Wednesday, September 12, 2012




I came to Seattle in the Summer of 94, to check on some relatives, and check out the City. To see what the theater was like I got a job at a weekly that catered to the physically disable and that afforded two tickets. The populace applauded the sets that were so much more fabulous than their own abodes, giggled at every joke, and hopped up and down. Very enthusiastic, veddy uncritical. It was going to be a rough road to hoe. Meanwhile I have come to appreciate the pleasant sides of provinciality, none of them having to do with the arts here, and how provinciality reproduces itself, not something I had envisioned ever putting my mind to.

My then agent and former colleague Robert Lantz put me in touch with Dan Sullivan who then ran the Seattle Rep. I never met Dan but he put me in touch with his assistant, Kurt Beattie, and Kurt and I hit it off for a long while, and – as someone who had played the lead in Handke’s KASPAR Kurt clued me in on what and who had done Handke here, starting in the early 70s, entirely at the M. Burke Walker founded, but now, 1994, bankrupt EMPTY SPACE THEATER. There was even a very bright critic part of the group, Roger Downey, who, however, as I, who had collaborated on all the early Heiner Mueller translations with Carl Weber, who had also done the Handke premieres in New York in the 70s, had misrepresented himself to the holder of the Mueller Copyrights as having exclusive translation rights to Mueller’s QUARTETT, certainly one of the great postwar German texts in that field, as is Handke’s HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER. So I realized that there might be a problem down the road working with this very bright critic, this sasquatch who then giggles so surprisingly,  with whom I actually could talk on a serious level about Handke, Mueller, Kroetz, whom he had translated, coming in where I had left off, and sure enough there was, among others on the occasion of Roger getting a diabetes attack at the prospect of being on stage together with Carl Weber at a Heiner Mueller Memorial I had organized.
    At any event, Roger, Kurt, Burke were all gung-ho at my proposal to do a Handke festival in Seattle under the aegis of the UW. My friends at the Austrian cultural services even managed to find the kind of money you needed to get such a venture off the ground. I started with the moon, but the final proposal and the available funds sort of got us one quarter there. I had done Handke festivals, at Smith, under Leonard Berkmann’s aegis, and at Benningtn, it had been fun at all times. I recall Roger’s call one morning if he could direct PUBLIC INSULT as I now call OFFENDING THE AUDIENCE, and take it to the bigger theaters. “Have at it!” It turned out that though EMPTY SPACE had done KASPAR and RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE, they had not done Handke’s first famous play – the director had fallen ill. All seemed well and on the go until one day I had a call from Richard Gray, the chair of the German department, which had been kind enough to give me visiting scholar status, that Sarah Nash Gates, the head of the theater department, who I had thought was on the team, mentioned that they had no interest in my Handke project. My mistake, I ought to have called it the Sarah Nash Gates Handke festival. Nothing along the line got done if not initiated by her. A wiser politician than I would have double-checked how she went about matters. Meanwhile Steve Pearson, now the head of theater at the University of South Carolina, had done a very fine production of HOUR, the students in the Drama Schools graduate acting program, many were and ctd. very talented. I called Gates to see what could be done. The problem seemed to be that there was no one at the Drama School who was agreeable to her to inter-face with me, who actually would have loved to get the ball rolling and then stayed back and let it roll, for one because I had another life time’s worth of work to do, as I do still, and my income would be from royalties from performances of my translations! The absolutely first rate director M Burke Walker was being let go as a directing teacher, a Kerry Skalsky whom I had befriended and who taught stage fighting, was too young. Later I also received an unusually nasty letter from Nash Gates, gratuitous, who seemed under the impression that I wanted her job! But that was that and the money would never come back to the U. of Washington, that was for sure.
   Kurt after a variety of other assistant artistic director positions had inherited ACT, on the verge of its bankruptcy, but the Handke he has wanted to do there all these years have never materialized. I once spentpeter-handke-plays-in-english two week checking out all the translations of MOTHER COURAGE, Kurt was “just dying” to do a Seattle premiere. But nothing has happened on that score either. With Kurt I approached Rick White at Cornish, around the year 2000, to see whether they might be interested in doing Handke’s then as yet untranslated VOYAGE BY DUGOUT, they had a great space for a play that asked for it at that time. But Rick White, who too had been part of the original Handke fan club at THE EMPTY SPACE, never got back to me, he was delayed forever giving away money from the Arts Fund to projects no one ever hears of. Thinking I might translate the play I checked with my department whether any of the grad or other students wanted to learn something about translating in the process. No one was interested, as a matter of fact, although the U.W. Washington Library keeps acquring  all of Handke's books, they go unopened, not checked out for years, ditto for the whelming secondary literature. A few years later when it looked I might get to do an adaptation of MOTHER COURAGE for Kurt Beattie, indeed there were several people who wanted to work with me. It may be a German literature department, but literature is not what they are really interested in.

 I was planning to do at least a rehearsed reading of Handke’s WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, in front of a scrim with its two major images projected on it, the construction site and the cemetery wall with peace cypress behind. But I did not manage to raise the money, and my attempt to hold a group of fine voiced performers together proved impossible. I contacted John Kazanian at Theater for the New City, certainly a first rate director of one person performance pieces, to read VILLAGES there, I had done this once at Beyond Baroque, and still have the energy for that four hour feat. It appears he actually may have read it since he e-mailed me that he had and ordered it, but I have not the faintest what if any his reaction was. He has not replied to several queries. To remain unaffected by such a great piece…
 When Nash Gates had bowed out, Kurt Beattie and I approached Arne Zaslove,  still of the Bathhouse Theater then, whether we could do a reading of VILLAGES there. Zaslove lost the Bathhouse for committing the hubris of grandeur, but when I checked ten years later, he still had not read it, thus winning the most unenviable prize, which, if you forgot your Mamet, is a set of steak knives. Not too long ago I checked with Hal Ryder, another Cornish theater teach, whether he was interested in reading as an m.s. the now published [PAJ, 2012] VOYAGE BY DUGOUT. He was too busy! He and Skalsky, who briefly resurfaced there, were on their way to Yemen, they did return, unharmed by Al Queda of the Arabian peninsula. And there is a writer who has at least a quarter of old Will in him and all these non-entities who will fortunately leave no trace in theater history are not interested.
   Meanwhile, I have kissed Seattle in that respect, gave a couple of lectures, one most pleasurably for Burke Walker at the Drama School, but with the Handke Project’s drama side on line have a collection of writings on his plays and his theater which I am just now putting into order, and probably not with too much else to write on that score. Michael Roloff, 2012

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