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Modernist Afterlives In Performance—Inside Ibsen: Avant-Garde Institutionality and Time in Vinge/Müller’s Ibsen-Saga

The theatre only has one chance, when it understands itself as an instrument of deceleration against the general acceleration of life, information and perception. Theatre is the Stone Age, but it can teach you how to see.

—Heiner Müller[1]

Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller’s performance series, the Ibsen-Saga (2006–), is an extraordinary limit case for staging Henrik Ibsen’s expansive internal temporalities. The Saga uses Ibsen’s works, in the words of Heiner Müller, as “an instrument of deceleration against the general acceleration of life” (Barnett, “Müller’s Hamlet/Machine,” 197). The Saga slows the sense of the present through a dramaturgy of open-ended performances in which the content and length are rarely predetermined, with works lasting upwards of two weeks without intermission or ending after forty-five minutes.[2] The unpredictability of the Saga’s performances—inspired by the latent Romantic idealism of Ibsen’s plays—challenges the ability of institutions to regulate time in relation to labor and the larger economy. The Saga declares art’s autonomy from institutional oversight by confronting the temporal limits of theatre production in the twenty-first century. Like its antecedent in the historical avant-gardes, the Saga employs time as a tool to differentiate itself—and art—from the realities of the world. Attending to the idealism of Ibsen’s plays, the Saga conjures the avant-garde inside Ibsen to challenge the institutional regulation of time, illuminating the limits of contemporary theatre.

The complexion of a twenty-first-century theatrical avant-garde is a point of persistent speculation. Energizing the discourse is a counter-narrative of the avant-gardes’ death, a body of criticism that Mike Sell dubs the “Eulogist School.”[3] The death blow is commonly attributed to the institutional entrenchment of contemporary artists. Nestled within funding structures, degree-granting programs, and international touring circuits, would-be avant-gardists have, in Richard Schechner’s estimation, become “conservative.”[4] Their conservatism manifests itself in an apolitical and traditionalist art, uncritical of the forces that shape its production and distribution. Gate-keeping curators or their emissaries (most notably intolerant funders and audiences) scrub politics or aesthetics that threaten to rival institutional frameworks. Those who attempt to retain the avant-gardes’ agenda of agitation within these structures operate in “bad faith,” conjuring provocations with their left hand while submitting grant applications with their right (Schechner, “The Conservative Avant-Garde,” 902). These disqualifying contradictions, what Paul Mann calls “the perpetual institutionality of the avant-garde,” are one of the movements’ underlying causes of death.[5] Attempts to rehabilitate agitational impulses away from institutional targets are equally common among contemporary practitioners, producers, and scholars. Shannon Jackson warns, for example, that celebrating antagonism threatens to destabilize embattled institutions that provide vital support to artists and patrons.[6] Jackson reframes the symbiotic relationship between experimental performance and institutions to highlight the interdependence beneath the animus. Between the eulogists’ funeral rites and defenders of institutions, the concern over the avant-gardes in our contemporary moment has arrived at a dilemma: the need to kill the avant-garde, lest it die of natural causes.

Gustav Borgen, photograph of Henrik Ibsen, c. 1898.
Fig. 1. Gustav Borgen, photograph of Henrik Ibsen, c. 1898. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In what follows, I consider the Ibsen-Saga in order to rethink the institutionality of the contemporary avant-gardes through questions of temporality. I take up what James Harding calls “the evolving versatility of the many that characterizes the avant-gardes of the past and the present and arguably the future as well.”[7] The variation I illuminate stems from a simple question: how do the temporal implications of the contemporary shape contemporary avant-garde expression? The query is pressing because avant-gardism conceives of itself as a time-shaping art. Aspirations of futurity and innovation haunt the Futurist’s origins as equally as mythic temporalities underscore the Symbolist’s séance-like productions. For the historical avant-gardes, leaping forward, back, or stepping out of normative clock time is a response to the period’s central temporal dialectic, what Martin Puchner summarizes as the dichotomous “dynamic between reconstructed past and imagined future.”[8] If a contemporary avant-garde continues within theatrical institutions, it is critical to ask how institutional temporalities shape works of art. Upon inspection, something underappreciated, but quite obvious, emerges: institutions are predicated on the common temporal rubric of standardized clock time. If the avant-gardes can be distinguished by a desire to augment time in response to the protean experience of temporality, then the standardization of time is both a threat to and an opportunity for avant-gardism in the twenty-first century. When conceiving of a contemporary avant-garde, it is therefore necessary to ask three interrelated questions: What are a contemporary avant-garde’s aesthetics of time? What are our cultural conditions of temporality? And how are those temporalities structured within theatrical institutions? Vinge/Müller’s productions highlight the intersection of these three temporal barometers, making the Ibsen-Saga an invaluable case study for understanding avant-garde impulses under contemporary conditions.

The contemporary and the future—as historical periods and experiential temporalities—are the subjects of a growing body of interdisciplinary literature investigating how time is experienced in the twenty-first century. Rather than affix a date to the contemporary, I focus on avant-gardism in relation to the present’s experiential quality: contemporaneity. Defined by Christine Ross, contemporaneity is “the unfolding of contemporary experiences of temporal passing within a globalized epoch of coexisting multiple worlds . . . that emphasizes the confluence of temporal relations between contemporaries, as well as the simultaneous temporalities of our times.”[9] The dual sense of cohesion and multiplicity that characterizes contemporaneity stretches at least as far back as the early modern period.[10] Terry Smith attributes contemporaneity within the twenty-first century to three core causes: globalization’s attempts to regulate the proliferation of cultural and temporal differences it encounters; the growing inequalities between people and the continuation of aspirations towards equality; and the growing access to instantaneous digital information as well as its limits and regulations.[11] The contemporary’s contradictory ability to unify and fracture is endemic to the concept’s very function, which Peter Osborne sees as to “regulate the division between past and present within the present,” a process that “marks that point of indifference between historical and fictional narrative.”[12] To reside in the contemporary is, therefore, to stand at the point in which past and future, history and fiction are conflated. Patrick Dawson and Christopher Sykes attribute this experience in the West to “feelings of time poverty.”[13] The destabilization of temporal categories is of enormous importance for the time-shaping arts of the avant-gardes, not to mention the institutions whose existence depends upon generating temporal coherence. Two key temporal attributes of the contemporary for the avant-garde and institutions are what Jonathan Crary calls our current state of “24/7 capitalism,” and Benjamin Noys theorizes as “acclerationism.” Crary and Noys’s concepts describe temporality under the pressures of the twenty-first-century in which the present is as at once perpetual (“24/7”) and accelerated. Whether propulsive, static, or impoverished, our experience of time—temporality—is produced by a broad “social entity,” which Judy Wajcman understands as inclusive of all aspects of society, not simply the digital technology and commerce thought to be reshaping time.[14] That is to say, if time is being experienced differently it is the result of a collective cultural effort stemming as much from its narrativization as its actuality. The net result is a presumed loss of time: the collapse of the future into the present.

Under these conditions, the cultural embrace of innovation and speed defangs the critical bite of any future-oriented avant-garde. Meanwhile, the postmodern suspicion of grand narratives—endemic within the fractures of contemporaneity—undermines the prospect of a galvanizing temporality like nostalgia. Institutions, for their part, are burdened to keep pace with the new paradigm. Experimental performance institutions have responded by establishing international marketplaces—namely theatre festivals and touring circuits—offering seasons that are vetted, predictable, and portable: the hallmarks of Schechner’s “conservative avant-garde.” In this landscape, the effect, means, and meaning of avant-garde and institutional time are ripe for reappraisal.

Vinge/Müller productions, which conceive of Henrik Ibsen as an underappreciated avant-gardist distorter of time, offer an opportunity for this reconsideration. Through his series of pathbreaking nineteenth-century dramas, Ibsen is credited as the “father” of modern realist drama. His depictions of contemporary Norwegian life repurposed the conventions of melodrama and the well-made play to create tragic portraits of middle-class life that strained the social and artistic norms of his time. Since his landmark work, A Doll House (1879), Ibsen’s legacy has been welded to his social import, his dramatic accounting of society’s ugly realities. George Bernard Shaw propelled this vision of the dramatist through his influential treatise The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1890), which valorizes Ibsen’s realism in counterpoint to the plays’ vestiges of Romanticism’s idealism. Although Shaw understood these pressures as working dialectically, he judges realism the victor in Ibsen’s works and broader thought. This interpretive tendency persists in more recent scholarship, most notably Toril Moi’s Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism (2006). Ibsen’s modernity is tethered to a rejection of idealism, which Moi defines as an ideology “fusing aesthetics with ethics and religion, [through which] the idealist program holds out to us all an optimistic utopian vision of human perfection.”[15] By skewering idealism, Ibsen’s theatrical realism is positioned as the origin of modernism.

This conclusion has consequences for seeing Ibsen within an avant-garde trajectory. Avant-gardism, after all, is fueled by a quasi-idealist aspiration, in the words of Raymond Williams, to achieve a “breakthrough to the future.”[16] Following Shaw and Moi, Ibsen’s avant-gardism is the utilitarian ability to shock and reorient bourgeois sentiments. While such effects are not in dispute here, the “utilitarian” take on Ibsen has become standard less for scholars than for practitioners who stage Ibsen’s work. Yet emphasizing Ibsen’s realism occludes the temporal features of Ibsen, which hold unique purchase on twenty-first-century avant-gardism. Ibsen’s time-bending dramaturgy—his avant-garde clock, if you will—is legible through the plays’ embrace of Romantic idealism.

Brian Johnston explains that while Ibsen “distrusted Romanticism’s rhetoric [he] did not intend to relinquish its audacious claims for art and the artist.”[17] Ibsen channeled the Romantic ideals of the artist through what Johnston calls a “Supertext” of allusions, references, and quotations from Western cultural history, that “invests his images of everyday reality with all the alarming potency and urgency that everyday reality tries to evade.”[18] The dramatist’s works depict the co-existence of the past and present in what Johnston calls “a recollection and reliving, at every moment, of our total past, both as individual and as species” (Johnston, The Ibsen-Cycle, 261). The archetypal references and structures operating beneath Ibsen’s realistic milieus constitute a second time signature that gestures beyond the confines of nineteenth-century Norwegian domestic life.[19] Turned inside out, Ibsen’s temporalities—the archetypal and realist—serve as a model for a twenty-first-century avant-gardism.  

Avant-Garde Time in Context

Temporality distortion alone does not make an avant-garde. My characterization of Vinge/Müller’s work as avant-garde is grounded in their relationship to three specific institutional contexts: Bergen’s International Festival (2008), Oslo’s Black Box Teater (2008), and Berlin’s Volksbühne-im-Prater theatre (2009–2014). These settings reveal a spectrum of responses to the unpredictability of the Saga, illuminating the agency of institutions in determining an artwork’s antagonism. That is to say, the Saga’s avant-gardism is as much shaped by institutional responses to art as it is by the art’s vision of the institution. While this intervention may seem slight, its effects cannot be overstated. Here I return to Jackson’s assessment of the dangers of pitting artistic freedom against institutional support: “[W]hen a political art discourse too often celebrates social disruption at the expense of social coordination, we lose a more complex sense of how art practices contribute to inter-dependent social imaginings” (Social Works, 14). But what if the “social coordination” of institutions—often born of neoliberal dictates of efficiency, expediency, and predictability—forecloses particular art practices? The Saga’s non-conformist temporality is the by-product of its own “social imagining” engendered through an artistic idealism for a non-instrumentalized realm of art making. It is this aspect of the Saga that institutional regulation limits. Allegiance to the affirmable qualities of art institutions—what we might take as exemplary models for broader social behavior and organization—may equally disavow art’s ability to elucidate institutional and artistic failures to produce such models.

Since 2006, Berlin and Oslo-based artists Vegard Vinge (director and performer), Ida Müller (scenographer, director, and performer), and Trond Reinholdtsen (composer and performer) have constructed a series of seven interconnected theatrical productions based on Ibsen’s plays, known as the Ibsen-Saga: A Doll House (2006), Ghosts (2007), The Wild Duck (2009), John Gabriel Borkman (2011), 12-Spartenhaus (2013), Nationaltheater Reinickendorf (2017), and Panini-BoysRoom (2018). The Saga explores Ibsen’s texts through associative connections to foreground the plays’ themes rather than produce textual fidelity. With fictional and historical references and reenactments ranging from the dawn of time to the future, the Ibsen-Saga creates trans-historical narratives that stand outside of linear time. Ibsen’s plots are followed, but expanded to integrate narratives and characters from TV, opera, film, theatre, popular music, visual and performance art, and world history. These historical and fictional references illuminate the generational and ideological conflicts within the texts and trace the recurrence of these themes across time. In doing so, the Saga manifests an avant-garde ethos from what Raymond Williams distills as Ibsen’s core dramatic action: “the struggle of individual desire, in a false and compromising situation, to break free and know itself.”[20]  The Saga’s uncompromising performances embody the embattled pursuit of individual desire in the face of contemporary temporal and institutional limits.

The Saga’s broad scope coheres in a collection of styles, inspirations, and citations governing the artists’ development process and live performances. All production elements—scenography, performers, text, voice, score, technicians, and theatre space—are designed in patterns, colors, sounds, and materials that highlight their artificiality. The overt artifice frames the disparate sources within the larger fiction, signaling a coherent, alternate reality. The performers, whose faces are never seen and who are often unidentified, function as human puppets. Dressed in character-specific costumes and rubber masks, they gesture to repeated phrases of prerecorded and distorted dialogue using slow motion, stylized movements underscored by hyper-realistic sound effects. Unified by their cartoonish, hand-painted scenography, the productions feature open-ended running times. The content and length of the productions change at the whim of a “Director” character, played by Vinge, who shapes the events in real time. The characters engage in scenes of mimed violence to sounds of bodily dismemberment, while the actors douse each other with fake blood and excreta, highlighting the artificiality of their actions. The artifice frequently erupts into acts of real violence, sex, excreta, destruction, bodily endurance, risky stunts, and confrontations with the audience and administrators. The extremity of these scenes starkly contrasts with the productions’ otherwise overt artificiality.

From its inception, the Saga positioned itself as an alternative to institutional theatre practice. The artists honed their aesthetic performing in their apartment for small audiences. The Saga’s inaugural production, A Doll House (2006), was staged in the artists’ own “off-off-off-Ibsen-Festival” in Oslo, Norway, which ran concurrently with and in opposition to the country’s state-funded Ibsen festival, celebrating the centenary of the playwright’s death. Yet the Saga seemingly followed a common trajectory for successful European theatre artists. In the space of three years, Vinge/Müller’s productions went from free, unadvertised performances for a small enclave of hip Norwegians to playing at an international festival alongside world-renowned artists like Robert Wilson. Two years later, they were funded with an annual budget of over one million dollars, handed the reins to their own theatre in Berlin, and invited to one of the most prestigious festivals in Germany. From all appearances their vanguardism was short-lived. If the avant-gardes’ default state is—to return to Mann—one of perpetual institutionality, then what commands reflection are not the Saga’s institutional attachments, but rather their avant-garde efforts within those institutional contexts.

In calling the Ibsen-Saga avant-garde, I draw on a host of defining characteristics. The Saga’s avant-gardism is an amalgamation of many parts, unique to themselves but similar in kind. One of the most persistent challenges to the idea of a contemporary avant-garde is the movements’ definitional dependency upon innovation. In the twentieth and twenty-first century, it has become customary to accept the postmodern proposition that newness is passé and, perhaps more damning, there is no longer an exterior position from which one might consider oneself oppositional and thus avant-garde. Martin Puchner sums up the would-be retort to current vanguard artists: “tell them that they are simply wrong, that what they mistakenly take for avant-garde practices are really something entirely different (postmodernism; nostalgic return to an avant-garde that is lost; empty repetition and imitation)” ( “It’s Not Over,” 918). The centrality of innovation to Puchner’s fictive admonishment finds its corollary in the legitimation of avant-gardism by its departure from past practices. These innovation-based definitions emphasize the avant-gardes’ futural aspirations, which foreclose their dependency on tradition. This would seem doubly disqualifying in the case of the Saga, which touts its allegiance to nineteenth-century literary and dramaturgical models. Puchner reconciles this complication by advocating for “a history not based on progress and points of no return, but one open to the possibility of repeated avant-gardes, in short, a history of repetition” (916–17). This history of returns opens the gates to additional avant-garde works and acknowledges the historical avant-gardes’ own forms of replication (manifestos in Puchner’s example), their own incapacity to be new. Boris Groys suggests that the new relies on tradition more than simply the condition of modernity. “Innovation,” Groys contends, “does not consist in the emergence of something previously hidden, but in the fact that the value of something always already seen and known is re-valued.”[21] Groys’s argument sidesteps paradigmatic “breaks” to highlight the continuity between all art works and the relational logic of artistic valuation that requires art to remain permanently tied to tradition.

Rather than innovate, the Saga embraces its position as the avant-gardes’ living dead. Theirs is a theatre of ghosts dragged across the stage not as forms of forward thinking, but as a spiritual mass for outmoded notions of artistic production and importance. These are not innovations, but artistic desires for autonomy fueled by their seeming impossibility, their outmodedness. Among the key figures of their backward-looking art are Ibsen, Richard Wagner, and the avant-gardes. The Ibsen-Saga can simply be understood as Ibsen’s oeuvre staged as Wagnerian opera cycle. This is evident in the production’s scale, interconnections, musical leitmotivs, heroically shape narratives, and, most importantly, the shared Romantic ideology regarding the pride and place of art and artists. Ibsen’s suspicion of idealism is reframed by valorizing the playwright’s ill-fated idealists as Wagnerian heroes willing to sacrifice themselves in defense of art. In championing idealism, Vinge/Müller, like the avant-gardes, weaponize their art to expose opponents of art. The Saga’s elevation of past practices is not lost on critics, who see the work as zombie theatre animating the spirits of once vibrant forms and theories. Doris Meierhenrich describes the Saga as a “living-dead total theatre . . . the ghostly afterlife of ‘art,’ which grasps a lot of broad forms and intentions, and at the same time, gets a handle on none of them.”[22] Resurrecting the avant-gardes may be impossible, as Meierhenrich suggests, but the Saga succeeds in the provocations that stem from mounting such a ritual. What the Saga gives up in innovation, it trumps with time, scale, and commitment. They clog the contemporary theatre apparatus with the corpses of avant-garde ideals, producing a theatre not of innovation, but of avant-garde intensity.

Ibsen funeral, 1906.
Fig. 2. Ibsen funeral, 1906. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Conflating avant-gardism and innovation bolsters another persistent belief: that vanguard works are aligned with liberal ideals. Kimberly Jannarone calls this “the ‘political fallacy’ of vanguard performance.”[23] The avant-gardes’ embrace by progressively-minded practitioners in the 1960s and 1970s obscured their political complexity.[24] The assumed allegiance among avant-gardism, innovation, and liberalism is part and parcel with its institutionalization. As Harding points out, measuring avant-garde art by its novelty “tends to rehabilitate the vanguards into a palatable form for mainstream consumption, shifting focus away from actual political engagement and inscribing avant-garde expression to the conventional logic of celebrating success over failure” (Ghosts of the Avant-Garde(s), 165). Harding’s assertion supports Schechner’s portrait of a contemporary avant-garde as depoliticized, risk-averse, trading in prepackaged tactics designed for consumption.

The Saga’s idealistic contention that artistic pursuits supersede material concerns exposes the “political fallacy” of avant-garde performance. The strain between the Saga’s artistic ambitions—which border on a militant adherence to art—and institutional limits lays bare this contradiction. The Saga’s unregulated and subjective determination of what constitutes labor (in terms of length and task) is at odds with the institution’s task of safeguarding employees from exploitation and other work-related dangers. The historical and aesthetic continuity between these anti-humanist politics, the avant-garde, and the Saga’s idealism disappears if their temporal provocations are, for example, considered within the art historical context of institutional critique, the efforts of which are to produce change or raise awareness. An avant-garde lens that accounts for the persistent “political fallacy” highlights temporal provocation’s relationship to artistic autonomy while allowing for political ambiguity.

Under these redrawn terms, it is still necessary to explicate how the Saga functions as an avant-garde formation within an institutional setting. Puchner’s anti-innovation definition and Jannarone’s attention to anti-progressive ideologies do not dispel critiques that the avant-gardes’ oppositionality is neutralized by their dependency upon institutions. If the avant-gardes and their ethos of provocation are integrated into institutions, how can the organizations that deliver these experiences also be the targets of a contemporary avant-garde? If institutions are the galvanizing frame for avant-garde and non-avant-garde (experimental) theatre alike, how does one tell the difference between the two? Mike Sell parses avant-gardes from other experimental groups with his helpful definition: “The avant-garde is a minoritarian formation that challenges power in subversive, illegal or alternative ways, usually by challenging the routines, assumptions, hierarchies and/or legitimacy of existing political and/or cultural institutions” (The Avant-Garde: Race, Religion, War, 4). The marginal position of the group in question firmly establishes the central quality of the avant-garde: “its raison d’être is to challenge power” (46). Many artists have achieved notoriety by locating their adversaries within their own audiences, famously distilled in the call to épater le bourgeois. Sell’s framing instead highlights “cultural institutions” as a key target of avant-garde animus. If experimental theatre is not synonymous with avant-gardism, the distinction emerges not from a lack of minority status, but from intent: the desire to use one’s marginal position as a site of opposition, a staging ground from which to overtly reject other positions.

Ibsen funeral, 1906.
Fig. 3. Ibsen funeral, 1906. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Saga’s self-identification as marginal occurs in relation to the institutions in which it performs. The desire and willingness of its creators to work in excess of theatrical standards is the most prominent way the Saga establishes its oppositional status. These excesses take two interrelated forms. The first occurs through performers enacting real behaviors often excluded from theatrical presentation: excreta, stunts, and destruction, all of which foreground their actuality and do little to safeguard against the dangers associated with them. While these efforts work to create the Saga’s unique dialectic between fiction and reality, their ability to provoke is limited. Despite the moralizing outcry against the scatological content of the Ibsen-Saga’s Vildanden (The Wild Duck) at the 2008 Bergen International Festival, for example, what instigated the “scandal” and drew international media attention was the group’s refusal to stop performing. And while violence and excreta garner headlines, their mere presence was hardly enough to provoke an institution like the Volksbühne. Far from challenging, these acts are in keeping with the Volksbühne’s heritage and value system of heralding transgressive art practices. Rather than forbid Vinge’s use of excreta and blood in performances, the Volksbühne required him to take an HIV test to ensure the health and safety of the theatre’s employees who might come in contact with his fluids and waste. The pure administrative functionality—the very fact that such a procedure exists—demonstrates the extent to which vanguard tactics have been incorporated into the everyday functioning of theatrical institutions.[25] The easy absorption of the avant-gardes and their provocative tactics seemingly signals the end of the avant-gardes’ capacity to shock.

If shock can be normalized (or more frequently commoditized) by institutions, temporal unpredictability poses particular challenges. Time is the shared backdrop of both theatrical and real actions. To seize or manipulate time metaphorically—through artistic practice—has a corresponding effect within reality. The actuality of shared time becomes a fault line between the establishment of an autonomous, timeless art and the temporal structures of art institutions. These competing notions of time embody the Saga’s dialectical standoff between art and commerce, the avant-garde and the institution. Unlike the spontaneity of a shocking image or behavior, temporal antagonism occurs incrementally, provoking through the cumulative effect of taking too much time.

What makes the Saga’s tactics impactful is their departure from institutions’ need to govern through clock time. While debates over the implementation and effects of “clock time” are still unfolding in the fields of sociology and temporality studies, I use the term to denote the use of standardized time—coinciding with and expediting the industrial revolution—as a means of organizing and regulating social and economic practices. Clock time, and its attendant regimentation, has given rise to both restrictive and liberating conditions. As David Wiles points out, “[C]locks are not simply a way of measuring time; they are a means of imparting a rhythm to life, which is another way of saying a discipline to life.”[26] Patrick Dawson and Christopher Sykes stress that clock time is “the ultimate measurement device of global capitalism and the digital network society that can be designed and used to produce structures and authority relations reflecting the locus of power not only in business and society but also in our forms of subjectivity.”[27] The ubiquity of clock time’s governance regulates not only artistic production, but also artistic imagination. Jonathan Martineau notes that it “tends to narrow the array of possibilities of temporal experiences and to push for the conformity of temporal practices.”[28] Restated, the organization of time is the organization of the possible. This has tremendous implications for the relationship between art and institutions, which at once facilitate and restrict artistic means through clock time. If time is synonymous with possibility, adherence to temporal regulation—clock time—infringes upon artistic imagination as much as artistic autonomy.

The use of time as an artistic weapon has ties to the historical avant-gardes. Futurism, for example, coveted speed’s capacity to unsettle a cultural climate that merged morals with nostalgia for what F. T. Marinetti called the “most dangerous enemy, the past, that gloomy mentor and abominable tutor.”[29] In the twenty-first century, the forward-looking logic of the avant-gardes seems quaint compared to what Crary warns is the drive towards a “24/7” state of capitalism. The effects of an around-the-clock, global marketplace and its attendant praise of innovation creates a condition in which “the accelerated tempo of apparent change deletes any sense of an extended time frame that is shared collectively, which might sustain even a nebulous anticipation of a future distinct from contemporary reality.”[30] If the aims of futurity have precipitated contemporaneity’s sense that the future has collapsed into the present, then an avant-garde founded on the future is anything but oppositional.

The Futurists’ temporalities are in keeping with Noys’s concept of “acclerationism,” the practice or belief in the wholesale embrace of technological innovation.[31] The acclerationist mindset prizes technology as a means of transporting society or the self into the future. This future is dichotomous, as Noys points out, understood as both an embrace of unfettered capitalism and a strategy for its destruction. The correspondence between the Futurists and Noys’s concept remains strictly theoretical. What produces the coveted speeds are, by in large, technologies that circumvent the leaden materiality from which the Futurists’ performances—and the theatre itself—are constructed. If avant-garde temporality aspires to—like acclerationism—“break the horizon of the present,” the possibility of achieving this through speed seems foolhardy (Noys, Malign Velocities, 97). Under these circumstances, returning to Heiner Müller’s call for theatre’s “Stone Agedness,” becomes useful to a would-be avant-garde.

The Ibsen-Saga shares in a broad avant-gardist conception of temporality as an aesthetic tool against one’s present. Unlike the Futurists and other like-minded vanguard movements, the Saga uses temporality as a means of regression, a return to the forms, ideologies, and temporalities presumably shed by neoliberalism and the artistic expressions it inspired.[32] The Saga counters a culture in which, according to Crary, “social phenomenon that are characterized by the appearance of stasis or slow rates of change are marginalized and drained of value or desirability” (Crary, 24/7, 45–46). The Saga takes seriously the notion that art can offer a time in the present and that institutions’ responsibility is to shelter the possibility of time. Through its temporal dramaturgy, the Saga reveals institutions’ pressure to both follow acclerationism and safeguard artistic practices vulnerable to such cultural developments. The extremity of the Saga’s position challenges institutions to reconcile, or attempt to reconcile, these competing temporalities. In this respect, the Saga is not anti-institutional, but nostalgic for an idealized institution that stands separate from contemporary forces. The following three examples of the Ibsen-Saga’s temporal dramaturgy in practice illuminate the contradiction common to contemporary institutions.

Avant-Garde Time in Practice

Following the success of Vinge and Müller production of Ghosts (2007), for which they received the Norwegian Theatre Critics’ Award, the duo was invited to the 2009 Bergen International Festival.[33] Their production, Vildanden (The Wild Duck), was based on Ibsen’s 1884 play of the same title. The fifth of Ibsen’s realist works, The Wild Duck depicts the downtrodden Ekdal family’s unraveling at the hands of the mercantile Werle family. The Ekdals’ undoing is instigated by the young idealist Gregers Werle, who takes it upon himself to shed light on a host of familial secrets. Vinge and Müller characteristically turned the play inside out. Gregers’s idealist ambitions are celebrated as a radical ideology for an uncompromised art process, which comes to stand in for the production itself. The play’s realists, Werle (Gregers’s father) and Dr. Relling, are vilified as cruel dictators bent on suppressing free expression. The production garnered international attention when the festival’s director, Per Bøyne Hansen, interrupted its premiere mid-performance when, after nine hours, Vinge announced that act one would begin. Every night the performance exceeded the festival’s scheduled five-hour running time by nearly an additional five hours. These interruptions led to tense mid-performance standoffs between Vinge (performing in the character of the show’s “Director”) and Hansen. Vinge incorporated the arguments into the drama of the performance, continually referring to Hansen as the character Werle from Ibsen’s play, who in the Saga’s production is the patriarchal villain suppressing the idealist aspirations of the young Gregers. In an audio recording of the disputes made by Vinge—which was played during later performances—Hansen is heard telling Vinge to “Go to bed!” Vinge, retorts with a succinct manifesto: “We need a new generation!”

The public nature of the dispute and the festival’s high profile brought a swarm of media attention. Finn Bjørn Tønder’s Aftenposten article, “Had to stop the Scandal-Theatre,” set the inflammatory tone of the discussion. The article quotes former Norwegian Culture Minister Ellen Horn saying that the production could only be called a “nationwide scandal.”[34] Coupled with the Saga’s already salacious content, the ‘scandal’ led media outlets throughout Europe to report on the production. The proliferation of decontextualized observations and provocative interviews with spectators—such as a young woman telling TV 2 Norway that she fled the theatre to vomit—brought the production valuable attention.[35] Hansen, equally caught in the crossfire, took responsibility for the conflicts, stating that the Saga “is exciting theatre that knows no boundaries. But as organizers we should have had better control” (Forthun, “Urin og avføring). Hansen’s statement reveals the central tension between institutions and avant-garde art—the irreconcilable desires for boundlessness and control—but, more importantly, that the conflict was animated by the institution’s inability to manage the time of the performance, not its content.

The Norwegian critic Therese Bjørneboe later contextualized the artists’ obstinacy. Refusing to stop the performance, Bjørneboe argues, was part of the Saga’s “attitude towards theatre in which all choices are political,” an assertion that can be traced back to Vinge/Müller’s belief that all production elements must be made and painted by the artists themselves.[36] Much of the confusion over the politics of the show and its creators stemmed from the overlap of fictional and real elements. In a later article on the scandal, Bjørneboe suggests that Vinge and Hansen’s confrontations raised fundamental questions about “who controls the art, the institution or artist,” by “referring to a real conflict between institutions and artists.”[37] She identifies Vinge’s “dual role” as the actual and fictional director of the performances, “as a kind of transfer station between the fictional and the real [theatre] situation” (Bjørneboe, “Hjalmars Teater”). At the start of the third performance, for example, Vinge announced to the audience that, “restrictions cannot stop our Wild Duck longing for the claim of the ideal.” Using a line from the play’s ideologue Gregers (“the claim of the ideal”) to address the real-world conflict between Hansen and the production, the “Director” reframed the standoff and the artists’ agenda as a “direct extension of Ibsen’s themes in The Wild Duck.” This tactic recurs in all of the Saga’s productions and is the source of many of the works’ ensuing “scandals.” What makes the strategy effective is the artists’ willingness to exceed institutional regulations to manifest the idealism of Ibsen’s characters. In doing so, the Saga collides with reality by extending the parameters of its fiction.

The Saga enforces art’s autonomy not from the resources of institution or government, but from their oversight. This point is illustrated in the differences between the Bergen performances of The Wild Duck and the show’s conflict-free premiere a year later in Oslo. The lack of tension was the result of Black Box Teater’s administrators and employees allowing the artists to determine the length of each performance.[38] If the Bergen performances took on an antagonistic air, in Oslo, said Vinge, “it was a very lovable audience and very supportive . . . it was more like a party.”[39] At its longest, the “party” in Oslo lasted nineteen and a half hours. The distinction between these two openings demonstrates how the Saga responds relationally to the institutions it inhabits and how institutions themselves participate in framing artworks as antagonistic. The festivities of the Oslo premiere were a result of the institution relinquishing its role of regulating time and supporting the Saga’s autonomy from institutional temporality. The Bergen performances, conversely, revealed the limits of both artistic autonomy and institutional oversight.

Vinge/Müller’s art depends on the artists’ ability to determine the lengths of their performances. Rather than clock time, most performances are structured by the artists’ real-time, subjective experience of the show. The Saga’s approach responds to the twenty-first-century reality in which, as Vinge explains, “the element of time is cut out of us today [in which] we just consume and then need the next [thing]” (interview, 2013). The temporal landscape described by Vinge is expressive of capitalism’s effects. As Wiles puts it, “[I]n a consumer society, it is hard to escape from conceptualizing time as a resource that we want to spend or consume to our maximum possible profit. Time begins to seem like a thing, not a mode of being” (theatre & time, 12, emphasis added). This places unprecedented pressures on the present to be efficient, a condition exacerbated by the present’s fleeting nature.

Deliberately long, slow theatre experiences, like those of the Saga, may momentarily assuage this condition. While theatre can offer a sense of safe harbor in the accelerated present, it largely retains and reproduces clock time’s structuring, utilitarian logic. Theatre that aims to circulate through institutions and festivals increasingly needs to adhere to the rapidity of cultural consumption. For evidence, one need only glance across the 2016 and 2017 programs for the New York City new work festivals Under the Radar, Coil, and American Realness. Of the ninety new shows on offer in those years, only fourteen have run times of ninety minutes or longer and only three exceed the two-hour mark. The process of selecting these shows—and thereby the partial construction of the experimental theatre market—is largely dependent on time. The Coil Festival’s artistic director, Vallejo Gantner, notes that a key factor when programming a show is that “it can’t be something that requires four hours of quiet contemplation because everybody’s frenetic.”[40] This criterion depends on an accelerated present in which a performance is one of many experiences slotted into a daily schedule. Even this small sample underscores the fact that such temporal scales are normalized in the exchange between artists and institutions. To exceed this tacit temporal agreement is perhaps the most obvious and direct means of antagonizing that relationship.

The Saga counters the impulses of expediency through its slow pacing, incorporation of incidental and the seemingly trivial, and physical and musical repetitions in which the experience of time in the service of art becomes palpable. Or, to return to Wiles’s formulation, the Saga returns time to a “mode of being” (theatre & time, 12.) Vinge/Müller’s constant revising and open-endedness is antithetical to institutional modes of theatrical production. Vinge explains that within an institutional setting it becomes “dangerous if you spend too much time with something because the energy becomes too strong. That’s why when you build a play that’s sixteen hours it challenges the theatre system” (interview, 2013). The energy Vinge describes is twofold. It is at once relational, building an experiential bond through the shared time of the art and observer. It is also, as Vinge/Müller have intimated, the energy of opposition that arises from the autonomy of art expressed through its internally determined temporality.

The Saga’s dual sense of time—as both relational and oppositional— distinguishes Vinge/Müller’s shows from what Hans-Thies Lehmann identifies as the core temporal concerns of postdramatic theatre and from the long-form works that Jonathan Kalb dubs “marathon theatre.”[41] For Lehmann, postdramatic theatre emphasizes how performers and audience members alike experience the “shared time” of the performance event. Artists illuminate this “shared time” through forms of temporal distortion like “the aesthetics of repetition,” “the prolongation of time,” and acceleration (Lehmann, Postdramatic Theatre, 156). Lehmann credits Robert Wilson with perfecting these techniques and addressing the temporal conventions of spectating by “stipulating ‘intermissions at your discretion’” (155). Wilson is also one of the foundational creators of what Kalb calls “marathon theatre.” Defined as a production at least five hours in length, marathon theatre offers an opportunity for “thinking theatregoers in the media age to resist the maddening, ubiquitous, and nearly irresistible pressure to reduce, abbreviate, and trivialize” (Kalb, Great Lengths, 16). Kalb’s examples are buoyed by their presumed capacity to engender community through their length and “confront us with the physical, real-time presence of toiling performers as well as fellow audience members” that highlights the passage of time as a real and consequential experience (17). The length of Vinge/Müller’s works, likewise, underscores the co-presence of performers and audiences, marks the passage of time through accumulated wreckage, and challenges audiences and participants to structure their own time in response to the productions.

The Saga, nonetheless, departs from Kalb and Lehmann’s categories. Vinge/Müller’s provocative or utopian effects stem from the duration of their shows and the unpredictability of their length. For all the temporal distortion and spectatorial freedom Wilson’s works may offer, their content and running times are meticulously organized and regimented. The precision of Wilson’s performances enables their distribution as a global commodity. Since 2015 alone, Wilson has presented sixteen different productions in fourteen cities around the world.[42] Many of the marathon works Kalb cites pose challenges of organization and endurance for the institutions that sponsor the performances and the audiences who attend. These obstacles are, however, prepared for in advance and met by institutional organization and oversight. Most marathon works create systems of support to facilitate their lengths: defined, preannounced intermissions, dinner breaks, or the partitioning of the works into discrete chunks that can be seen on various nights. During Jan Fabre’s twenty-four hour Mount Olympus (2015) at the Berliner Festspiele in Berlin, for example, cots were provided for the tired and meals were offered throughout the performance. At the 2013 American premiere of Nature Theatre of Oklahoma’s ten-part epic, Life and Times (2009—) presented by New York’s Under the Radar Festival, spectators could decide to watch the show in separate sections over four nights or as a one-day, ten-hour “marathon.” During the marathon evening, complimentary meals were provided between sections, as were preannounced, regulated intermissions to allow for eating and lavatory breaks. New York City’s Soho Rep Theatre—a co-producer of the event—provided “survival kits” to its subscribers that included water and snacks. Impressively long at over ten hours, NTOK’s regimented serialization of Life and Times—while inarguably gracious to its spectators—organizes the work around the needs of its audiences. The Saga by contrast, while offering food and other means of comfort by allowing spectators to watch in any fashion they like, refuses to structure the work around its spectators.

The Saga is of a distinct temporal kind. It employs its temporal dramaturgy to materialize the shared experience of time between art and audience, but also creates a temporal space that claims autonomy from the real world. Spectators must amend themselves to the length and intervals of the production without forewarning. The time of and between scenes have no prescribed or predictable length. Five minutes of stage action may be followed by a break three times as long or vice versa. These irregularities effectively force spectators to choose when to leave for a bathroom or food break and to determine what scenes are essential to their experience of the show. This unpredictability facilitates the Saga’s larger, intuition-driven dramaturgy, in which actions, scenes, characters, and runtimes change significantly from performance to performance. While the Saga shares its lengths with other productions, its temporal structure is indifferent to its audiences, their needs, and the institutions charged with meeting them. Such a notion is rare within the theatre, which trades in the notion of its liveness—the uniqueness of an individual performance—yet marshals its power to provide continuity from night to night, eliminating any discrepancies that may emerge through repetition. Theatre attempts to balance the needs of a unique experience and the consistency of the product it sells. The Saga’s indifference to this balancing act routinely runs afoul of the structures charged with regulating theatrical experience.

The Saga’s next production after The Wild Duck, John Gabriel Borkman (2011­–12), the group’s most critically acclaimed production to date, renewed these temporal conflicts. Opening in the fall of 2011 at Berlin’s Prater theatre—a small venue run by the city’s Volksbühne—the production was the first of Vinge/Müller’s five-year residency (2010–2015) and subsequently invited to the 2012 Theatertreffen. The high profile and exclusivity of the Theatertreffen festival, which selects the year’s ten best German-language productions, ensured a new level of attention for the artists. The significant economic and technical resources that came with their residency at the Prater aided the production’s success, creating what The Berliner Zeitung’s Dirk Pilz called “the production of the decade.”[43] Despite the critical accolades, the Saga’s temporal dramaturgy would quickly fray the artists’ relationship with the Volksbühne.

Recognized internationally as one of the preeminent institutions dedicated to producing experimental theatre, the Volksbühne is no stranger to challenging works that transgress boundaries. The Volksbühne is also a state-funded institution operating under mandated labor laws. The theatre’s deep ties to unionized labor are evidenced in the title to Berliner Morgenpost’s article celebrating the institution’s centenary, “Ein Tempel für die arbeiter”: “A temple for the workers.”[44] The Volksbühne’s embrace of both experimentation and regulation encapsulates many of the tensions of institutionalizing the contemporary avant-garde. Within the context of such an institution, the most disruptive of the Saga’s challenges to both public taste and institutional permissiveness are those pressures their art places on the institution’s task of organizing time.

Eight hours into the second performance of Borkman, the theatre’s technical staff—who are directly employed by the Volksbühne and operate the Prater—powered down the sound and light boards and unceremoniously left the theatre. The technicians’ walkout was less a protest than it was adherence to the Volksbühne’s labor regulations. Since the technicians worked more than twelve hours during the previous performance, they were instructed by their supervisors not to work more than eight hours during the subsequent show. As time elapsed, Vinge pleaded with the staff to continue the performance. When the technicians declined to keep working, Vinge attempted to proceed with the show by bringing the audience backstage. The theatre’s stage manager, citing fire codes, forbade moving the audience onto the stage. Instead, the cast brought the audience champagne in a gesture of compensation. This seeming anomaly was in fact symptomatic of Vinge/Müller’s residency at the Volksbühne, during which the Saga’s idealistic aims continually conflicted with the institution’s regulations and administrators. The production’s critical success only served to exacerbate tensions.

The Saga’s temporal logic had an equally chaffing effect on the institution of the Theatertreffen. Held annually in Berlin, the festival’s selection of John Gabriel Borkman posed logistical problems. Given the intricacy of the show’s set—custom built for the Prater—the production could not move to a larger theatre, thus severely limiting the number of available seats. The show’s idiosyncratic run times and inability to be performed on consecutive nights limited it to six performances. This—in addition to the show’s reputation—made it, according to Jana Perkovic, the show to which “all of Berlin tried to get a ticket.”[45] For the Theatertreffen premiere of John Gabriel Borkman, the Saga employed a different aspect of its temporal dramaturgy as an act of antagonism. Before the curtain went up, a character counted by single digits (and on occasion decimal points) for six continuous hours. No other action transpired during this time. The gesture—a possible refusal to make good on the institutional hype of the Theatertreffen—garnered a roller coaster of audience responses. Spectators tolerated, mocked, or joined in the counting, while others left the show. Some spectators angrily turned to shout at Vinge and the other technicians in the sound booth: the artists only decided to raise the curtain—ending the scene prior to reaching their target of counting to ten thousand—for fear of an actual riot. The same scene played to different lengths and effects on subsequent nights, including a character reading words from the dictionary for roughly an hour.[46]

Responses from critics ranged from boredom, to admiration, to bafflement. Piotr Gruszczyński noted that at times the numerical calculations felt “contemplative and full of meaning.”[47] The possible meanings of the counting aside, its effect represents a refusal to proceed with traditional dramatic action in an effort to retain artistic autonomy in the face of institutional and spectatorial expectations. In the end, Vinge/Müller conceded to the audience’s wishes; but these concessions were not extended to the institution. At the end of twelve hours of the Theatertreffen run, the technicians again left the theatre. But, as with previous performances, the Saga played on. Perkovic describes the scene in which after the staff left the theatre, the “Director” remained on stage groaning, “This is not over! I will not leave!” (“True Chaos,” 17). Perkovic explains that it was only the audience—eventually applauding and exiting the theatre—who believed the show was over. The “Director,” Perkovic speculates, may well have continued on in the empty auditorium. Meierhenrich wonders whether such “spectacular idleness (Leerlauf) could be the most successful, most rigorous moment of this total spectacle machine . . . that whips the entire theatre to its practical and aesthetic limits” (“Wie viel Theater hält man aus?”). Even if the spectators continued to watch, the Saga’s transgression of the theatre’s labor regulations drove the technicians and administrators from the theatre. By the end of the Theatertreffen run, the nightly technical closure of the show was unremarkable. The Saga may have reached the Volksbühne’s temporal limits, but there was little controversy to be found there. In the end, the institution retained its power to organize time, but at the cost of abandoning the institution.

What to make of an art whose adherence to the ideals of autonomy places it on a collision course with structures designed to safeguard the very workers who enable it?  It is tempting to critique the Saga on the grounds of hypocrisy. Vinge/Müller take the financial and material support of institutions while taunting and disregarding those institutions’ concerns. To dismiss this behavior as hypocritical, however, is to extract it from the context of Ibsenian artistic idealism in which it is conceived and performed. While this attitude itself may seem hypocritical, it is in keeping with the Saga’s overriding idealistic ethos: “The art stands above everything,” even time.[48]

Or does it?  While editing this essay for publication, news broke that the Volksbühne’s newest artistic director, René Pollesch, has contracted Vinge and Müller on a more permanent basis. Starting in 2021, the duo will present two productions a year in the theatre’s main house, a significant rise in profile from their previous position in the smaller Prater venue. Whatever the results of this new collaboration and its evidence for the viability of an institutionalized avant-garde may be, there is a sense that the Volksbühne is shifting in response to the institutional limits the Saga’s productions revealed. Müller was appointed the Volksbühne’s Facilities Director (Ausstattungsleiter), responsible for, among other things, mediating between technical and artistic employees: bridging the practical and ideal. If this sounds like the familiar course of antagonism transforming into institutionalization, the Volksbühne is proceeding with caution. As Peter Laudenbach reports, “because Vinge is not considered to be quite straightforward, the [German] actor Martin Wuttke wants to initiate the exchange between the director [Vinge] and the [theatre’s] ensemble, ‘to see how we can work together.’”[49]  We will see, indeed, in good time.


Notes

[1] Heiner Müller, quoted in and trans. David Barnett, “Resisting the Revolution: Heiner Müller’s Hamlet/Machine at the Deutsches Theater, Berlin, March 1990,” Theatre Research International 31, no. 2 (2006): 188–200, 197.

[2] Their restaging of the Wild Duck in the Prater lobby ran continuously for two weeks during the 2011 Theatertreffen. The show could only be viewed through the lobby windows, as spectators stood inside a shed-like booth that the artists built around the exterior of the theatre. Vinge/Müller’s last two productions, Nationaltheater Reinickendorf (2017) and Panini-BoysRoom (2018) adhered to stricter time limits, lasting a maximum of twelve and six hours, respectively.

[3] Mike Sell, The Avant-Garde: Race, Religion, War (New York: Seagull Books, 2011), 45.

[4] Richard Schechner, “The Conservative Avant-Garde,” New Literary History 41, no. 4 (2010): 895–913.

[5] Paul Mann, The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 63.

[6] See Shannon Jackson, Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics (New York: Routledge, 2011).

[7] James Harding, Ghosts of the Avant-Garde(s): Exorcising Experimental Theater and Performance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013), 161.

[8] Martin Puchner, “It’s Not Over (‘Til It’s Over),” New Literary History 41, no. 4 (2010): 915–28, 919.

[9] Christine Ross, The Past is the Present; It’s The Future Too: The Temporal Turn in Contemporary Art (New York: Continuum, 2012), 49–50.

[10] See, for example, Brendan Dooley, ed., The Dissemination of News and the Emergence of Contemporaneity in Early Modern Europe (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).

[11] See Terry Smith, ed., Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 16–17.

[12] Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art (New York: Verso, 2013), 23.

[13] Patrick Dawson and Christopher Sykes, Organizational Change and Temporality: Bending the Arrow of Time (New York: Routledge, 2016), 59.

[14] Judy Wajcman, Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 2.

[15] Toril Moi, Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism: Art, Theater, Philosophy

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 73.

[16] Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism: Against The New Conformists (New

York: Verso, 1989), 51.

[17] Brian Johnston, The Ibsen-Cycle: The Design of the Plays from “Pillars of Society” to “When We Dead Awaken” (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1992), 363.

[18] Brian Johnston, Text and Supertext in Ibsen’s Drama (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1989), 74.

[19] Richard Hornby distinguishes the dual temporalities of Ibsen’s plays into “external,” formal elements, and “internal,” thematic content.

[20] Raymond Williams, Modern Tragedy (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2006), 126.

[21] Boris Groys, On The New, trans. G. M. Goshgarian (New York: Verso, 2014), 10.

[22] Doris Meierhenrich, “Wie viel Theater hält man aus?” (How Much Drama Can We Bear?) Berliner Zeitung, December 15, 2011.

[23] Kimberly Jannarone, “Introduction: The Political Fallacy of Vanguard Performance,” in Vanguard Performance: Beyond Left and Right, ed. Kimberly Jannarone (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015), 1–15, 2.

[24] See, for example, Kimberly Jannarone, Artaud and His Doubles (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010).

[25] Vegard Vinge, interview with author, Berlin, Germany, May 8, 2015.

[26] David Wiles, theatre & time (London: Red Globe Press, 2014), 54.

[27] Patrick Dawson and Christopher Sykes, “Institutional Time in the Organization of Control and Work,” in Organizational Change and Temporality: Bending the Arrow of Time (New York: Routledge, 2016), 58–78, 58.

[28] Jonathan Martineau, “Making sense of the history of clock-time, reflections on Glennie and Thrift’s Shaping the Day,” Time & Society 26, no. 3 (2017): 305–20, 315.

[29] F. T. Marinetti, “We Renounce Our Symbolist Master, The Last of All Lovers of the Moonlight,” in F. T. Marinetti: Critical Writings, ed. Günter Berghaus and trans. Doug Thompson (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), 43–46,44.

[30] Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (New York: Verso, 2014), 41.

[31] See Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities: Acclerationism and Capitalism (Alresford, UK: Zero Books, 2014).

[32] The Saga’s idealization of the past is inspired by its two chief sources: Ibsen’s nostalgia for Nordic pagan glory and Wagner's romanticizing of a Germanic cultural heritage. Each artist may resolve their nostalgia differently, but both look to history to shape the present.

[33] Therese Bjørneboe and Elin Hoyland, “Teaterkritikerprisen 2007/2008 til Vegard Vinge og Ida Müller,” (“2007/2008 Theatre Critics Award for Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller”) Norwegian Critics Association, September 25, 2008.

[34] Finn Bjørn Tønder, “Måtte stoppe skandaleteater,” (“Had to Stop the Scandal Theatre”) Bergens Tidende, May 24, 2009.

[35] Regine Forthun, interviewed by Asle Bentzen, “Urin og avføring på teaterscene i Bergen,” (Urine and feces on the stage of Bergen theater) TV2 Norway, May 29, 2009.

[36] Therese Bjørneboe, “Ibsen er igjen skandaløs,” (“Ibsen Remains Scandalous”) Klassenkampen, May 29, 2009.

[37] Therese Bjørneboe, “Hjalmars Teater” (“Hjalmar’s Theatre”) Norsk Shakespeare og Teater Tidsskrift (Norwegian Shakespeare and Theatre Journal) 2 (2009).

[38] As reported by Black Box’s artistic director, Jon Refsdal Moe, the employees agreed to work more hours in an effort to enable the artists’ vision for the production.

[39] Vegard Vinge, interview with the author, video call, October 31, 2013.

[40] Vallejo Gantner, quoted in Molly Grogan, “January in NYC: A Smorgasbord of Theater Festivals,” Exeunt Magazine, January 12, 2016.

[41] Hans-Thies Lehmann, Postdramatic Theatre, trans. Karen Jürs-Munby (New York: Routledge, 2006), 155; Jonathan Kalb, Great Lengths: Seven Works of Marathon Theatre (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011).

[42] Robert Wilson professional website.

[43] Dirk Pilz, “Ich bin hier nur geschäftlich,” (“I’m only here on business”), Berliner Zeitung, May 6, 2013.

[44] Stefan Kirschner, “Ein Tempel für die Arbeiter, 100 Jahre Volksbühne in Berlin,” (“A Temple for the Workers: 100 Years of the Volksbühne in Berlin”) Berliner Morgenpost, December 30, 2014.

[45] Jana Perkovic, “true chaos: theatre at the limits,” RealTime Arts 110, no. 17 (2012). The Volksbühne and Theatertreffen sought to reconcile this by reselling tickets to the performance once spectators left the show. Vinge/Müller maintain that they neither approved of the policy nor were they consulted about its implementation. Their opposition to the Volksbühne’s ticketing practices was parodically addressed in their next show—12-Spartenhaus—in which they built a mock “box office” manned by a Nazi. Each time an audience member had their ticket taken by a member of the Volksbühne’s staff, a SS uniform-clad character positioned in the “box office” rang a cash register noise. In this way, Nazism, commercialized art, and the Volksbühne were comically conflated one hundred times per night.

[46] See Maria Shevtsova, “An Overview of Theatertreffen in Berlin 2012,” Critical Stages, no. 7 (2012).

[47] Piotr Gruszczyński, “Doświadczać, Theatertreffen 2012,” (“Experiencing the 2012 Theatertreffen”) Dwutygodnik, 83 (May 2012).

[48] Ida Müller, interview with author, video call, October 31, 2013.

[49] Peter Laudenbach, “Zurück auf Los” (Return to Go), Süddeutsche Zeitung, June 12, 2019.