I am playing the Doctor. His favorite german food is veal sausage, washed down with a nice crisp Kolsch.
Woyzeck is considered one of the greatest dramas in German literature despite never being fully finished due to Georg Buchner’s untimely death at age 22 to Typhus. Why do you think this play is such an enduring classic?
Unfortunately, the social conditions that inspired Buchner’s empathy are still with us – oppression, class division, the suffering of the working poor. The way entitlement blinds the wealthy to the humanity of the working class, working poor people in the play. The advance of science and technology without ethics, without regard for humanity or ecology.
In addition, some of the writing in the play – even in translation – is achingly beautiful, and incredible terse. “Look at the sun pouring out of the sky – like God emptying his bedpan,” for example. Not the doctor’s line but a tremendous expression of how even something beautiful can be seen as grotesque if your life is grotesque.
So far, what is the scene you are most looking forward to playing or the line you are most looking forward to saying?
It’s very hard to pick. I love this play and I have wanted to play this role for over 30 years. The Doctor is only in three scripted scenes and I am very fond of all three of them. My favorite line is, “For three months, this man has eaten nothing but peas. Notice the effect!”
Seattle and other thriving cities have become so expensive, we are creating a wider and wider class of people with jobs – often several jobs, like Woyzeck has – who cannot meet their basic obligations and are falling further and further behind, while a new class of technocrat comes into the city and creates a housing demand that pushes property costs and rental prices ever higher. While the literal cause of Woyzeck’s collapse – being a human scientific experiment for an unethical doctor – is not common here, economic oppression and a sense that people in the technical classes are running the show, and the working poor have no voice and no power – Woyzeck evokes these concerns and I think plays on our human instincts to want to move in a different direction as a culture.
What has surprised you most about working on Woyzeck?
Just how versatile, adaptable, and director-friendly this play is. Buchner died without numbering the scenes in any way, so every director gets to do that herself or himself. Dan chose an order that is markedly different from any that I have seen or worked on before, and while it changes the arc of the story and the significance of different characters at different places in the narrative, Dan’s order works really well. With most 26 scene plays, if you change the scene order around, you mess things up. Woyzeck allows for a wide range of different, potentially successful options for scene order – as well as dramatic style.
Steven Sterne is a director, actor and teaching artist based in Seattle. Woyzeck is the second project he has undertaken with Seattle TheatreWorks (last summer he appeared in Six Characters in Search of an Author) and has worked with The 1448 Projects many times (14/48, Theater Anonymous, as actor; Saturday Morning Cartoons 2015 as director). Steven has also worked with Ghost Light Theatricals (Endgame, King Kirby, actor; Chorestia, Battle of the Bards, director), with Seattle Public Theater (The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, A Midsummer Nights’ Dream, and continuing work as a Teaching Artist); with Live Girls! Theater, Annex Theatre, Theatre Machine, and Infinity Box. Steven loves his family and loves working on plays but he does not eat peas.