The Courage to Stand

Reflections on Du Kannst Nicht Mehr Warten? (You Can’t Wait Anymore?) by Die Aktionist*innen at the Maxim Gorki Theater (Studio Я, 11 & 12 October 2017)

The lights go up and we see a young man centre stage, sat with his back to the audience. After a long pause, we notice that he is beginning to shake, almost vibrate. As it grows more and more intense – suddenly he collapses. He cries out in frustration and pain. His movements are angry and jolted, as he staggers to his feet. He is enraged. He attempts to stand on the stall he has been sat on. He falls. Again he tries. He fails. He yells. He tries. He’s furious. He falls. He just – cannot – stand – up. 

There were so many things about Du Kannst Nicht Mehr Warten? by Die Aktionist*innen that I absolutely loved. The energy, the anger, the joy. Yet the underlying characteristic that connected it all – and completely blew me away – was the courage.

This was 85-minutes of theatre in which an ensemble of 16 young people looked the audience dead in the eyes and bared aspects of their frustration at and reflections on the world in which they live. From experiences of racial and sexual oppression; to the tireless slog of school and work; to considering how we know and define what love is. The piece unfolded as, one by one, member of Die Aktionist*innen entered the space and shared something that angers and/or confuses them. Each performer revealed something personal, interweaving their lived experience with their own perspectives on society at large. It was angry and it was tender. It also, thanks to the diversity of the ensemble, brought multiple voices and energies (and languages) into the frame of the performance. I was captivated the whole way through.

The piece had been devised and written by Die Aktionist*innen, brought together under the brilliant eyes of project leader Theresa Henning, assistant Tabea Schäfer, dramaturg Mazlum Nergiz and technician Raissa Kankelfitz. Each performer shared something taken from and/or inspired by their own lives. There was a palpable sense of vulnerability in the intimacy of some of the moments of the play… from which an incredible sense of courage emerged. For example, the nature of the piece had drawn a young audience into Studio Я, which brought with it a playful and energetic atmosphere; yet it was absolutely breath-taking to witness the whole room fall silent in a scene where one young man stood up and gave his definition of love. He spoke so gracefully and bravely to the room about how he had not yet experienced deep romantic love, and cannot wait until he does. For me, witnessing such delicacy from a young man in a public space was deeply moving and felt radical. It was one such moment among many in the piece.

In reflecting on Du Kannst Nicht Mehr Warten? I am reminded of the phrase Pina Bausch was known to have told her dancers: “Your fragility is your strength”. In the baring of the performers’ questions and anecdotes, Die Aktionist*innen captured the simultaneity of helplessness and resilience. Power in the face of feeling powerless. In watching these young theatre-makers stand onstage and bare aspects of themselves, we were also watching them claim public space and have their say. The studio became the site in which we saw these young people overcome that very thing that seemed so monumentally difficult in the opening scene: to stand up. Moreover, instead of attempting to knit the ensemble neatly together, the performance instead was full of sparks, sparring, mess and confrontation. Rarely were consensuses reached. Few conclusions were made. Yet what was drawn together were the bodies on the stage and their dedication – no matter their differences of experience and opinion – to the process of listening to one another.

In watching Du Kannst Nicht Mehr Warten?, I thought also of something Rudolf Nureyev, another famous dancer, said of the audience: “They pay us for our fear”. However, in the case of Die Aktionist*innen’s brilliant piece, I would change the word ‘fear’ to ‘courage’. Because what makes me long to go and see this performance again, is the desire to witness the fragile strength of the performers. By the end of the play they were dancing in the face of the struggles that had been opened up throughout the piece. Each in their own, unique way, the performers danced together in a celebration of who they each are. This courage was infectious… so when the audience were invited, at the very end, to join in with the dancing, almost the entire audience sprang onto the stage – riding that same wave of courageous, unadulterated joy. When we all rise together – vulnerabilities and all – standing up is no longer an impossible task.

The Aktionist*innen is the Maxim Gorki Theater’s youth company, and consists of theatre-makers between 16 and 24 years old. The ensemble is re-formed at the beginning of each season, to devise a production from topics that engage them. Their piece is then performed to the public in Studio Я.

One Reply to “The Courage to Stand”

  1. Talking touch –
    I’ve seen the piece and entirely share the author’s view.
    It is obviously the courage to authentically !communicate frustration, and the determination to also allow space for other beings doing so- that weaves it all into societal dialog and thus empowers people.
    That is what could be felt rather than be seen at ‘Du kannst nicht mehr warten’. It was a surprise!

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