Casting: Subject Put to the Test

by Constanze Ruhm

Constanze Ruhm is a video artist, curator and professor for Digital Media at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Many of her works have been shown at Forum Expanded, most recently 2013’s KALTE PROBE.

Nicolas Wackerbarth’s CASTING receives its world premiere at this year’s Forum. The feature shines a light on the casting process for a Fassbinder remake for television, for which the director is unable to decide on a leading actress. Wackerbarth already showed HALBSCHATTEN at the 2013 Forum.

CAMERA THREAT by Bernd Lützeler is showing at this year’s Forum Expanded programme. Taking an improvised conversation on a casting couch as a starting point, he examines the ambivalent relationship between the film city of Mumbai and moving images both analogue and digital. 

CASTING by Nicolas Wackerbarth

The specific constellation of the casting appears as a precondition of rehears­al: not unlike the genre of the making of in other respects, “casting” as nar­rative motive as well as a technique of staging presents itself as a subgenre, while at the same time becoming a more radical version of rehearsal, where the relation of direction and acting, of the sovereignty of interpretation and representation comes to a head on the basis of the question of power rela­tions and self­enfranchisement, dominance, and submission, not least at times also touching upon sexualized aspects. The constellation of casting exacer­bates this question by the fact that the transition between life and art, person and character takes place via a performance under the conditions of a sub­jective evaluation of the skills, the “type”, and the flexibility of the performers who are tested on whether they will meet the requirements of the role. [1] Within the constellations of rehearsal and casting, the question is posed as to what kind of work it is precisely that is being invested into and represented by artistic production. [2] But what is more, within the casting it is exactly the relation of art and life, of performance and staging that is at stake. In the casting, the oscillation between reality and fiction emerges from the single body (and being) of a performer, thus something liminal adheres to it. It appears (if it is possible to phrase it that way) as an even “more existential” mode of self­representation and self­exploitation as self-performance regarding the procedures taking place within the conventions of rehearsal.

Finally, it is nothing less but the weight of one’s own self that, within the casting, has to be thrown into the balance. Thus, the casting appears as a radical form of “rehearsal before the rehearsal” that – if at all – will provide the possi­bility of participation in the forthcoming rehearsal. At this point it is not yet about rehearsing a character, a text, a position or an attitude; it is life itself that is put to the test.

The subject finds itself on the test stand of a yet unknown (directorial) power (in the Foucauldian sense), transforming itself into an allegory of the term “subject put to the test” in a life that has only been rented. And even more than in the methodology of rehearsal, it is within the casting as a means of representation, where an image of the production of fiction crystallizes – and there­fore not least of the fiction of a precarious identity. While the ontological status of the actor­subjects within the classical film or theater rehearsal can be considered to be more or less “safe” (at least temporarily in the frame­ work of their roles that they have been assigned), the casting is primarily about casting the most suitable actor or actress, meaning to literally “cast” them into their role, as if they were material that will take on a form only later, in the casting mold. [3]

[1] This is aptly exemplified, for example, in the film “Salaam Cinema(Iran, 1995) by Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

[2] Annemarie Matzke, “Arbeit am Theater: Eine Diskursgeschichte der Probe(Bielefeld: transcript, 2012).

[3] Constanze Ruhm, “‘Castingagentur’: Casting as Agency“, in: Sabeth Buchmann, Ilse Lafer, Constanze Ruhm (Eds.): Putting Rehearsals to the Test. Practices of Rehearsal in Fine Arts, Film, Theater, Theory, and Politics, pp. 224-233, p. 225f.