Emily Lynn Cook (ELC): Please, each of you tell me about your role with the production and your experience so far. How has it been? How big is the production? What can the audience expect?
Sophie (director): This has definitely been an intimidating, fun production for all of us. We’ve only really had a month, and the sheer range of the cast is huge—some of us are native German speakers (I’m Austrian myself) and others are in their first year of learning German at university. This means that we have around eighteen roles, some huge, some small, and others in between. It also means that some lines that aren’t usually funny when a native German speaker says them become funny, or vice versa. One thing I’d definitely say that the audience can expect is a play with a lot of black humor. You won’t really like all the characters, but you’ll enjoy laughing at them. It’s set in Austria, 1931, when the depression is still going strong. Austrian values and morals are changing, and the characters are deliberate negative stereotypes that people of that time in Austria would have been able to recognize immediately. As a result, there is a lot of heavy material: sex, violence, religion, etc. It’s crude, and at one point the stage direction calls for “naked dancing girls.” (cast laughs) I’m changing at least one aspect of that stage direction; I won’t tell you which.
Colin (actor): That’s the cast and crew secret.
Sophie: The one thing that we’re concerned may be offensive on a deeper level, though, is something a member of the National Socialist party says. At the end, though, we made the deliberate choice to not change that part of the script because it simply wouldn’t reflect the times or the author’s original intent. We’re hoping people don’t hate us for that though. If all goes well, the audience will see it as an effort to be true to the times. It’s really dynamic, when it comes down to it—it’s an of-the-era play about the morals of the times, it’s filled with black humour, and so on.
Olivia (actor): There are definitely lots of levels at which people in the audience can appreciate the play. There’s the basic story, and then there are literary references; and then there’s the obvious humor, and then there’s the intellectual humour. It’s the same for us—everyone who’s working on this play is coming to it with a different level of experience with the German language.
ELC: It sounds like it’s an incredibly dynamic and unique play. Olivia, can you tell me about your character?
Olivia: I play Valerie, middle-aged woman who works her way around the various men of the play. She’s the typical fifty-year-old woman wishing she was twenty—she has her boy toys, but that doesn’t mean she likes them or has sympathy for them. In some ways, she herself is pitiable because of her inability to be what she wants to be.
Colin: I play Oscar. He’s a thoroughly emotionally abusive creep who’s obsessed with Marianne, though strangely enough one of the most easily pitied characters in the play. Oscar really helps bring out the seriousness of abuse: you see him being very nice and funny within groups of people, especially around Marianne’s father. When it’s just Oscar and Marianne, though, you begin to see things more from her perspective. It’s really powerful.
Mairi (actor): I play Marianne—not a part I ever expected to get, so it’s very exciting. She’s a naïve young woman whose man loves her obsessively, shall we say. Then, along comes Alfred, a charming man who promises so much but really, well, just wants her body.
Johnny (act0r): And I’m Alfred, the scumbag Marianne runs off with (leading to at least one sexualized scene) and who has an underlying relationship with Valerie. Alfred’s one of the least likeable characters, the guy who brings out the worst in everyone and makes his fair share of false promises.
Dan (act0r): I play the Confessor, a very reactionary, conservative priest. When Marianne comes to see him, for example, he’s absolutely awful. He really rubs in her sin and does not cut her any slack, and doesn’t say that God cuts her any slack, either.
ELC: This sounds incredibly interesting.
Sophie: (laughs) Or at least it sounds as if we’re thinking that crude, dark humour sells.
ELC: Several of you mentioned the various challenges that have come with acting in this play. What have those challenges been specifically, and how has that made your experience better?
Johnny: This is not our native culture or our native time. I know I struggled with certain aspects of culture and with the actual words, though that helped me learn so much so quickly.
Colin: This play has taught some of us to act, others German, and many of us got roles we didn’t even expect to get. Certainly an experience on all levels.
Sophie: That said, with all the work we had to do and the small amount of time we had to do it in, we’re not treating this like a school play. This a play we think St Andrews can really enjoy: it’s really unique compared to the other great plays we have the opportunity to see. It’s German with subtitles. It has all different sorts of actors and speakers. It’s set in a different time, and it provides fantastic perspective on issues that have shaped our world, while still managing to get some sexualized scenes in there as well.
ELC: That sells it to me. Definitely looking forward to it. Best of luck, and thank you all so much for your time.
Emily also got the opportunity to speak with Dr. Hartung of the German department about the play. It was especially lovely to see her sharing the director and cast’s energy.
ELC: Can you tell me about why you helped the German Society choose this play, and what kind of expectations you have for it?
Dr. Hartung: I think expectations is the wrong word; the German department sees this more as an opportunity for students to explore the German language and the German theatre tradition, an opportunity to produce a very good play. We have no set expectations of what should or shouldn’t be done, and that’s why we enjoy seeing these plays produced year after year. As for the play itself, it’s an excellent window onto Austrian culture and more Austrian aspects of the German language. The cast and crew have worked hard to make this play entertaining and true to the culture it comes from. The department is looking forward to it.
The performances of Tales from the Vienna Woods are on 21st and 22nd November. The play is receiving funding from the DAAD and Goethe Institute, both international organisations which promote the German language and culture. They also intend to invite local schools as well as the language departments of several Scottish universities and representatives from the organisations supporting the project.
Tickets for the play have been on sale since 8th November and the play has a free wine reception during the intermission.
Don’t miss out: https://www.facebook.com/events/786375151421105/.