California, The Golden State. A tale of intoxication, of adventure, of a false joy, the dream of the West. In 1848, a gold nugget was found on New Helvetia – the private colony of Swiss immigrant Johann August Sutter, located north-east of San Francisco. That same year thousands of fortune seekers rushed to California. But no one finds their fortune there. In fact, it's just the opposite: the Gold Rush marks the final renunciation of the concept of human freedom and the subjugation under the regime of capital. Both Suter's New Helvetia and our societies' late-capitalistic communities are razed to the ground. In this situation, nothing less than the reclaiming of our lives as self-determined subjects is at stake. It’s all about a collective definition of fortune that can defy a mixed ideology of growth, consumption and free markets.
In his first work at the Volksbühne Berlin, director and author Alexander Eisenach dedicates himself to this dialectic of old and new, past and being up-to-date, reality and fiction. The title of his project comes from Tirol-born director and actor Luis Trenker's 1935/36 Western film, which tells the story of Sutter as American pioneer: half swindler, half fugitive, Sutter immigrated to the US to follow the great dream of the West, and built up, in still-underdeveloped California, an empire that he would eventually lose to the intoxicated seekers of gold. Unconcerned with the historical facts, in the film Trenker turns the character of Sutter into a German that defies authorities and moves through idealised images of nature and landscapes – a unique stylistic element in Trenker's films which contributed to his work being instrumentalised by the Fascist regimes in Germany and Italy.
Following in the tracks of Trenker and Sutter, these representatives of an old Europe that were simultaneously America enthusiasts, Der Kaiser von Kalifornien (The Emperor of California) dissects the topography of adventure, which is also the topography of the beginning of a new life. An image that's coming up again in the large-scale migratory flows of today. The ambivalence of these images, the dialectic of home country and new territory, of farewells and departures, of need and hope can be found in both the 21st and 19th centuries. Above the crossing over of past and present, a surface is created for the projection of historical and narrative ambivalences. Following these cross-references, Eisenach as author allows the images of an old Europe, an old America, to collide with new, different and original texts.
The premiere was originally planned for 19.03.20 and took place on 27.08.20.
With: Sólveig Arnarsdóttir, Johanna Bantzer, Manolo Bertling, Sarah Franke, Katja Gaudard, Sebastian Grünewald, Jella Haase, Robert Kuchenbuch, Daniel Nerlich, Emma Rönnebeck and Sven Michelson, Niklas Kraft (musicians)
Director: Alexander Eisenach
Stage design: Daniel Wollenzin
Costumes: Lena Schmid, Pia Dederichs
Lighting: Johannes Zotz
Video and live camera: Oliver Rossol
Dramaturgy: Hannah Schünemann
Thanks to the Rowohlt Theater Verlag, Hamburg for the kind permission of the performance rights.