.a beggars' typology
- Intro: Filch.
- Second Intro: The Beggar's Opera by John Gay.
- Stimme hinter der szene: Denn wovon lebt der mensch? (Zweites Dreigroschen-Finale)
- Beggars: A contemporary typology
1. Intro: Filch.
Filch: A young man who tried begging without a license from Peachum. He was beaten and forced to go to Peachum's business in order to get outfitted. Peachum gives him a place to beg but yells at him for feeling sympathy.
The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht
FILCH: What’s that?
PEACHUM: These are the five basic types of misery best adapted to touching the human heart. The sight of them induces that unnatural state of mind in which a man is actually willing to give money away.
Outfit A: Victim of the Progress of Modern Traffic. The Cheerful Cripple, always good-tempered – (He demonstrates it.) – always carefree, effect heightened by a mutilated arm.
Outfit B: Victim of the Art of War. The Troublesome Twitcher, annoys passers-by, his job is to arouse disgust – (He demonstrates it.) – modified by medals.
Outfit C: Victim of the Industrial Boom. The Pitiable Blind, or The High School of the Art of Begging. (Peachum displays him, advancing unsteadily toward FILCH. At the moment when he bumps into FILCH, the latter screams with horror. PEACHUM stops instantly, gazes at him in amazement, and suddenly roars:) He feels pity! You’ll never make a beggar – not in a lifetime. That sort of behavior is only fit for the passers-by! Then it’s outfit D! (…)
(…) Outfit E: Young man who’s seen better days, preferably one who “never thought he would come down to this.”
FILCH: Oh, so you’re using that too. Why can’t I have the better days outfit?
PEACHUM: Because nobody believes in his own misery, my boy. If you’ve got stomach-ache and say so, it only sounds disgusting. Anyway, it’s not for you to ask questions. Just put these things on.
2. Second Intro: The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay
Introduction: Beggars, Players
Beggar. If poverty be a title to poetry, I am sure nobody can dispute mine. I own myself of the company of beggars; and I make one at their weekly festival at St. Giles’s…
Player. As we live by the Muses, it is but gratitude in us to encourage poetical merit wherever we find it.
3. Stimme hinter der szene: Denn wovon lebt der Mensch?
The aim of The Beggar’s Opera by Dora García is to create a character who inhabits public space and who deals with it in a half improvised, half scripted way. A character marginal enough to be able to talk to everybody, to say whatever he pleases, and be there without really being noticed – like servants and madmen. He functions as a catalyst: he distributes information, and he provokes events that create a narrative, in the form of a conversation or an action.
It was only logical to use the figure of the beggar. The Beggar's Opera, the XVIII century opera by John Gay adapted by Bertolt Brecht under the title The Threepenny Opera, is the model we adapt and adopt, as an homage and as a leading thread, to create the character of The Beggar. The Beggar is Filch, the apprentice beggar in both Gay's and Brecht's plays. It goes without saying that reference to such works underlines the parallels between beggar/ poet/ actor/ player/ critic.
Where do we go from here? Our Filch will construct for himself a repertory of scenes, based on the following typology of beggary.
Beggars: A contemporary typology
Beggar exhibiting physical deformity
This very ancient form of beggary is not very well regarded nowadays (I have observed that in modern societies physical deformity produces repugnance, not pity). I can’t help thinking here of the beggar who works at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid: he has no arms, he wears a sleeveless t-shirt even in the dead of winter, and he holds between his teeth a plastic cup full of coins that rattles and jingles when he shakes it. He cannot speak, of course—his money would fall to the floor if he did—but he emits spine-chilling sounds.
In third-world countries this is still a very widespread form of beggary, and is sometimes recorded by tourists as part of the picturesque landscape (see “strange polio leg girl” on youtube: watch the video)
A young man still in possession of all his limbs nevertheless carries a plastic cup between his teeth, making it sound like an imperative to passers-by to give him money
A young man moves in an impossible manner, jumping with his two legs very close to one another, as if they were glued. Other choreographies: he walks on his knees, or uses a wheeled board, mimicking the wounded soldiers of WWI. The inability to speak an understandable language could also be exploited as a handicap. Or he moves around the city, between cars, between people and over pedestrian crossings with as much difficulty as if he was climbing Mount Everest.
Blind man playing flute with nose.
Beggar with a talent
(music, acrobatics, tarot reader, etc …). The bigger the talent the less the beggar: the spectrum goes from the beggar who plays an instrument to the street musician, who, strictly speaking, is not a beggar. See the video “beggar child acrobat”: watch the video)
The beggar as singer.
He carries a caddy which, with its battery-powered amplifier connected to a microphone and an iPod, functions as a karaoke, allowing him to sing popular and sophisticated songs. He might invite people to sing along with him, record these duos on CDs, and maybe sell them afterwards. Some recommended songs:
Bésame mucho (a classic, always works, specially with non-Spanish speakers)
What it Feels Like for a Girl (Madonna)
Highway to Hell (AC/DC)
Back in the USSR (The Beatles)
The same sound system would allow him to give speeches, incite the masses to action, or promote political awareness, just as it amplifies his comments when he acts as a guide for city or artistic tours.
Beggar selling something
The arrangement of goods on sale can really come very close to contemporary aesthetics.
A man is kneeling on a grey silk cloth with the following items arranged in a circle around him: a pear, a pair of scissors, some tram tickets, a book.
The selling beggar can also use a variation of the “door to door salesman” technique, as when he comes up to people and address them, offering anything from flowers to information.
The Beggar will sell the magazine that serves him as a newsletter, called Draußen. But he may also sell public transport tickets – at a higher price –, guides and catalogues for the event SPM07, day-old newspapers, Lifestyle magazines, or food.
Beggar as guide
Tourist guide, underground guide, public transport guide. This type of beggar preys upon tourists: he spots them and offers his or her services in an open or covert way, suggesting this or that, and asking, if a suggestion is accepted, if they could spare some money. In third world countries there is not much difference between a real guide and a beggar guide. See the video: “Carlos Rodriguez”, in watch the video
Repertoire: As part of the cultural event SPM07, The Beggar is in possession of trivia, anecdotes, and privileged information about organizational matters related to the installation and the running of the show. He may even know some of the artists personally and have access to the intimate details of their biographies, all very valuable information for a guide. So The Beggar will spot the prototypical SPM07 visitor, offer his services, and instantly convince him or her of his qualifications by displaying some behind the scenes information. He could even lead guided visits to some of the works.
His knowledge of the bars and restaurants where the in-crowd meets can be very much appreciated by visitors.
Like any good salesman, he obviously will not wait for the visitors to approach him. He will offer his services directly, using all his powers of persuasion.
Beggar as storyteller, oral or written
These are the beggars who tell stories, often absolutely fantastic ones (as Peachum says, truth always sounds unconvincing) to convince people to give them money. They rarely admit to being (professional) beggars: they are, rather, circumstantial beggars, people in distress, normal people like you and me, citizens forced to beg for money on occasion, or just this one time.
Repertoire: The Beggar will “assault” people with the classical “Excuse me, sir, madam… ” and then choose from a variety of stories, among them:
- My money was stolen
- I am in the wrong city and have no money for a train ticket
- My friends abandoned me
- I have unpredictable attacks of insanity / somnambulism / narcolepsy, and during one of these attacks I lost all of my belongings.
- I am a young artist and have no money left to return home
- My girlfriend left me and took my wallet
- I lost my memory
Then you have the written variety, all those different placards on cardboard: “political refugee,” “no job,” “I’m hungry, two children and wife, will accept food”. Often there are photos next to the text (of the children for instance). Sometimes maps (if a refugee, this explain where he comes from). And sometimes articles from newspaper (which explain the natural or political disaster that reduced him to his present state). Some are very sophisticated (as the beggar with a placard that read: “testing for human kindness”) and some nonsensical (as the beggar eating an enormous sandwich while holding a placard saying: “I’m hungry”). Of course, this type allows for boundless creativity and for infinite variations on what can be written on cardboard.
And text as means of communication can of course be easily linked to poetry and literature.
And then you have the beggar who enters a bar, café, or subway car and leaves on every table or seat a little note, perhaps with a little something (like candy), and then collects them and some spare change, if he’s lucky.
Repertoire: for instance:
I am a refugee
I have three brothers
One of the brothers has a weak heart condition
No money for the operation
The operation is very expensive
I work for this operation
God may protect you
your family please a sign
How much can you give
Thanks very much
This is a real one.
But The Beggar could choose any sort of text, from the puzzling to the absurd, from the poetic to the legalese. Some examples:
Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.
1. Never give anything away for nothing.
2. Never give more than you have to give (always catch the buyer hungry and always make him wait).
3. Always take everything back if you possibly can.
This is going to be a happy day. Another happy day.
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Beggar as actor
These are beggars who perform, who fake all sorts of things: disease, deformity, story, voice, age, and situation. I remember a beggar in Madrid, a woman, who entered a subway car in an almost impossible physical position, her head very close to the ground and her hand extended before her, palm up. She was singing in an incomprehensible variation of Spanish, with an Indian accent, in what seemed to be a combination of Noh theater, Thai-dance, and Greek Attica song. As soon as she got out of the car, she walked normally and spoke perfect Madrid “cockney”. You can see something similar to this on youtube: watch the video)
Some beggars will pose as someone famous to beg. For instance, some innovative beggars in India are painting themselves as Mahatma Gandhi.
Then there are actors who play beggars.
Repertoire: The Beggar can play other beggars, and in doing so he can conduct real research into marginality at the very heart of prosperous West-Germany. Putting his field observation to use, he can impersonate East-European beggars, alternative beggars, addicted beggars, along with all their infinite stories.
Other theatrical strategies could be: whispering in the ears of passers-by, thus forcing them to stop, or calling a name in the hopes that one of the passers-by responds to it, or pretending to recognize someone.
Beggar as "choreographed" beggar
These are beggars who make clear they are in need simply by the position of their body or the position they occupy in public space.
Anyone, anywhere, who’s holding a recipient with a few coins in it will be identified as a beggar.
A curious version of this is when there are no clear signs of begging, but delicate signs of marginality, such as the position of the body, or weird public behavior.
watch the first video
watch the second video
Beggar as political agitator, political commentator, vox populi.
A special form of civil disobedience are demonstrations in which a group of people temporarily occupies a section of public space that it has no exclusive rights to at that moment.
Public space is very much regulated. You are supposed to navigate it at a certain pace, with a certain attitude, always with a sense of purpose: anything else will make you suspicious to surveillance cameras and the authorities. There are places where you cannot stand or wait: the (public space surrounding the) US embassy for instance. And standing up or waiting beyond a reasonable amount of time will make you suspicious anywhere. Sitting down on the ground will marginalize you instantly, unless you’re sitting in a group or you look like a boy scout.
Repertoire: This means that any of those attitudes (sitting or standing in an ostentatious and defiant manner in public space) could already be understood as a political act, a vindication of freedom.
And asking people their opinion on a certain public matter could be the detonator for a real agora for discussion, for the creation of an authentic res publica.
Beggar who bites the hand that feeds him, or The Beggar as institutional critic.
No better example for this that Diogenes, the Greek cynic, and the school of cynicism as a whole. Although cynics are no beggars (on one occasion, Diogenes was asked why people give money to cripples and beggars, but not to philosophers. And he answered: “Well, people fear they may one day become beggars or cripples, but they certainly see no danger that they’ll one day become philosophers”), they do resort to beggary out of necessity.
Diogenes, a celibate and a beggar who made his home in the streets of Athens, made a virtue of extreme poverty. He taught contempt for human achievements and a return to animalism (he barked at those he disliked). Diogenes used his body to upend the conventional association of decorum with the good. He broke etiquette by publicly carrying out activities an Athenian would typically perform in private. For example, he ate, drank, and masturbated in the marketplace. His was a relentless campaign to "debunk" social values and institutions— the Greek word for dog-like is “cynic”.
The relation between beggar, cynic, and dog, is by no means a casual one. Here’s a text by Brecht, that perfectly illustrates this type of beggar:
The Beggar, or The Dead Dog
Der Bettler oder Der tote Hund
A gate. To the right of it crouches a beggar, a great ragged fellow with a white forehead. He has a small hurdy-gurdy which he keeps concealed under his rags. It is early morning. A cannon shot is heard. The emperor arrives, escorted by soldiers; he has long reddish hair, uncovered. He wears a purple woolen garment. Bells are ringing.
Emperor: At the very moment that I go to celebrate my victory over my worst enemy and the country blends my name with black incense a beggar sits in front of my gate, stinking of misery. But between these great events it seems fitting for me to converse with nothingness. The soldiers step back. Do you know why the bells are ringing, man?
Beggar: Yes. My dog has died.
E: Was that a piece of insolence?
B: No. It was old age. He struggled on to the end. I wondered, why do his legs tremble so? He had laid his front legs over my chest. Like that we lay all night, even when it turned cold. But by the morning he had been dead a long time, and I pushed him off me. Now I can’t go home because he’s beginning to putrefy, and stinks.
E: Why don’t you throw him out?
B: That’s none of your business. Now you have a hollow in your chest, like a hole in a drain; because you’ve asked a stupid question. Everyone asks stupid questions. Just to ask questions is stupid.
E: And yet I shall ask another: who looks after you? Because if no one looks after you, you’ll have to remove yourself. This is a place where no carrion may rot and no outcry may rend the air.
B: Am I crying out?
E: Now it’s you that are asking, though there is mockery in your question, and I do not understand the mockery.
B: Well, I don’t know about that, though I’m the person involved.
E: That’s the silliest thing I have ever heard. You have greatly disappointed me by telling me that yarn. The others were at least well told. But what do you think of the Emperor?
B: There is not such person as the Emperor. Only the nation thinks there is such a person, and one individual thinks that he is the one. Later, when too many military vehicles are being made and the drummers are well rehearsed, there is war and an adversary is looked for.
E: But now the emperor has defeated his adversary.
B: He has killed him, not defeated him. One idiot has killed another.
E: (with an effort) He was a strong adversary, believe me.
B: There is a man who puts stones into my rice. That man is my enemy. He bragged, because he has a strong hand. But he died of cancer, and when they closed the coffin they caught his hand under the lid and didn’t notice it when they carried the coffin away, so that the hand hung out of it, limp, helpless, and empty.
E: Don’t you ever get bored, then, with lying about like this?
B: In the past clouds used to drift down, along the sky, endlessly; I look at those. There is no end to them.
E: Now there are no clouds moving in the sky. So your talk makes no sense. That’s clear as the sun.
B: There is no such thing as the sun.
E: Perhaps you are even dangerous, a paranoiac, a raving madman.
B: He was a good dog not just an ordinary one. He deserves a good deal of praise (…)
E: Why do you tell me that?
B: Because I consider you stupid.
E: What else do you think of me?
B: You have a feeble voice, therefore you are timid; you ask too many questions, therefore you’re a flunkey; you try to set traps for me, therefore you’re not sure of anything, even the surest thing; you don’t believe me but listen to me all the same, therefore you’re a weak man, and finally you believe that the whole world revolves around you, when there are people far more important, myself for instance. Besides, you are blind, deaf, and ignorant. As for your other vices, I don’t now them yet.
E: That doesn’t look good. Don’t you see any virtues in me?
B: You speak softly, therefore you are humble; you ask many questions, therefore you seek knowledge; you weigh up everything, therefore you are skeptical; (…)
B: Everyone bows to me. But it means nothing to me. Only importunate people trouble me with their chatter and questions.
E: Am I troubling you?
B: That’s the stupidest question you have asked today. You’re an impudent man! You do not respect a human being’s essential privacy. You do not know solitude, therefore you want the approval of a stranger like myself. You are dependent on every man’s respect.
E: I rule men. Hence the respect.
B: The bridle too thinks that it rules the horse, the swallow’s beak thinks that it steers the swallow, and the palm tree’s topmost spike thinks that it pulls the tree after it up to heaven!
E: You are a malicious man. I should have you destroyed if I wouldn’t then have to believe that it was out of injured vanity.
The beggar takes out the hurdy-gurdy and plays.
A man passes quickly and bows.
B: (puts away the hurdy-gurdy): This man has a wife who steals from him. At night she bends over him to take money from him. At times he wakes up and sees her above him. Then he thinks that she loves him so much that she can no longer resist the impulse to gaze at him at night. For that reason he forgives her little deceptions which he detects.
E: Are you at it again? Not a word of it is true.
B: You can go now. You’re becoming coarse.
E: That’s incredible!
The beggar plays on the hurdy-gurdy.
E: Is the audience over now?
B: Once again now they all see the sky beautified and the earth more fruitful because of this bit of music, and prolong their lives and forgive themselves and their neighbours, because of this bit of sound.
E: Well, at least tell me why you simply cannot bear me and have yet told me so much?
B (nonchalantly) Because you were not too proud to listen to my chitchat, which I only used to forget my dead dog.
E: Now I am going. You have spoilt the best day of my life. I should never have stopped here. Pity is not good. The only thing in your favour is the courage to speak to me as you have done. And for that I’ve kept everyone waiting for me!
He leaves, escorted by the soldiers. The bells ring again.
B: (one sees now that he is blind) Now he’s gone. It must be before noon, the air is so warm. The boy won’t be coming today. There is a celebration in town. That idiot just now is going there too. Now I have to think again of my dog.
The Beggar will live in Münster for three months, as part of the SP07. During that time, he’ll inevitably develop relationships with the institution, the city, the citizens, and the artworks, and he’ll use these relationships to develop his character. He’ll also construct an itinerary which will reflect his preference for certain places, people, events, and artworks, over others. What these will be we cannot be planned in advance, but they will be a determining factor in the work.