My File and I / Meine Akte und ich
Dresden State Theatre, Germany
“So far the German look on its past concerning the former communist regime has been mostly from a national perspective. As far as I know, at least in the theatre world, there have been no dialogues between the various Eastern European countries about what had happened before 1989. Parallel Lives gives us – theatre practitioners and audiences – the possibility to learn more about what the situation was like in other countries, and whether there was a sort of a national way to deal with dictatorship. It gives us the possibility to share our experiences, feelings and our knowledge and this process I find very important also in the sense of a united Europe.”
Nine people – amateur actors, nine authentic stories. Can the real past be depicted in the theatre? How can one publicly talk about things that have happened, illustrate the times and the life of the pursued and the pursuers, the imprisoned and the prison guards? Can history be reconstructed according to archive files?
Clemens Bechtel, a German theatre director who has been systematically dealing with the documentary theatre brings 9 amateur actors on the stage. Together, and at the same time, each of them individually they are painfully penetrating into the past, in order to recount their life experience tragically marked by the communist regime to us – the viewers: pursuit, imprisonment, torture, manipulation, living in permanent fear. Their authentic confessions are brave – it is not easy to talk publicly about one’s own traumas, in particular in front of one’s own fellow-citizens and neighbours. And moreover, the topic of the communist past and the activity of the secret police is still a taboo. Nine actors bravely get on the stage – created by the shelves from the state security archive of files and a long timber table – and in chronological order recount their stories how Stasi, the East German state security, the secret service of the past regime, had marked their lives. Stories which enable us to put together a mosaic of a monstrous system which had to protect itself by an elaborated strategy of intimidation, denunciation and pursuit of one’s own citizens. A former student of theology, a convinced socialist, a teacher who had refused to collaborate with Stasi, a man who had to go to prison because he had not denounced his friends as they were preparing for the defection. Among the nine actors there is also an unofficial collaborator of Stasi, who had collaborated with this organisation for 25 years. This company – a culprit and eight victims – creates a dramatic tension and the evidence on the period thus becomes even more complex. But, isn’t the “culprit” a victim as well, in fact?
Clemens Bechtel and his actors have created a formally simple but not a light theatre as far as the content is concerned, which could be also described by the attribute political. Against the background of personal stories we can see a reflection of a complicated era, full of contradictions, an era in which politics was present in the lives of ordinary people in a different way than it is today. Let us remember the lack of freedom and the terror, the machinery of the system which manipulated people’s lives in order to gain power over them.
The form of a monologue theatre does not bring a dramatic conflict directly in action but rather in individual stories and also in the creation of a space in which the victims of the regime meet a person who had been serving it. By doing it, the director Clemens Bechtel effectively highlighted the contradictions of the past and the present times. What he has achieved is that his production puts questions, in an emotionally powerful way, about guilt, punishment and forgiveness, in other words, all big topics of human life and society. Despite repeated recountals of their stories during individual re-runs of the production, the actors remain very civil and sincere. There is nothing superficial in their presence on the stage. As if they appeared in front of the fictive viewers’ tribunal each time anew. And this is exactly what is special about this production – the authenticity and frankness of individual confessions. It is up to the spectator himself what he will take home from the performance. Whether he will start asking himself the questions that this documentary production has described.