The lights dim. A very dark stage with a proscenium far upstage. Behind a banquet table, with actors milling in their black tie best. A man picks up a video camera and begins to speak into it. As he does, the images are projected against the curtain hanging from the proscenium. As the images start to roll, a hard rock underscore begins to build and as the actors begin to filter through the passage further downstage, the rock music becomes deafening.
My heart beats, I’m prepped for the world of this show. The rock overture grows and so does my anticipation, the adrenaline coursing through my veins.
And then suddenly a segue into a Bollywood soundscape. A woman in her wedding white begins to dance the dance of the seven veils, 21st century style. She bumps her hip and you almost expect the rest of the party to dive in.
Instead a man launches into Sein oder Nicht Sein. This isn’t musical theatre. It’s Hamlet directed by Thomas Ostermeier at the Shaubuehne in Berlin.
I am currently in Germany where I’m learning quickly that everything is music(al) theatre. Of the three shows I’ve seen so far, everyone has luscious, integral and affective soundscaping. Though the Germans are very into their re-appropriations of “classic” texts, a significant element in this redesign is the incorporation of music and technology. Hamlet contained no singing, but it certainly employed music often to enhance audience affect. When Hamlet’s ghost appears, a bizarre otherworldly soundscaping ensues. When Hamlet and Horatio temporarily break the fourth wall for a bit of vaudevillian repartee, the music accompanies it. Coming from a Toronto culture, where music is so secondary, this investment in music-theatre is so refreshing.
I also saw a show called Kill Your Darlings, or, the Streets of Berladelphia at the Volksbuhne a couple of days ago. While I understood very little of what they were saying, the movement and music made it a very affective piece of theatre. A piece about the distinction between individual and chorus, the play was essentially a monologue backed by a group of non-speaking gymnasts. Though music was employed more sparsely than in Hamlet, it was still often used to set the whimsical tone and engage the audience on a guttural level.
The Germans really seem to understand the power music can hold, drawing on the way in which we employ music in our North American musical theatre model. If music is so affective, wouldn’t it be great if it was also a prime consideration in our construction of Canadian “straight” theatre?