“EINSITZEN – Conversations about Setting and Reflecting upon Contemporary Dramaturgies and their Residues” is an open discussion format, subject to the whims of the moment, that is organised as part of the mdw’s MAS programme Applied Dramaturgy in Music and Performing Arts. At irregular intervals, this series will bring before the microphone guests who hail from theatre, the fine arts, literature, philosophy, music, and other realms of life.

EINSITZEN (literal meaning: “to sit in”)
[1] intransitive: to be held in a prison
[2] transitive: to create indentations on an object via repeated sitting

The guest of the inaugural edition of EINSITZEN on 18 May 2021 was Ferdinand Schmalz (author, dramatist).

Barbara Kremser (BK): What’s your position on things that have been “sat in”?

© Apollonia Theresa Bitzan

Ferdinand Schmalz (FS): Personally, I’ve never “sat in”, thank God. (Laughs)

BK: Though, metaphorically, we’re all “sitting in” in some sense, aren’t we?

FS: True. We’re all being forced to sit in a prison of sorts, now—though, being an author, I do have to say it’s liberating to know that everyone else is, too. Because as an author, you’re always forced to endure confinement. I spent the past six months writing a novel—and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to manage that in the same way if I’d known that other people were out there gallivanting around or sitting in a pub. It truly was somehow liberating to know that there was nothing else one could experience.

BK: You’re a lockdown winner, then?

FS (laughing): Absolutely.

BK: So what’s the title of your first novel?

FS: My novel bears the same title as my Bachmann Prize text, of which it’s more or less a continuation—so the title is: Mein Lieblingstier heißt Winter [My Favourite Animal Is Called Winter]. It’s being published by Fischer Verlag.

BK: You told me about it, briefly; it’s a story about a man who drives around for the frozen food distributor Bofrost…

FS: Right. This story features the travelling Bofrost salesman Franz Schlicht. While driving from house to house selling frozen food, Schlicht chances to meet a customer—Dr. Schauer—who decides he wants to commit suicide by lying down inside a freezer. And once he’s accomplished that, he wants the frozen food salesman Schlicht to pick him up under cover of darkness and drive him to a clearing where he’ll be able to thaw out. So Schlicht shows up at the appointed hour, but the corpse doesn’t. The freezer is empty. Schlicht then sets out in search of the frozen corpse, a search that takes him all over the outskirts of Vienna—so in a certain sense, this novel’s turned into a Vienna-novel. Unintentionally! (Laughs) I never tie my theatrical texts to any particular place, but I’ve discovered that it works when I’m doing prose. In theatre, on the other hand, it’s weird when a play is set in a particular location—and you risk things like stage designers trying to build Otto Wagner-style entrances so that everyone knows it’s Vienna.

BK: Perhaps theatrical texts don’t need to be set anywhere in particular because the fact that they’re staged allows the staging itself to determine the setting?

FS: That may be the case. But in a novel, it does work to situate something somewhere because that makes it easier to go on a mental journey. I have a feeling that, in prose, providing a more concrete setting works better because it’s more film-like. And because it eases the inclusion of realistic situations—even if this has by no means turned out to be a realistic novel.

BK: And why did you end up choosing Vienna as the place where the plot plays out? Because you live here?

FS: I chose Vienna because this novel has so much to do with death and the question of crossing over, of how to find such a point of transition. Here, we have a postmodern figure—the frozen food salesman—hitting upon a transition rite for his customer. And Vienna is a logical place for this, being a city that’s uniquely associated with the morbid. Morbidity was already a theme in my work for the Burgtheater, Jedermann (stirbt), and my novel now takes this up even more prominently—this longing for death. It’s said, after all, that the Viennese are born only in order to plan their own funerals…

Excerpt from EINSITZEN with Ferdinand Schmalz; the full conversation can be seen here (in German):

Ferdinand Schmalz (* Graz, 1985) was awarded the Retzhofer Dramapreis for his first play am beispiel der butter (2013) and was voted up-and-coming dramatist of the year (2014). His play jedermann (stirbt) premièred at the Burgtheater and ended up winning a Nestroy Theatre Award. 2017 saw him win the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize for an excerpt from Mein Lieblingstier heißt Winter, and his synonymous debut novel—which has been long-listed for the 2021 German Book Prize and Austrian Book Prize—was released in July of this year by Fisher Verlag. Ferdinand Schmalz lives in Vienna and teaches at the mdw in the Advanced Studies in Applied Dramaturgy in Music and Performing Arts master’s degree programme.

Advanced Studies in Applied Dramaturgy in Music and Performing Arts
Duration: 4 semesters (can be completed alongside regular employment)
Course blocks: 1x per month (Thurs.–Sat., all day)
Degree: MAS (Master of Advanced Studies)
Programme tuition per semester: € 2,450
Application period: 14 March to 22 June 2022
Entrance examinations: 4 and 5 July 2022

Next opportunity to begin: winter semester 2022/23
Further information: mdw.ac.at/ikm/dramaturgie

Informational evening: 5 April 2022, 7 p.m.
Department of Cultural Management and Gender Studies (IKM)
Anton-von-Webern-Platz 1, 1030 Vienna

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