Schaubühne dramaturg and script translator Maja Zade on becoming a playwright herself.
Maja Zade is a Schaubühne mainstay. For the past 20 years, she’s been busy behind the scenes of the Wilmersdorfer institution as resident dramaturg. Outside rehearsals, she’s translated scores of plays by Marius von Mayenburg, Falk Richter and Lars von Trier, to name a few. Now she’s finally put pen to paper as a playwright: with a double debut on home turf. Directed by her long-time colleague Von Mayenburg, status quo premiered last month – a satirical inversion of the gender binary that exposes the power imbalance at the heart of our society through three Florians, each tormented in their own way by their female bosses. In April follows abgrund, a dissection of the superficial small talk and obnoxious champagne socialism that pervade bourgeois dinner parties, with Thomas Ostermeier on director duty. We met up with Zade over an afternoon Earl Grey to hear about her foray into playwriting, #MeToo on stage and patriarchy at large.
What inspired you to finally write your first plays?
Both abgrundand status quo came from me feeling angry – with people around me and with myself. I wrote abgrund after I’d been to a series of dinners that felt interchangeable in terms of what people discussed and how they behaved. And each time I was shocked at the superficial phrases I’d said myself. With status quo, I was thinking about power structures. I’d noticed how I often hesitate before speaking in meetings, whereas many of my male colleagues don’t, and how I often feel obliged to ‘be nice’.
Were you using theatre as therapy to deal with your own anger?
Actually, I think all plays that come from a place of anger are quite good. Of course you can’t write the entire play feeling angry, you also have to sit down and analyse. But feeling that something is unjust is a good initial spark.
Was #MeToo the spark for status quo?
I wrote it just before actually. Initially, I considered holding it back slightly because I’d just written abgrund and I thought maybe two plays at once would be too much. But then Marius [von Mayenburg] said that now is the time for this play. Of course it’s connected to #MeToo in a way but it was probably just in the air. Lots of people were starting to feel increasingly angry about power, how it’s distributed and how things don’t seem to be changing.
The Schaubühne – along with many other theatres – can come across as a boys’ club.
I do think it’s a problem in general in German theatre that there are far more male artistic directors, as well as male directors and playwrights being put on. I think things need to change. And it is happening. To a certain extent, the Schaubühne putting on my play is also a part of that.
Did you have Marius specifically in mind to direct status quo?
I wasn’t thinking of any director when writing it but he was the first person I showed it to. We’re friends and I value his judgement. And although I do feel we need more female directors, I also quite like the fact that a man’s directing it. I’m also pleased that our team is completely split between men and women. I think as soon as a play touches on #MeToo, everyone says we should get a woman to direct it. But that’s not the point. It’s something that needs to be dealt with by both men and women. Conversations among us have been really interesting and constructive during rehearsals.
Did you consider directing your own plays yourself?
No, it’s not something I aspire to at all. In rehearsals, especially now with Marius, I’m really interested in what people come up with. The show looks nothing like I imagined when writing it. I really like that other people bring their imaginations and add things to it. For example, Marius’ production is very non-naturalistic. There aren’t many props, there isn’t much furniture. There are even a few songs.
Was the Schaubühne a natural choice for your debut as playwright?
Initially, I didn’t think that either play would be done at the Schaubühne. I was quite reluctant to show them to people. They might have to tell me they’re really bad. I thought I’d be a lot more relaxed if they were staged somewhere else. Eventually I gave them to Thomas [Ostermeier] after he asked to read them and then everything happened fairly quickly. Now, I feel like it’s the right place for them to happen, because we’ve of course been working together for so long and share similar tastes and interests.
status quo Feb 7, 8, 9, 11, 20:00 Schaubühne, Wilmersdorf | abgrund Apr 2 Schaubühne, Wilmersdorf