Theater of the Year 2014
Having successfully collaborated for several years already with Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, Esra Rotthoff was asked to pitch her concept for the soon-to-be-reopened Maxim-Gorki-Theater in the heart of Berlin on Unter den Linden. The Gorki is the smallest and most beautiful of Berlin’s state theatres, and its new artistic director, Shermin Langhoff, had come up with a striking new concept for multicultural theatre as a public space; a contemporary reflection of today’s human condition and our conflict of identity. Esra collaborated with the core Gorki team on developing all the visual aspects of the theatre. She started with the theatre’s logo, flipping the R of GORKI backwards - which in Russian is the letter ya - meaning I/me. This idea of the actors’ personal identities runs as a leitmotif through all of the Gorki’s stagings, as a mirror of the contemporary Berlin. Esra photographed and recorded every actor who graced the Gorki stage, as if in a precise biometric image. If you look closely, you see her leitmotif of the flipped R reflected in each actor’s eyes - the result of being lit by a flash with a stencilled “ya” in it, imprinting their gaze with a notion of their own identity. Each individual looks into the camera with a look that is clean, awake, unique - filled not with their persona of actor, but with personality as human. In another series she developed photographic narratives for each play, staging scenes that reflect in sometimes cheeky, sometimes consciously referential ways the types of people and experiences that make up contemporary Berlin, creating a photographic reinterpretation of the theatrical subjects.
For Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, for example, she juxtaposed the contrasting ideas of an idyllic garden and family scenes with a lone woman in a virginal white dress stained by vomited blood-red cherries. The protagonists were frequently staged with the sky visible in the background in various locations across Berlin, furthering the idea of the city itself as a stage and the sky as “bluescreen” of sorts, a consistent backdrop from which the figures pop out in sharp relief.
The images were used by the theatre as posters and billboards that spoke to the city, galvanizing dialogue and interaction between the theatre and a wide range of Berliners by birth or choice. She created artistic video trailers for the theatre, as well as a concept and visuals for each festival. Her imagery found its way back between the Gorki’s walls, in the form of a major installation. After successfully collaborating for one year, the Gorki was honored as “Theatre of the Year” by the prestigious theatre magazine Theater Heute.