for Mr. Wilson
“How long is this going to take?,” Bob Wilson asked impatiently,
after making me wait for two hours (eight months pregnant) before embarking
on our first interview. At the time, we both would have been surprised
at the answer—“It will take seven years.”
When you work with Bob you wait a lot. He is a notorious workaholic
who constantly overbooks his schedule and then forgets his appointments.
It is not unusual for him to direct 18 different theatre productions,
worldwide, at the same time. Consequently, he is never stationary; like
a shark, he is always on the move. His home is the stage and international
airports are his backyard. He is famous for missing planes and being
tardy. In fact, having a shooting schedule is a sheer waste; you are
better off carrying a camera at all times, so you are ready when the
maestro is in the mood.
In “Wilson World,” ordinary life is instantly suspended
and everything takes on a surreal quality. Bob doesn’t distinguish
between life and art. Even our first encounter was most bizarre.
What are the chances of meeting one of the world’s leading stage
directors in your own bathroom? Pretty slim, but that is how we met,
eight years ago—Bob and I. “Hi, I am Bob Wilson,”
he said. “Do you have a cigarette?” I had a cigarette, back
As a European, I grew up with the name Robert Wilson. I saw his productions
of The Black Rider and Time Rocker in high school and
it is fair to say that once you have witnessed a Wilson production,
you will never forget it. Our drama teacher at the time also told us
that Robert Wilson was some kind of mystery man who never explained
his work. “I make theatre, not meanings,” I believe was
the famous quote.
Eight years ago, however, I was more interested in solving the mystery
of what Robert Wilson was doing in my bathroom. He didn’t look
very mysterious; he actually looked rather nice and friendly. He lit
the cigarette, made himself comfortable on the rim of the tub and explained
that a friend had brought him along. “So, what are you up to?”
he asked me. I blushed and mumbled something about researching a project
on artists and their muses. “Oh great,” he said, “you
should make your film about me. I have the best muses.” The autistic
Christopher Knowles and the deaf mute Raymond Andrews were the inspirations
for such milestone productions as Einstein on the Beach and Deaf
Man Glance. Some theatre historians have argued that Wilson is presenting
them as his alter ego on stage, since he himself didn’t speak
until the age of five. “I heard you don’t talk about yourself,”
I replied. Wilson responded, “I don’t, but maybe I should.
Let’s try and do something.” This is how our journey began—so
casual, so impromptu and so surreal.
Five hours after the first interview, my subject had to drive me to
the hospital, where I delivered my first child. Fourteen months later,
number two arrived. Needless to say, Bob and I have talked a lot about
children and childhood since then. We also talked about America, about
expectations and careers, success and compromise, creativity and courage.
Who could have anticipated that the sensitive, learning-disabled son
of the mayor of Waco, Texas, would emerge as one of the dominant forces
in international theatre today? Who would have anticipated that Robert
Wilson, the mystery man, would reveal his extraordinary tale to a casual
“bathroom acquaintance” and who can believe, that one of
the greatest Ambassadors of American culture, a man who is celebrated
as a genius around the world, is hardly known in his own country—this
is truly a mystery and very surreal.