Super! I’ve Got Power!

» A Piece

Siegmar Zacharias on Super!Power! Die Rockoper. 

The questions Zacharias posed herself in the course of our conversation seemed to get the job done rather nicely, so I’ve evacuated myself from this text.  Although not entirely, of course.  I am still very present in my editing, indexing, and Skype emoticon choreography (as for the latter, why not? We’re not yet limited by paper).  So you might say I saturate it through and through.  In any case, we have an experiment in shared authorship and textual practice on our hands.  In addition to those of us in real time and space on the HAU 2 stage, many of the performers appeared in their living rooms and elsewhere on the global stage of YouTube.  Our chat, however, was not electronically transmitted.  It happened over tea at Siegmar’s kitchen table in Berlin some time in late March 2010.
—Timothy Murray

Photo/Xander de Boer

What would it be if I made a choir opera?

In making an opera I realized I was really interested in the function and position of the choir, and not so much as a representation of mass, although of course it is that also, but more as a potential community or voice of the people, or multitude of singularities, or to ask: In Greek tragedy, what does the Greek choir actually do?

What would it be if the choir was the main hero? So there isn’t one hero, but there are many heroes.

What does that do to the idea of hero, community, foreground and background and storyline, commentary?

What would it be if we skipped the hero, so to speak?

Of course if you do that, if you skip the hero, either you make the choir into one mouth, which would be then one mouth of one ideology, which I wasn’t very interested in either, or you have to juggle with this idea of many mouths and many ideologies and many possibilities and many potentialities.

“We Tube for the Memories.  We Tube for the Greatness.  We Tube for the Happy Times.  And We Tube for Yoooooouuuuuuu.”

I asked myself, Which medium could be an adequate medium for us to deal with?

The other thing of course is you come into the idea of democracy, and you’re dealing with choirs and the many and the power of the people.  That was how I ended up with YouTube.  I thought YouTube because people can upload stuff and everyone decides whether it stays or doesn’t, so it’s a self-regulating community, which it was possibly before Google bought it.  The other thing about YouTube is that it’s a becoming of community.  YouTube itself is not necessarily a community, but within YouTube also there are many communities. 

The problem that YouTube poses is that one the one hand everybody can do it, and it’s empowering. On the other hand, it turns everybody’s bloody living room into a stage.  The worst reason to go on stage is narcissism, and a lot of people use it for narcissistic reasons, which is then doubly narcissistic because you then watch yourself.  I understand completely how excruciatingly painful it is to watch people be incredibly self-absorbed.  So that’s one thing.  Also, giving oneself the time and the authority to comment upon everything.

We Associate

I come from Romania, so I’ve had a lot of experiences of community and masses that try to negate the subject or individual.  I’m interested in collectivity while keeping your individuality and subjectivity—so yes, let’s work together, but let’s not all try to say the same thing because then it’s really boring, I think.  That’s why it was important for me not to say what you have to define or what you have to talk about, or how you are supposed to see this thing [Super!Power!], but to find out what people think about it.

What is interesting in the experience of community? It is indeed the feeling of something that is bigger than oneself, and that doesn’t necessarily need to be the content that the community is dealing with or the cause, but more that the experience of being a whole bunch of people singing or dancing together gives an entirely different energy than me by myself.  So that on a very simple level.

What I’m also interested is to find out, how does community become?

What is it that makes us want to be a part of a community?

There I was interested in Agamben’s The Coming Community, where he talks in the end about the students protesting in Tiananmen Square.  In the beginning they were asking the captives to be released, which happened in the first couple of days.  But then they still didn’t leave and claimed they still wanted democracy.  Agamben claims that this claim for democracy is so broad that there’s no answer to it.  There’s nothing the government could have done to fulfill this claim. Agamben says it doesn’t give a frame of identity.  But it’s more about by just being there and claiming it, they kind of burst open the frame that was present at the moment.  What I was interested in there was the differentiation between communities of identity and communities of practice.

Photo/Xander de Boer

Getting the Go-ahead

Is empowerment only possible to be thought as an agenda? Or is empowerment possible to be thought as a dynamic?

What is it if I give license to empowerment?

Do I have to say what you have to feel empowered as? Or into? Or for?

So I thought: What would it be to make something that activates people into being active, into practicing empowerment without telling them what that should be?

Activation, Sheer and Neutral

Or is it possible to think empowerment as sheer activation? As a sheer kind of wake up and decide yourself what you want to do, but do it kind of thing.  It can also sound quite patronizing, but I’m also quite sincere when I think about that.

Is it possible to activate people without telling them into what they should be activated?


For me it’s more of a dynamic or an energy that is important, which is much stronger and differently intense and also differently dangerous if there is a many because of course it kind of rattles at the boundaries of myself, but it’s not at all about giving yourself up.

Power on the one hand as a hierarchical system, which is always power over something, or power that is dynamics.  If you experience power, you experience a friction, a push.  That doesn’t mean it’s an experience away from or towards something content-wise.  If it’s a hierarchical structure, there’s always a top and a bottom.  And then you can talk about vertical and horizontal.  Maybe that’s why we have the horizon walk.  It’s around the world, it’s horizontal.  For me, it’s more interesting to talk about power as a dynamics, and then it becomes closer to what we talked about before as activation.  And then I think yes, everyone can have power, but the question is:

Where do you want to apply it, or where do you want to apply it, or what do you want to apply it to? But for me, power doesn’t have to be power over.

To experience a power, which is just a force you’re taken on or into, and possibly, after this very visceral experience of Wow, to have the experience of Oh, there is something going on.  And I can make this something go further.  I can be part of a movement without making it my own movement.  It’s just that we take this force that other people put out there, again this is the aftereffect so to speak, to say I can make things move, and use that force in order to make things move that are important for me.  And this also answers the question about singularity and borders, because I think what would be interesting is if the borders would be permeable to the force, but not necessarily to the content. If you can let the force run through, and I really don’t mean this as a kind of hippie-esque thing, but just to kind of think of what power actually can be.

Many, et al. (2010)

I don’t have an answer to this, but the question for me is:  How can I keep my singularity and kind of ride the wave of the many?

There are models like Agamben who supposes that it is possible to think the many as the many of singular events, of singular particles, which could be people in this case.

It’s not the people bound by one idea for or against something, but it’s the many claiming something that doesn’t have to be the same, but they’re unified in their shouting together.  So in that sense sometimes I wonder how far I can follow Agamben, because they were all shouting democracy, and he uses them as an example to say, yes, but democracy is so wide that it can mean so many things.  That’s why it again becomes shouting for a lot of different things at the same time.  I think that would be interesting to be able to, or to take the possibility to shout again–to say yes, I do want something.

Photo/Xander de Boer

The Biggest, Tackiest, Most Awful, Most Exaggerated Genre Ever in the History of Theatre Is Magnificently Unpretentious and Still a Lot of Fun

I think exactly because it can be so many things.  Super!Power! is on the one hand Superman, Wonder Woman, Power Rangers, the wish to be superhuman, and also the playfulness that comes with that.  Absolutely, that was one of the first things that attracted me, just because it always implies silliness and exaggeration, which goes with the format I’ve chosen of the rock opera.  But it’s also the surprise of the two exclamation marks: Super! I’ve got power!

On the one hand, rock opera is a dated format.  It doesn’t really exist anymore.  It was something of the ’70s and ’80s, but because of that it was also kind of a super big format.  It was always too big for itself somehow.  It was always exaggerated.  As a format, the rock opera was always trying to tell a story.  I’m not interested in that.  I’m interested in staging rock—really this incredibly huge amount of people going nuts as one, and then going away again.  Going nuts for the music.  They’re really experiencing this huge experience of a filled stage and everybody’s putting up their lighters and everybody’s jumping on the spot, for an hour or however long a concert was. You’re just in this pulse and in this rhythm, and then you kind of go away to do your day job.  Everyone, from a teenage boy to a bank clerk of 55 can be a part of that just because they like the music.  That’s really what I’m after.  But it’s also provocation.  Rock opera is the tackiest format you can think of.  It’s really outdated.

What is the biggest, the most exaggerated, the weirdest format you can show Super!Power! in? If I wanted to make a minimal, black and white format film out of it, I’d run into many more problems.  This is also a license to go completely overboard.

There are really really awful rock operas like Rent.  The only ones I really like are Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar, and even they are exaggerated.  I think what’s so interesting about them is that they work with this how do you generate the generic? And the completely recognizable, appropriable? When I want to appropriate something, how do I do that? And that’s what they do.  And that is interesting getting to the question of Super!Power!  Because you’re appropriating something.  You’re taking something and saying, this is mine, I’m going to do whatever I want with it now. In that sense the performers are very very important, because that’s what they’re doing.

Photo/Egle Obcarskaite

The Performer Is Really Nothing Special and a Superly Singular Whateverhero at the Same Time

Although for me it’s a project on collectivity, shared authorship and participation, with the performers, the actual performers of the piece, there isn’t much shared authorship at all because basically they just need to do what they’re told.  For me that’s a very interesting step that’s also questionable.  They’re producing an effect.  Of course, the effect is in watching them.  So in watching them you again see the different individualities because they will show the material very differently.  But the material doesn’t come from them.  That’s where I think, hmm, that’s a jump.  It’s also the first time for me that with the performers of the actual piece I haven’t elaborated the material.  Normally the material comes only from the performers.  But here, it’s just a very different approach.  It’s really immersing them into this experience of the many and then producing that experience of the many for the audience. It’s just a very different attack. 

I think they’re the only ones who function on a representational level.  The other ones are whatever they are.  Like the YouTubers.  They decided to put themselves out there in the way they did.  Of course, we make a selection, but they were performing because as a YouTuber you’re always performing for the camera.  But the performers are possibly, coming back to the very first thing, our version of the Greek choir, in all its contemporary pop ramifications.

I’m really only interested in the effect theater plays. What the performer feels, that’s great for them.  If it’s not communicating, I don’t actually care.  It’s fine if it helps to produce an outer effect, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.  It might sound cruel, but it is an interesting thing, this thing between choir and YouTubers.  Of course, the YouTubers are huge, and there’s a mix of YouTubers, because you have the bloggers. There are also different takes on it, to be honest.  I think it comes off very differently if someone is enraged about the state of the world, or if somebody as the woman with the singularity says, Super!Power! for me is letting others be in their singularity, not pretending that I know what they are or what they should be.  It somehow changes, it doesn’t become as self-absorbed because immediately it positions itself as, I know you’re out there, that there’s something, somebody else.  It’s also interesting how YouTubers reacted to us, some really went for the self-confession, and some tried to use this format of self-interview as a meta-reflection.  Because the self-interview is quite tricky anyway.

Super!Power! Waxing

I’m really trying to let all the input stand next to each other.  Of course I am selecting.  Not everything’s going to be in it, but I’m really interested in avoiding a definition that I give, and to have definitions happen that other people give and let them be next to each other.

What experience do I want to produce and how can I produce that? I want to produce the experience of amazement and being taken, experiencing a whirlwind.

At least for the last three to four, five years, I’ve been really interested in the position of the audience and how a piece produces its audience actually, how you can focus on that.  Xander, Steve, and I have a trio called SXS Enterprise, Xander coming from video, Steve from music, and me from performance.  We make pieces in which we see how the three media can bump off each other, so that we really try not to have it ever as background or sound carpet, or if we do that then we can consciously make you think of that.

I think when I talk about community, what I find interesting about it is that the theatrical experience is one that claims to found community, even if it is just one of the fleeting moments of the 45 minutes, 15 minutes, 1.5 hours, six hours, whatever it is.

In theatre we always say that we are together, we’re sharing time and space: But how I can make that into an experience?

One very simple aim of mine was:  Would it be possible to get people humming and whistling when they go out of the theater?

The show can only be a representation of the becoming of people dealing with the idea of Super!Power!

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