I was born in a little village near the German-French border, in the centre of a continent, which in its history, has experienced and caused a terrible amount of violence and suffering. There were open wounds in both countries, but I was brought up with the belief in reconciliation. Loved by the warmth of my parents, brother and sisters, and, curious as every child is, always outside in the forest, the brook, the
meadows, together with my friends. We invented new games every day. A whole world of nature and it's secrets was calling me, exciting and inspiring my fantasy. I was a happy boy.
Ulrich is an award-winning actor and theatre director, well known for his playful productions of the
works of Bertolt Brecht and Anton Chekhov. Until 2015, he was associate artistic director of
Kreuzgangspiele Feuchtwangen, one of Germany’s biggest summer theatres.
He holds University diplomas in Acting, Theatre Pedagogy, Theology and Philosophy. He has worked
with the Chekhov Technique for 25 years, incorporating the exploration of children’s
games and work with masks. Since 1994, Ulrich has taught throughout Europe, Russia, Brazil,
the US and Taiwan. He has made appearances as guest lecturer at Yeditepe University, Istanbul, Turkey, and is a member of the international faculty of MICHA, New York. Ulrich is Co-founder of Michael
Chekhov Europe e.V. and artistic director of Michael Chekhov Studio Hamburg.
I love to play. In German the word for “actor“ is "Schauspieler“ = "player." When I was playing as a child, sometimes I would run to the kitchen to show my Mum, "Look what I am playing!“ That’s the essence of acting for me: to play and to share this joyful playing with other people.
What is behind your need to create?
I am a human being. As such, I love to create. Joseph Beuys calls "every human being an artist“ („jeder Mensch ein Künstler“). We all have that full potential. I simply love to work, to relate to other people, to commit myself to the world of imagination, to transform into somebody whom I do not know yet.
How does Michael Chekhov’s work inform your acting/directing?
I work with it all the time; it has become like my second nature. Sometimes, however, I pick just one tool to intensify my acting. I had this comedy going on for 12 seasons and I played almost 400 shows of it. I loved it, but every night I had to challenge myself, get out of my comfort zone, jump into the unknown again. So, I gave myself a little new task every night. Sometimes it would focus on the staccato/legato moments in the play, sometimes on the Psychological Gesture of a certain relationship,
sometimes on the centre of the character and how it's quality changes during the scene, sometimes simply on listening to my partner. And so on. A good technique makes you communicate. It enables you to connect on stage with people who have a different background and who may use different techniques. It frees you to play. A Chekhov colleague came to see that show when we did it in Berlin. He liked it a lot,
especially how the ensemble worked together. And then he asked me: “How can I tell that you are a Chekhov actor, and the others are not?“ I answered: "Well, I hope you cannot tell!"Because on stage we don’t show our technique, we simply play. What is important is our partner, it's the story we want to tell, and it's the audience.
In my directing, “Atmosphere“ has become the core element. Chekhov calls it the "soul of every performance." So true. Without atmosphere, there is nothing. But, if you create strong atmospheres, the space starts to live; it starts to breathe, to move. My task as a director is to facilitate a space where everything is possible, where there is no fear, where the actors can be creators, players who open themselves to the material, to their partners, to their imagination.
What scares you in the creative process? What is the most difficult thing when
working with self?
First: My own heaviness, both physical and mental.
Second: My fear not to be good enough. I know this is stupid, but I cannot get rid of it.
However, as soon as I realize it, I may smile and say: "Oh good old boy, there you are
again.“ Don’t take yourself too important! That’s the first step to change. Humor helps.
Third: To face and to bear the emptiness. Not to know where to go next. To look
down into the abyss. But then again, listening to this emptiness is the very place
where I start to be most creative. A fruitful paradox.
Fourth: As an actor, you dive so deep into yourself and into other characters that you
see all the dark parts. You cannot run away from yourself. You cannot deny the
unpleasant forces. You have to accept them, work with them and transform them into
a creative energy. Our task as actors is to transform darkness into light. Sometimes
that is very scary.
What are you inspired by?
I am inspired by people who are generous. One of Chekhov’s last lessons before he died was about "Love in our profession." His student Maria Knebel dedicated her whole work to the warmth in the art of theatre. I am interested in the heat of the human soul.
My biggest inspiration are my children. They are true artists. Living with them, playing
games, moving and exploring with them, makes me grow. I learn something new every day. Now they are teenagers, almost adult. But they still have this wonderful shining soul. I wished every actor would shine like they do.
What does your creative daily routine look like?
I do not have any daily routine. No Yoga or Tai Chi exercises, no classical discipline.
Every day is new, and sometimes that is very hard to take. Every day has its own little
crisis. That’s what keeps me alert and alive. So maybe you could say my daily routine
is to wake up in the morning and be curious...
When did you first start studying Chekhov Technique, and how was this
experience important for you?
More than 25 years ago, when I was still an acting student, I used to be surrounded by images so much that it actually distracted my work. I was confused and over-strained. Although I was trained in quite a physical way, I was not able to give those images a form. They were too strong. One of my teachers advised me to study Michael Chekhov, so I started reading his books. Luckily, there were good translations from Russian to German. It was a revelation for me. There was somebody giving my work a structure. Chekhov knew so much about the images I was dealing with. It seemed to me he knew exactly what I was going through. What had scared me before, I now learned to use as my talent. I grew as an actor.
My second Chekhov teacher at the school was Wladimir Tarasjanz who had studied with Maria Knebel in Moscow in the Seventies. He was a warm but very strict guide and I learned from him to follow "the discipline of my heart." Then, in the beginning of the Nineties, I met some of Chekhov’s own students, like Hurt Hatfield, Deidre Hurst du Prey, Mala Powers and Joanna Merlin, and studied with them. From that time, I never stopped studying Chekhov’s work. It simply inspired me. When I later became a director, I took this experience into my directing work, too. Trusting in the world of
living images and bringing them on stage has been core for me since then.
What do you dream about?
Peace. Healing. Reconciliation. One of the most impressive art works of the 20th century is called "Show your wound“ ("Zeige deine Wunde" by Joseph Beuys). We are living in a world full of violence, coldness and indifference. There is so much suffering – in society, in personal life. On stage we artists open our hearts, we show our wounds and the wounds of our world, and we share them. I dream that all the wounds one day will be healed. And that my work in theatre may contribute
something to that healing.
In 2016, SUPER SPACE is serving as a vehicle to facilitate Created to Create Project.
CREATED TO CREATE
INTRODUCING ONE ARTIST PER WEEK, FOR 52 WEEKS IN 2016.
Beginning, January, 1st, 2016
ACTORS, ARTISTS, THEATRE MAKERS, FILM MAKERS, DESIGNERS, TEACHING ARTISTS, STUDENTS all chosen because they spend a part each day creating. Artists will be chosen in no particular order.
Introduce artists from different parts of the world. People who use different mediums and whose practice is at a different skill level. A thing they all have in common is unique sense of style and self-expression.