Interview: Eva Meckbach from “Professor Bernhardi”

Tomorrow the premiere of Arthur Schnitzler’s “Professor Bernhardi“ will take place at Schaubühne Berlin with Thomas Ostermeier as stage director. Paulina Czienskowski met with Eva Meckbach for a behind the scenes interview

When sitting in the round glass construction of the Schaubühne theatre in the West of Berlin, you can be well observed from the outside. Just like you can watch the outside surroundings from inside – yet nobody ever does so. Today, the guests at the inhouse café form a unit, hermetically sealed, somehow removed from the outer world. They are among themselves.

Still, they are no guests in the literal sense. They belong to the inventory: director, actors, lighting and sound engineers, a souffleuse and the stage designer. All of them sit side by side, as they always do – before and after the show. And they all know each other, in fact most have them have known each other for years. Somewhat similar to a patchwork family, only that its members come from all quarters. They are different, but share a common home: the theatre. And a common goal as well, which is to work in harness on stage.

Schaubühne ©Arno Declair
"Professor Bernhardi" von Arthur Schnitzler in der Schaubühne Berlin Dr. Wenger/Krankenschwester: Veronika Bachfischer Dr. Adler: Eva Meckbach ©Arno Declair

Right now they are waiting for one of the last rehearsals before the big premiere of Arthur Schnitzler’s “Professor Bernhardi”, directed by Thomas Ostermeier. The play revolves around a jewish doctor who faces racial harassment at the hospital he’s working at – ultimately he is imprisoned and freezed out by his anti-semitic colleagues. A fitting plot for our time. Today’s political shift to the right is severe, after all.

That’s just what theatre can do, Eva Meckbach reasons, while moving away from the group for a moment, just before hurrying on stage in a doctor’s coat. Theatre can reflect reality. “It entertains, raises questions, gives answers and impulses”, she says. Alongside Jörg Hartmann and 13 other actors she portrays the 35-years-old pathologist Dr. Adler in the drama, which was first released in 1912.

The play hints at topics, that one just can’t ignore any longer, because they are so relevant today, Meckbach explains. It deals with everyday racism and power politics. Which is why acting, for her, is not just an occupation in the classical sense, she just picked up ten years ago in order to survive. “There’s too much at stake.”

Yet, you could get the impression that this art form aims at the establishment, which is oftentimes described as naive and arrogant, as its demographic stays within their culturally well-shaped bubble. Meckbach clarifies: “At the moment the establishment seems rather right-wing nationalist; and they’re just the audience we want to address.”

In Schnitzler’s original, there was no female part included, at all. However, Meckbach could convince Ostermeier, that this just wasn’t up-to-date. Today, seeing only a bunch of men in white coats involved in a power struggle, is just too far from reality. As a spectator, you’d be bored. Annoyed even! Now Eva Meckbach and Veronika Bachfischer are the only women in the play – at least something.

Since 2006 Meckbach works at the Schaubühne. “Sometimes I was even the only woman in a play”, she reckons. Of course, that flatters her in a way, but it’s also quite surprising. The fact, that the big ensembles have a surplus of men is often due to the fact, that the historical plays have mainly male characters. “But that’s a lame excuse and it cannot stay like this way forever” says Meckbach. She demands a focus on women: more female authors, more women directors! Oftentimes she asks herself where they are.

Portrait Eva Meckbach ©Franziska Sinn

Apart from everyday life these problems are also ubiquitous in the world of theatre. Even if the playhouse lacks the programmatic cruelty of daily life, it harbors a more subtle kind of discrimination. Sadly, this is still part of our social reality. You could talk on and on about these sorts of issues with Meckbach. Then, out of nowhere, a voice comes over the loudspeaker, drowning out the sonorous murmur at the café. A reminder, that the rehearsal is about to start in less than five minutes.

In spite of the existing routine, which gives a sense of certainty to the group, tension is building up for all participants, during the final rehearsals. As an outsider it isn’t obvious at first glance: they are professionals, after all. Still, Meckbach is wide-eyed in amazement upon realizing that the day of the premiere is near.

Perfectly natural. After rehearsing in an intimate cocoon for more than three months, perfecting stage design and costumes, they ultimately face the outside world. Because they have to. And because they want to face society and tell them a story from their very own perspective, with the voice of their community.  

The premiere of Arthur Schnitzler’s Professor Bernhardi”, directed by Thomas Ostermeier, takes place 17.12.2016 at 7:30pm, at the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz.

Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz
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10709 Berlin

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For Paulina Czienskowski Berlin is like a magnet: born there, she always returned to her hometown. At the moment, the qualified journalist and author works as a freelancer for publications like Die Welt, Zeit and Berliner Morgenpost.