Innovative multimedia play follows the life of a choleric actor

Part of the joy of travel is sharing execeptional experiences with your friends when you return. Last year at the International Theater Festival in Romania, York Film Professor Tereza Barta saw a play that impressed her so deeply she has arranged the company’s Canadian debut, a one-night-only performance on the Keele campus this Friday.

Theater Asou’s The 33rd Year – playing life, by Robert Riedl with English translation by Wolfgang Wendlinger, is a multimedia solo stage performance performed by Gernot Rieger, that explores self-dramatization and the borders between theatre and reality. The plot follows a choleric actor, aged 33, who wants to overcome the tragic death of his steady girlfriend. The protagonist slips into the role of the director and puts a theatre play about his 33rd year on stage. The desperate actor strives to convince himself and the audience that he is working towards an authentic way of life.

Right: Theatre Asou’s The 33rd Year – playing life offers a multimedia experience

Life performance, audio and video combine and interact in this technically complex, multi-layered production.

“I met Theatre Asou while I was on sabbatical from teaching and working for the Romanian Ministry of Culture, documenting cultural events around the country on film," said Barta. “When I learned this remarkable play was touring to New York, I offered to help organize them a performance here.“

The play made its English language premiere Aug. 15 under the invitation of Mabou Mines, one of North America’s most internationally renowned experimental theatre companies. Sharon Fogarty, one of Mabou Mines’ artistic directors, is listed on Theatre Asou’s Web site as one of several individuals whose “knowledge forms the base of [their] work."

Like Mabou Mines’ shows, The 33rd Year – playing life was created collaboratively with a focus on multi-disciplinary experimentation.

With a nod towards the tendency of reality, talk or court television shows to distort personal destiny, the play asks: where does the control over one’s own drama end in the public discourse? And when does the pressure to produce the private tragedy for an audience begin?

The texts by Riedl do not operate with psychological characterizations, but with paradoxical interventions. In the double-cross of staged realities the author lets his main character approach the essence of what constitutes a human being: his true character and his roles, which he wants to – or has to – play on the stage of life.

“We were invited to create the show on the 30th anniverary of the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, which was started to honour Bachmann as one of Austria’s most influential authors,“ said Rieger. “We chose her novel The Thirtieth Year, which is about a man in crisis examining his life, choices, friendships and opportunites and all the goals he never met. My friend, playwright Robert Reidl, interviewed me for hours, and while the plot in the play is fictionalized, the majority of the text was lifted from these interviews and they were the source of the majority of the audio and video in the show."

Left: The play follows the life of a choleric actor as he works to overcome the death of his steady girlfriend

Since it premiered in 2006, the play has been performed twice in Austria, and once in Romania and in New York. The original production was all in Austrian, but the Romanian production was in three languages, English, Romanian and Austrian. For New York and Toronto the show will be completely translated to English, which involved redubbing and in some instances re recording much of the audio and video for the show.

“New York had a great response, with fantastic audience feedback after the performance. I am looking forward to performing for Toronto and hearing what audiences here have to say,“ said Rieger.

Founded in 1994, Theatre Asou is based in Graz, Austria and they collaborate and train with international theatremakers. They have toured to the United States, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Coulumbia and Japan. Director Uschi Litschauer is a founding member of Theater ASOU and Rieger has been a member since 1995.

The 33rd Year – playing life will be performed one night only, Friday Aug. 22, at 8pm, in the McLean Performance Studio, Room 244 in the Accolade East Building on York’s Keele campus. The performance is open to the public and admission is free.