Senior and student director Katherine Denton held auditions this week for the world premiere of a new edition of the play “Woyzeck,” written by Georg Büchner in the 1830s. She is casting a new version of the German play, selecting roles for the apparently schizophrenic Woyzeck, his wife, doctor, commanding officer and others with the help of students and Hillsdale faculty.
Not only will the translation and presentation be a world premiere, but much of the music, set, and choreography is largely original to the show. The play is set in a carnival, the only consistent scene across the manuscripts of the play.
The original play was incomplete upon the death of the author and exists in multiple confusing, fragmentary forms that various directors and playwrights have reorganized and interpreted in many different ways. Denton chose to create an original translation of the play for her senior project rather than bending to the creative vision of another editor.
“I picked the show last spring, and I’ve been working on it since May,” Denton said. “I’ve read several translations, but a lot of them are really editorial, focusing on the translator’s view. So I read and read and read and I looked at what I liked and disliked, then I went to George [Angell, professor of theatre] and to talk to him about it, and he said, ‘Well, it looks like you need to do a translation.’”
After that, Denton approached fellow senior Anna Potrafke, who is from Germany, and asked her if she could work with her on the translation. Since then, they produced in collaboration a literal translation of the play. They polished this translation with outside assistance from Assistant Professor of German Fred Yaniga.
“She [Denton] wanted to do her own adaption of the order and meaning of the play, so we approached how to do it on our own,” Potrafke said. “After I wrote a literal translation, she had an idea for words and phrases, and we talked about how to adapt it so it had the sense of the original German too. She didn’t want to butcher it into submission but to make sure it flows in the English and is true to the German.”
After committing to the project, Denton worked on developing her German so she could more fully understand the original text. She also worked closely with her dramaturg, junior Aaron Pomerantz, who is researching the context and composing much of the music for the performance.
In addition to assistance musically and linguistically, Denton reached out to senior Angela Pearsall to help her develop the movement of the play. It will deviate from realism with a very limited set, requiring actors to fill the void with their own motions.
In many regards, the play is a precursor to much of modern theater. It focuses on the unreal, predicting later developments in psychology and understanding the brain, and it verges on spectacle, according to Pomerantz. He said the play basically diagnoses schizophrenia before it is even recognized and diagnosed officially, so the play is unlike most of its time. It address the question of what it means to be human and how humans deserve to be treated.
“It’s kind of a big deal because it is a world premiere of a play, and I and Renée [Surprenant, Hillsdale theatre department’s new theater technician] and others have read the play in translation before, and this is the first that has ever made sense,” Pomerantz said. “It departs from realism, which is Hillsdale’s focus; it really dovetails from that. I’m really excited because it is going to be like nothing else we’ve seen lately. This is a big deal, as Hillsdale, this tiny college, is doing something truly unique.”