You have said that theatre is just “bodies reacting to each other to tell a story” – what does that mean?
Theatre gives you the chance to not only watch people interacting with each other in real time but also get up close and personal. You can see bodies sweating. You can smell tears. You can feel the vibration of laughter. It’s such a gift. I also do a lot of movie work, and while your experience watching a movie might vary, the product will be the same. Not so with theatre. That’s why I always tell people: go and watch plays more than once, because it’s going to be different every time. And that has to do with the hardcore reality of a play. You always have to be honest, because there is no way to cut something out or do it again. There is a risk in every performance.
The type of honest theatre you’re describing is not very “pretty” – for example your one-woman version of Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love. Why does that interest you?
I’m not interested in pretty theatre at all! I like to challenge myself to the point where I am so exhausted that the only option is to be honest. And if I have to fake that, it becomes much harder. It is actually more work not to be physically exhausted. Phaedra is a good example because there are two parts to the play: the first is very very physical, and then in the second part, I don’t have to pretend anything because I’m so exhausted from this 40-minute workout.
Let’s talk about the process of creating theatre. With Phaedra, how involved were you in the adaptation of this play with a large cast into a one-woman show?
The director Robert Borgmann and I have known each other for 10 years, and he’s really wonderful because he includes everyone in the process. When we were looking at Kane’s text, the main scene is the love scene, or the rape scene. And if I were alone on stage playing both characters, I would have the opportunity to play it once from the perspective of Hippolytus – this demeaning, weird child – and then again from that of Phaedra, who is just obsessively loving. I am so torn with which side of the character I love more. A lot of that has to do with Sarah Kane, who was really sick while she was writing this and suffered through horrible treatments.
She once said in an interview that she didn’t know if she was more like Hippolytus or Phaedra, so that was our jumping-off point. I’m also a fan of shocking the audience with my bare ass in their face! You might be overwhelmed – but you should try to go with that! You cannot press pause in theatre, after all. I like to challenge my fellow actors and producers – but most of all, the audience.
I like to challenge myself to the point where I am so exhausted that the only option is to be honest.
Your book Ganz schön wütend (Pretty Angry) is all about anger – how has anger played into your journey as an actor?
I actually prefer to translate ‘Wut’ as rage, not anger or hate. Rage is something I feel when I sense something is happening that is unjust. Especially as a woman – you are told that this emotion is not pretty, and is even manly. And in the book I want to encourage people to embrace it and let that out! As an actress, I enjoy this idea of ‘Spielwut’ (the angry urge to play), of which there isn’t really a good English translation. I think the stage is such a safe space to feel this rage.
You also write – and have spoken – a lot about body positivity…
For a long time, I had to encourage myself that I had worked hard and earned the right to be here, even if I am not the most stereotypically beautiful woman, whatever that means. Real big people are missing in society – the Lizzos are rare. And it’s gendered: men are described as “big” butt women are “fat.” If I had had Lizzo when I was 15, it would have changed my life. So that’s why, when I won the Romy in April, I took the opportunity to tell the industry to “write us the roles” – we are here and we are ready to go, so give bigger women roles that are not just the fat, funny sidekick.
There is a risk in every performance.
You say you’ve played almost as many men or masculine characters as women in your career – so where do you stand on race-blind, gender-blind, sexuality-blind casting?
I truly believe that everybody who could play a part should be given the opportunity to audition or be considered for a role. Of course, there are roles that white people like me are simply not allowed to play anymore, which is right, and we need to accept that. But on the other hand, I truly want to play a mother even though I am not one. I have played a rape victim, even though I hope that never ever happens to me. So you have to look at this discussion really carefully and be aware of what it’s really about. You also need to remember that a director might take an actor who is not the best one who auditioned, but who they think they can work with better. So you just need to invite any actors who could do a role to come and audition. But for that to change, you need the people in charge to change and – though people don’t want to hear it – that’s difficult because they are mostly white cis men.
Outside of the Berlin theatre scene, you are maybe best known in Germany for your role as a detective in Tatort; you’ve also appeared in several movies. Do you prefer acting for stage or screen?
Actually, I love doing both. I just filmed a six-part series and it was so nice having a role for such a long time. But I love language so much and if I only did movies, I think I would miss the chance to get to grips with that.
You won the Berliner Ensemble’s Helene Weigel Theaterpreis this year – the theatre’s co-founder and first artistic director was also Bertholt Brecht’s wife. What do you think about Weigel’s role in the history of the Ensemble?
The character really hates women! That is just so much fun for me. I don’t think you can play this role as a man today.
I have to admit: I’m an Austrian, so I really had very little to do with Bertholt Brecht growing up, and knew nothing about Weigel! But when I first came to Berlin, my first role was in Brecht’s play The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and I played Grusha, which was the role Helene Weigel played – and the prop of the fake baby was from the original production! There could not have been any more pressure. I thought I should just pack up and go home to Austria. But then I found out Helene Weigel was Austrian, which helped a bit. Something happens with women in leadership roles, which is that they try to play a masculine role and feel like they have to be thankful to be there as a woman. I think we really have to stop that. In my imaginary version of Weigel, she allowed Brecht to do whatever he wanted at home, sleeping with lotsof other women for example – and then she took over in the theatre! And it really needs to be better known that she was the first woman to run a theatre, because I didn’t know that before.
In November, you can be seen in three shows at the Ensemble: Phaedra’s Love, a revival of The Servant of Two Masters and a new production of Thomas Bernhard’s Der Theatermacher. Tell us a bit about the latter.
My role is – again! – one that has always been played by a male actor, and this is the first time that the heirs of Bernhard have allowed a woman to play the role. It is about a theatre director who is on tour and is difficult to work with – we joke in rehearsals that the subtitle should be “artists do not compromise!” And the character really hates women! That is just so much fun for me. I don’t think you can play this role as a man today. The Bernhard text is so exhausting, with so much repetition – but as I’ve said, I love a challenge!
- Phaedra’s Love (Nov 2), The Servant of Two Masters (Nov 5-6) and Der Theatermacher (Nov 1, 17, 22, 31) at Berliner Ensemble, details.
BIO: Born near Vienna in 1988, Stefanie Reinsperger has been an ensemble member at the ‘Vienna Burgtheater’ and performed at the ‘Berlin Theatertreffen’ before joining the ‘Berliner Ensemble’ in 2017. On screen, she gained popular acclaim for her role in TV crime drama Tatort in 2019 and won an Austrian TV actress award (Romy) in 2022. Her memoir Ganz schön wütend (Pretty Angry) was released this year. She was recently recognised with the new Helene Weigel Theaterpreis for the most exceptional theatrical merit among company members of the Berliner Ensemble.