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Saint Joan of the Stockyards, Brecht

Саратовский Академический ТЮЗ Киселева, Saratov, Russia

"The snow begins to fall 
Will anyone stay at all? 
Here, as they always have, today 
Stony ground and the poor will stay."

The play chosen by the German director Andreas Merz is not so well-known in Russia as “Mother Courage”, “The Good Person of Szechwan” or “The Threepenny Opera”. Full title of the play is “Saint Joan of the Stockyards”, it was written in 1931. The action of the play takes place in the beginning of the 20th century on the stockyards of Chicago, which are closed because of manipulations on the stock market and an overproduction crisis. Seventy thousand fired workers come out on the strike. A mission of saving the workers thrown out on the streets from the outrage of the frost, hunger and stock-exchange gamblers and also from the arousing calls to violent actions is taken up by a girl named Johanna Dark. She is a lieutenant of the Black Straw Hats, the Salvation Army-like missionary and charitable organization, where military discipline and ranking system is combined with ideas of non-violence and beneficence. Johanna tries to find understanding of worker’s dire situation and help in their misery from one of biggest meat bosses Pierpont Mauler. He dreams of quitting the “bloody business” and is ready to hear Johanna. Will the ideas of mercy and sacrifice reach the hearts of the high and mighties and defrost the souls of those standing on the stockyards?

At present “Sain Joan of the Stockyards” in Europe is being staged more often than any other of Brecht’s plays and always causes the great interest among the audience. This happens not only because of the timely economic crisis topics but also because of the interesting poetical form of the play. As Sergey Tretiakov, a translator of the play and a futurist-poet, once said: "Brecht made stockbrokers speak using Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, but the iambs themselves are staggering like drunkards".

This project is born from the many years of cooperation with the Goethe-Institute (Moscow) and is held in the frames of the Year of Germany in Russia 2012-2013. Saint Joan” staged by Andreas Merz is a performance that talks to the young audience about such important questions as the responsibility extent and understanding of the consequences of your own actions. However it does so using the new and unusual for the Russian stage language of post dramatic theater. It’s a theater of thoughts that calls to the mutual creativity more than to the compassion; it’s oriented to those who are waiting for an honest and straight dialogue between the actors and the audience.

starring: Valery Emelyanov, Alexandra Karelskih, Evfeniy Safonov, Alexey Karabanov, Tatiana Chupikova, Alexey Chernyishev, Victoe Storozhenko, Tamara Tzihan, Ruslam Divlyatshin, Anna Bogradona, Andrey Gudim, Iilya Zyzin, Marina Klimova, Andrey Korenev, Maria Luchkova, Yulia Mesheryakova, Alexander Tremasov

director: Andreas Merz Raykov

stage and costume design: Elena Stepanova


TUZ-Saratov, 10.04.2013
Wolf Iro, chief of the cultural programs department of the Goethe Institute in Moscow and general program manager of the year of Germany in Russia 2012/2013 about the staging of "Saint Joan of the Stockyards" in Saratov:

"I enjoyed the staging very much, I think it has many astonishing techniques, ideas and undertakings. Indeed, this is a very impressive show with a remarkable ending. Many things in it are very Brecht-like, almost like the 'Three Penny Opera'. It is a show of a very high quality, performed by a very good ensemble, which surprised me a lot. I am visiting Saratov for the first time but I already realize that I had obviously missed something very significant. I can frankly admit that this acting ensemble is playing better than many of those in Moscow. I consider this show a great success, it was a real pleasure for me to watch it.

The aim of the year of Germany in Russia is not demonstrating something, nor educating, but facilitating a live exchange between people, and I think that in this show we can see a dialogue of Russian and German culture, their interpenetration. In my opinion, the art of acting in Russia is developed to a very high technical extent, but the theater itself as a phenomenon grew a little bit old-fashioned in its aesthetics. This is an absolutely peculiar combination of high technical skills and lack of figurative and presentation skills. This affects actors' creativity, hence not everyone is used to experiments and new experiences on stage, to new aesthetics. But in this show that very type of a meeting happened - the actors met the new kind of theater."


Tvoy Saratov, 18.04.2013
Saint Joan: post-dramatic theater in Saratov Kiselev theater
On the 10th of April an opening show of the play “Saint Joan” based on a play by Bertolt Brecht staged by Andreas Merz took place in Saratov Kiselev theater. 

America of the 30s, economy is in fever, meat producer Mauler impoverishes his competitor, as a result the workers find themselves in the street. Mauler continues to derive benefit from seemingly hopeless situations: several times he turns out to be on the verge of losing everything, but a new canny move helps him to jackpot again and again. Johanna dispenses free soups to the workers in the name of God, but when she finds out that her charity organisation also tries to gain profit out of misery, she protests and starts acting on her own. Sharing the destiny of the unemployed Johanna dies from pneumonia and is proclaimed a saint.

The production is staged in the style of post-drama theater: the heavy-handed brechtian text, multiplied on the plot intricacies of commercial and stock machinations, appears to be secondary. The key is to make it into the rhythm, surrender yourself to it and scramble through this darkness together with the characters, rocking on the waves: the gradually building up pathetics (up!) turns into a parody on itself (down!). Videocamera shows the actors, who are in the backstage, in a close-up; the picture is beamed on two large screens, and for some reason this black and white video is perceived as silent movie. The text is important and at the same time not important: suddenly the details of Mauler's speculations are repeated three like a conjuration, and then on a snap we hear a long monologue in German, and it is not less natural!

Straight-out and naive Johanna (Alexandra Karelskih) is either singing as a God's fool, giving the audience a nervous chill, or tutoring fiercely and confidently: Take care that when you leave the world, you have not merely been good, but are leaving a better world!”. A pure soul is doomed to death in the world where the cold calculus rules… But it is not important, because in the nearest “Media Markt” there is a sell-out of TV-sets!

Bolsheviki are swaying the red flag, the workers are singing “International”, the meat producer Graham, performed by Tatyana Chupikova, puts on a scarlet dress (obviously from despair), Mauler is kicking off to “California Dreamin'“, and at the end of the show the audience sings together with the actors “Our world is like a fairytale heaven”... There are no indifferent people left in the audience: the visions presented by the German director to Saratov audience, sink down in the consciousness for a long time, exploding the greyness of hungry for money daily life.



Saratov today, 17.04.2013
Where good intentions lead
On the 10th of April 2013 the opening show of "Saint Joan of the Stochyards" based on a play by B. Brecht took place in Saratov Academical theater named after Kiselev. The show was conducted within the framework of the year of Germany in Russia 2012/2013. The play was staged by the German drector Andreas Merz, who is already familiar to Saratov audience for his staging of Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus". [...]

Some words about the play: "Saint Joan of the Stockyards". The Great Depression. Chicago. The local meat producers are conducting their machinations, aiming to trick and ravage each other. The workers, 70 thousand people, are trying to survive at least somehow, and to fight for their rights, to attract attention to their problems. And between these two there is a local religious organization - "Black Strawhats" - who are existing on the money of the rich ones, trying to calm the workers down with the help of free soups. The main heroine, Johanna Dark, is from that very organization. She is a local Jeanne D'Arc, who is trying to arrange things in such a way that everyone in this world could be happy. But suddenly arrives the recognition: the strong ones are only pretending to be kind, the religious ones are only pretending to be godly, in order to receive the money from the strong ones. And only the workers are not pretending. They are just starving. And they will follow anyone who gives them the opportunity to eat - the power, or the church, or the communists. And the good intentions? They prove to lead directly to hell. All the efforts of the local Jeanne D'Arc turn against her. But she only realizes it when there is no more way back.


Basically, the whole plot of the play is the transition of Johanna Dark from religious point of view "let us all pray together and everything will be good" to a fair revolutionary one "only in a struggle will you obtain your right".

Honestly speaking, I could not expect such a revolutionary topic from a staging in the Kiselev theater. Neither did I expect that from the German director Andreas Merz. And even though he, in his conversations with the mass media before the show, denied it and explained that he had no goal to call to revolution, this was exactly what he achieved. But the revolution was taking place not on the stage, but in the minds of the spectators.


The staging is solved in the spirit of minimalism. Several chairs, a couple of cardboard boxes, displaying church or stockyards. But the bull... a phoney copy of the famous New-York bull, the symbol of the stock market game. They put it on wheels and brought it to the stockyards. Of course, where else is a proper place for a bull? Only at the slaughter house. But it is the symbol of the stock market! The stock market is heading to death...


The thought of the dying stock market goes through the whole play as a red line. And it is as actual today, on the background of the global economical crisis, as never. The play was written in 1931. Today is 2013. But the problem is still the same - the market fails to cope all by itself with its own regulations. In spite of all the assurances of the economists.


Religion and faith? Since the moment when the religious leader agreed upon a price with the rich ones - the price for persuading those who are in need to endure and forgive - since then religion and faith do not help anymore either. For everything will be rewarded - afterwards, after death. For everyone will be punished - afterwards, after death. And now let us all stand together on our knees and pray, for there are so many good things around, we just must learn to see them.


So what should we do? Only fight for our rights as the workers in the play did. Because usually there is simply no other way.

All these things were skillfully delivered to the audience by Andreas Merz in his staging. By means of minimum of the stage design, by means of musical effects, by the actors performance. While I was watching the show I could not get rid of a feeling that I am, as they say nowadays in the Internet, 'trolled'. During the time of the performance I managed to get discouraged by it six times, and to get delighted by it again and again seven times.

The real sinister 'trolling' happened in the end of the show, when the character performing the chief of the Black Strawhats addressed the audience with an offer to sing a happy song together. Saying, let us hug each other, for when the show is over, you will be back in the real life outside the theater, where people are starving, where wars are happening, stresses and accidents are all around, - so let us sing of the wonderful and friendly world we live in. When the audience hall started singing I expected the director to step on to the stage and declare that this is another example of advertising and propaganda, that the audience swallowed so easily. But he did not. Perhaps, he considered that it would be way too cruel. Those who have some reason stayed silent. But those who have obviously less – hugged each other and sang the song about our friendly friendly world, which we just must be able to see.

Focus Goroda, 13.04.2013
German opening in Saratov Kiselev theater. «Saint Joan»
German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht had finished his play “Saint Joan of the Stockyards” in 1931. Catholic church was commemorating the 500th anniversary of Joan of Arc in the same year. Brecht invented his own Joan, or, more right to say, Johanna. This time the young French liberator appeared in the role of an American, saving wretched in times of an extreme economical crisis. Saratov Kiselev theater presented a staging based on this play to the judgment of the audience on the 10th of April.


The play for the staging was chosen by the invited director, a fellow-countryman of the author, Andreas Merz. Brecht was writing about America but the manner he adhered to was typically German – dry, dynamic, with minimum of sentimentality.


Major businessmen, flourishing in the field of meat production, only dream of walking each other around. The shiftiest of all them, Mauler, (Valery Emelyanov) receives a message telling him that the market is overstocked with meat tins. He sells his share in the company to a competitor, Cridle (Alexey Karabanov), explaining his decision with the fact that he got tired of the 'bloody' business and sank into melancholy. While Mauler becomes even more rich, his friend meat producer Lennox (Alexey Chernyshov) loses everything. 70 thousand people are left without work.


The girl Johanna (Alexandra Karelskih) ranges herself on the side of the wretched. Not much order is there in Johanna's head — dreams of the global justice, freedom, equality and brotherhood are mixed with reverend religious outbursts and aspirations. She gives out warm soup to the workers trying to persuade them that all the troubles happen due to the fact that they have not enough love to God. But the poor fellows have no time to think sublime, they are captivated by the misleading populism in the style of 'expropriation of expropriators'.


The rebels are revolting and get it hot from the police. The new stage of the Saratov Kiselev theater proves to be ideal for scenes of strikes. There is even an impressive drumming composition in the staging, prepared and rehearsed by a famous Saratov drum master, solo performer of the philharmonic orchestra, Yaroslav Boldyrev. The decision with the live cameras was also of great interest. The cameras follow the actors step by step and the audience watches everything on huge screens.


But on the whole 'Saint Joan' is a show, as they call it, for a devotee. And the thing here is not in the performance of the actors, they were, by the way, on the highest level. Fragile and vulnerable Alexandra Karelskih was ideally fitting into the role of a passionate but not self asserted 'revolutionary', and Valery Emelyanov with his cold penetrating look and an 'iron' kind of voice pattern was supremely conveying the image of a businessman-hero, who is able to sell his own mother for a proper catch.


The thing is rather in the delivery, in the character of the play and in the director's postmodern view on the theater. Postmodernism is tending not to trust the reality, and this feature gives the audience no chance to stay apathetic. But the complexity is that the provincial theater goers, in the majority, are still expecting to see something light and exciting, they want to be distracted and to get some rest. But the 'Saint Joan' won't give you a way to relax, it will grab you in iron clutches of post-dramatic art and it will make you fidget about your chair nervously.


Complete voidness comes due in the very end, when the characters, gathering together around a huge cow, start to sing a song about friendship, inviting the audience to join singing and swing in the rhythm of the music, putting their arms on the neighbors' shoulder.


Ekaterina Ferenetz

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