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from Berlin Alexanderplatz

by Alfred Döblin

“To listen to this, and to meditate on it, will be of benefit to many who, like Franz Biberkopf, live in a human skin, and, like this Franz Biberkopf, ask more of life than a piece of bread and butter.”


Introduction: 1) Central Concepts of Retrograde

Background on Epic Novel: 2) Berlin: Alfred Döblin & Bertold Brecht


Our ongoing project, Retrograde, is a digital puppetry theater adaptation of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 Novel, Berlin Alexanderplatz: the Story of Franz Biberkopf. The creative team launched the project last September with the dramaturgical interpretation of the novel, diving deep into its theme and style and settling on our entry point of theatricalization.

The adaptive potential of puppetry and object theater is intrinsically embedded in Berlin Alexanderplatz: its protagonist is an exemplary figure trapped in the modern maze of the city, blindly follows the un-examined belief of city bourgeois to live a decent life, yet slides into misfortune because his untamable madness provokes him to go astray from “the decent life”.

Berlin Alexanderplatz is a story about a person lost in the battle between social expectations and their inner self, about their metamorphosis from a human to a puppet.

Currently, our team has completed a video performance of the first chapter of Berlin Alexanderplatz as an experimental pilot. We see the Object Movement residency as a perfect opportunity to share the pilot, exchange ideas, and to launch us into the making of the following episodes.

Madness is the central theme we wish to explore through puppetry in our project. We encounter madness in dreams, in love, in crimes, and in the arts, and we define ourselves as social individuals in the tension between madness and regulations. Puppetry provides the most befitting metaphor for this basic status of modern individuals: as our protagonist struggles to be an upright human in society, he surrenders his madness, gets tied up with more and more strings, and becomes a marionette. Thus instead of human puppeteers, our puppets are operated by the city space, which seems to be a mechanic organism that shows its enormous life in continuous constructions, its transportation network, its noises, and spectacles.

The city space invisibly situates and interferes with the lives of its puppet-dwellers like a deus ex machina. In terms of styles, we are interested in using string marionettes, shadow theater, finger puppets, and paper puppets/sculptures. The multiplicity of styles corresponds to the complexity of the experience in the modern urban situation, as well as the montage technique of Döblin’s original novel. We are also interested in exploring the intersection between object theater and live acting because we find in there a liminal space that symbolizes the in-between conditions of a modern individual between madness and regulations.

Our project has been conceived and incubated in New York City during COVID 19, thus it is designed in video form for an online audience. The biggest challenge of COVID on theater is it prohibits human-to-human collective gathering, but we are thrilled to find puppetry a possibility to supersede this limitation because it represents human conditions (which live theater achieves through interactions between co-existent actors, between audience and actors) in their reified and inorganic form.

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