The plot of Olivia Scheucher’s diploma production at the Max Reinhardt Seminar plays out amidst the world of the Austrian Armed Forces—which isn’t an alien environment for this graduate of the drama directing programme. And in other cases, as well, Scheucher places their characters and themself as a performer in interesting settings situated at the interface between analogue and digital theatre.

© Luna Zscharnt
Highway of Heroes

Laura is taking the entrance test for the Jagdkommando, the Austrian Armed Forces’ special operations group. In their diploma production Highway of Heroes (performed in January 2023 at the Max Reinhardt Seminar), Olivia Scheucher shows a main character as they enter the military and move toward their own self-realisation. Scheucher wrote this play themself, being familiar with Austria’s military milieu from their family, and their brother both contributed his personal know-how to this production and served as part of the team. With the performers, he practiced motion sequences such as those seen in formal military drills (albeit without weapons, which are not shown in this play) as well as battle scenarios on the grounds of the Max Reinhardt Seminar. To Scheucher’s mind, the military is a context that speaks volumes about our society. “I view the structures in the military as an exaggeration of the structures within which we all move,” says the director. “For me, this play is an attempt to enter into communication with a personal father figure—but also with a superordinate father figure who stands for structural power relations.” In this production, gender attributions are a theme. The main figure is read by the military as feminine but comes out as non-binary and experiences the reactions of their comrades and superiors.

The Road to the Max Reinhardt Seminar

Olivia Scheucher was born in Vienna in 1995. For Scheucher themself, a military career was never a relevant option. Following their business management studies, Olivia did an internship at a gallery in Berlin. Links to the cultural world were always present; they frequently attended the theatre. One of Scheucher’s best friends, who himself studied acting at the Max Reinhardt Seminar, motivated them to apply to study drama directing. On a whim, Olivia applied—and was immediately accepted.

Directing and Performing at the Volkstheater

Olivia Scheucher not only directs but also performs themself— currently in Fugue Four: Response at the Vienna Volkstheater. They developed this performance for the Porn Film Festival Vienna in 2021 together with Volkstheater ensemble member Nick Romeo Reimann as their very first work, and they then adapted it for performance at the Volkstheater. Scheucher and Reimann were joined for this production by Thea Ehre (winner of a Silver Bear at this year’s Berlinale) and Luca Bonamore. “In Fugue Four: Response, the thematic focus is on how we subject our sexuality to capitalist modes of functioning and orient ourselves toward mainstream pornography in doing so,” explains Scheucher. The figures in this performance are neither sexualised nor do they portray sexual acts. “The point is to unpack the conditions under which we have sex. And in this play, we use the language of the generation that’s grown up with the Internet,” says Scheucher. Humour plays a role in this work, insofar as “the inability to deal with one’s own body represents an opportunity to share a laugh.” Scheucher’s double-role as director and a performer was less an artistic decision than the result of a limited budget. Even so, they learned a lot for their work as a director. “It’s often difficult to understand what actors need to make a scene doable when viewing things from the directorial level. So by acting myself, I learned a lot about how to lead actors.” Especially when the point is to perform naked, they know from their own experience what is important. Even before the working process began, they explained the play’s content to the performers individually and got clear on what the performers’ limits were. “Being ordered by a director to undress at a rehearsal or on the set in front of lots of onlookers is not consensual. I don’t allow any pressure to be put on the actors in terms of the decisions that they make,” emphasises Scheucher. In a team, what’s most important is that every member be able to speak openly and be understood. “My themes have a great potential to cause pain, for which reason I expect solidarity among those with whom I work when dealing with them.” From their team, they receive positive feedback on this count.

Digital Theatre

For their pre-diploma production Metareverse in June 2022, Scheucher chose a purely digital format. Though the pandemic still played a role in this decision, their choice was made chiefly out of an interest to explore the digital realm. Audience members could enter this live-streamed production by clicking on a link and then be present in the form of a chosen avatar. Like in a reality TV show, the actors competed digitally with each other with the goal of being “uploaded” into the so-called Metareverse. The director says they are not all that fond of the Internet, but: “I am indeed interested in what options there are for queer people and marginalised groups to form communities online and express fluid identities.” In doing so, however, Scheucher’s point is not to transplant theatre entirely into the digital space but rather to integrate digital tools into productions in a way that makes sense. “We exist in the digital realm all the time. The question is how this level can be included onstage without seeming foreign or like a distraction.” This requires both technology people and theatre people—between whom there can often be reservations and misunderstandings. The directing graduate does, however, see potential ways of bringing these groups together.

The Freelance Scene

Scheucher is currently in talks with theatres regarding future projects—and in the realm of art and performance art, as well, they are remaining active with an exhibition at Kunstverein Baden in June and a planned performance at the Ars Electronica Festival in September. Furthermore, June will see their diploma production Highways of Heroes take the stage at Hamburg’s Körber Festival. In the future, Olivia Scheucher also sees themself working in the independent scene: “I want to be free in terms of the material I tackle, and I already have a team with whom I’d like to continue working.”

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