Most bemerkenswert, according to the TT-Bloggers

Last night this year’s 3sat prize was awarded to Nicolas Stemann’s Faust I + II. Some said it was a worthy recipient: the acting of Philipp Hochmair and Sebastian Rudolph was irrefutably intense, the director proved capable of applying just about every German theatre style from Brechtian to post-dramatic, and the whole performance struck just the right balance between classical and avant-garde theatre, splitting the difference between Platonov and John Gabriel Borkman. Others were less satisfied with the result: if the prize was to be given to “innovative, zukunftsweisende Arbeiten” [innovative and pioneering work] maybe Borkman might have been a better candidate, for instance, or anther Stemann production, or either Faust I or II.
I guess it all depends on how you define “bemerkenswert,” the only official criterion for the TT jury. This term is of course subjective, and the jury’s choices consciously or subconsciously form both the international and national definition of what German theatre looks like.
So, I asked all the members of the TT blog team to come up with the most remarkable production they saw this season, giving them only three criteria.
1. The production must be bemerkenswert.
2. It can be any kind of staged performance
3. It doesn’t have to be a German-speaking production.
And so, here are this year’s TT-bloggers most bemerkenswerte productions. Continue reading Most bemerkenswert, according to the TT-Bloggers


We knew from the start that all ten of the productions invited to Theatertreffen were in some way “remarkable,“ that they had something that made them stand out in the crowd of 700 performances the jury attended over the year. But, looking back over the festival, what did the productions have in common? Here are some statistics:

Puppets backstage at "Faust I+II", Photo: Nadine Loës

7/10 productions had actors shouting lines that do not logically require to be shouted

3/10 had actors performing more than one role (multi-roling)
9/10 addressed the audience directly (broken 4th wall)
4/10 didn’t stick to the script, opting for moments of improvisation
3/10 directly and deliberately referenced the Theatertreffen festival
7/10 had lines performed in two or more languages
5/10 featured some form of nudity, ranging from bare bums to full-frontal.
5/10 included either dance routines or gymnastics
4/10 had real live children
3/10 used either puppets or animal costumes
  Continue reading Theatric-O-Meter

Theatertreffen Acting Fact-File

The 5,000€ Alfred-Kerr-Preis for the best performance at the Theatertreffen was announced today, decided and presented by actress Nina Hoss. The prize went to Fabian Hinrichs – here are TT-Blog photographer Nadine`s photos of the award ceremony:

But how did she choose when there were so many different styles of acting treading the boards? Maybe she stole a look at my fact-file, based on some of the leading men and ladies of this year’s festival.
Style: The Entertainer
Fabian Hinrichs, Kill Your Darlings! Streets of Berladelphia
Director: Rene Pollesch
Only speaking part
: Shiny, skin-tight rainbow leggings/Floor-length skirt/Octopus costume Continue reading Theatertreffen Acting Fact-File

Platonov – The Premiere

The final Theatertreffen 2012 production to premiere is the black sheep of the family. All its other relatives have been and gone, throwing paint on the bare walls of their sets, chatting to their audiences and, in certain isolated incidents (that crazy Uncle Vinge), urinating on their actors. Now all of a sudden, Platonov shows up and rocks the boat with the ultimate rebellion: Naturalism.
(Well, the definition of “naturalism” is highly debated, but in the case of Chekhov I’ll take an old-school one from the first main spokesperson for the style, author Emile Zola: “We simply take from life the story of a being or group of beings whose acts we faithfully set down. The work becomes an official record, nothing more; its only merit is that of exact observation.”)
As the audience entered the theatre, they probably rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Rather than using the text as a loose structure or idea on which to base the production, director Hermanis has read Chekhov’s stage directions, and Monika Pormale has translated them onto the stage in an “exact observation.”  We see a large room, connected through one central door to a terrace and garden on the one side, and separated from a dining room on the other by a wall of transparent doors. Both of these extra spaces are somewhat obscured from the audience’s sight. I’m no expert on late 19th Century Russian furniture, but it certainly seemed like every detail of the set and costumes was historically accurate.
Here’s a rudimentary idea of what it looks like:

Platonov set design, Doodle: Miriam Sherwood
Continue reading Platonov – The Premiere

Your Day at TT (17)

It’s not over just yet: we have one more action-packed day of Theatertreffen 2012 ahead of us before everything gets packed up.
12pm – Actress Nina Hoss will present the Alfred Kerr Actor’s Prize to her favourite performer of the Theatertreffen, place your bets now! We’ll be updating the blog with news of the winner at lunchtime.
1.30pm – The final discussion of the jury. Your last chance to voice your opinions on the festival face-to-face with the people who made the decisions. Follow the debate on our twitter account, #tt12 – you never know, it might get ugly.
4pm – A chance to watch Karin Henkel’s Macbeth on screen at the Public Viewing at Potsdamer Platz.
OR (both is definitely impossible, however diligent a TT fan you are):
4.30pm – The second performance of Alvis Hermanis’ production of Platonov by Chekhov, ending at a user-friendly 9.15pm.
9.35pm – The strangely precise timing only serves to adds mystery to what might already be the vaguest prize in German theatre, a 10,000€ award presented by TV channel 3sat to “one or more artists from participating ensembles for pioneering, artistically innovative achievement.”
If you can’t bare to sit in yet another darkened room, have a time-out in a really hot steamy room instead: The sauna in the TT garden is still in full swing today – nudity is optional.

The Surtitle Situation

For several years now, surtitles have featured on a number of the chosen productions at the Theatertreffen – this year three had English surtitles, whilst the French and Kinyarwanda-speaking Hate Radio and the Flemish Before Your Very Eyes necessitate German surtitles, and are both giving an extra performance with English ones as well.
The benefits of surtitles are clear: they open up the doors to international productions and international audiences. Particularly for a festival like the Theatertreffen, which presents an overview of the contemporary German-speaking theatre scene, surtitles could be the key to sharing this insight with audiences from all over the world who want to know what’s going on the inside the heads of these infamous theatre-makers’ heads.
Great, so we’re all agreed: slap on surtitles and quadruple the accessibility of the festival. As it turned out, it’s not quite that easy.
Hate Radio
The performance takes place at the Hebbel-am-Ufer theatre in a valley between two sets of audience seating, and the surtitles take the form of a long strip running across the top of the reconstructed radio studio at the bottom of the valley. This means they are positioned very close to the action, and coupled with the fact that there isn’t all that much action anyway, this makes them pretty comfortable to read. From the moment director Milo Rau decided to bring his hyper-realistic “reenactment” from Rwanda to Germany, surtitles became a crucial part of the equation, so you can expect them to be well-integrated in the production. Still, they aren’t without their problems, not least because you can never be silent on the radio. This constant stream of conversation inevitably means that your audience members have to spend most of their time reading, not watching.
Gesäubert/Gier/4.48 Psychose
Performing a translation of a play and supplying the original script in the form of surtitles above the stage is a strange business. There were the practical problems to deal with: if you were seated on the balcony, the English surtitles were hidden behind paper lanterns hanging in the auditorium, so that if you were lucky you could now and then catch the final word in a sentence; if you were in the stalls, the surtitle monitor was so astronomically far above the stage that it was an out-and-out choice between reading and looking at the stage. But what’s more, and perhaps even worse, when the bilingual members of the audience did manage to find some way of keeping an eye on both without getting a migraine or whiplash, they soon realized how lacking the translation being performed was in comparison to Kane’s original text. Even poet Durs Grünbein wasn’t able to reconstruct the venomous rhythms of 4.48 Psychosis – what stuck out a mile, for example, was the way Kane’s short, biting verbs, “wring slash punch slash float flicker flash punch,” above the stage being juxtaposed with the clunky German equivalents  showed the latter unable to keep up.
Ein Volksfeind
A car crash. A surtitling catastrophe the likes of which I have never seen before. No, the monitor didn’t break after two minutes and start spouting gobbledygook. I almost wish it had. Instead, the whole of the two-hour performance was accompanied by what appeared to be the output of a quick go on Google Translate: copy and paste Ibsen. Punctuation was missing for the first hour, and the translation frequently made no sense (“I am jealous of my name and business”?) or was simply incorrect (“sunshine” instead of “stars,” “boys” instead of “children” – I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not pedantic if two of the “boys” in question are in fact girls).
OK, so not every single word and comma has to be correct for the surtitles to be of use in following the play. But if they’re going to be any use whatsoever, the timing and phrasing of the lines as they appear on the monitor need to make some kind of sense. Instead, the answers were already glowing above the stage before their corresponding questions had even been asked. Different characters’ lines appeared simultaneously, or late, and were indistinguishable from each other.
This was the ultimate example of “slapping on the surtitles” and not giving them a second thought, and it is unacceptable. Surtitling is a complex, time-consuming process; as my experiences at the Theatertreffen show, the translation, timing, spacing, and length of phrasing must all be taken into account, and problems such as dealing with improvisation need careful consideration.
Before Your Very Eyes
The surtitles were the very model here: clear, correct, well-timed, and not distracting from the kids’ performances. This probably has a lot to do with the conception of the piece: at the post-show discussion today, Gob Squad members explained that because they knew from the start that surtitles would be needed for performances in Germany and on tour, they looked for ways to truly integrate them. They went on to say that the idea of the off-stage voice of a “director” figure was partly inspired by the presence of the surtitle monitor, another sort of detached voice.
There’s no simple solution to the translation of performances. But theatres need to become more aware that surtitles are not necessarily always the best option. Even the most skilful surtitling is problematic, adding a new distracting element on stage that can also be intrusive for those who aren’t even trying to read them. At the contemporary theatre festival Neue Stücke aus Europa in Wiesbaden, audiences are supplied with one-ear headsets for many of the non-German-language productions, so they can hear both the actors and an interpreter simultaneously. Some productions simply rely on a thorough synopsis in the programme. Finally, many of the most successfully surtitled productions have taken a big scenic decision and incorporated them into their design, for instance by placing them on more places around the stage, above the heads of the actors who are speaking, or even – as with Before Your Very Eyes – by integrating them into the concept of the production.
Or are we placing too much emphasis on understanding the text? Isn’t there a “language of theatre” that we can all understand? I’ll leave you with a thought from theatre company Cheek by Jowl, who perform their shows to audiences all over the world. They say that watching a play in a language you don’t understand “can be an incredibly liberating experience: instead of concentrating on every word of the text, the audience can allow themselves to be engrossed in the world on stage which should not rely on words alone to communicate its meaning.”

Gob Squad: Simon Will on time and collectives

Gob Squad’s Before Your Very Eyes combines two of the 2012 Theatertreffen’s “remarkable” aspects: time and collectives. More specifically, this transnational performance collective raises questions about the subjectivity of time.

Time and Collectives: Gob Squad. Photo: Manuel Reinartz

Before Your Very Eyes is a performance with seven teenagers who perform their lives in fast forward. In the “safe environment” of a glass house, a voice from above guides them through their lives. It also confronts them with questions and challenges on their way from puberty to mid-life crisis and ’til death do them part. Their journey into the future is linked to the past when the kids are faced with interviews with themselves – recorded when they were two years younger.
The following interview might serve a similar purpose some years from now, as I talked to Simon Will, one of Gob Squad’s seven core members since 1999, about life’s challenges and changes.
Continue reading Gob Squad: Simon Will on time and collectives

Watching the Clock

After the jury’s selection was announced, Theatertreffen director Yvonne Büdenhölzer named two defining features of this year’s choices: “Collective” and “Time.” Interestingly, the latter was expressed in a deliberately negative way by the festival itself: The phrase “Waste My Time” is projected against the back wall of the garden where audience members and theatre makers mingle every evening after the performances. The official discussion on the topic, which took place this Tuesday, bore the same attention-grabbing title.

Projection in the TT Garden, Photo: Miriam Sherwood

The trigger for this discussion is one particular kind of time: running time. That is to say, the length of the invited productions. Platonov: 5 hours. Faust I+II: 8 hours. John Gabriel Borkman: 12 hours. The Kane trilogy barely gets a look-in with 3.5 hours, which at least by U.K. standards might already be pushing it. Several of the other performances, by contrast, are much more on the succinct side. Hate Radio runs to 90 minutes, Before Your Very Eyes and Kill Your Darlings! to only 70.  Those left (Macbeth, Die [s]panische Fliege, Ein Volksfeind) all stick to a relatively compact 2 hours. Continue reading Watching the Clock

The TT-bloggers on Ein Volksfeind

Heiner Müller, Shakespeare, Ibsen’s patriarchal issues, East German comedy, Fukushima, Haribo, “the modern marriage,” fascism, capitalism, communism, racism, and even the delay of the brand-new Berlin Airport were all brought up in the Publikumsgespräch following last night’s Ein Volksfeind. On stage, there were at least a dozen people who’d actually worked on the play talking about their take on it, and yet their answers never made any coherent sense; it was as if they’d all been working on different plays. First, I thought this was due to my lack of German skills, or perhaps those of my interpreter. But then one audience member quite simply asked director Lukas Langhoff what the play was about and Langhoff responded that “there is no one true meaning,” continuing on to say he did not want to “force any one theme or meaning onto the audience.”
Right. As we are now arguably living in a so-called postmodern era where any unitary truths have arguably disappeared, I could have swallowed the director’s response if he had succeeded in convincingly transcending any particular “truth.” However, after sitting in the auditorium of the Haus der Berliner Festspiele for two very long hours, I only got bits and pieces of the aforementioned random themes, and none of them fully persuaded my mind or reached my soul. The only thought that constantly came back to my mind was: Too many cooks spoil the broth.
This is why I decided to write this article “collectively.” That is, I asked all the TT-blog contributors present after the performance to provide their opinion on how “the soup tasted,” or what they perceived to be the play’s meaning. See if we can’t make sense of this together: Continue reading The TT-bloggers on Ein Volksfeind

What Is Hate Radio?

Of the five Berlin-based productions invited to the Theatertreffen this year, Hate Radio is the only one I managed to see before the festival began. That’s how I came to be in the position where I can give you an idea of what’s to be expected at the show’s Theatertreffen premiere tonight.
Swiss director Milo Rau, founder of the International Institute of Political Murder theatre group and creator of IIPM projects such as The Last Days of Ceausescu, about the execution of the Romanian dictator, and The Dark Continent, a look at ethnic cleansing under Stalin, has most recently turned his attentions to yet another violent atrocity of the 20th Century. In his examination of the Rwandan genocide, it is the horrific and vicious anti-Tutsi propaganda proliferated by the Rwandan radio station RTLM that is placed under the microscope. Continue reading What Is Hate Radio?