The music plays. Please hold the line. Your call is important to us. Or, as they say here in Germany, the next free employee is reserved for you. Please have a moment’s patience. Please, do not hang up. If the waiting time is too long, you can call us back another time. Our service is available from Monday to Tuesday, 8 am to 12 pm, Thursday 8 am to 6 pm, and Friday 8 am to 12 pm. The next free employee…
I hold the line for seven minutes, make an appointment to discuss my future in the workforce, then hang up. I have not been insulted, or exhorted for a bribe. The forms I fill out will have the intended results, within a time limit codified in civil law. Look on the bright side, says my therapist, my mother, Monty Python… pick any one. They’re right, of course.
The next day, this very call plays out on stage of the Ost-Passage Theater.
My Own Private Bürokratie was written, conceived and directed by members of Interaction Leipzig e.V., an organization supporting art projects, bringing together Leipzigers old and new.
Their stories are woven together into a tapestry of comedy and tragedy, peppered with absurdity – all about paperwork and all the hoops you need to jump through in order to be allowed to exist.
The play is in German, mostly, and I would recommend a B2 level for those who are wondering whether they’re really up to it. If you’re closer to B1 than B2, and it is a murky distinction, do not worry: It will add another layer to your enjoyment of the play, rendering the bureaucratic jargon even more excitingly mysterious.
Trust this native-level German speaker: We’re confused, too. You’ll just sympathize harder with the actors trapped in a labyrinth of government-issue tables and ficus trees.
The sound of typing and rubber-stamping permeates it all, like the inexorable ticking of a clock, too slow and too fast at once, reaching a breathless percussion crescendo at one point. There is also a ghostly, haunting tune that turns out to be a popular song written in 2010, and not during the Great Depression, as I initially assumed.
It is part game show, part confessional, always entertaining. I find that there is little I could say without spoiling the effect it has on stage, and even less that would not sound trite in an isolated description.
Embedded in the context of My Own Private Bürokratie, something that on its own would be too on the nose, too silly, becomes brilliant. Among other things, very creative use is made of a blindfold, a fly swatter and chocolate pudding. (Get your minds out of the gutter, it’s not that kind of show.)
Take a number. Wait. You will not wait for long; the performance is a master class on pacing, without sticking to the tried and tested dramatic arc. Chaos and order are balanced, like the universe itself. The action looks natural, almost improvised in its lightness.
The best choreography is useless without actors living up to its demands, and do they ever. One stands out in particular, mad hijinks and too-large jacket in the tradition of the great Charlie Chaplin. His every stumble is calculated to the maximal comical effect, and yet never too much, not one expressive movement wasted. Everyone in the ensemble gets their solo moment as well, and not a weak link in sight.
The younger women of the ensemble may blend together a little visually, in their twenties, medium-brown or blond hair pinned up in varying degrees of neatness, white blouses and no-nonsense brown skirts, sensible low heels and unaccented German – that too, however, feels very deliberate.
They are the friendly, professional face of German bureaucracy, sympathetic representatives of a benevolent monolith, their hands are tied, they can only do so much, it’s their job, that’s just policy, I don’t make the rules, sir.
The words “I am only following orders” never drop, but I hear them loud and clear, and it’s chilling, an unease that follows me on the cold walk home.
My Own Private Bürokratie reminded me of the paper-thin line between a life in relative peace and a life uprooted. I ended up on the better side of it, by virtue of having the right kind of papers at the right time.
Note to self, delete later: Do not veer off into a passionate rant on immigration, bad enough that a complex issue is commonly and wrongly reduced to that one word anyway, like that’s the main problem, not the dehumanization of millions of people, or my personal terror that the Nazis will return and get me – well, call me sensitive.
That’s why, when I hear complaining about modern art, I tend to become suspicious. If you don’t like one particular thing, an artist, several, that’s just your personal taste. If you go up against all of it, including every single image, song, installation, art form you’ve never even seen, that’s when my eyebrows start wandering up, I get a bit passive aggressive, and strike you off my list of people to ask for shelter in case of… well. Nazis.
A final note to a prospective audience: Dare to brave the front row at My Own Private Bürokratie. It filled up last, despite the show being sold out. Fear not, you will not be splattered with anything, or worse – asked to join the play. Full disclosure, someone might have to hold a basket for a minute.
After all, bureaucracy only works if everyone participates.
My Own Private Bürokratie is going to be on stage at the following dates and Leipzig venues:
- 18.1.20, 8 pm – Werk 2 (Kochstraße 132) – 9€ regular, 6€ reduced
- 23.1.20, 8 pm – Neues Schauspiel (Lützner Str. 29) – 13€ regular, 10€ reduced
- 01.2.20, 8 pm – Ost-Passage Theater (Konradstraße 27) – tickets TBA
- 22.2.20, 8 pm – Theatrium (Alte Salzstraße 59) – 8€ regular, 5€ reduced, 4.5€ groups (10+), 2€ Leipzig Pass
By Alex Llopis
Famous for dramatic readings of James Bond novels. Unable to sit through dubs without criticizing the translation, which is why she’s alone at the movies. Thinks her tendency to overshare may help her career in stand-up comedy, if she ever does more than one set. Her mom is probably reading this.