© Evonik / Photographer Markus Schmidt

Stage design with a perspective

A new interpretation of the popular epic poem is presented at the Nibelung Festival in Worms each year. Stage designer Irina Schicketanz knows the role PLEXIGLAS® plays in the interaction between staging and stage.

“The material provides the basis. I often take the material as a starting point when I develop new ideas for stage design,” says Irina Schicketanz. That is how she designs stages – and how she has been influencing productions at famous theaters throughout the country over the last 26 years. This was particularly noteable at the 2016 edition of the Nibelungenfestspiele (Nibelung festival): “Gold – Der Film der Nibelungen” (Gold – the movie of the Nibelungs) plays with the idea of the transparent, exposed actor and was written while Schicketanz was developing her stage design concept.

Irina Schicketanz

The stage designer was born in Munich. She studied stage design and film-making at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. She has been working as a freelance artist, stage and costume designer since completing her degree in 1990, and has also conceptualized the scenery for several movies. She had already worked with the Nibelung director Nuran David Calis at the Volkstheater in Vienna, at the Berlin theater and the Residenztheater in Munich before.

© Evonik / Photographer Markus Schmidt

This allowed the stage designer to directly integrate her ideas with the production by director Nuran David Calis and the text by Albert Ostermeier. The concept includes: A row of transparent wardrobes made of PLEXIGLAS®, the branded acrylic glass by Evonik, which took up the entire left-hand side of the stage. Because “Gold” is a play inside a play – theater toying with different levels. The actors play a film crew that wants to shoot a movie about the Nibelungs and experiences conflicts and catastrophes while working through the plot of the saga. The result is a stage play between satire, psychogram and movie. The Nibelungenfestspiele Worms (Nibelung festival Worms) aims to take a new look at the old legend almost every year since the festival first took place 15 years ago.

Nibelungenfestspiele in Worms

Since 2002 the Nibelungenfestspiele take place in open-air theater in front of the Worms Cathedral, the original setting mentioned in the saga. Greatly varied versions of the plot have been performed in recent years, including the production by Friedrich Hebbel from 1861, but also adaptations of the saga or, as in 2016, a version that has been completely adapted to the modern world and uses the Nibelung plot as a starting point. The list of actors performing on stage in the previous years includes Mario Adorf, Jasmin Tabatabai, Meret Becker and Dirk Bach, among others.

The voyeuristic insights are part of the game

The 2016 edition is a modern production. The PLEXIGLAS® booths are the actors’ place of retreat where they grant insight into their souls through monologues. Insight into souls that are pushed to the outside world ever more drastically with cameras simultaneously transmitting close-ups of the faces to an enormous screen – a trick that serves to spare the audience opera glasses and at the same time highlights the film production concept. “For all this, we needed transparency,” says Schicketanz. “The voyeuristic insights are part of the game; this is why we’ve used transparent walls.”

This is why the branded acrylic glass was so perfectly suited: Glass would be too heavy and would pose a risk of injury – the actors interact with the material, throw themselves against it, slam the doors or fight inside their booths. In fact, the front walls have been specially reinforced: 20 millimeter original PLEXIGLAS® panels – robust and at the same time transparent. The doors were milled out of the front wall. They all had a star milled out of them reminding of Hollywood – it is more than mere decoration. Right from the start, the booth, walls and doors are integrated in the spectacle using lighting. Thanks to the special light conducting properties of the branded acrylic glass, light can be fed over the edges to light up entire booths or to only light up the edges. During the performance, the lighting changes according to the atmosphere from unsteady flickering, dazzling spotlight to dusky and terrifying red.

Lighting highlights the plot

The booths shine in different lighting, matching the atmosphere on stage. The light conducting properties of PLEXIGLAS® ensure that light only exits from the edges, for example.

© Evonik / Photographer Markus Schmidt

“PLEXIGLAS® simply glows very bright,” says Schicketanz, who has used this material on other stages before, either as transparent walls or milled sculptures. One benefit that she became aware of while working on the Nibelung production was: The rehearsals and performances always take place in midsummer, with high temperatures heating up some areas of the stage, including the inside of the booths, to “a good 50 °C (120 °F)”, as the stage designer has experienced. PLEXIGLAS®, however, was not affected by that at all, there was no deformation or overheating. An important benefit for scenes with up to 15 people inside one small booth at once, or when, during the monologues, hands, tongues and bodies are pressed against the transparent wall.

Original PLEXIGLAS® – longstanding partner

The branded acrylic glass has been the ideal partner for the stage and presentation of the Nibelungenfestspiele. In one of the classic performances, for example, Brunhild, queen of Iceland, enters the stage on a larger than life horse made of transparent PLEXIGLAS®. Then in 2015, the branded acrylic glass served as a basis for the large table which was illuminated red from the inside – which was only possible thanks to the extraordinary light conducting properties of the material.

One thing that becomes apparent during the performance: Nothing on stage is decoration. Schicketanz and the director Calis let the actors interact with the stage design all the time. The material is the foundation on which the performance is built – literally, as Schicketanz emphasizes. In this case: on original PLEXIGLAS®.