Dramaturgical Work for Blood on the Cat's Neck

This semester I've been the dramaturg on a production of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Blood on the Cat's Neck, directed by Rachel Huntsinger.

My work was divided into two elements, my involvement in the rehearsal process and the lobby/pre-performance experience.


Before rehearsals began and throughout, I researched the playwright, the play, and the context in which it was written (West Germany 1971). I asked the director questions about her choices, chimed in with what in my research was relevant, and watched everyone work.

I compiled my research and curated our discussions into a packet for the cast and creative team, you can browse it here. The most comprehensive scholarly work on this play came from David Barnett, and the most fascinating writing on Fassbinder (which Barnett argued veered into gossip) came from Ronald Hayman.

For rehearsals, I knew I wanted to create a bulletin board with visual food for the actors. Because the actors were playing (often subverted) stock characters - the Model, the Soldier, the Policeman, etc - I search American and mostly German Google Images to explore what society associates with these tropes.

In addition, I threw in questions that our director started rehearsals with, a page of the comic from which the playwright got the main character's name from, and an essay from David Barnett.

Halfway through rehearsals, I began looking at the production through the eyes of a our audience. What will they be experiencing, what will their expectations will be, and what should or shouldn't they know before the play begins.

Lobby Display

My first concept for the lobby display was to wallpaper it with newspapers and then paint words related to the play on them. I imagined what words someone would tag the play with, if it was a post on Instagram. I pulled back a bit, and made a handful of newspaper-word paintings.

I felt as though I was having my first gallery show.

I found one of two CRT televisions left on campus and got it in the lobby. Playing on loop was a series of absurd YouTube videos (explained in my program note), a clip from a production of Kaspar (the play Blood on the Cat's Neck is mostly directed based on), and a compilation of moments from Fassbinder's film work.

My goal for the lobby display was for the audience to have something to look at before and after the show, but mainly to create a mood. To give a hint as to what kind of theatre was happening here. There will be aggression, this is a grungy and uncomfortable work. Do not be surprised if there is no traditional story.


Most lobby displays from a dramaturg include some biographical information on the playwright, and maybe an interactive element of some kind. I worry that this information and these engagement opportunities are too often glossed over. In addition, I wanted to avoid creating certain expectations I've encountered which involve audience feedback or author background.

My solution was to put dramaturgical materials in the bathroom.

To encourage more audience engagement I put chalkboard wallpaper in the bathroom stalls, with some fun questions!

In one stall I asked "Are you a bitch" with options to tally under yes or no. Another had the question, "What's the worst thing you've called your mother?" - crazy was written more than once.

This was captioned: draw an X where you liked to be touched.

To get people to read my one-page biography of the playwright, I put it at average eye-level above the urinal, and next to the mirror in the bathroom without a urinal.

Program Note

I love notes from the dramaturg. In addition to their theatrical insight, they tell me that this position I didn't know existed until I was 16 is in fact, a real and awesome thing.

I asked that audiences read my note after the performance:
When I first began to research Rainer Werner Fassbinder I was horrified. In my presentation to the cast and creative team, I called him a monster, a Frank-n-Furter-type who would "flirt with ugliness" to get what he wanted. He emotionally abused the people he was in relationships with, along with those cast in his movies (often these roles were overlapping) in pursuit of his artistic goals. His work is rooted in the belief that humans are all sado-masocistic creatures, and this play looks at the relationships between everyday people. This production focuses on human development, looking past what society tells us to do, to see intensions. 
Fassbinder (like us all) was filled with multitudes and contradictions: Oozing self-confidence, but burdened with self-condemnation; seeking a communal artistic collective, for himself to be in charge of; empathizing and writing about those without a voice, yet oppressing and torturing those who loved him. Your fav is problematic indeed.
Blut am Hals der Katze (the original German title) is a play about language: recognizing it, learning it, confusion from it, oppression by it; and seeing it not as a natural occurrence, but a construction of society so we can create social relations but also to control, cheat, humiliate, coerce, and disown each other. 
Fassbinder remixes quotes, de-contexualizes and confuses audience's expectations with clich?s through language. Consistent inconstancy. The humor and absurdity of this play can be found today in our internet remix culture. Vaporwave and its Aesthetic movement, along with YouTube Poop are modern examples of how tropes and characters like a Butcher, or Squidward Tentacles can be freed from their associations, and put into wildly different situations. These often hilarious and sometimes viral videos can be confusing, discomforting, yet entertaining, similar to Blood on the Cat's Neck. 
The question we are first presented with is: will Phoebe Zeitgeist learn democracy?
At the end of the play she summarizes what she has learned.

At the end of the last performance I found that my "bitch" survey had been replaced with the following. I don't know who had the audacity to change it, but I love what they wrote.
Location: Emerson College Boston, MA, USA
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