An Argentine and a Brit walk into a bar, speaking Spanish and English to each other, and come out into the very center of Germany.
Then it’s their past, present, future – rolled together into one hour or so – Samuel Beckett, adventure, routine, a script, a spit, an imaginary crap on the ground. We, the audience, watch it all quickly unfold, enveloped in what can feel like an endless feed of German sentences, coming relentlessly at us.
This is an abbreviated description of Mund Stück (Mouth Piece), being performed at Schauspiel’s Residenz in der Baumwollspinnerei.
From the get-go, we find out that it all spawned from the two artists-in-residence – Rita Pauls (Argentina) and Ant Hampton (UK) – hanging out at their favorite bar in Buenos Aires. While chatting there, the friends established that they had Germany in common: Rita in her past, with her German great-grandfather who escaped from the Nazis to Argentina; Ant in his future, planning his escape from Brexit into becoming German. (He lives in Heidelberg.)
The Argentine and Brit also had in common not knowing the German language, but wanting to. So they came up with a plan to get German words to stick inside them. They’d go hitchhiking in Germany and ask drivers and passersby from different social classes:
What do you feel needs to be said?
They take us on a mixed-media journey that starts with a pin being dropped at the very center of Germany. They make the commitment to simply listen, record and feel how their own bodies respond to the input. And then to become vessels standing before us.
After a more light-hearted introduction comes the onslaught of German from the recordings they painstakingly went through, editing and memorizing. Wearing the same red lipstick, sometimes the performers speak in perfect sync, sometimes not.
But nothing that’s out of place in the performance – be it a word, a paper sticking out of a pocket, an untucked shirt – seems to be by accident. It’s quite meticulous.
While reciting, Ant (a performance artist by trade) largely stays in the same area. Actress and writer Rita, however, moves around a lot, illustrating the motions of routine, seasons, the two friends’ progress through the grueling memorization process – the passage of time, though not necessarily in a linear fashion.
Rita also draws metaphors with her body around the words coming out of their mouths.
By having memorized and rehearsed the German interlocutors’ words and sounds to near perfection, they sound German: in the accent and tone, and perhaps even in the choice of topics to talk (or gripe) about with strangers. They opened up their ears and bodies to receive the information, as the people who picked them up or crossed their path opened their mouths and some of the depths of their minds, too.
The Argentine and Brit spit the sentences back at the audience – “your words.” They make the audience laugh in recognition or embarrassment, and perhaps also reflect on the discourses we might memorize, internalize, spit out ourselves each day without much reflection. I know I did.
We hear about unrealized dreams, development, inequality, immigrants, social benefits, Nazis – in bundles delivered from the border between East and West Germany, through the mouths of foreigners who wanted to intimately know what random Germans have to say, and absorb different sides of the spectrum of Germans’ perceptions, society and culture. They leave us, as the audience, free to interpret all of it as we wish, and there are many possibilities there.
As a non-native German speaker, the process really tired me mentally – the performance had no pause – but I could appreciate its profundity and importance. I’m still working on peeling back the performance’s multiple layers, and part of me now wants to go on a road trip like that as well.
So many German words now do live inside Ant and Rita.
Mund Stück (Mouth Piece)
Tuesday, 19.02, 8 – 9:10 PM
Wednesday, 20.02, 8 – 9:10 PM
@ Residenz in der Baumwollspinnerei, Halle 18, Spinnereistraße 7, 04179 Leipzig