Coffee & Cigarettes with My Friends: An interview with Zarah Kofler
Culture — 07.11.23
From the mountains of Austria to London’s queer club scene, Zarah Kofler has always had a deep desire to express herself. Now, she’s taking that creative energy to the stage where she’s currently playing Fraulein Else in Julien Gosselin’s play Extinction at the Volksbühne Theatre in Berlin.
I first met Zarah on a shoot some years back and have been wanting to shoot with her again ever since. She has a magnetism and a vulnerability to her; a playful and childlike energy that somehow still oozes the confidence of an old soul. It’s these qualities that make her so interesting to photograph; the intricacies of her character.
This summer, we finally carved some time out to play dress-up with stylist Aathirai Valentine and shoot in her home in Berlin. Afterward, we caught up to discuss how Zarah’s upbringing in the Alps and her experiences of living in London have shaped the woman we see today, what she’s currently working on, and what’s next on the horizon for her.
You grew up in the Austrian Alps. What was that like?
Growing up in a town in the Alps gave me the freedom to be outside in nature every day until it got dark. I grew up with a lot of neighbors, other families, and children to spend my time with. I felt protected, even locked in sometimes, between these huge walls in the valley.
How do you think it shaped you? Were you able to express yourself creatively there?
Playing outside definitely shaped my imagination. Finding new ways to make things work, using what is there to create new worlds, and sometimes even being confronted by danger – all within nature. They’re all useful skills to have in a creative process. There’s a lot of peace in a forest and a lot of space for your fantasies to go wild. Ever since I was little I’ve expressed myself creatively, whether through making music, dancing, or studying the craft of tailoring in my school in Tyrol.
You spent some time living in London. Can you tell us more about that experience? How did you end up there? What impact do you think this had on you and your work?
I moved to London to pursue costume and fashion. It wasn’t easy to make a living out there from art; I was living on people’s couches, and doing many different jobs to pay London’s expensive bills. The circumstances made me try everything that was in front of me as I was quite naive and ambitious.
While I was there, I met many inspiring people. We used to host a party called “Loverboy” in a club called VF Dalson (before Vogue Fabrics). We made fabulous setups and created individual worlds. We put a lot of effort into shooting campaigns to market the party. Lots of people came to dance and watch our friends’ drag, cabaret, and music performances. We created a safe space where we all felt part of something. Helping to organise these events and the brand Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, and working together as a collective with the same vision in mind, inspired me to work in a collaborative place like a theatre. Dancing in clubs in London’s nightlife, creating new characters, modeling, and performing made me want to express myself through performing arts more and more.
As someone who has moved around a lot; what is your relationship to place and how does it affect your work?
The energy and the rhythm of a place and the energy of the people I work with shape my workflow and process. Different cities bring different struggles or benefits and shape my need for expression.
How did you get started in acting? What/who inspires you and what impact do you think this has on your work?
I started acting at the young ensemble of the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz called P14. My friend Yasmin told me about it. I went to see some plays and really wanted to be part of it. There, I had the chance to play many different characters, work with new teams, and be completely free to create and play. I also had the chance to perform on different stages of the theatre, like Roter Salon or the main stage. Now I work there and I am grateful to have a place where I get supported for who I am. The place inspires me to stay true to myself, to the stories I want to tell, and to who I want to tell them to. It’s a privilege to be allowed to fail, to push my flaws, and to grow to become more free in performing. My colleague Marie Rosa Tietjen inspires me to speak up, stand up for myself and others, and bring material and new thoughts to the table. Benny Claessens is an actor who especially inspires me to be fabulous, and to tell the truth on stage; to say what has to be said.
What do you like doing in your spare time to unwind?
Coffee and cigarettes with my friends.
You’re currently performing in Julien Gosselin’s play Extinction as Fraulein Else. How has this experience been for you so far?
Working with Julien Gosselin, I’ve learned to be very precise. I was quite intimidated to work with such a big and international team in the beginning and at such a high level and speed. It’s a live theatre film, so every shot has to be perfect. It also challenged me to play a character that experiences patriarchy in the worst way. At one point, the character is breaking down and fainting due to a message she just got from her mother to ask a man for help; it becomes a tricky situation. That feeling of “Ohnmacht” (fainting) can trigger my body too sometimes. Especially when rehearsing the scene many times; it stays heavy within your body and you have to wash it off and feel in power again. The dramaturgists and I found a way to tell the story of a girl that makes her own decision in that circumstance; the fine line between using the patriarchy’s weakness to your own benefit and/or getting fucked by it.
What’s next for Zarah Kofler?
I would love to work with people like Florentina Holzinger and Benjamin Abel Meirhaege on stage. I would also love to do more films, especially cinema. In Germany, I would love to shoot with the directress and actress Nicolette Krebitz. We’ll soon be releasing our short film (Anti-Heimatfilm) Oh Katharina by Lisa Polster starring Theresa Gmachl and me.
Stay up-to-date with Zarah and what she’s working on via Instagram.