The Black Rider

The Black Rider

The Black Rider
The Casting of the Magic Bullets
Canadian Tour Program
Music Tom Waits
Lyrics Tom Waits
Book William S. Burroughs
Basis German folktale Der Freischütz
Productions 1990 Hamburg
1998 Edmonton International Fringe Festival
1998 Det Norske Teatret
1999 New York International Fringe Festival
2008 November Theatre
2009 Barcelona
2012 Schaubühne
2015 Betty Nansen Teatret

The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets is a self-billed "musical fable" in the avant-garde tradition created through the collaboration of theatre director Robert Wilson, musician Tom Waits, and writer William S. Burroughs. Wilson was largely responsible for the design and direction. Burroughs wrote the book, while Waits wrote the music and most of the lyrics. The project began in about 1988 when Wilson approached Waits. The story is based on a German folktale called Der Freischütz, which had previously been made into an opera by Carl Maria von Weber. It premiered at Hamburg's Thalia Theatre on 31 March 1990. November Theatre produced its world English-language premiere in 1998 at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival in Canada, and the American English-language premiere at the New York International Fringe Festival in 1999. Det Norske Teatret in Oslo staged a Norwegian (Nynorsk) version in 1998, with Lasse Kolsrud as Pegleg.[1] Only the dialogue was translated, the songs were performed in English.

Waits recorded much of the music from the play in different arrangements under the eponymous title, The Black Rider.


  • Synopsis 1
  • Music 2
  • Productions 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Wilhelm, a file clerk, falls in love with a huntsman's daughter. In order to marry, Wilhelm must prove his worth as a hunter and gain her father's approval, but, as "a man of pen and ink", his shot is lousy and his hopes of marriage worsen. That is until he is offered magic bullets by the devil, Pegleg – who assures him that his bullets will always have a sure shot. However, Pegleg stipulates that, while most of the bullets will hit anything Wilhelm pleases, one of the bullets is under Pegleg's control. Foolish, naive, and overrun with desperate hope, Wilhelm accepts the Faustian pact. On the day of Wilhelm's wedding, the final bullet strikes his beloved dead. He then goes mad, and joins the previous victims of Satan's cunning in the Devil's carnival.

Although based on folklore, the story contains strong autobiographical elements from Burroughs' own life: he accidentally shot his own wife in a drunken attempt at recreating the William Tell legend, and the story as a whole may be construed as a warning tale about the destructive powers of addiction.


The cover of the 1993 record The Black Rider

The music was composed and performed by Tom Waits, and released as a record in 1993.


In 2004, UK producers Cultural Industry, London, Barbican Arts Centre, American Conservatory Theater, and the Sydney Festival, Australia, teamed together with director Robert Wilson and Musician Tom Waits, to bring the world the English spoken version of The Black Rider. Based heavily on the 1990 Thalia theatre production, and even containing some members of the original cast, it toured the world starting in London. The part of Pegleg was played by singer Marianne Faithfull, while Wilhelm was played by actor Matt McGrath. The remaining cast included Mary Margaret O'Hara, Soňa Červená, Richard Strange, Nigel Richards, Dean Robinson, Jack Willis, Janet Henfrey, Monica Tahal, Gabriella Santinelli and Jake Thornton.

The band, The Magic Bullets, was headed by Bent Clausen, and featured the talents of David Coulter, Thomas Bloch, Terry Edwards, Caroline Hall, Jack Pinter Rory McFarlane and Kate St. John.

The show opened in May 2004 at Londons Barbican Arts Centre, and then transferred to San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater later that year. In January 2005, the production headlined the Sydney Festival under the artistic direction of Brett Sheehy. However, due to ill health, Marianne Faithfull was forced to withdraw from the production and understudy Nigel Richards filled the part.

In 2006, Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre re-staged the production, bringing the cast together for one final time. Several members of the original cast were unavailable, most notably Marianne Faithfull, whose role was filled by Vance Avery. The cast was also joined by John Vickery.

November Theatre's production went onto tour Canada in 2004–2005 with presentations at Theatre Network in Edmonton, Ground Zero Theatre and the Calgary Opera, Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon, Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse, Intrepid Theatre in Victoria and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver. The production went onto win 6 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards in Edmonton and 6 Betty Mitchell Awards in Calgary including "Best Production" and "Best Direction" in both major centres. In 2006 the production was presented at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in St. John's Newfoundland. The production was remounted in Vancouver in January 2008 at the Arts Club Theatre, Granville Island stage, co-presented as part of the annual PuSh Festival. November Theatre produced its final showing at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto in the fall of 2008.

The play was staged in the Hungarian National Theater during the Budapest Spring Festival in 2009.

In Barcelona, The Black Rider was the first musical to open at Teatre Almeria. Produced by the Companyia Gataró starting December 2009, it was performed by Oscar Martínez (Wilhelm), Ferran Frauca (Robert), Bealia Guerra (Kätchen), Jordi Vidal (Pegleg), Muntsa Rius (Anne) and Frank Capdet (Bertram), plus special guest acting by Xavier Ribera-Vall (Kuno).

A workshop production of the play was done by Augustana University College in November 2010.

The play was also staged by Estonian theater called "VAT Teater" in 2011. It took place in Tallinn, which is a European Capital of Culture for 2011.

As of November 2012, the play is showing at the Schaubühne in Berlin.[2]

In 2014, the play was staged by Rogaland Teater in Stavanger, Norway.[3]

In both 2000 and 2015, the play was staged by the Betty Nansen theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, both times with Jimmy Jørgensen as Pegleg.[4]


  1. ^ "The Black Rider" (in Norwegian). Retrieved 1 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "Schaubühne – The Black Rider". Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  3. ^ "Rogaland Teater – The Black Rider". Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  4. ^

External links

  • – Robert Wilson Archive. Source for further details.
  • – Extensive site with history, images, trailer, tour dates, etc.
  • [2] – The programme for the San Francisco leg of the most recent tour.