The Hunger Artist (2014)

Work at as playwright: adaptation of The Hunger Artist (Franz Kafka) for Faith Drama’s Theatre Madness Challenge, London.

Directed by Lindsey Higgins, text by Sophie Barth, and produced by Brittany Geeta Johnson. Actors: Andreas Haaseth, Kimberly Hoffman, Coralie Prosper, Heloisa Cardoso

the hunger artist

The Hunger Artist

The Impresario: Ladies and Gentlemen! Are you ready to see one of themost remarkable human beings of the century? I shiver by the thought of thisman, who despite of professional fasting having markedly diminished – insistson this rare art. So here he is, ladies and gentlemen, before your very eyes, ready to show the art of fasting.

Two people enter with the hunger artist and start leading him up the stairs. A crowd of people follow behind him.

French woman: Eh, tout le monde! J’ai achetée un ticket de saison! Laisse-moi le voir de plus près. Comme il est beau!

They continue up the stairs.

Woman:
 He’s a con man! I bet he gets food delivered to him.

Woman 2: 
I don’t understand why he wants to starve.

They continue up the stairs.

Man: 
I’m the one with the privilege of bringing him to his cage! Gå til side. Gå til side sa jeg!

The Impresario: Stop! Ladies and Gentlemen, before he enters his cage,you are allowed to touch his bony structure. Take his arm. Isn’t it just perfect? An arm without its muscle. This is an honest man who lives for his art, and nothing else. Come, let’s take him to his exhibition.

The Hunger Artist is put in his cage.
 He has a tiny glass of water. There is straw underneath him. No comfort is required to show off his art. 
He can barely see themthrough his half-shut eyes. The all-important clock strikes, time rattles withinthe cage. They follow his movement as he reaches for the glass.
 He moistens hislips with the water from his bowl. The butchers stand in the front row, observing him minutely. The public has chosen them as permanent watchers.

The Impresario: If he should have some secret recourse tonourishment, they will know. This is nothing but a formality instituted toreassure the masses, of course.

The butchers dance in front of his cage, singing songs about the honour of their profession.

The Butcher’s song: (TomWaits’ Dave The Butcher plays in the background) We have been butchers for all our lives, chopping meat everyday. Chopping, chopping, chopping. It’s an honorable profession, the best there is.We are chosen by the people to watch him. For the butchers are honest men. Hear the sweet melody of the chopping!(whispering) Chopping, chopping, chopping.

The Hunger Artist smiles and encourages their macabre salute to his endeavor. When light is waning and the night draws near, the butchers change their appearance.They take off their white butcher’s aprons, and cover themselves with large coats.

The Impresario: The night-watchers are a different breed. He knows their cunning ways. Theysit down around a table, and take out the tarot cards.

One of them holds up acard to the hunger artist:

Watcher:
 The Hanged Man.

They laugh loudly.  

Watcher:
 Do you know what this means? Your body slowly defies you.

Nothing annoys him more than these watchers.
They are singing the Butcher’s song again.
This makes his fast seem unendurable.
 Some of them sneak up to him, in the swiftness of their shadows. The torches blind him, but he couldn’t care less.

The Impresario: He opens his mouth, and fills it with air. With substance.

Hunger Artist:
 I can never sleep properly and therefore the lightsdo not disturb me.

The Impresario: He takes in more air, another mouthful. His breath is faint.

Hunger Artist: 
I drowse in any light, at any hour. Noise is numbing.The onlookers do not disturb me.

The watchers return to their table, and continue their game.  

The Impresario: He wants to call them back to his cage, tell them stories about his nomadic life. Maybe a joke. Anything at all to show them thathe has no eatables in his cage.

Hunger Artist:
Would you like to hear a story?
I have maybe a few that will interest you.
 I take it by your silence that you are only interested in my fasting?
It has not always been this way. I used to walk freely amongstother people…

The Butler (/the impresario): When the first morning light caresses his face, the butler brings an enormous breakfast on the hunger artist’s expense. 
This bribe is his salvation. The more he sees them eat, the more he stays calm.

The watchers look over to him, sticking stubbornly to their suspicions.

Hunger Artist:
I hope you enjoy your breakfast.

The Impresario: His profession is reaching new heights, he feels energized by it.

Hunger Artist:
 Suspicion is a necessary accompaniment to the profession of fasting. He laughs faintly.

The Impresario: Yet for other reasons, he is not satisfied. For it is not perhaps mere fasting that has brought him to such skeleton thinness: many people have regretfully kept away from his exhibitions.

Woman: Because the sight of himis too much for them.

Man: Perhaps it is the dissatisfactionwith himself that has worn him down.

The Impresario: He has to put up with the green-eyed envy of the people who think he is cheating. In the course of time, he has gotten used to it, but it isn’t enough. He has never yet, in any term of his fasting, left his cage of his own free will. As his impresario, I counted forty days during this term – beyond that he is not allowed to go.

Man: Experience has proved that for forty days the interest of the public can be stimulated by a steadily increasing pressure of advertisement, but after that the town begin to loose interest. Sympathetic support is diminishing by the day.

The Impresario: But on the fortieth day the flower-bedecked cage is opened, enthusiastic spectators fill the hall, amilitary band plays, two doctors enter the cage to measure the result of the fast. The doctors shout the result out loud.

Two young ladies appear, blissful to have been selected for the honor to help the artist out of his cage.  

The Impresario: And at this very moment theartist always turns stubborn. True, he entrusts his bony arms to the outstretched helping hands of the ladies bending over him, but stand up he will not. Why stop fasting at this particular moment, after forty days of it?

French lady: Mais qu’est-ce-qu’il fait? Aller monsieur l’artist!

The impresario comes forward without a word, becausethe music is now very loud. She lifts her arms above the artist, and grasp him around his waist with exaggerated caution. The artist submits completely, his legs in a spasm of self-preservation clung close to each other at the knee. He relapses onto one of the ladies, who is looking around for help and panting a little.  

Lady: This post of honor is not at all what I expected it to be!

She leans away so that she can avoid having her face in contact with the artist’s. The spectators find this scene very moving and burst into tears. 

Everyone: Delightful, absolutely delightful!

The food is served, and the impresario is feeding the hunger artist what she can. After a moment, the crowd disappears.  

The Impresario: He continues to exhibithis fasting for many years. However, he becomes troubled in spirit because few people are interested in him.  Occasionally, a good-natured person feels sorry for him, and tries to pass some food between the bars. But he reacts with an outburst of fury, like that of an animal –

She hits him with a stick to keep him quiet.

I keep apologizing publically for the artist’s behavior, which is only to be excused because of the irritability of fasting.

Man: The change of publicinterest seemed to happen almost overnight – although the artist has been exhibiting for some years. There may be many profound causes for it, but who is going to bother about that? At any rate, the pampered Hunger Artist suddenly finds himself deserted by the amusement-seekers.

The Impresario: However, the artist hasstill a hope that fasting will come to fashion again at a future date. He is not too old to continue his fasting, and so he takes leave of the impresario, his partner in an unparalleled career, and hires himself to a large circus.

Box office woman (entrance of the circus): Mesdames et messieurs, j’ai l’honneur de vous presenter le nouveau act de notre cirque: Le Hunger Artist! Achetez vos tiquets ici: 3 pounds only.

The Narrator: A large circus with its enormous traffic in replacing and recruiting men, animals and apparatus can always find use for people at any time, even for a hunger artist – provided of course that he doesn’t ask too much.

Man: The Hunger Artist did not retrieve to a quiet corner of the circus, on the contrary – he swears that he can fast as well as ever.

The Narrator: He has not, however, actually lost his sense of the real situation and takes it as a matter of course that he and his cage should be stationed, not in the middle of the ring as a main attraction, but outside, near the animal cages.

Woman: Large and gaily painted placards make a frame for the cage and announce what was to be seen inside it. When the public come out during the intervals to see the animals, they can hardly avoid passing the Hunger Artist’s cage.

The Narrator: However, the public doesn’t understand why they should be hold up on their way towards the excitements of the menagerie, and it is impossible for them to stand gazing for a length oftime. The Hunger Artist decides that he had to offer something new, something more exciting than his skin and bones. He asks the management to give him some items that the public can play with, and thus he offers his entire self to them. An offer they can’t refuse.

The Narrator encourages the audience to come forth anduse the items displayed in front of the Hunger Artist. There is tape, make-up,cling film etc.  

The Narrator: The public tires of this game too, and the Hunger Artist remains in his cage, unrecognizable. Maybe it is a sense of familiarity with the art that leads the people passing by to cast an indifferent look at him before moving on.

Man: The placards grow dirty and illegible, and they are torn down. The little notice board telling the number of days achieved, which was at first changed carefully every day, has long stayed at the same figure. For after the first few weeks even this small task seems pointless to the staff.

Woman: And so the artist fasts on and on, as he once dreamed of doing, and it is no trouble to him, just as he has always foretold. But no one counts the days, no one, not even the artist himself, knows what records he is already breaking, and his heart grows heavy.

The Narrator: One day an overseer’s eyespots on the cage, and asks why this perfectly good cage has been left unused. Nobody knows until they are helped out by the notice board, that it is the Hunger Artist’s cage. He pokes the shape of the man with a piece of straw, and the artist revives.

The Overseer: Are you still fasting?

The Hunger Artist: Forgive me everybody…

The Overseer: Of course we forgive you.

The Hunger Artist: I always wanted you to admire my fasting.

The Overseer: We do admire it.

The Hunger Artist: But you shouldn’t admire it.

The Overseer: Well then we don’t admire it. But why shouldn’t we admire it?

The Hunger Artist: Because I have to fast, I can’t help it.

The Overseer: What a fellow you are…And why can’t you help it?

The Hunger Artist: Because –

He lifts his head, as if for a kiss, right into theoverseer’s ear, so that no syllable might be lost. 

The Hunger Artist: I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.

The Narrator: These were his last words, but in his dimming eyes remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was still continuing to fast.

The Overseer: Well, let’s clear this out now!

They carry the Hunger Artist’s body away.   

Fin.

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