proud of the fact that both my grandfathers were deserters and did not serve in the Nazi army.  Germans understand that what happened once can happen again.  The desire to stop fascism from ever coming back brings together German people of the most varied political views. History lessons do not spend too much time on war, but everything is explained with the utmost clarity. And "The Diary of Anne Frank" is required reading in schools. 

I was seventeen, when my grandfather, my dad's father, died. I was going through his papers and suddenly I found this photograph of an officer in an SS uniform, who was an exact copy of my father. That's how we found out that the man, who raised my father, was not my real grandfather.  My grandmother died without ever telling us this story. I remember that the only thing I felt back then was curiosity, because, as far as I was concerned, my grandfather – and a wonderful one at that – was the man, who raised my father.  When my dad found out the news, however, he became very ill.  He devoted his whole life, by the way, to the subject of the Holocaust.  

And about two years ago we found the birth certificate of my other grandfather, my mom's father.  His birthplace was a small Jewish town in Hungary, whose residents were virtually all wiped out.   It was very likely that he was a Jew but was hiding his true origins his whole life; he was a very closed-off individual to begin with.   His musicality, his love of Slavic languages (he taught them, translated Chekhov) – all speak in support of this theory, but we are not one hundred percent sure.  And there's no one to ask. 

The story of my grandfathers became the centre point of my production 'Myself, Anne and Helga'.  This knowledge that got dumped on me was a big hindrance at first – I had only just begun working on this production, and I had a completely different outline.  But in its second revision, however, I managed to combine the production with my personal story, which the actors knew as well.  

I am convinced that there is a certain reality that cannot be captured by a documentary filmmaker's camera, but it is much more powerful than the one that's on the surface, and it drives us to a greater extent.  Pavel Rudnev* gave it a very fitting name – the drama of memory.  That's why I believe the hunt for today's reality advocated by Mikhail Ugarov** to be only partially correct.  I fully agree with rebelling against the current regime, but there are other, more important things – to figure out that other core reality.  That's when we'll have a chance to change something for the better in our country.  If all we do is follow the path of revolution, we'll arrive at the same thing that we are starting from.  We need to pick apart our past.  But I don't see people being ready or willing to do it.  Yes, they don't like Putin, but they are living under totalitarian mentality: I'm not a free citizen, they say, I'm a slave of the system." 


The Trial by Moscow 

"I do sometimes stage 'normal' productions: a romantic comedy 'Norway Today', 'The Broken Jug', 'Three Comrades', 'Baal', 'Everything Will Be Okay'... 

The Joseph Beuys Theatre, however, was created based on a different principle.   I am never going to let a director come there to do yet another successful production.  Because the Joseph Beuys Theatre was created for serious self-development and self-improvement.  It is a bit scary, but, as Beuys himself used to say, only the one who shows their wound can be healed, not the one who hides it.  No journalistic text can inspire such profound changes in a person as does theatre with its experience of collective reliving and deliverance. 

I believe that I did not quite manage to achieve what I have devised – to create a place, where anyone can come to with their vital, burning existential questions, and where professionals can help them develop the concept and create a work of art. 

We managed to do a lot.  But… we need money. I've been working virtually round-the-clock for six years, but I didn't always know how I was going to pay rent and pay my people (because the majority of them actually do work to make money).   Most importantly, I could not get my idea across clearly and inspire people with it.  Still, the biggest motivation for working with me is that here you can make a successful debut.  I, however, have a different goal.  I could not create a new environment (and maybe I don't really need it that much).  In contemporary stage direction I often see a burning social issue being wrapped in expensive trappings moulded on the basis of Polish or German theatre of the last decade, and even that has a certain helplessness to it.   

People in the provinces are less cynical and calculating, more open. Despite all of my love for Moscow, I can see how this city changes people for the worse. And I notice to my horror that I am becoming more cynical myself.   In this day and age I think it's more important to preserve one's self than to develop theatre."  

Olga Foux



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