Education and entertainment are combined on theatrical tours at historic sites. As the sole actor, Markus Maier is entirely on his own and has to slip into several roles. In an interview, the actor takes us through the processes and particularities of his solo performances.
Historic attractions in the Palatinate include a great many castles and historic buildings. On the one hand, they are stone witnesses to a history that is both turbulent and steeped in tradition. On the other hand, they represent an attractive stage, which is why the Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe (Palatine Directorate General for Cultural Heritage) and tourism offices offer theatrical tours alongside conventional ones.
Actor Markus Maier slips into three roles at Trifels Castle, Villa Ludwigshöhe and the Wachtenburg to bring history to life. He is the sole performer at all three locations.
Where did you develop your interest in historical themes?
Markus Maier: When you live in Speyer – here in the Palatinate – you're curious about such exciting places. There is something new to discover everywhere: both in well-known and sleepy, hidden locations. This is fascinating and entertaining at the same time. What's more, the stage is already set and tangible in these places. I have always had a personal interest in history – from the Ancient Greeks to the present day. Theatrical tours bring a certain era of history to life so it can be experienced first-hand. It's as though the historic locations were made for this purpose. Current topics are better off on a conventional stage in a theatre.
View of the Palatinate Forest
Are solo pieces easier or more difficult to perform?
Both have their own challenges. In an ensemble cast, the individual gears need to mesh together. In this case, one word leads to another. In a monologue, however, you can react spontaneously when you feel like it or embellish things a little. Nevertheless, you still have to stick to the script in this case. In all of the venues, people should still understand that a separate character is standing before them in each case.
What kind of preparations do you need to make when acting against such a historic backdrop?
There is close cooperation in advance with the team from the "Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe" (Directorate General for Cultural Heritage), which also provides the costumes and technical equipment. Otherwise, you rehearse just as you normally would in a theatre. The way we do it, however, you have to do without the stage and come up with a route and the different stops where the individual sections are played out.
How long is the average run-up to each production and who comes up with everything?
It's impossible to generalise here. The commission came in the summer of 2013 for the theatrical tours in the Wachtenburg, for which I was the writer. The première followed one year later. During the period in between, there were various meetings in Wachenheim with guided tours. I viewed items such as the town chronicle and struck out on my own to take photos. All of this resulted in ideas for the bare bones of the play. Then it was time to write. It's always hardest to start and get into the act.
How long are the performances and what makes them so appealing?
The plays in all three locations last for around an hour. At the beginning, the spectators are always given some context. In the Palatinate, it's impossible to avoid the famous speech made by Philipp Jakob Siebenpfeiffer when approaching Hambach Castle. Apart from the play itself, the focus is really on each location. At Trifels, for instance, we walk through three different stops starting from the dungeons, which are located at the southern entrance in the performance, via the chapel and into the imperial hall. The entire castle complex is incorporated into the play at the Wachtenburg. Events from history are re-enacted at important points.
Do music or singing from the period also play a part?
In one or two places, I do some singing. However, there's no music played live or recorded. This is due to the inherent limitations of performing at such historic locations. There is barely ever any technology used. I don't need a microphone or speakers, for example, because I can project my voice well enough without.
Do you have a personal favourite character in the three performances?
No, they're all equally important to me. It's the charm of the places themselves that really make this type of theatre so special. What's more, I work in places where other people go on holiday. I tell the story of Richard the Lionheart's release in the character of troubadour Blondel de Nesle at Trifels. In Villa Ludwigshöhe, I play the biographer of King Ludwig I, the great patron of the arts. And in Wachenheim, I play a fictional character who is tasked with revealing the "true treasure" by the year 3000.
How do you involve the audience in the performances?
This happens almost automatically thanks to the relaxed atmosphere in such charming surroundings. History comes alive here and this works very well. For example, there are never any visitors playing around on their smartphones, even if schoolchildren visit. I have to be very animated when acting things out to really drive my message home. After all, I have nowhere to hide when holding a monologue. It's precisely this sense of tension which is conveyed and which keeps people engaged. As an actor, I then pick up on how enthusiastic people are. Concrete and direct feedback is given after the play. This is touching – people sometimes have tears in their eyes or are very enthusiastic.
Castle ruin Wachtenburg
Dont' miss: Trifels castle is also famous as the site where Richard the Lionheart, King of England was imprisoned. The life and impact of King Richard the Lionheart are the subject of a major art history and cultural history exhibition in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer from September 17, 2017 to April 15, 2018.