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Complicated Accomplices  Viennese Performance Gang God’s Entertainment Transforms Art and Disaster
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Año 2009, 2
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Complicated Accomplices Viennese Performance Gang God’s Entertainment Transforms Art and Disaster

Revista Umělec 2009/2


Nadine Jessen | theater | en cs de

All human societies are spectacular in their daily life and produce spectacles at special moments. They are spectacular as a form of social organization and produce spectacles like the one you have come to see.

Even if one is unaware of it, human relationships are structured in a theatrical way. The use of space, body language, choice of words and voice modulation, the confrontation of ideas and passions, everything that we demonstrate on the stage, we live in our lives. We are theatre!

Augusto Boal

My first encounter with God’s Entertainment came about in early Vienna in early 2006. At the time I was working on “Project Play: Place” (Projekt Spiel:Platz), a lab for post drama theater, constantly searching for interesting artists. To say “Constantly” is exaggerating, of course. On this evening, I simply want to relax. I’m in Spiel: Platz and thinking of my troop of five. I don’t know any of them and they are acting strange. One of them comes up to me. He orders a drink and says something nice about the theater. Theater—not drama, baby! He says he likes theater, too. Firm but friendly, I try to escape him. It’s 11 pm and I’m in no mood to talk about projects at the bar, so I head toward the stairs. The guy comes after me, grabs me by the arm and forces me to watch a video. He pushes the “play” button. I see the square before Stephan’s Dome: midday sun, tourists, street performers and high class Viennese ready to shop. Totally normal. The camera pans a bit. I see a gaunt, blond man with a baseball bat in hand, ready to strike. Another man—the one next to me is lying on the ground in front of him painted black. There’s a hat two meters away. Passersby become spectators. Someone tosses money in the hat. Pow! The baseball bat-guy starts beating the blackness on the ground. Bewilderment. Uncertainty. Laughing. Many would rather go away, but more people stay there. More witnesses. A few more hits and the performer begins to stare. Headshaking. Another coin flies into the hat. Pow! The camera teeters. The police come. More teetering. Fin. Crazy, right? The guy with the camera beside me is Boris. He wants to know what I think. Very good, I say. Do you have bruises? He nods and explains that this performance took place a few days before the anniversary of a racist assault. The performance is called Vienna is Different? We’re still standing on the stairs. I still want to go home. I give him my number and want to leave. The rest of the group is watching us. Fight Club. We want to do Fight Club and we need money and a venue. Now it comes out. Ok. I don’t make any deals in staircases. But tomorrow.
The next day I meet Borris. He tells me about Fight Club. More specifically: Real Tekken. It’s about an experiment with viewers: The viewers control the performers with joysticks and make them fight. So far so good. But how does it work? Are you even allowed to do that? What happens if there’s an accident? Borris doesn’t know. Me neither. But we make a deal. Boris says the performers have to practice and they have to get the joysticks made. The joysticks control lights and the performs practice to light signals. Green= right kick, red= left punch… puppets of the people. Everyone shares responsibility at God’s Entertainment. Very good. Do women fight too? Sure. This is really crazy. Crazy! This word will come up frequently.
Press Conference in Spiel:Platz.
Shortly before the premiere of Fight Club:

As good as no press present. Boris doesn’t come, but Simon does. Who is Simon? Who knows? What kind of people are there? And how many? What makes them tick? Enter Simon: in arm cast. How authentic for Fight Club. I ask if that’s the first gag. Simon says something in the Tyrolean dialect. I only understand crazy. He says it too. The PK begins. We had decided not to tell the press about the betting. I wasn’t so sure how well that would be taken. So, better not. Ok. The three journalists present listen patiently to coming play time. Then we’re up.
I introduce the concept. My combatants. The artists. No reaction. Simon explains Fight Club. And the betting. Still no reaction. End of the press conference.

It’s October and God’s entertainment is rehearsing. I’m curious and drop by. It keeps growing. Loud music. A crowd. Cables. People come and go. All very nice. I don’t understand almost any of these people. Aside from Simon and Boris, I don’t know anyone by name. I try to take count an exact number. Not a chance. It remains nebulous. Neue names pop up: Maja, Domi, Max Christian, Bernhard, Lena, Zsusa, Jevgeni, Thomas. There are rumors. One performer is a close combat fighter. For security, we put a doctor in the audience. One never knows. Has the theater already begun?

The performance begins. The basement of the theater is full. Everyone is smoking. The show begins. The people hesitantly begin to bet. Volunteers get the joysticks and chose their fighter. The fight begins. Kicks. Blows. Fists. Ouch. The fighters are determined. Is it a game? No one knows anymore. Some hoot, others laugh. Crazy. The round is over, Max gives up. I cash in my winnings. Next round. The performers and the audience are in full throttle. Wafts of mist, blood and sweat. Loud shouting. Cheering. I’m still crapping myself that everything will go well. There’s ice spray as a gift for the premiere. It’s used up quickly. The last round was the hammer, adrenaline floats in the air. The fight is over. Spotlight on the two lady moderators. They stand in the center and smoke. The air is boiling. Victory celebration! Triumph! But still quietness. Smoking. Wow. The cloakroom is a first aid station. God’s beaten entertainers crowd together. The doctor gives first aid. No serious injuries, he says. Don’t do this again. He sends me to get ice cubes. I run to McDonald’s and ask ardently for a whole box. Many injured. Summary of the first Fight Club: 1 broken foot, 1 box of ice cubes, 1 legend, numerous bruises, contusions. Broken ribs.

Hamlet—any other wishes? A few weeks later God’s Entertainment party attracts the whole of the Viennese performance art scene. Word of Fight Club had gotten around. God’s Entertainment phenomenon should be pushed along. But the tables turn. The performance begins with a party. Lines are offered. Not real ones, it’s just theater. Or is it? The drinks are real, in any case. Music. Just no Hamlet. He comes later. By that time most
of the audience is too tipsy to handle the storm of pop quotations. Hamlet arrives as the Pope, sees and conquers. The audience, rotten fruit in hand, is unsettled. Art or disaster. A colleague curses loudly in the Viennia Off- Radio. A curator is cooking with anger. A real drama. Not theater. Crazy. Assessment of Hamlet: hours of cleaning up the excessive amount of feathers, rotten fruit and the like… a lot of enemies, a lot of glory.

God’s Entertainment is planning a new project. Radovan Karadzic—King of Comedy. An attempt at a performance about war criminals or much more so a performative deconstruction of medial- staged search. At that time he hadn’t been found and it didn’t look like it would work. The work on Karadzic reveals another side of God’s Entertainment. The topic calls for his tribute. They want to mix documentary with fictive material and the medium of choreography with the performative. They take it seriously. The first elaborate production. The conditions are difficult. They’re able to personally interview Carla del Ponte.
I am impressed. Against all odds they cover the floor of the theater with turf, a house is built and chickens appear in the theater. The technical director, the fire department and
a veterinarian: the performance is going to take place. There’s slivovice and pickles in the foyer and Turbofolk is playing on TV. The performers mingle with the people. Everyone drinks and forms little circles. Almost as nice as the vacation in Yugoslavia with my parents way back when. The hall doors open. You enter another world: turf and chickens. A girl is swinging. A video is projected. 20 minutes. The beginning of the war. Shots. Mass graves. Injured children. Yugoslavian War. Carla del Ponte. A reporter reports from Sarajevo. Where is Karadzic? No one knows. The video ends, but the pictures remain. The performance begins with Karadzic sitting in the middle of the audience. Tells jokes. The performers chase him, trying to capture him. A pursuit, a bonfire. The viewers drink schnapps and eat sausages with Karadzic. A fish commentates on what’s happening. Karadzic and his wife go into the house on stage. A few members of the audience are allowed to go, too. With a camera. Karadzic and his wife have sex. Real sex. Do they? The viewer wants to know too and holds the camera on them. I want to know, too. They do. A plumber shows up and installs an LCD screen. He puts in a film. King of Comedy. Cheers. Karadzic disappears into thin air. A member of the audience stumbles into the backdrop. A lynch mob surrounds the house with breathtaking clatter and wave EU flags until they are exhausted. Crazy.

God’s Entertainment is the talk of the town. Fight Club is invited to different festivals. Should the performances be repeated? Will it be predictable? Calculable? It’s discussed. A lot. Domi calls me mama. I move out of Vienna. We plan a project for the opening of my new workshop. Love Club. Like Fight Club but with love. Kissing and petting instead of punches. Lowering inhibitions instead of testing propensity toward violence. The magazine BILD comes to the premiere. A viewer loudly requests more porno. The others can’t believe what they’re witnessing.
It must be Love Club.

Simon calls. He’s really angry. God’s Entertainment is invited to a festival. Fight Club and The City is Different should be put on twice. There’s trouble at the first street performance. A passerby intervenes. A brawl. The RTL Documentary Police Toto and Harry show up on the scene. The passerby views himself as a victim. RTL anxiously asks if it is still art. Everything is crazy, no one knows what is going on. Simon thinks the worst thing is that the director of the festival says it’s all just theater during the second city performance. Simon is fuming. Who’s actually paying the lawyer?

It’s Europe time! In the meantime, God’s Entertainment is Austria’s most hopeful new-blood project. They perform at the Freischwimmer Festival. The unemployed are casted in each city and worked into nightly performances. Guests are given schnapps upon arrival. This time the intoxication should create identity.
You can’t get in without papers and you have to wait for them. Arrival. I want into the Czech Republic. That sounds like absinthe. I’m right. On the inside, you have to work. Otherwise I’m high and dry. A desert party is underway. All of the borders become blurry. Who is the performer? Who is cast from the unemployment office? Who is the entertained audience? A theatre manager with coke gets mugged in Berlin and some of the viewers aren’t comfortable with the alcohol consumption in Hamburg. The ambulance has to come two times. The paramedic wants to know what kind of performance this is. The technician complains that he doesn’t want to carry the responsibility anymore. Everything is out of control. Two visitors at the unemployment office discuss the situation. Is reality getting thicker or is everyone just thick? Two illegal arrivals swipe schnapps. At six in the morning, the European theatre is a merry union. And it’s fine.

So much success follows. God’s Entertainment goes further and develops and opening act. Super Nase & Co. is self-reflection incarnate: the reference of reference, the system in the system. They do covers of themselves. Super Nase & Co gets God’s Entertainment’s foot in the door of the art world. More like they break down the door. For example, with reenactments like “This is not Marina Abramovic.” In this performance, the original performance is redone, showing it respect and mocking it at the same time. Super Nase & Co is a merciless paradox, blatant self-disclosure lowers the aesthetic requirements of God’s Entertainment’s opening act.

Junkies—Actors, sex workers and homeless teenagers—accompanied by a group of Romanians, Slovenians and Croatians lure unsuspecting townspeople into the theater trap. God’s Entertainment performs “Offending the Audience” by Peter Handke. The classic theater shocker. Their logical adaptation: “Offending Passersby.” The cash-strapped population of Karlsplatz love the temporary cash job. Lines form. To read a torment
of hatred from a paper for a handful of Euros—why not? And the best part is being nasty to a stranger straight to his face. Could be an asshole. One of the performers is always there with a tiny camera. The collected scenes can be viewed in the entrance hall. It’s all the backdrop. Every shortfall is staged. It’s total art. That’s enough for the FPÖ. Theater cannot become reality. They want to put the breaks on the momentum of the group of artists, so they send a questionnaire of 12 broad questions to the State Ministry of Education, Art and Culture. Mag. Barbara Prammer, the responsible minister, tries to protect the artists. After all, “protecting the freedom of art is one of her most distinguished duties.” 1 The entrance to the Karlsplatz U-Bahn is groundbreaking politically for the community even without the appearance of the fringe group with behavioral problems.” 2
Are art subsidies funneled to dodgy entities behind the backs of taxpayers? Without a doubt. What happens if the city theater were to put on such a production or junkies want to have their own theater? That would be crazy.

A new phase begins: An expansion of artistic means in the combat zone in order to conquer new contexts. God’s Entertainment follows in the footsteps of its opening act and produces a staged photo series on folklore. They slip into the rolls of regional stereotypes for this. You can see the results in this magazine, and they’ll certainly be coming to a gallery near you. All of these events took place more or less just like this. Special thanks to Fahim Amir who oversaw and promoted the development process of Spiel: Platz, as he has not been mentioned yet. With a heavy heart, I’ve decided not to include his roll in this specific historical production out of respect to the reader. That’s another story.
Chronology of God’s Entertainment Productions:

Mossad- Mozart Review 2056, Museum Quarter, Vienna

May: Das ist fantastisch! (That’s fantastic!) Marithé & François Girbaud Boutiquie, Vienna
June: without title- a controversial GE Play to WM 2006, Vienna
October: Fight Club- Real Tekken, Spiel: Platz, dietheater Konzert Haus, Vienna
December: Performance of Sonst noch einen Wunsch? (Any other requests?)
Adaptation of Hamlet, Freie Bühne, Vienna

February: Performance of Sonst noch einen Wunsch?
Adaptation of Hamlet, Spiel:Platz, dietheater Konzerthaus, Vienna
April: Fight Club & Stad ist anders? (The City is Different?), Donaufestival, Krems
May: Radovan Karadzic- King of Comedy. A performative search for war criminals, Spiel:Platz, dietheater Konzert Haus, Vienna
October: Die Geburt der brut (Birth of brut) Opening installation at brut, Vienna
November: Love Club, brut Vienna; Fight Club & Stadt ist nadirs? At Festival Impulse, Germany
December: Fight Club, Cut & Paste Festival, HAU, Verlin

March-May: Europa—Schön, dass Sie hier sind! (Europe—nice that you’re here!) Freischwimmer Tour, Sophiensaele in Berlin, Gessnerallee in Zürich, Forum Freies Theater in Düsseldorf, brut Vienna, Kampnagel in Hamburg
June: Open Office, Arena-Festival in Erlangen
October: Love Club, Super Nase & Co by Made Up, Liverpool Biennale
November: Passantenbeschimpfung (Offending Passersby) in cooperation with brut Vienna
December: Super Nase & Co WUK
February: Tirol isch lei Oans, Tyrol photo project in Vienna
March: Pfost-Moderne, WUK, Vienna
April/May: Sonst noch einen Wunsch? Special edition, Donau Festival 09, Krems
May: Passantenbeschimpfung (Offending Passersby), HAU Berlin
June: Shivers, co-production with Kampnagel, Hamburg

1 Citiation from Anfragebeantwortung
2 Citation from the FPÖ quiery on 12.12.2008 457/j XXIV.GP


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