Haltung, meine Herren!

Ferner Osten, Balkan, China, Polen und eine nostalgische Post-DDR – die Settings der diesjährigen „Stückemarkt“-Texte machen Hoffnung auf große Themen. Doch leider sind die Stücke oft Mogelpackungen.

Die Frage schwebte fast bedrohlich im Raum. „Wie politisch sind denn Ihre Texte?“, wagte eine Zuschauerin am ersten Stückemarkt-Autorentisch zu fragen. Stückemarkt-Leiterin Yvonne Büdenhölzer hatte sich zuvor alle Mühe gegeben, die interessanten persönlichen Hintergründe der anwesenden Jungherren-Runde aufzuzählen und so die Autoren in einem politischen Kontext zu verorten: Konradin Kunze war gerade frisch aus Indien zurückgekehrt, wo er staatliche Willkür hautnah zu spüren bekommen hatte; bei Dmitrij Gawrisch, einem in der Schweiz lebenden Ukrainer, schwingt schon im Namen die Ausländerproblematik mit, und Mario Salazar erzählte, wie sein Vater einst in Chile gegen Salvador Allende putschte und als Landesverräter in der DDR landete. Nur: In Salazars Stück „Alles Gold was glänzt“ kennen die Figuren das Wort „Aufstand“ im besten Fall aus dem Fernsehen; Gawrisch dementierte mit „Meine Eltern sind Diplomaten“ gleich alle Vermutungen, die ihn in die Ecke „Ausländer mit Flüchtlingsvergangenheit“ drängten, und Konradin Kunze blieb von allen am deutlichsten undeutlich: „Nein, ich möchte in meinen Stücken keine politische Haltung vertreten.“ Continue reading Haltung, meine Herren!

U – S – A!

A German, a Pole, a Romanian, and an Englishman sit down for a discussion in front of an audience in Berlin.

From left to right: Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk, Peca Ştefan and Simon Stephens. Foto von Piero Chiussi.

What language do they speak? English, of course. I don’t imagine that you had to guess.

“How embarrassing. This is the nature of colonialism. But at least I can blame America!”

British playwright Simon Stephens (Christmas, Pornography, The Trial of Ubu, and quoted above) gave the keynote address at the opening of the 30th Theatertreffen Stückemarkt (play market) this afternoon. Though he’s widely produced internationally, especially in Germany, he can’t speak any languages other than his imperialist own. Luckily, everybody speaks passable English and they’re willing to humor him (and the rest of us Anglophones). Even though the German, Pole, and Romanian playwrights also on stage – Stefan Schmidtke, Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk (2011 Stückemarkt invitee), and Peca Ştefan (2010 invitee) – are perhaps more comfortable with Russian.

I, for one, am glad not to have to learn Russian to get around in the world. “U – S – A!” But back to the keynote address.

Stephens has learned five things by having his plays staged in Germany by director Sebastian Nübling, watching his crafted dialog disappear into incomprehensible babble. You can read about these five points in his speech, posted here (preview: the German theater “may be loosely defined as swimming in a surprising amount of both blood and sperm.”)

Addressing the necessity of international productions for playwrights, to close the debate that followed his speech, Stephens said, “What we do as writers is try to tell a story that helps us to understand ourselves and our relationship to society. When I travel, the world shifts. And I try to bring that into my plays.” His advice to young playwrights is to travel and to think like a soccer/football player: Don’t think too far ahead. Just pass the play, take the shot. “If you think about your career, you’re fucked. All you can do is write your next play, make the next line as good as possible.”

And try to get your work translated into English, of course.

Write a Play, Practice Remembrance

Mayor BEFORE and AFTER (Tilo Nest), Miss Beautiful (Jenny Schily), Mayor of New York (Bernd Moss). Photo: Piero Chiussi

I sat down for a short discussion with Polish playwright Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk after the staged reading of her play Burmistrz, The Mayor.

Shifting around in time (the title character appears as both the Mayor Before and After), The Mayor explores the costs of remembrance and the costs of willful forgetting in a small town in Poland. One character, the Penitent German, has become paralyzed by the weight of his father’s murders around his neck. A chorus of young Polish townspeople on the other hand, though proud of their historical monument (a monument apparently without memorial function), have no interest in discovering the roles their fathers played in the massacre of the town’s Jewish population during World War II—much less in taking on the associated guilt. After visits by the Mother of God and the Mayor of New York, the Mayor of this Polish town tries discover the truth. But his constituents ironically bury him under the town’s memorial. The Mayor was translated into German and English for the Stückemarkt, and is available at the Goethe-Institut’s Theatre Library.

What was the process of preparing your play, The Mayor, for this staged reading?

It wasn’t a long process. The director, Nina Gühlstorff, and I discussed the whole story via emails beforehand. Then I attended the rehearsal in the afternoon, watched the whole play, and spoke with Nina.

What was it like seeing The Mayor in German, a language you don’t speak?

It was actually quite a privilege not to understand the language at all. I could relax because had no idea how the audience was reacting, whether they liked it at all!

Your play revolves around the mayor of a small town in Poland, who works to remember a town’s horrible past. How did you create this figure?

There’s actually a real mayor I read about in the newspaper. In his town during World War II, perhaps inspired by the German army, people murdered their Jewish neighbors. The President of Poland was invited to a big commemoration of the massacre in 2001, but the mayor was the only one trying to discover the truth, that Polish people had committed these crimes. He was the only one who put the truth above the self-image of Poland: we were always the victims, not the murderers. The mayor was dismissed from his post, and he moved to Chicago and changed his name so as not to be recognized by the Polish community there. I wanted to say thank you to him with this play.

How do you personally practice remembrance?

I write a play.

Playwright Sikorska-Miszuk (centre) Photo: Piero Chiussi