Georgian-German author Nino Haratischwili has been called "one of the greatest young writing talents of the German theatre world." The award-winning young playwright and novelist spoke to translator Birgit Schreyer Duarte about the synthesis of Liv Stein (written at the young age of 25), her multiple linguistic influences and her penchant for traditional storytelling.Interview by Birgit Schreyer Duarte and Andrea Elalouf
How did Liv Stein come into being? What was your personal inspiration?
It's always hard for me to describe what exactly a play consists of, how it all came together in my head and ultimately onto the page. At first, it's often a scene or a name or a question that stirs me up inside; time passes, and if the idea continues to captivate me I know I need to pursue this idea. In the case of Liv Stein, it was the subject matter that preoccupied me - the relationship between art & life. At that time, I had just finished my directing degree and was faced with many similar questions (fortunately not in such a tragic way). How much am I willing to sacrifice in favour of my work, how high a price am I paying for my own art, etc. Those were the central aspects kept me up at night and one after the other, the characters started to appear. I remember waiting at a bus stop and observing a young girl. She seemed like an outsider to me and had books under her arm. All of them were wrapped in white paper and on each of them was written in neat handwriting: Lore. For some reason this image took hold of me, the girl had something mysterious about her, and suddenly, the missing piece of the puzzle, the missing character of my play was there: Lore. I went home and started writing.
How does the play fit into the realm of contemporary German theatre? What dramatic tropes did you explore or throw away?
I always stood a bit outside the trends within the German contemporary theatre scene. I was often criticized for my "pathos" - my writing was said to be "too emotional." I simply believe in a story that I want to tell — the form is always subject to the content and not vice versa. In German contemporary theatre full-fledged characters and narratives have had a bad rep for a long time; it seemed more important to experiment with different forms and styles. However, you can tell audiences are longing for more epic narratives again, you can see it in how frequently German theatres are programming novel adaptations these days. People want to see characters of flesh and blood again. In my case, the perception of my writing has changed through the reception of my novels; now I get applauded for the same thing I used to get criticized for: emotionality, traditional storytelling, etc. That's pretty funny, I think.
You grew up in Georgia, then you went to theatre school in Germany and have written all your plays in the German language. Is there still anything from the Georgian theatre tradition that influences you?
I think of myself as a kind of mix of the two cultures and languages. I'm sure my Georgian heritage influences me very strongly. The emphasis on emotions is clearly something Georgian, also my directness. At the same time, I also need a certain distance when I'm writing, and that's what I get from writing in German, which is not my mother tongue, even if it feels like that at times. The subtle irony in the German language is also something I like — something that's entirely foreign to Georgian culture.
Why did you choose to use classical music as the backdrop of the story?
Personally, I have very little connection to the world of classical music. I enjoy diving into foreign territory when I'm writing and not to only rely on the familiar. So I particularly enjoyed exploring this milieu. To me, the world of classical music and especially of opera has something elitist, something that's hard to access, and that's an intriguing challenge. It suited the characters that I had in my mind — the hermetic quality of the world they move around in. At the same time, I also found that the realm of music, as perhaps the most emotional form of all the arts, offered an interesting contrast to that.
Can you speak to the mythological connections in the play?
I'm a huge fan of Greek myths and legends. Even as a child I found the way they explained the world extremely captivating, logical and comprehensible. And while writing Liv Stein, I thought of Niobe* : the story of the prideful fall that she endures. I found it could make a great reference for the play, a possibility to view its conflicts from yet another perspective.
* Niobe, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of Tantalus and Queen of Thebes. According to Homer’s Iliad, she had six sons and six daughters and boasted of their superiority to the Titan Leto, who had only two children: the twin deities Apollo and Artemis. As punishment for her hubris, Apollo killed all Niobe’s sons, and Artemis killed all her daughters. Bereaved from the loss of her children, she wept continuously, and in time turned into a stone from which water constantly streamed.