Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Who am I?

Take an unknown 18-year old actress. Take a 40-year old nationally celebrated playwright. Put them together in a creative and romantic alliance – and the result is explosive. The dramatis personae in question are Tilly and Frank Wedekind. The time is the early 20th century. The place is Germany. And who am I? I’m an actress in her 40s, based in Davis (California) with a passion for practice-as-research. Which – for me – basically means finding ways of putting historical, cultural and archival material into the body and sharing the results with a live audience. I’ve been fascinated by Frank and Tilly Wedekind since I played Lulu in London in the early 1990s, when as part of my research, I came across Tilly Wedekind’s autobiography: Lulu – Die Rolle Meines Lebens (Lulu: The Role of my Life). It was in German – and I knew there were some real gems inside. I’d imagined that Tilly had called her autobiography Lulu: The Role of my Life because the part was so immense it had launched her whole career. However, over the course of several years (way past the actual production of Lulu), I poured over Tilly’s words – schoolgirl German in my head and German dictionary in my hand. And I began to discover the truth: Lulu was the role of her life because Frank had turned her into Lulu in the course of their life together.

When I played Lulu, I was 26. My then-partner was an extraordinary playwright aged 40. He’d met me one night in a wine bar in London, where I was singing torch songs to the accompaniment of a piano. This imposing figure – long dark hair, white shirt and dark suit, a figure out of a Jacobean Revenge tragedy – came up to me afterwards. ‘You remind me of Wedekind’s Lulu,’ he said, expecting me to speak in some Essex twang, going, ‘Oh, yeah – who’s she, then?’ Instead, I said, ‘That’s one of my favorite plays!’ (I’d studied it during my undergrad years at Birmingham University). That was it – we’d swept each other off our feet. I was impressed by the writer, in awe of him, inspired by his wit, intelligence, literary knowledge and aplomb. Indeed, it was his version of Lulu that we staged at the Chelsea Centre Theatre nearly 20 years ago. Little by little, over the course of our 4 years together, I felt him turning me into Lulu. So when I began to fathom the true contents of Tilly’s autobiography, I had a deep, deep connection with her – a woman long since dead and a different culture and world. And that connection has continued for 20 years. In this blog, I shall recount the journey from translating biography, to visiting Munich, to collecting and collating all the material that has found its way into Tilly No-Body, through rehearsal, to performance, and beyond. I hope you enjoy the ride…

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