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No pension – the best of Vienna

No pension – the best of Vienna

Photo: Julia Fox

Carmen Sunday has been eliminated. The once-successful TV presenter was too old for the camera. Now she is losing her last well-paying job, hosting a party. Nervous, the woman in her fifties drives to her village. She should have vacated her parents' house there a long time ago anyway. A few weeks away from being on your own again. But the exodus from the countryside begins again, because one of the townspeople has settled in the city and Carmen is slowly approaching.

“People end relationships for something new,” says Christopher Wurmdobler. “But the work environment is sacred.” Carmen Sontag is his invention. The hero of his 2019 novel, “Reset,” the former journalist’s second, is not entirely likable at first. She wants attention at all costs, only thinks about herself, and is quick to judge.

Very different from Wurmdobler, 58, who thinks in a Viennese café on this hot summer morning before answering with a slight German tongue and a lot of self-mockery – and who can also take on the point of view of others. So you need to understand if others have left the work untouched to restart it because they need security. He didn't feel that way.

However, Carmen and Christopher have a lot in common. That year, when he celebrated his fiftieth birthday, Wurmdobler left Falter, where he had been editor for nearly two decades. Al-Akhbar magazine had new leadership and he was appointed. But after only a year and a half, Al-Akhbar's editor-in-chief changed again, and Wormdobler left as well. Reset? Yes and no. Could this work well?

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“Everything I wanted to do when I was 20, I do now in my mid-to-late 50s.” Wurmdobler grew up near Lake Constance in Germany and wanted to become an actor. Drama schools in London did not accept him, and he studied applied theater sciences in Giessen. There was a rehearsal stage there. And learn to write about theatre.

His partner at the time was a Viennese resident, so Wormdobler looked for a job in the city in the early 1990s. Here too, he had no luck at first in the theatres, but he managed to get an internship in the cultural department of the newspaper “Arbeiter-Zeitung”. “I criticized everything,” he says. “An arrogant man in his early twenties.” He was briefly in ORF, then ended up in “Falter”.

Christopher Wormdobler in Nesterval's latest production “The Nameless”. All 25 performances of the play, which tells the stories of gay people murdered by the Nazis, have been sold out. Nesterval has been nominated for a Nestroy Award for the third time this year (Image: Alexandra Thompson for Nesterval)

He returned to the stage only in 2011. At that time, Nesterval, Austria's first immersive theater company, was just emerging. Unlike classical theatre, the audience moves freely through rooms and scenes with the actors. There is no “fourth wall” separating the stage from the audience. In most plays, the actors interact with the audience, for example by giving the guests a cup or an article of clothing to hold. In some productions, the audience is allowed, even expected, to have an opinion.

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Nesterval's latest production, “The Nameless,” sold out all 25 shows in Vienna in early summer. The play is set in 1938 and revolves around the nightly events in the company canteen at the Nesterval porcelain factory. Authorities are investigating “indecent behavior.” It is the 17th production of Wurmdobler at Nesterval, which also describes itself as a “wacky folk theatre” and is now the most important immersive theater company in German-speaking countries. The ensemble performs several pieces each year, often in collaboration with other cultural organisers, including abroad.

Vienna's gay community has known Wurmdobler for a long time. He was part of the group HAPPY, which made weird avant-garde art in the 1990s. He described the scene as a “tripping” editor. And in his first novel as well “single”, Published in 2018, it is about a strange circle of friends, relationships, and crises.

From journalist to novelist, there was no need to reset things: “I still entertain people, but I am no longer committed to the truth.” But he had to get used to it first. Since one of Solo's characters lives on the ancient Danube River, he drove there and timed the trip. Now that he's working on his third novel, “Strange Utopia,” he's more relaxed.

Like his stories and tales, the real Christopher Wormdobler appears lightly. Its clever formula makes you laugh and initially hides its seriousness. For example, when Wurmdobler thought out loud about why the work environment, with its security and steady income, was just one factor among many as he readjusted himself. For his generation, children were not an option: “one of the few advantages of being a gay white man.”

The best version of FALTER in Vienna

This article appeared in the print edition of FALTER'S BEST OF VIENNA.

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