Susanne Kennedy gets ready to open a new era at the Volksbühne with the unintentionally timely Women in Trouble, just after #metoo has exploded worldwide.
After 13 years in the Netherlands, Kennedy returned to her native Germany to direct at the Munich Kammerspiele in 2011, and her distinctive directorial style has been drawing accolades ever since. Now, she’s following up her adaptation of Eugenides’ Middlesex and the award-winning Fegefeuer von Ingolstadt with Women in Trouble, the first proper theatre piece to be staged at the Volksbühne under controversial new artistic director Chris Dercon. She met us backstage to talk about her new work, feminism and the Volksbühne’s future.
What was the inspiration for Women in Trouble?
It started off with this situation in the film Opening Night by John Cassavetes. Gena Rowlands is in this scene with someone else, and suddenly she opens a door, goes through it, and she’s on a stage, and the stage setting is a living room. That shifting of reality, I liked very much. So Women in Trouble’s main character, Angelina Dreem, constantly switches between realities: She’ll get cancer, and then she dies and she’s reborn in a different variation. In the end, you have different variations of Angelina Dreem existing simultaneously in different rooms on a revolving stage. We have five different actresses playing her.
And it’s a collage of found texts?
Yes, a sort of journey through the internet. During the past few years, I just collected texts that I found on blogs, TED talks, whatever I came across that triggered something in me. With plays, I usually have to work a lot to make it… fit. With this text, I put together something that fits me completely.
Does it make sense to think of you as a feminist theatre artist?
Of course feminism is something that I find very important. If you watch Women in Trouble, it’s all about that. It’s about questioning this system we have somehow implemented, and women’s role in it. But I am interested in much more than just feminism. You could also call what Angelina Dreem is undertaking a spiritual journey, which I find much more interesting. At the same time, this whole Harvey Weinstein/#MeToo discussion happened in this short break we’re having. We stopped rehearsing for six weeks, and that’s when it completely exploded, and suddenly some scenes we have seem as if I’d written them in response to that. It wasn’t the case.
How do you see Women in Trouble as developing from your previous works?
For the first time, it’s actually a character on stage that could be more or less me. The way she looks – she just wears jeans and sneakers. She could be a regular hipster, in a sense.
How come the play’s in English?
All the material I gathered was English. Here, they were quite irritated about it, and I thought, “Okay, if I had to change it into German, I’d have to write a different play.” It’s about the Hollywood system; it’s about getting sick and being a patient and, at the same time, a consumer; about English as the language of globalisation. I don’t know, it just happened.
Who was upset about it, exactly?
It’s just this whole discussion at the moment about the Volksbühne. People are worried that it’s more fuel on the fire because this theatre was so German, and now this international group is coming in.
Is it lonely being a theatre director at the new Volksbühne?
I feel it’s part of an exciting interaction because I already have more contact with [non-theatre] artists here than I’ve had at other theatres. I’m very much looking forward to seeing different takes on theatre. I have the feeling that we have to find out again what the theatre means, and it’s really interesting to ask that question now, in this very symbolic Volksbühne. And it’s a strange kind of vacuum at the moment, which I find very exciting. It just feels so open at the moment, even though the ‘war’ is still going on. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Women in Trouble | Dec 2, 3, 10, 23, 27 (artist talk, Dec 10, 16:00), Volksbühne