The curtain rises again

Autumn is coming and theatre lovers are eagerly awaiting the start of the new season. But this year, everything is different, so when Theater in der Josefstadt sets out to satisfy the hunger for culture at Thomas Bernhard’s ‘German lunch table’ (the English translation of the play’s title ‘Der deutsche Mittagstisch’) on 17 September, it will be more than just the opening premiere after the summer break.

What was originally scheduled to be last season’s final highlight on 4 June, will now premiere almost exactly half a year after Austria went into lockdown.

So what will it be like, with all the Covid-19 restrictions and requirements to prevent infections? Nobody really knows. But there is a season schedule and there are procedures in place that Vienna’s theatres have developed together with experts. Whether or not the planned coronavirus traffic-light system will affect theatre life remains to be seen. Secretary of State for culture Andrea Mayer spoke of possible ‘finetuning’.

Presales for the 2020-21 season will not start before 4 September. Only personalized tickets will be available, wardrobes will be assigned, and masks must be worn until seated. Social distancing regulations also require a chessboard-style seating plan, so that some season ticket holders may have to get used to seeing plays from a different angle.

This hasn’t deterred long-standing theatregoers, however. Artistic director Herbert Föttinger was thrilled that sales had not dropped and thanked buyers for their loyalty: ‘You are a wonderful audience!’ To which one replied drily: ‘If you’ve managed to get your hands on a Josefstadt season ticket you’re not going to give it up without a fight.’

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, rehearsals and preparations have been underway since 1 August, and the ‘Mittagstisch’ will be followed by more premieres in rapid succession. These include productions that had to be cancelled because of coronavirus as well as new productions; 8 January will see a premiere in more than one respect: Elfriede Jelinek’s acclaimed ‘Rechnitz’ is the first work of the Austrian Nobel laureate ever to be staged at Theater in der Josefstadt.

Much is still unclear but one thing is certain, and ‘Mittagstisch’ director Claus Peymann summed it up perfectly: ‘Us theatre maniacs must stick together now more than ever.’