7 Hour Extravaganza, Ein Sportstueck 'Runs' in Austria

News   7 Hour Extravaganza, Ein Sportstueck 'Runs' in Austria
Put on your sneakers, running shorts or track-suits, have 50 Schilling (about 4 US$) ready, and come to the Burgtheater. . .for seven hours!

Put on your sneakers, running shorts or track-suits, have 50 Schilling (about 4 US$) ready, and come to the Burgtheater. . .for seven hours!

You can spend an evening at one of Europe's most famous stages, Vienna's Burgtheater (well, to say an evening is an understatement) spectating Elfriede Jelinek's Ein Sportstueck, which lasts seven hours, on March 14, starting at 4 PM.

At this afternoon/evening/early night performance, everyone who comes to the theatre in sportswear gets the best available ticket for just 50 Schilling. This marketing gag is just the latest in a string of crazy things that has happened since Ein Sportstueck has opened on Jan. 23.

Elfriede Jelinek, one of the most provocative writers in Austria, sees her latest work as an "accusation against sport--sport that unites people in a way like war unites people. I live close to a soccer ground and see what happens after games and hear the racist, anti-semitic and woman-hating chants."

Even before the play opened, the backstage happenings indicated that Ein Sportstueck would not turn out to be just another evening at the theatre. Einar Schleef, the director handpicked by Jelinek ("The only genius Germany has produced since 1945"), told his cast at the beginning of the rehearsals: "Some of you will go crazy and be carried away with an ambulance. Other won't make it and get sick." True to form, about 20 actors did not make it to opening night. And the premiere turned out to be an event nobody will ever forget:

-- A fight and torture scene went so overboard that actor Martin Brambach was seriously injured. At the next performance, Brambach had to use a walking stick. His entrance line (which he spoke in the nude) "Why is the world doing someone harm like this?", needless to say, got a big laugh. The fight scene was scratched in subsequent performances.

-- As the premiere was already lasting five hours, director Schleef came on stage, got to his knees and begged Burgtheater-director Claus Peymann to be allowed to continue. The soon-to-depart Peymann, sitting in a box, first declined ("Otherwise I will be gone even sooner"), then gave in, promising to pay overtime (about US$ 5000) out of his own pocket.

-- Choruses lasted up to 30 minutes, the sets consisted only of oversized balls.

If you think the audience was glad to see the evening end after six hours, you've got another guess coming. The standing ovations lasted for 55 minutes!

Like the opening night audience, the critics were enthusiastic about Ein Sportstueck. But Jelinek and Schleef were not content with a winning formula. For subsequent performances, the last act was cut but for some scenes, therefore bringing the curtain in after five hours. At one of these performances, Jelinek herself played the part of the "author", as Schleef, who had played the role at the premiere, was busy accepting a literature prize and another actress had gotten sick (or balked, whatever source you want to believe).

After evening of five and six hours' length respectively, the seven-hour version of Ein Sportstueck will premiere on March 14. And if you come dressed very casually (in sportswear), you may not only see the cheapest play per minute in the world (seven hour for US$ 4), you may also win a prize for wearing the most amusing sports dress.

Performance dates for Ein Sportstueck in March:

(five-hour-version): 11, 12, 17, 18 (all performances begin at 6 PM).

(seven-hour-version): 14 & 15. (4 PM).

Tickets can be ordered at +43-1-51444-0.

- By Bernd Freimueller
Austria Correspondent

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