Surreal in Salzburg: Young Directors of Theater





Between the jetlag, the inflatable genitalia, and the leopard print faux-fur wallpaper that lined my African-themed room at the Hotel Bristol, my 24-hour stay in Salzburg last week was nothing short of surreal. It began as Austrian Airlines Flight 0404 played Mozart’s greatest hits over the sound system as it leisurely swooped into Salzburg’s Mozart Airport. It’s the composer’s birthplace and, to this day, the town’s most prominent son—why not give the guy an airport?

I hadn’t flown across the Atlantic to indulge in the city’s renowned four-and-a-half hour Sound of Music tour but, rather, to witness the premiere of Netherlands-based director Jakob Ahlbom’s Interior View, the first of four plays competing in this year’s Young Directors Project. Sponsored exclusively by Montblanc, the project is part of the 90-year-old Salzburg theatre, music, and opera festival. Celebrating its eighth anniversary, the Young Director’s Project selects four rising talents from around the globe to compete for a €10,000 prize and an exclusive Montblanc Max Reinhardt fountain-pen (this year, in celebration of the festival’s 90th anniversary, the pen is garnished with diamonds, rose gold and a swirling black and brown design that mimics the print found on the festival’s very first program). More importantly, however, the project provides these emerging directors with the opportunity to present their work not only to a panel of esteemed judges, but to press, critics, and theatre enthusiasts from around the world.
“It’s interesting,” Montblanc’s cultural director, Ingrid Roosen-Trinks, told me after the conference. “If you go out and ask someone what [he] thinks Montblanc should support, mainly he would say The New York Philharmonic or The Boston Symphony; the big names. But we’re breaking this expectation by going for a younger generation. If all our people working for Montblanc are talking about this project, they’ll spread the news and help to spread awareness of the younger generation in these art fields. And maybe this is the theatre of tomorrow…that’s the excitement!”
The aforementioned excitement stirred as the likes of Bianca Jagger and conceptual art duo Eva and Adele–a husband and wife pair whose matching shaved heads, circus makeup and frilled pink dresses rendered them nearly indistinguishable from one another–sipped champagne at the historic Hotel Goldener Hirsch during a pre-premiere cocktail fete. Even Val Kilmer, who took a respite from finishing his upcoming one-man show about Marc Twain, flew in to support the project. “When I was young, teaming up with a label or being subsidized didn’t mean quality, it meant that you were doing something for money, and it just doesn’t mean that anymore. My son’s a surfer, for example, and the label that the surfer chooses is an equation of the quality of what they do. I think what Montblanc is doing here is really great; everything they do is of great quality so the idea that these directors can be associated with that puts them in a different frame,” he said before tipping his Indiana Jones-esque hat which, he cheekily explained, was an inadvertent tribute to Joseph Beuys.  
At last, it was time for the main event. We shuffled through cobblestone streets, past a little shop selling the city’s signature Mozart chocolates, and took our seats inside the dim Republic Theatre. The play which, in lieu of dialogue, featured the music of Alamo Race Track, an Amsterdam-based rock band that sounds like one of the Monkees’ more melancholy cousins, was an exploration of a very disturbed gentleman’s conflicted sexual psyche. He flirts with pornographic contortionists, engages in several passionate horizontal tangos, assists a sequin-clad vision with a bit of masturbation and, after a failed attempt at making love to his wife, dives into a sprawling inflatable vagina, only to reappear as a giant eyeball, peering out at the audience from within the womb.
“It’s quite a fucked-up fantasy,” said lead actor Reinier Schimmel during the after party at Gallerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Perhaps. But also a prevalent one, considering the fact that at the top of the gallery’s grand staircase, I was greeted by a ribbed vulvic crevice that lay between the legs of Erwin Wurm’s abstracted silver sculpture, Big Gulp Lying (2010). The theme was inescapable and an explanation from the director was essential: “What do you want me to say about it?” he asked. “I just had the idea that if you long for something, it’s magnified. So it’s a precious thing but at the same time, it’s sort of a nightmarish thing.”
Nightmarish or no, the guests’ overall consensus after recovering from their post curtain shock was unanimously positive.
“I loved it!,” proclaimed an emphatic Roosen-Trinks. And, although the YDP winner will not be announced until the festival closes at the end of August, she seemed to give Ahlbom’s creation an enthusiastic endorsement: “This is exactly the idea of the project: an experimental new form of theatre. It [reminded me of] Pink Floyd and David Lynch. I think art in such a form allows us to have a vision in life without using drugs. You don’t need drugs if you have art like this. You just have to be open and let it happen to you.”