The courage to be wild at heart

The theatre at WERK X-Petersplatz just premiered “Im Herzen der Krähen” (In the hearts of crows) by Kaśka Bryla. I was again invited to photograph the general rehearsal, always a special treat for me to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of a play or performance, allowing me to capture a bit of  the energy and excitement of the cast and crew as they work together to bring their vision to life.

The play “Im Herzen der Krähen” written by Kaśka Bryla focuses on the theme of a possible future in the midst of various present crises.

Zeynep AlanJulia AmmeLaila Nielsen in “Im Herzen der Krähen”

This second installment of a trilogy explores the contemporary complex challenges that our society is facing. After ‘Das verkommene Land’ revolved around the theme of memory and thus the past, ‘In the hearts of crows’ looks to the future. The play delves into various pressing topics such as gender inequality, the ecological crisis, human-animal relationships, and societal divisions based on age, origin, orientation, status, etc. The entire team, including actresses Zeynep Alan, Julia Amme, and Laila Nielsen, stage designer Elisabeth Schiller-Witzmann, and directors Alexander Bauer and Chris Herzog, grappled with their own inner conflicts and personal involvement in societal developments while creating the play. They realized that they couldn’t be neutral observers of the issues they were exploring. In a collaborative and organic process, the team crafted a profound text that addresses the complexities of our contemporary society.

In the play three women, strangers with their own unwritten stories and goals, meet at a small bus stop in an anonymous landscape that could be anywhere in the middle of winter. Sonja (Julia Amme) is old, but her family wants her to be declared underage because she is giving away her inheritance to Doctors Without Borders; when we meet her she is waiting for the bus (not far from a psychiatric ward), which doesn’t seem to be coming. Esra (Zeynep Alan) is a “migrant” whose parents are from Turkey, she studied ethnology, but works as a waitress. Lile (Laila Nielsen) identifies as queer, but only comes out as the play progresses. She is a stuntwoman from Switzerland, wants to befriend the crows and wishes to be a bird and to be able to fly.

While waiting for the bus, which only Sonja believes will come, they experience visions of a potential future amidst crows and wolves. They also explore their own histories, such as why one of them may or may not have “escaped” from a nearby psychiatric institution. Or why the youngest of the trio, Esra, carries (and shoots) a crossbow, killing – accidentally or deliberately? – the beloved crow friend of another. What unites these three very different women?

The play’s title refers to the crows, which in many cultures represent change, transformation, and a new beginning. Crows are known for their intelligence and adaptability, and they are often seen as messengers of change or new beginnings. They are also sometimes associated with the cycles of life and death, as they are also scavengers who feed on the dead. In many cultures, crows are also seen as mystical or supernatural creatures, with the ability to bridge the world of the living and the dead. They are often associated with magic and prophecy, and in some traditions, they are even believed to have the power to bring good luck or ward off evil. And so it is not surprising that the play´s crow is called Kassandra by Lile.

The ill-fated crow, also named Kassandra by her human friend

One of the interesting aspects of the play is its reinterpretation of the figure of Kassandra, the Trojan princess who was cursed to prophesy true prophecies but never to be believed. According to legend, Kassandra was blessed with the gift of prophecy by the god Apollo, but when she refused to become his lover, he cursed her so that no one would believe her prophecies. Despite her accurate predictions about the fall of Troy and other events, she was ignored and mocked by her fellow Trojans. Kassandra has been a popular figure in literature and art throughout history, and her story has often been interpreted as a symbol of the powerlessness of women and the dangers of not being believed. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Kassandra as a feminist icon and an inspiration for women who have been silenced and marginalized.

In “Im Herzen der Krähen,” Kassandra is reinterpreted to highlight the role of gender in shaping our beliefs and values. The reimagining of Kassandra as a feminist figure shows the enduring relevance of her story and the potential for mythological figures to inspire dialogue even in contemporary, or timeless, issues.

Fog is put to good use on this stage

The play’s format is a combination of conversations, performative, and dramatic elements, including sound, projections, and music. The play’s form with three women from different walks of life who nevertheless find connection in the “wilderness” they meet in creates a constellation that exists outside of time. As they question each other and their reality, relate their past and experiences, they point up the need for a different kind of storytelling that can lead to a new and more inclusive future.

“Die erzählte Zeit hat uns überholt.” (The narrated time has overtaken us.)

from “Im Herzen der Krähen”

According to the directors Alexander Bauer and Chris Herzog, in view of increasing social polarization, which makes dialogue more difficult, the team is negotiating ways to live together in solidarity – even beyond the boundaries of the human species. The piece does not provide any clear answers, but rather illustrates the ambiguity and contradictions of reality based on the unusual encounter between three women and the resulting tensions. There are no easy answers to pressing problems, the situation is complex. When things are not so clear, enduring ambiguity becomes important. A better future can only be created by recognizing and understanding the complexity of the world. The joint departure of the three protagonists into indeterminacy is intended to show that a change of heart – perhaps becoming a bit “wilder” – and thereby a change of our future is possible.

“Visionary” Sonja also does a wonderful karaoke interpretation of Barbra Streisand’s “Memories”.

History is by its nature subjective, representing the point of view of those writing it. Can history be written differently? It is not a matter of inventing facts, it is about actually including women, minorities, and disadvantaged groups in its telling. There is still a long way to go with putting such important individuals and groups into history books. And will re-writing it affect future outcomes? These are just a couple of the questions that come up. The play creates a space for reflection and conversation around possibilities for a different and more inclusive, better future. Can looking backwards impact how we look forward?

As the characters try to redefine themselves, becoming transformed before our eyes, the play raises the question of how one can envision a future when one´s own story is not yet written. Sonja transforms into the wolf she had to kill and ultimately chooses to live in the forest tending it rather than taking the Euroliner to Roma, when it finally shows up. It is Esra, in the end, who takes the bus to tell the story of Sonja and Lille to the world. And Lile? She learns how to fly and in the end will stay with Sonja in the forest (“the word for world is forest”), because only when everyone is half human and half animal will they understand that a different future is possible.

Without a history, one cannot create a future. You may not have to be wild at heart to appreciate this. But to do it, requires a lot of courage and tenacity.

Thank you for having me, team WERK X-Petersplatz!

When the wild catches up, or you become the wild

The production of “Im Herzen der Krähen” is directed by  Alexander Bauer and Chris Herzog, with the text by Kaśka Bryla. The set and costumes were designed by  Elisabeth Schiller-Witzmann, and the production is managed by  Julia Pacher from Peira. The dramaturgy is by Angela Heide, and Aïsha Konaté provided outside-eye direction. The cast includes Zeynep AlanJulia AmmeLaila Nielsen.

The play is in German, it premiered on 20 April 2023.

A production of Kunst und Lügen and Peira in cooperation with WERK X-Petersplatz and Theater im Ballsaal.

Further performances

  • Sat April 22, 2023, 7:30 p.m.
  • Sun April 23, 2023, 7.30 p.m.
  • Tue April 25, 2023, 7:30 p.m., followed by a conversation with the audience
  • Wed April 26, 2023, 7:30 p.m
  • Thu April 27, 2023, 7:30 p.m

All photos © Karin Svadlenak-Gomez

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