To Learn Means to Love

Urs Bihler plays King Lear at the Goetheanum. At the beginning of the drama, the king asks his daughters how they love him. Here, the actor Urs Bihler talks about the great feeling. Questions by Wolfgang Held.

When I asked you to talk about love, you said: I’d rather keep quiet. Why?

Urs Bihler Because the mystery of ‹love› is something I have to fight for continuously. The ability to love – that’s what I have to achieve. In doing so, I noticed that this includes sharpening my senses and perceiving how I can express my love and live it out more subtly. In doing so, I become more and more sensitive to the nuances and, at the same time, observe: The more I strive for love, the more sensitive I become to lovelessness.

How does lovelessness manifest itself?

It’s not what you say but how you say it. Our human voice is so transparent to love. You may be able to say the wrong thing without anyone noticing, but lovelessness cannot be hidden. Concerning lovelessness, I would like to add that there is also the reverse case. Love comes upon me, and I don’t know how to answer it or resonate with it.

What role does love play among actors?

I’m incredibly curious about people I’ve never played with and what I come across. If I feel a spark of aversion, of reserve in my comrade-in-arms, then it totally unsettles me. My 50 years of acting experience are of no use to me. Especially if you want to seek the truth together in acting, love for each other is infinitely important.

Is it true that we humans are closer today? That the armor we wear for mutual protection is no longer stable?

Yes, that’s incredibly interesting, and King Lear is a role model for us because I have the feeling he has shown and understood himself in forms all his life and then abandoned form after form, yes, emptied himself. That unprotected we are sensitive. The slightest action or even just a word can put us in a mess so that we question everything.

Yamila Klingler as Cordelia

Because you are so unprotected, or why?

Yes, because love is something you don’t just have for sure. That’s the fascinating thing. Love is always flexible. This is what connects it to life.

And yet there is always talk of eternal love.

Yes, yes, eternal love! I see couples in my generation separating after 30 years. And that scares me. For me, this is like an internal earthquake. I do not judge, because I am a divorcee myself. I do not judge at all. And still, it shocks me that continuing to live together is not possible. We bring children into the world, we raise them, then comes the moment they have to escape, and there is no way to relive love. I find that frightening.

Is this related to the fact that hardly anything tests us as much as love?

Yes, absolutely. At the core of our personality.

As an artist and actor, you are busy bringing heaven, the primordial human, to the stage. And you say that success depends on how the actors love each other, how they like each other. What does love mean for art?

Urs Bihler as King Lear

It benefits me that I have already come a long way. The encounter with an unknown person, with whom I am then on stage, and then pretending to act as if you have known each other for a lifetime, it’s always about love. We play on stage, and love is the highest form of togetherness. In the rehearsal process, removing everything that hinders us is crucial. These are often everyday things that arise between us. Why does she have to wear red shoes?

How do you remove these barriers?

It’s quite pragmatic. It’s about telling yourself that there are things you can’t change. That is what we need to understand. There is the category ‹not changeable›. Yes, and that’s what I’m getting a better grip on.

How has your ability to love changed in your biography? Is there a way to love as a teenager, love in middle age, and how does this gain maturity?

I think at a young age, it just resonates. I didn’t think about that. I just swim and don’t go under. Today, every swimming stroke is somehow conscious. I feel what emotional state I am in and know that now comes this person with whom I am connected in love. Then a first commandment is that I open myself to this person. The second is that I realize that they have spent the last few hours very differently from me and therefore have all the right in the world to be in a different state than me. Yes, if I have learned a role all morning, then I am in a different condition than my wife, who was traveling with her school class at the same time. Developing a sense of responsibility for life and love’s preciousness – that’s what it’s all about.

Life and love – what does love do to life?

I’m sitting on the train. I am good. I’m happy that I’m now on my way to something I love to do: acting. And opposite me sits a woman who has dug herself into a hardness. I see it in her features, her emotions, her dull look. Yes, that immediately makes me think: What happened to her? Why? Why does she have to look the way she looks now? I turn away and look again, and the horror is still in her eyes. What’s going on? That makes me fantasize and imagine. Then I have the urge to give her something of my goodness, which rushes through my limbs. There is no reason for this abysmal melancholy. We just sit there on the train! Love and Life.

You have now described a woman who lacks love. What does love do to us?

Love enables us to truly meet other people, in the good sense, in the sense of life. That is why it is frightening how this loneliness is spreading. So many people live on their own, and in my opinion, they are actually in danger of missing out on life. Life is always a life with others because we learn the most from others.

Is love the deepest form of learning from another person?

Yes, I think so. I say yes to otherness, which we experience more and more deeply. I say yes to the fact that they tick differently, shy away differently, and feel differently. It is a learning process to perceive and understand this as a possible, different life, although – or precisely because – it differs from mine.

Have you become more Urs through your two marriages? Can you observe this?

Yes, I can observe that, but despite my 78 years, not for very long. I was always a late bloomer because I was a premature birth. In my youth, everything was late. I think it also helps me reconcile with death.

What do you mean?

If I now understand a little more what it is to love, how I can express it, and how to live love, then it creates a serenity that helps me to really say yes to everything foreign. I love life, and death is something very foreign. Learning to love then means saying yes to Him, this great stranger. Yes, it’s good, it’s good. He can come. I have a sister who is now over 90 years old and, in recent years, has developed this willingness, this greatest willingness there is, to leave calmly. Not because she is tired of life but because she has learned to love.

As an actor, you’re used to dealing with big thoughts. Let’s talk about a few such thoughts: Augustine says that a human being’s value is not shown by what he knows but by what he loves.

That’s something I know. How many roles have I played where a character doesn’t know something? Sometimes the audience knows, but the character doesn’t. That’s what makes them so adorable.

And you played the role of Mephisto in the ‹Faust› production, so you had to learn to love a diabolical figure. What experience was this?

That there is a lust in evil, that energy is concentrated here. Then you begin to love evil, and it doesn’t seem so dark anymore. Something becomes free. This has kept me busy, especially in the final scene, where evil fails and thus becomes human.

When we talked about Shakespeare’s King Lear, you said, «The play is great, but there’s no humor in it.» You have to find it first. How are humor and love related?

Love is often a game, and so is humor. Yes, it seems to me that love and humor are almost the same things. Maybe we are two people in love, so one of us finds humor when it gets too difficult. I believe where we really love, laughter and crying are very close together. This can also be seen with King Lear. Sometimes you don’t know if he’s laughing or crying.

If the younger ones asked you at the rehearsal, ‹How do you love?› how would you answer?

Accepting the otherness of the other with an open heart.

King Lear Drama by William Shakespeare
Director, Editing: Andrea Pfaehler.
Lighting design, stage, co-direction: Klaus Suppan.
Project Ensemble of the Goetheanum Stage with Urs Bihler as King Lear.

Premiere Fri 20 January 2023 at 7pm, Schreinereisaal
Performances 21.1., 22.1.2023
Further performances and tickets: King Lear

Photos François Croissant
Translation Monika Werner

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