27 August 2014

Praxis Makes Perfect

Last month, my partner took me to a music and theatre performance. It was quite different from what we have attended so far before, at so many levels. This was the performance of Praxis Makes Perfect, which was a joint production by the band Neon Neon as well as National Theatre Wales. It was part of the Foreign Affairs Festival, which is a series of performing arts events by various artists from around the world. And on top of that, this performance was held in the venerable Berghain, the legendary club in Berlin. Unfortunately, I have to say that after the show, both of us had the opinion that we didn't like what we saw.

See, it was quite a different experience. First, when we booked the tickets, we received an email saying that we should be wearing something red to enter the performance. Apparently, there was a dress code. And we were also supposed to carry a book that we like, and that there should be a message inside, and we should be prepared to give that book away. When I saw that, I was intrigued, and so far, I liked it.

However, when we arrived, there were plenty of uncomfortable things. First of all, the venue. It was in the middle of the summer. And Berghain isn't the most well-ventilated place. It was very minimalist inside, basically, it was a former powerplant, so the furnishings weren't the greatest. If I were there for dancing, I really wouldn't mind that at all, but this was a theatre performance. And somehow, watching the piece in that location was really the most uncomfortable thing I have been to recently.

The doors opened at 8 PM. The show started at 9. We were there around 8:15, and because of the hot environment, I really was counting the minutes when they would start. It was bad.

Anyway, this is no traditional theatre. Typically, the theatre traditionally has the division between the actors and the spectators, and there is this fourth wall separating them. However, in this case, the audience is part of the action. We were the people who were right in the midst of the action. When there was a manuscript that had to be passed around so that the Soviets didn't get it, it was passed around within the audience. The Soviets came down and asked some of us if we had the manuscript, including me. And no, there were no seats inside, we were all standing right in the middle of the performance area. In short, we were part of the play.

See, Praxis Makes Perfect is originally a concept album. It was an album by the band, but as they collaborated with a theatre group, they made the concept album into a musical. The actors played the non-singing parts, while the band was on the side, performing the music. So at times, it felt like we were in a concert, at other times, it felt like we were watching theatre.

Now, it would have been a nifty idea, except that it didn't really showcase the artistic talents of the performers. Sure, there was the band. But the music was so loud that whatever artistic qualities the music had were just totally reduced to noise and vibrations, in my opinion. Also, the same thing happened with the actors. Instead of showing how good they can act, there were more things written on the screen (the walls were transformed into giant screens where the plot and storyline was projected as text) and the actors were just doing random things in the midst of us.

So, did I like it? I haven't even talked about the message of the play. See, the performance depicted the life of one Italian communist. Basically, it was about ideologies. But I have this feeling that they just trivialized it. I mean, people died for their ideologies, but I felt like they just made it into something funny. I felt like if they simply presented the story of this man in the traditional way, in a play, instead of some warped musical, then the message would be clearer, and the audience would have plenty of things to think about when they head home after the performance.

Anyway, overall I didn't like this performance. My hypothesis stands, that nothing good could come out of Berghain. I thought that it would be a decent performance because it was part of the Berliner Festspiele, but apparently I was mistaken.


  1. Sounds a bit too conceptual... and even "pretentious" for me, just based on your experience.

    1. Zhu,

      Yes, definitely too conceptual for me, and I can totally see where the pretentiousness comes in. Not my thing at all. Oh well, sometimes, there are just things you cannot know from the outset.