An Interview with Ralf Wetzel
Who is the man behind the mask of ‘Absolutely Reliable’ – the Mumble went on a mission to find out
Hello Ralf, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hi Mumble, I am German, living in Brussels, Belgium.
Can you tell us about your training?
My training? Throughout the last 5 years, I went through a heck of different trainings in Clown & Mask work, improvisation theatre and acting. My main teachers have been Keith Johnstone (CA), Lee Delong (F), Shawn Kinley (CA), John Turner (CA), Inbal Lori (IR) and Kelly Agathos (GR) & Ben Hartwig (D). Aside of that I am a trained electrician and I have a PhD in Organization Theory.
What is it about performing in front of other people that makes you tick?
It’s a moment of intense connection. Especially clown work made me aware of how thrilling being totally in the moment and drawing a strong connection between the emotionality of the audience and my own can be. Your body is ‘on’ with every cell. It’s addictive.
Can you tell us about your day job?
I am a Professor of Applied Arts at Vlerick Business School, Belgium. I teach topics like leadership, communication skills, change management and Design Thinking. All of that I teach on the pillars of Applied Improvisation, Clowning, enriched by the experiences I made with Social Dance like Lindy Hop and Argentine Tango. I discovered the power of Performing Arts for non-artistic environments like business or politics around 5 years ago. And since then, I took mind-sets, methodologies and exercises from Performing Arts and employed it in my classroom and with my clients. With mind-boggling results and impact. In that sense, I have the immense privilege to do Arts every day. And given my originally rather technical engineering background, its sheer fun, exiting, transforming and fulfilling. Today I am someone very different compared to 5 years ago.
What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
Oh. Having a cup of tea on my lap and staring out of the window for hours is all I need.
You’re performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about the show?
“Absolutely Reliable!” is a solo mask show, in which George, a middle aged, middle class and middle manager, desperately longs for love, attention, confirmation and proximity. He is just not prepared to deal with it when it materializes. He realizes that he has to invest, commit and display himself with his own emotions, and that’s not what he is remotely aware or capable of. So, his demons take over and throw him into a roller-coaster of love, desire, lust, fear, loss and death.
Where, when & why was “Absolutely Reliable” created?
It was actually created out of frustration. I was looking for improv and/or clown peers to start a troupe in Brussels and nothing was materializing. So I asked my clown teacher, award winning director and actress Lee Delong (Molieres 2019), whether she could imagine creating a solo clown show with me. And she could 😊 It all started when the mask which I am wearing in the show, hit me in one of her workshops. ‘You don’t chose a mask, the mask choses you’ mask people say, and that is what happened. As quick as I had it on my face, my full physicality changed, Ralf disappeared and someone else took stage. That was the moment when we said ‘okay’, let’s find out who this is. And so George appeared. Lee and myself worked several days together to get going. She provoked the mask and the character responded and revealed himself through my physicality. The scenes as they are appearing in the show are substantially based on those initial improvisations. The text I narrate is actually the slightly edited note of those improvisations. The show was produced through my body in combination with the mask, driven by the provocations and side-coaching of Lee.
What is the underlying message behind your show?
Ha! That’s difficult to say, since we didn’t sit down and said ‘Let’s do a show about XYZ’. We had the mask, we had the response of the character, my body and the improvised scenes. Lee then connected the different scenes and directed me in playing them. The mask certainly gave me permission to release deeply rooted inner fears and traumas as much as dreams and desires, that George displays and struggles with. But George is not me. The mask evokes things that are not me. And so the visible result is a meltdown of something which is me and something which is not. And mostly, I struggle with what is actually what. Given the topics of toxic masculinity and #metoo, George becomes a prototypical modern westernized man who is incapable to manage his emotions, to substantially open up to others, to make himself vulnerable. But overall, the message of the play is driven by the context in which you watch it. If you put the show into a different perspective, you see something different. We discovered that it’s like a prism. It will break light accordingly to how it is projected onto it. Masculinity is one angle, femininity might be another.
How are you finding working with director and co-writer Lee Delong?
It’s an experience that changed my life. Lee is extraordinary in how she sees the gold in the dust, she recognizes them in the smallest cues. She looks through your levels of fear and all your shields of protection, in a loving way. With decades of experience as actress, director and teacher, she challenges you to the bones and kicks your ass hard. But she knows exactly where your boundaries are, how far she can push. I feel challenged but safe in her hands at the same time. That allowed me a developmental journey throughout the last years far beyond my imagination. I had no idea how far that would go. And The result is amazing to me, every day.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the “Absolutely Reliable” to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say?
“Absolutely Reliable!” is a surreal show about how fucked up modern men are. It displays the deep anxieties and despair of male, in a funny, off beat, striking and tender way. Those anxieties have hardly been displayed that openly.”
C venues – C cubed
Aug 11-12, 14-25 (22:00)