Wilson began his visit by meeting with a group of journalists, almost all of them Russian. A young woman was told she had the first question:
“Happy birthday,” she said.
Wilson, often described as the world’s most famous avant-garde playwright and director, turned 71 on Saturday. On Sunday, he gave two performances of “Krapp’s Last Tape,” charged throughout with jolts of emotional undercurrents.
He arrived here from Prague, where he is creating the set for and directing “1914,” a parable about war that opens next year. By the end of the week, he’ll be in Los Angeles, putting on “Einstein on the Beach,” the five-hour, intermission-less opera he created with composer Philip Glass. Wilson has five productions on in Paris this fall.
Here and there he’ll be home, putting on the New York stage production of “The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic,” which runs in December. By then, he should have finished his video portrait of Lady Gaga. He had staged her MTV Video Music Awards performance in August.
Next question: “Is it difficult to be a legend?”
It’s not something Wilson, a tall man with a sonorous voice, thinks about. In fact, he’ll tell you, it’s best not to think too much. Once, Gertrude Stein was asked what she thought of modern art. She replied: “I like to look at it,” Wilson said.
“It’s living,” he said. “I don’t see much difference between living and working. I think living is a part of my work. People often say, ‘How can you work so much?’ I don’t think about it as work. I think of it as a way to live.”
Art, for Wilson, is experience. “It can be disturbing, new, unusual, but it’s something I look at and experience,” he said. “I don’t try to intellectualize it.”
People describe him as being part of a group that started postmodern theater, he said. He doesn’t pay much attention to that, either.
“I don’t know what postmodern theater is,” he said. “It’s just something I did. They call it minimalism. If anything, it’s baroque. It’s not something in the mind. It’s in the body.”
Now he quotes Susan Sontag: “To experience something is a way of thinking.”
A television journalist wanted to know whether America appreciates him the way Europe does. The French know his work better, Wilson said. He’s had nine premieres in 12 years in Berlin. “Einstein on the Beach,” which has been called one of the most original works of the 20th century, was commissioned by the French minister of culture. Never would the U.S. government commission two Frenchmen to write an opera, Wilson said.