Time for theater! A (modern) fairytale: Augustus

“The theatre is a place where one has time for the problems of people to whom one would show the door if they came to one’s office for a job.” ― Tennessee Williams

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Two days after the Chinese Cultural Evening it was time for my second theater performance of the year. It was based on the fairytale “Augustus” by Hermann Hesse, as part of a collection of twenty-two fairy tales by the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, showing the influence of German Romanticism and  psychoanalysis on his development as an author. The play told the tragic and beautiful story of a fateful wish that a mother (Elizabeth) made for her son Augustus, granted by the good intentions of an immortal godfather and neighbor. The mother’s wish of everyone to love her son becomes Augustus’ curse. The fairytale tells the tragic life of the boy after the son, marked by one-sided love, contempt, human abysses, emptiness up to total isolation of the protagonist who sees death as the only way out. His godfather Mr. Bisswanger saves him at the last second from this act of desperation and allows him to see the world from a new perspective and through undoing the wish. Augustus, who previously led a luxurious life in absolute superficiality, ignorance and selfishness, walks as selfless homeless man through the country, amazed by the beauty of the world, of ture life and love. And at the end he returns to the place of his childhood, liberated and happy, where he dies in peace on the side of Mr. Bisswanger.

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The play was directed by our two Burmese second-years Min and Phoo, who rewrote the fairytale into a script and added modern elements that made all of us smile during rehearsals.

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Our cast was lovely and we all grew very close. Obinna (Nigeria) played Mr. Bisswanger, the old and wise neighbor, Pranav (Hong Kong/India) and Dominic (Hong Kong) played the young and old Augustus, the son and Grace (Hong Kong), Olga (Moldova) and Vanessa (Colombia) were both the girlfriends of Augustus and the female neighbours. I was chosen to play Elizabeth, the mother and hence spend quite a lot of time getting into my role, both emotionally as well as physically (at this point I have to admit that giving birth on stage was the most interesting acting experience I had so far. Especially since almost everyone bursted out laughing as soon I started practicing my heavy-breathing pattern and screaming).

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Even though it was a fairytale, we added a few modern elements, and the scenes of Augustus’ birthday party were spiced up with music and a little dancing performance by the actors.

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The performance went very well and we got the audience to laugh in several scenes, especially as most of us were casted in roles we would not have expected to be in, such as the incredibly sweet Grace acting as a sexy girlfriend, Omar (Yemen) referring to his grand-prize in an Arab game show, Pranav dancing or me being a mother and carrying a baby in my arm and singing a famous song by the carpenters: Close to You.

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As done for my first theatre production we shot profile pictures to promote the performance and seeing me being pregnant was quite a shock for both my family and friends.

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Looking back at the performance and our rehearsals I realized how much I actually love theater (and regret not taking it as a subject) and acting.

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There are probably a million reasons that I could name. Besides the opportunity to jump into roles you would probably see yourself in, experience a few hours as a different person in character, biggest one that I can think of is the intimacy. Not only the intimacy between the actors, but also the intimacy with the audience. If you’ve ever seen a play or musical, even a school play or a local theatre production, you can understand what I mean when I say that live theatre is intimate. Watching a movie, or television show is not very interactive- You sit. You watch. You watch again on rerun or DVD. And every time you watch it, it is exactly the same.

With theatre, you never know what you’re gonna get. Neither as an actor nor as the audience. Sometimes it’s a misstep in a dance number, or a giggle from an actor, and a missed cue or line. Sometimes the audience laughs, sometimes the show goes off without a hitch. But either way, you are in the room with the actors. Not in the room with the TV. Depending on where your seats are, you could be a few feet away from them. Or, in my case, you are sitting backstage, watching the happenings on stage, and repeating your lines in your head, with your fellow actors and friends who smile at you, share hugs and that experience itself is magical enough. The rehearsals were just as special as the moments during the performance, if not even more. Min and Phoo pushed all of us to our very best with an incredible amount of patience, as well as Alejandro (Ecuador) who put a lot of effort in our warm-ups, teaching us how to project our voices better.

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I will always remember the countless backstage moments with giggles, all the laughter we tried to suppress, the intense fear of making a noise, the cautious steps and all the wonderful conversations whispered from ear to ear, the times during rehearsal when Luzerio (East Timor) and Min played Portuguese and Spanish music, making all of us dance and sing together.

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I had an unforgettable time during this IP. Not only am I incredibly happy of having had the chance to be part of this fairytale written by one of my favorite German writers, but also of having been given the wonderful opportunity to be on stage again with such a lovely cast. thank you Min and Phoo and everyone who contributed to this IP.