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Friday, August 30, 2013

The Temptations of #Faust by John von Daler

                 I was alone with my kids and had to go to work. Work has never been a predictable part of my life: concerts here and there or lectures twice a week, recording dates in various towns and countries, a theater engagement that lasts three months. I could never really organize my home life. So sometimes the children came to work with me.
                That was not always boring. When they were about four and six I was working as a violinist in a total theater production of Faust. If you do not already know it, total theater was made famous in northern Europe by Theatre du Soleil in Paris. Instead of performing in front of a stationary, seated audience, the actors and musicians moved around an empty auditorium with the spectators on their feet at the heels of the performers.
                Faust was a huge production by Danish standards. Five hundred people walked around the large auditorium following devils, temptresses, soldiers, kings, gods, and jesters from one set up to another. I played many of the roles, violin in hand, punk musician, soldier, animal.
                My children often came with me to work at the theater in the suburbs of Copenhagen. As the audience moved around they followed in the crowd and I kept an eye on them. We had an agreement that if some problem arose they could not come up and tug on the ragged sleeve of the punk-rock violinist to ask for help. So they got used to fending for themselves.
                The director of the play had done a lot of intricate planning to make sure that the audience could figure out where to go. Spotlights would be turned on one place to attract the audience and turned off another to signal that that particular scene was finished. Musicians would run behind curtains to a new position and start to play from the opposite side of the room. The audience learned quickly to follow up on these signals. But my kids were even quicker.
                After a few nights of moving around with the audience, they decided that it was no fun always being in the back of the pack, so they started leaving scenes a few seconds before they were finished in order to get a good position in front of the next scene. One particular monologue with Faust took place in a direct spotlight from the ceiling. As the famous and wonderful actor Frits Helmut said his monologue, the light caught his features from above, making him look strange, dark and mysterious. He barked out his sentences with incredible clarity and speed. The sheer number of words spoken quickly caused a rainfall of moisture that the light picked up. At the end of the scene, false paper money showered from the ceiling above him onto the spectators.
                My children thought these bills were wonderful and they decided to collect them from night to night. So when the previous scene was about to end, they quietly and quickly took up new positions in front of the silent actor who waited in the dark for his cue and for the glaring light.
                I will always remember standing in my position at the previous scene and glancing over at the next position. The great beam of light would suddenly appear from the ceiling and Frits Helmut would be standing on a platform, slightly bent, physically enacting the mental torment of his character. Directly beneath and in front of him the light also picked up my blond children like Hansl and Gretl alone in the forest, holding hands and looking directly up at the great man as saliva from his mouth rained down on their heads. The audience on its way across the room must have been thinking, Hmm. Didn't know Faust had children...maybe they are spirits of the good sent by heaven...hmm.
                Then, as the paper money fell from the ceiling, the little boy and girl would suddenly come alive. Dropping each other's hand, they would spring into action to gather as many bills as possible. They would still be stuffing their pockets as the crowd moved on to the next scene.
                Sitting in the subway on the way home we would count the number of bills, them leaning back in their seats in satisfaction, already figuring some way to gather just a few more the next time they came.

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