The Origin of The Black Rider

Der Freischutz (The Free-Shooter), an old German folktale on which The Black Rider is based, was first published in the early 1800s in a collection of ghost stories called Gespensterbuch by Johann August Apel and Friedrich Laun.

It was adapted into a widely celebrated opera by Carl Maria von Weber in 1821. The opera, also named Der Freischutz, deviates from the intentions of the original story by giving the story a happy ending. Staying true to 19th century romanticism, a Deus Ex Machina is used in the form of a hermit, who sets everything right.

In 1823, Thomas de Quincy wrote a short story adaptation of his own: The Fatal Marksman, which is based on the original ghost story. The Fatal Marksman, along with the original tale of Der Freischutz, would later inspire Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, and William S. Burroughs to create The Black Rider.

Their exciting and innovative collaboration premiered in 1990 at the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg. As Waits explains, "Burroughs found some of the branches of the story, and let them grow into more metaphorical things in all of our lives every day that, in fact, are deals with the Devil that weve made. What is cunning about those deals is that were not aware weve made them. And when they come to fruition, we are shocked and amazed."

In 1998, the November Theatre production of The Black Rider premiered at the Edmonton Fringe. - It was the World English Language Premiere and has since gone on to a successful North American tour.

Wilhelm, a city clerk, is in love with the royal huntsman’s daughter, Kathchen.  In order to marry her he must prove himself to be a worthy hunter, a skill at which the fumbling clerk is inept.  While attempting to hunt, Wilhelm meets a devilish Peg Leg man who offers him some help in the form of magic bullets - guaranteed to always hit their mark.  With these bullets, Wilhelm brings home enough dead game to satisfy Kathchen’s father.  Their wedding day is announced, as is the test that Wilhelm must pass on his wedding day to prove himself a true shot - the shooting of a wooden bird from a tree.  Having spent all of his magic bullets, Wilhelm returns to the crossroads with hopes of meeting Peg Leg to get one more special bullet for this final shot.  Peg Leg eagerly gives him the desired bullets, but with a presaging warning: “Six are yours and hit the mark, and one is mine and hits the dark.”  At the trial, all of the wedding guests are gathered in anticipation as Wilhelm takes aim and fires a shot that can’t miss...

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