Part One of the story of Goethe’s FAUST came to life again on the stage of the Princesse Grace Theatre in Monaco last summer. Puppets, puppeteers, actor-stagehands and human actors performed with great success under the co-direction of Eva Bodingbauer and Johanna Horcicka. The artists and the production hailed from Theater Kirchdorf, in Kirchdorf, Austria.

            The group was formed in 1972 under the leadership of Franz Horcicka , and for decades Theater Kirchdorf developed a varied repertoire: Aristophanes, Brecht, Tirso de Molina, Chekhov and Tardieu alternated with familiar Austrian classics by writers such as Watsinger and Butterweck. In 1992, the town converted an old factory into a training and rehearsal space for the group, called “the workshop” (pictured at right). Today the theatre lists 39 staff and acting group members on its website, and it’s widely recognized for its success with puppet theatre–particularly the use of puppets alongside live actors in many of its adaptations and devised plays.


            Theater Kirchdorf is the only theater in the small town–apart from the school’s theater.  But it is very popular, especially with young audiences. Members of the troupe occasionally offer workshops and short theatrical entertainment for children. One focus of this theatre’s work has been the development of adaptations.  Their current production of FAUST is a compelling example of this, as Monaco audiences realized. For example, Faust (pictured below. right) is portrayed as a respected contemporary researcher and teacher. In Goethe’s familiar tale, he takes stock of his life and comes to a shattering conclusion: as a scientist, he lacks deeper insight and useful results, and as a person he is incapable of life and unable to enjoy wealth. 

            In this desperate situation, he promises his soul to the devil ( a puppet), if Satan can free him from dissatisfaction and restlessness. Satan, of course, turns Faust back into a young man and takes him on a journey through the world: comically helping Faust arranging an affair with the young Margaret (called Gretchen in this version), and observing and playing pranks on members of the under

world (also puppets) in bars and taverns.  The scenes are set and the properties are introduced/removed by ensemble members dressed in black who add another eerie layer to an already strange and grotesque ancient story. The entire production,in fact, was highly visual and easily understood by international audiences in Monaco. And the ensemble developed much of the play together. For example, editing the original story: “Oh, yes!” declared actress Carmen Steinert.  “We did change it a lot! Our first version of FAUST was two hours long, and we had to bring it down to one hour….Some scenes were completely cut, and other scenes were cut internally. That was a little problem, because everybody knows the old text.”


The puppetry, however,took center stage in the Monaco production.  Single puppets, puppet crowds, supernatural puppets, hand puppets, body puppets, puppets of all sizes were used throughout.  Steinert pointed out that she loved working with the puppets who “can look like anything you want. And they can speak and talk like they want. There is no limit. For example, the witches. Me personally, I can scream and shout as loud as I want, and the others can do a special voice or movement…. And as an audience, you can’t foresee any of that. I really think our puppets are overwhelming.”


            The theater members are all amateurs and come from many different occupations. The group finds this a useful and valuable asset since everyone can bring a new perspective to the work.  In addition, the Austrian press has praised the group for the high quality of its work: the “stupendous precision” of its choral movement and speaking (Christian Hanna in Blickpunkt Folge Nr. 4/2012); “an excellent, colorful production” (Kronen Zeitung, 13. Mai 2009): or “a major challenge for actors and audiences” (Nachrichten vom 26. März 2008).


            The troupe is currently performing their longer version of FAUST in Austria, and the piece is still developing. For example, some of the French phrases inserted by the cast for the Mondial audiences have been retained for Austrian audiences, and lines from earlier versions are occasionally to be heard from one performance to another.


            For more information on this Austrian theater troupe, visit them on their website: http://www.theater-kirchdorf.at.




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