Residency artists and researchers

Saari Invited Artist

Ilja Lehtinen

Dramaturg, playwright, Saari Invited Artist January and February 2024

Photo: Jussi Virkkumaa

Working on scripts for the stage and developing my dramaturgy practice and thinking

During my residency, I will focus on developing my dramaturgic thinking both in general and by working on my play script Järjen vuosisata (öljynäytelmä), (A Century of Reason [Oil Boom])

My dramaturgic-textual practice involves producing text as a dispersed but at the same time holistic gesture that contains heterogeneous material. Within this gesture, the dramaturgic precision of individual fragmentary observations opens up wider contexts of meaning through the work’s own context and through the juxtaposition of materials placed alongside it.

My goal is to reveal through my writing the social and collective state of conscious experience and the material subconscious elements of language and the mind. My writing process consists of searching for various kinds of texts, combining them into a collage, outlining the resulting overall form and rewriting the text again and again. For me, dramaturgy is, above all, working with and arranging heterogeneous material.

Järjen vuosisata (öljynäytelmä), (A Century of Reason [Oil Boom]) is a play about Brecht, oil and rationality. The text is built around the gesture of reckoning. It is not only a matter of reckoning with Brecht’s theatrical legacy, but also, and perhaps more importantly, of reckoning with western ideals of progress, rational domination and improvement of the world, which we have inherited.

For Brecht, it was self-evident that portraying the world as something humans have control over and can change at will, through the means of epic theatre that he developed (or borrowed and, to some extent, even stole from others) would be an emancipatory gesture. It would increase a person’s freedom and possibilities to modify the circumstances surrounding them to better suit them.

But one might ask whether this turned out to be a big bubble that has also led to world wars, exploitation, species extinction and the climate crisis. However progressive we may be, are we still governed by the idea of reason, of progress, of a rational spirit that desires to do good but causes harm through everything it does? Is (European) reason reaching a limit in an age of climate change and crises of civilization? What remains of Brecht’s legacy, the legacy of rational idealism?

This performance takes its inspiration from the stage project that catapulted Brecht towards world fame in the 1920s. Largely forgotten, the project was called Konjunktur (Oil Boom), and Brecht himself refers to it in passing in his writings. The play was directed by Erwin Piscator, written by Leo Lania and performed at the Lessing Theatre in Berlin in 1928. It was an ambitious attempt to present oil as an agent in an attempt to tackle non-personal, non-human processes on stage.

My text and the dramaturgical thinking connected to it pursue the same goal: to see the stage as a tragic-epic entity controlled by powers greater than people. My purpose with the oil play is to try to develop a non-personified dramaturgy that is beyond reason.

My work practice includes extensive groundwork: immersing myself in historical, documentary and literary materials and combining them in a collage-like way. I am looking for snippets, turns of phrase, situations. The purpose of my dramaturgy practice is to create multi-voiced and cross-driven works that reveal our way of thinking and existence which have become sedimented in this moment in history.