A peculiar informational plaque posted in a field in Joachimsthal reads:
The man on the field is playing Flint, the main character of Heiner Mueller’s 1961 play ‘Die Umsiedlerin’ (The Resettler). His movements, thoughts and expressions have been rehearsed in New York City. He is planting half a ton of potatoes.
The actor David Barlow spent 14 hours per day for one month (5th – 28th May) in the Brandenburg countryside farming and acting, with or without an audience, as part of Bauerntheater (farmers’ theatre), an artistic project lead by ECLA instructor David Levine.
The project brings into question the technique of method acting (life-like, realistic performance and actors being able to holistically embody the characters). As David Levine explained during the panel discussion held in Joachimstahl on the 12th of May (Why Watch Work?), in many ways method acting requires the actor to go through a “crash course” in appropriating the skills of the character. In this sense, a method actor is a person of whom it is expected to learn any profession in a short period of time. Could David Barlow then embody the character of a German farmer after one month’s training in New York and then actually successfully plant potatoes? Bauerntheater also re-evaluates the relationship between acting and the stage by questioning the meaning of method acting technique in the context of the artificial setting of the stage.
If acting to some degree involves imitating a character’s professional work, then the question arises – why go to the theatre to see an actor play a farmer, when one can see a farmer anywhere out on a field or, in more general terms, why use theatre to reproduce reality? The confusion of the Bauerntheater audience expresses this problem well: is the man on the field an actor, a farmer or an actor playing a farmer? Upon this realisation, one no longer knows how to respond to the situation. Should we be indifferent at the banal sight of a man farming, or feel sympathy for the actor exhausted by physical labour? In this sense, Bauerntheater manages to successfully blur the distinction between reality and performance.
By Clara Sigheti (2007, Romania)