A Conversation with Paul Barritt
David Tushingham: How do you think Gustav Meyrink’s novel Der Golem reflects its time?
Paul Barritt: All books reflect the time they were written in, it’s pretty impossible for them not to. Meyrink was really into Dickens, so whilst Der Golem is a kind of mystical, hallucinogenic thriller, it also contains social realist elements. The descriptions of the Jewish ghetto for example were probably fairly true to life, possibly even some of the characters. Also the Marionette men, I think Meyrink used to hang out with characters like that all the time. If there is one part of his book that has ended up in our show, it’s that social comment aspect. The rest of it, whilst it was certainly a spring board into the idea of doing the Golem myth, we dismissed fairly early on.
DT: Your previous show, The Animals and Children took to the Streets, was so successful that you toured with it to a very wide range of countries. Of all the places you visited, which ones made the strongest impression on you and how did these experiences feed into the making of Golem?
PB: Some of the places that made the strongest impact on us are L.A. (much of the city backgrounds have been drawn from photos I took of downtown L.A.), Moscow, China, Nigeria. Also Middle England. And of course London. London is always the main source as we live there. I have watched the Olympic village being built literally across the river from my studio. This is undoubtedly one of the most pronounced visions of the corporate future to be seen in Europe. It was developed from a wonderful wasteland upon which all kinds of life thrived, both human and animal, into a desolate space filled with shopping malls, sports stadia, well-trimmed lawns, visi-vests.
DT: If you had a Golem of your own what are the jobs you would want him/her to do for you?
PB: I already have a Golem, many of them. One of them helps me do all the animation. I even have one that helps me brush my teeth.
DT: In your portrayal of the workplace and of the attractions of Golems as labor-saving devices, work seems to be something best avoided. But I know you all work very hard. How do you explain this contradiction?
PB: This theme has been slightly misread. What we are actually saying in the show is that Golems don’t really save labor, they just shift labor into a different position. This position is often more mundane than before and much more managerial in nature. The argument you mention comes from another great Czech play R.U.R, about robots (it claims to be the first work to actually coin the term "robot"). The play suggests that one day mankind will never have to work, left to think and create and better himself. It is used by the corporation to persuade the maker of Golems to sell up. It is both idealistic and unrealistic. It is, however, a stance that unfortunately can underlie the continual progression of the technological sciences. There is a belief that through technology we will build a better world, that there is some kind of Star Trek-esque utopia of technological comfort awaiting us provided that we carry on developing new and improved means in which to make life easier. Our Golem maker is an idealist and is sold that ideology.
DT: The show includes a punk band made up of economic underachievers who are so lacking in self-confidence that they cannot declare their love for each other. Are these the characters with whom you identify most?
PB: These characters are representative of a politically impotent generation, in other words our generation and all of those that are growing up behind us. Everyone can see what is wrong with the world. It is not a difficult thing to pick apart the problems with the way industrialized consumer-driven democracy doesn’t work. What is difficult is finding a solution: something that generations of people brought up on the sickly sweet heroin of market-driven popular culture are finding impossible ways to comprehend, let alone do anything about. So yes we do identify with them. And what are we doing? Making a massive theater show about the subject that will be viewed by a, relatively speaking, elite class of wealthy consumers…I rest my case.
David Tushingham is dramaturg of the Salzburg Festival.