(from The New York Times, 6/11; via Pam Green.)
STUTTGART, Germany — Midway through “We Are Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On,” a theatrical walkabout through the Stuttgart State Theaters, I had one of the most intense experiences of my theatergoing life.
Standing in front of a two-way mirror, I stared in fascination, and a little discomfort, as the actress Therese Dörr locked eyes with me from the other side and recited a monologue that conjured up an apartment — and a life — gone to ruin, “like in Pompeii,” she kept repeating. The world around me faded away, too. I seemed to fall into her eyes and into her speech.
It lasted no more than five minutes, but that was enough time for the hypnosis to take effect. Such theatrical intimacy came about because of, not despite, the social distancing requirements that have made conventional live performance — onstage before a packed house — impossible so far during the pandemic.
All over Germany, cultural life is sputtering back to life, with new distancing and hygiene protocols. In Stuttgart, in the south of the country, the State Theaters, which administer a playhouse, opera company and ballet troupe, have flung their doors open for a one-of-a-kind backstage tour curated by Burkhard C. Kominski, who leads the drama division. Rather than trying to merely work around the new rules, Mr. Kominski has taken these regulations as a set of formal constraints and created a new kind of aesthetic experience.
Along the 12 stations on this packed, 75-minute route, dance, theater and music are performed with a rare level of intimacy and immediacy, coalescing into a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk. The audience is led through in groups of up to four. The carefully plotted and executed journey at times brings to mind a haunted house or carnival ride.
The production unfolds across the State Theaters’ building complex, and my group began in the theater’s foyer, where I waited wearing a face covering along with two other people. When summoned by our guide, we were allowed to remove our masks as we wended our way backstage, maintaining a five-foot distance from one another.
Sometimes, our calm and deliberate chaperone seemed to be leading us through a theatrical underworld. Parts of the opera house looked abandoned, with dried leaves littering the floors and blown into the stairwells, and toppled chairs and upturned and overgrown plants in the lobby. But these gothic elements were kept to a minimum, and things never got hammy. In hallways and on landings, we regularly passed ushers in face masks, their eyes downcast and their arms outstretched, pointing the way like human signposts.