On the Couch with Lisa Peschel

Lisa Peschel Arts Review On the CouchWho is Lisa Peschel?
I’m a lecturer in theatre at the University of York in England, and a researcher specializing in theatrical performance in the World War II Jewish ghetto at Terezín (in German, Theresienstadt). The prisoners there generated their own astonishingly active arts scene, and theatre served as a place of escape, of protest, of pleasure, of projecting their post-war future. Thanks to a grant project called Performing the Jewish Archive, I’ve been able to come to the University of Sydney and work on a reconstruction of a Terezín performance, a comic musical revue called Prince Bettliegend.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
I would do what I’m doing now only faster.

Who inspires you and why?
The Terezín survivors I’ve interviewed, who found a way to live and find joy in the bizarre environment of the ghetto, and the artists I’m working with right now. They’re awe-inspiring. They’re co-developing the script of Prince Bettliegend, based on the songs and a few fragments of survivor testimony. They’ve come to understand the conditions of the ghetto and the survivor’s experience of them amazingly fast, and are improvising text that is both historically sound and hilarious – and they’re pulling the show into the present, adding what’s necessary for today’s audiences to understand and engage with the show.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I would bring back the medieval tradition of carnival. From my study of Terezín I’m convinced of this: sharing pleasure bonds societies. You can’t mandate social solidarity, but you can generate it by creating ways for people – diverse groups of people – to celebrate together. Once you’ve got social solidarity, you’ve got the motivation to solve all kinds of problems.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
The USA. I’ve lived in England for six years now but I’m American. Going back there now is wonderful and disorienting – the comforting familiarity of family and friends versus the disconcerting changes that are taking place.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
When the rest of the Performing the Jewish Archive team gets here this week, I can’t wait to take them on the walk over the Harbour Bridge – I love the almost-hidden entrance on Argyle Street.

What are you currently reading?
Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich.

What are you currently listening to?
That incredibly haunting mashup of Blondie and Philip Glass, Heart of Glass by Daft Beatles, from the protest scene in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Happiness is?
The amazing meals that my hosts here in Sydney, Joseph and Al, have been cooking!

What does the future hold for you?
A book on the Terezín survivors’ testimony. In recent years I’ve been focusing on the scripts that came to light during my research and getting those back on stage, but it’s time to return to the question that drew me to this project in the first place:  why did the prisoners create theatre in the ghetto? The answers, in the survivors’ own words, are startling (and now you’ll have to read the book to find out what they are).

Presented as part of the Out of The Shadows Festival, Prince Bettliegend will be performed at the Seymour Centre: 7 – 10 August 2017. For more information, visit: www.seymourcentre.com for details.

Image: Lisa Peschel