“Consider ‘what’, more seriously consider ‘how’!” Six Waldorf schools put on Goethe’s Faust in Ismaning

Claudia Ressel

The initiator and project leader of the Faust Festival, Klaus Weißinger, upper school German and geography teacher at the Ismaning Rudolf Steiner School, uses a picture in his short address at the opening of the festival: if the great works of literature were classed as “mountains”, Goethe’s Faust would undoubtedly be an eight-thousander. Climbing it was the task and experiment of the festival. The routes and vistas were still open at the start of the week. An expedition with an uncertain outcome, given the complexity and thematic diversity, the intricacy and the linguistic demands of this monumental work.

The idea of putting the complete version of Faust on stage as a class 12 play is impossible to do for a single school. But might six class twelves manage? Could the pupils be inspired to want to do it? After long discussions between the directors, a committed group of Ismaning parents and the college of teachers, it was decided to that it was worth a try. Six class elevens – from the Erftstadt, Halle/Saale, Ismaning, Hildesheim, Walhausen (Saar-Hunsrück) and Wendelstein Waldorf schools – embarked on the adventure. It was decided by lot who would play which part.

Faust is highly relevant

Guilt and indebtedness, war and death, art and science, love and pleasure, power and responsibility – there is hardly any aspect of human existence and the search for spiritual meaning which Goethe does not address in this piece. Studying these subjects was not easy for the pupils to begin with. But the more intensively the 17 and 18-year-olds worked their way into the play and rehearsed it, the more they were astounded by this Goethe: “It’s only when you act it out that you realise what he is actually saying with his drama,” thinks Julia. Kilian adds: “Faust already possess the whole world, but still wants every last little bit and so drives people away.” Mirko sums it up: “Faust is the personification of a modern person and none of us are able to resist all temptation, whatever it may be.”

Teachers and directors are in agreement in their conclusions: the pupils were keen to get started on their own act and curious about the work of the other classes. The thrilled excitement about and anticipation of the festival were expressed in the committed and concentrated preparatory work.

Creating something unique together

The Faust festival demanded a lot of the school communities involved, the parents and colleges of teachers. There were additional costs for travel, accommodation and logistics for example. Ticket checks, catering, looking after the buffet, parking instructions, stage machinery and lighting equipment, wardrobe – many organisational questions had to be resolved which never even crop up in a “home game”. In addition to the normal lessons and the Faust main lesson in class 12, there were the rehearsals, the lines to be learnt, making the costumes and building the scenery. “It was pure chaos at the beginning, but in the course of working on the piece the class increasingly grew together. It was simply everyone working together,” is how one of the Gretchen performers put it. The others agree: “Obviously the rehearsals were particularly complex this time. Until we arrived in Ismaning we didn’t know what the hall would look like, what the acoustics would be like, how everything would work before and after the performances. But doing everything together in such a project is incredibly motivating. We are proud of having put such a piece on stage,” one of the Mephisto performers adds.

For Klaus Weißinger the growing together, the joint work and experiences were the central motivation for this project in which more than 150 pupils were involved. It was astonishing how attentively and with what caring perceptiveness they dealt with one another – including giving each other constructive criticism. As a pupil confirms: “All in all the nerve-wracking preparations were an enrichment despite all the discussions and the frequent feeling that everything was grinding to a halt. We accept one another even more, have become closer still even after the eleven years we’ve already clocked up together as a class community.” A fellow pupil adds: “And then getting to know the people even better with whom you’ve already done crowdfunding projects or worked in workshops here in Ismaning, that’s simply great.”

A fireworks display in abundance

The twelve performances were mostly sold out. The supporting programme included workshops, daily discussion groups and lectures. A real “festival feeling” arose in the course of the week. The audience experienced the “start of a cultural impulse”, as Faust connoisseur and workshop leader Alfred Kon put it. It was possible to observe how on the stage initial curiosity was transformed into real pleasure in performing. The wealth of ideas and the acting talent of the class 12 pupils – be it in a team or as individual performers – was enthusiastically received by the audience. Gioia Falk, the artistic director of Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Dramas at the Goetheanum, who had taken on part of the supporting programme and the daily introductions to the act being performed that day, put into words what audience and participants could sense: “We stand full of admiration before the artistry of the class 12 pupils, before their artistic skills.”

The “FAUST Festival Ismaning 2014” DVD set (3 DVDs) is available from April with the recordings of the evening performances. Price: 26.80 euros (plus postage, incl. VAT).

Order form: www.dvd.faust-schuelerprojekt.de

About the author: Claudia Ressel is head of public relations at the Ismaning Free Waldorf School