“Why do I pass the highways by that other travellers take?” is a question asked in “Winterreise”, which will open the coming season at Schauspiel Leipzig. But at the time of writing this foreword, this particular line from “Winterreise” has become an imperative rather than a poetic query.
“Gefühlte Wirklichkeiten (Perceived Realities)” is the motto heading this season. We developed it between last autumn and mid-February of this year. We were guided by questions concerning the increasing white noise of perceived emotions, the conflicts between individualistic convictions opposed in ever more radical polarisation, the urgent quest for meaning, the vehemence with which many people joined ranks behind new or long-familiar concepts, ideals and demands, and a withdrawal into the private sphere which is more celebrated today than for a long time.
But reality is complicated. And subject to change. The immediate reality that prevails while these lines are written is ruled by terms that used to sound like they belonged to a different reality: general rulings, contact ban, shutdown. These terms are confronting us with very personal realities that could hardly be more isolated: the clearly delineated realities of our own four walls, the new reality of a social life that has suddenly changed fundamentally. Withdrawing into the private sphere is no longer an option, it is an order. And this private sphere turns out to be smaller and more constricted than we would have thought.
The sometimes highly individualistic concepts and life-styles of these private spheres are now raising questions that no one had considered in the reality that prevailed until late February 2020. Neither those of us who are now walking through Saxony on their own nor all of us who can only meet on our Easter walks if we keep a careful distance.
There are people who are all alone in their flats and others who may be trapped with the people they live with. Not to forget those who are confronted with entirely different problems, who are homeless, who have recently migrated from other countries, who have no place of their own or tried and tested social support systems. People living in these conditions are in danger of disappearing from our view even more than before.
We barely manage to reach a social agreement about these events – this is one of the defining experiences of recent weeks. At best, they are channelled through the statements and counter-statements on social media, whose ambient noise continues to grow louder. All exchange of ideas or public social debate in the ways that we were used to has been thwarted. In these times of tightly constricted privacy, feelings and emotions emerge and accumulate as though under a burning lens.
We have to deal with the experience of having our fundamental rights suspended in order to reach a goal that benefits our entire society. But who would ever have thought that compulsory education would ever be deferred in Saxony? Or who would have thought that the free practice of religion would be restricted, that there would be a time when our freedoms of assembly and movement would no longer apply? Our perceived realities, our conviction that these liberties can be taken for granted, are shaken. How will we catch up with each other, how will society reassemble after this watershed? How will be process our experiences of this time? How will the experiences of this time change us? And how will we assess these weeks?
The economic foundations of our society and many life-plans included in it have also been sustainably unsettled. The realities of the spring of 2020 are increasingly accompanied by urgent questions about this society’s economic future and structure. And the longer this crisis mode lasts, the more likely it becomes that this is no mere interruption, but that we are instead dealing with a deep caesura.
Topics that had previously warranted critical analysis will have to be moved into focus once more: What does living together as a society actually mean? How many different interests can be accommodated in a society, how many diverse needs and life-designs? And how do we deal with diversity?
How many realities are there and what are they based on? How open are they, or how limited? Who makes allowances for whom when realities drift apart? How can we continue to deal with a great variety of opinions, with perhaps entirely contradictory assessments, notions, judgements?
These questions will certainly have to be asked in a new way. But we will continue to ask them, even after this watershed that we are now – in the spring of 2020 – experiencing. And, now perhaps more than ever, we will have to achieve social agreement on some of these topics and issues.
Our work in the theatre will be determined by an analysis of a great variety of realities. Of material and plays that explore subjective worlds, however narrow or wide their focus may be, of questions and discussions. Our first premiere, “Winterreise”, will be evidence of the fact that our gaze on familiar material will change, that new perspectives can emerge.
We will continue our Expert Talks with Jens Bisky (Süddeutsche Zeitung) at Schauspiel Leipzig this season. We are looking forward to examining the lasting consequences of this period of spring 2020 for our society and to providing in-depth analyses of selected productions in these conversations. Individual events, participants and topics will be announced at a later date.