Does a theater play require a different form of writing than other kinds of texts? How do you sketch a character as an author? After developing several plays and performances in the last few years, playwright Anna Gschnitzer is writing her first »traditional« theater play Lupe Vélez. She met up with media artist Fides Schopp for a discussion about practices of creating possible realities through writing.
Fides Schopp: You work as an author for stage texts in various formats, such as performances, dance plays, and traditional theater plays. Does each form of staging require a different approach concerning the act of writing?
Anna Gschnitzer: I’m currently working on my first »traditional« theater play, with the working title Lupe Vélez. One of the differences to former plays that I wrote is that I always knew for whom I was writing them. Usually, I joined the rehearsals with first drafts of text and then worked on these drafts together with the team. We reconsidered how everything can be linked to each other content wise and, based on these considerations, we rearranged the loose fragments of text. Though for me personally, gaps in texts carry a suspenseful potential. They are spaces within the text that offer the opportunity to collectively work on them. This process causes a fascinating inharmoniousness. That is the way I understand theater. That is the great potential of theater: questioning a text together instead of writing a totalitarian text with unambiguous statements. But establishing such a mode of working together is only possible with people who are seriously interested in this practice.
FS: You often use pop culture references in your plays. How important is it for you as an author that readers can recognize every citation and its original context?
AG: Do you mean not hiding the fact it was stolen?
FS: In my opinion, using citations is common and currently a very popular practice. I’m interested in how far you want to help people to get an understanding of your texts. Or is using these references your own private game? The title Lupe Vélez is also a reference to a real person.
»I personally like it as a reader if I can follow traces somebody left for me. Maybe these traces are a play by the author; maybe they lead me nowhere; maybe they lead me somewhere.« Anna Gschnitzer
AG: I deal with the biography of Lupe Vélez in detail within the text. Therefore, I think this reference will be clear. But in fact, I’m thinking about a certain textual bulkiness at the moment. I ask myself if the reader has to be able to grasp every term in the way it was intended by me. Certainly, my texts encourage readers to work like a detective. I personally like it as a reader if I can follow traces somebody left for me. Maybe these traces are a play by the author; maybe they lead me nowhere; maybe they lead me somewhere. This reader’s quest also mirrors the linguistic search of the text and its protagonists. The protagonist develops a kind of paranoia and starts believing he can recognize meaning everywhere. But this meaning can’t be decoded completely, and there always remains something unsolved.
FS: This is a very interesting point, and I like to read texts that make me stumble while reading. But I think there is an immense difference between reading a text where I have the opportunity and time to make notes or look something up and experiencing a text as a performance.
AG: What you mentioned refers to a specific power relation. I try, for example, to deal with my characters in a kind of democratic way. It’s not my intention to create a character who explains themselves through a specific storyline. The exciting thing about process orientated writing is, in my opinion, even as the author not knowing what will happen. For me, this is a kind of fairness towards the character. I hope this moment of figuring out something together will spread to the reader and the theater audience.
FS: You said you write in a process orientated manner. How would you describe your language? Have you established your own writing style or does this style continuously transform?
AG: I would describe it as an ongoing fight. At the moment, I have the feeling the new play is different from the previous texts in its language, but some people who know my texts don’t share this opinion. I would still disagree with them because I see the new text as being more personal. It is written in a much more prosaic style. By comparison, I would describe the older texts as pop texts with fast and rather short sentences almost like rap.
»There is this shimmering where the outlines of characters start to vanish. It’s neither purely fictional nor biographic, but something in between, where the character isn’t a subject enclosed within its own borders.«Anna Gschnitzer
FS: Are your texts autobiographic?
AG: In my new text Lupe Vélez, I really deal with a form of character and biography for the first time. It could, therefore, be considered as less autobiographic and more biographic. To sufficiently feed the world in the text I use reference systems which I know from my own life. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are autobiographic. In the past, all characters were very stencil like, partial cartoon characters, but always bearers of a discourse. I included Josephine Baker and Scarlette Johansson for example, but it was completely obvious that there was no authentic character behind. A play with authenticity is something that was added in the new text and grants access to another possible reality. This is something where I feel the opportunity to discover something new. This play is very close to what Andy Warhol did with his film Lupe and Edie Sedgewick. There is this shimmering where the outlines of characters start to vanish. It’s neither purely fictional nor biographic, but something in between, where the character isn’t a subject enclosed within its own borders. I find such closed and deconstructed subjects incredibly boring.
FS: In your new play, you deal with photography, among other things. What was your initial interest in the topic?
AG: I found a box with old photographs from the war at my parents’ house. They didn’t know where the pictures originally came from. Some of them are blurred, others seemed to be staged and look like the war was just a hiking tour. Then there were many pictures without any clearly recognizable content. These failed snap shots interested me the most because they directly address the materiality of photography.
The materiality of these images contains the conditions in which the photographs were taken, without making these conditions completely visible. I’m interested in these images, in their present emptiness.
FS: You certainly know these photographs of us as children. There are no personal memories of the situation where the picture was taken. But you come across these pictures so often and you get so used to the story related to the picture which somebody told you again and again that finally the picture enters your own memory.
AG: That is exactly what I meant. You don’t remember the moment itself, but the picture of it. Actually there are no memories, instead there is just the materiality of memories. I believe this is what constitutes photography as well as our own memories.