Faust in Ethnic Drag?

C: The dog that plays Hitler’s German shepherd Blondie only plays himself. He is always universally a German shepherd. So a German shepherd is seldom cast as a poodle. […]
S: Yeah, what would happen if a poodle was cast as Hitler’s Blondie?
C: Everybody would think that you were performing Faust.
(René Pollesch, Cappuccetto Rosso)

Be careful when you’re casting dogs – your audience will never see a poodle as a German shepherd. In his 2005 play, German playwright and director René Pollesch attacks representative theater for this oppression: women cannot appear as men; representation does not allow them political, social, or artistic equality.

With the rise of Berlin’s Ballhaus Naunynstraße, actors and directors with “migrant backgrounds” (see Cory Tamler’s post-migrant lexicon) have become increasingly visible. This poses a casting challenge to representative theater: can a person who looks “Turkish”  play classic “German” roles believably – I mean believable for white-bread, bourgeois audiences? Nobody questions the ability of Germans to perform the Russian “Cherry Orchard” or the American “Death of a Salesman” – even if I, as an American, do raise questions about too-random signs of Americana in Stefan Pucher’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic, for example. But something changes when a Turkish-German plays a “German” role…

Suddenly people ask the question Fadrina Arpagaus also notes in her post on the “post-migratory” friendliness of the 2011 Theatertreffen: What story is told when a Turk plays Faust?

Continue reading Faust in Ethnic Drag?

Live-Blog zum Verrückten Blut

Live-Blog: a heated talkback with audience after the second performance of Verrücktes Blut (Mad Blood), Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Related: the tt-Blog Verrücktes Blut Kritik (German) and the “post-migrant theatre” lexicon (English).

22:21 We’re in the theater! Still gathering some chairs and actors…

22:22 Introducing the line-up. It includes Shermin Langhoff (Artistic Director), Nurkan Erpulat (playwright), Franz Wille (Theatertreffen jury member).

22:24 “Would be hard to explain why you wouldn’t invite this play.” Franz Wille, Theatertreffen jury member

22:26 Wille’s talking about theater as a center for debate. I’d like to invite anybody who’s on Twitter and wants to join in the conversation right now to tweet at me: use the hashtag #tt11.

22:27 Artistic Director Shermin Langhoff on the definition of post-migrant theater: she’s been asked this a lot. About why it was important to come up with this definition at all:

  • Inspiration: Berlin’s (and Germany’s) incredible diversity
  • Felt that this diversity was visible in other media (film, novels) but not yet in theater
  • Defining a term helps create visibility and potential for financial/cultural support

22:32 Nurkan Erpulat (Verrücktes Blut playwright) says: sometimes people think this is a play for youth! But it’s actually for the educated middle class. Continue reading Live-Blog zum Verrückten Blut

A “post-migrant theatre” lexicon

Self-titled “post-migrant” theater Ballhaus Naunynstraße sits just a stone’s throw from the infamous Kottbusser Tor, birthplace of Döner Kebap and alleged headquarters for drug dealers, gangs and the corruption of German culture through immigrant influence. The Ballhaus’ raging success Verrücktes Blut (Mad Blood) has been playing to sold-out houses since September 2010 and has received invitations to most of Germany’s major festivals this year, including the Theatertreffen. What’s so hot about postmigrantisches Theater? This lexicon provides a little introduction to the immigration debate currently raging in Germany.

For anyone interested in the topic of post-migrant theatre, Oliver Kontny, dramaturg of Ballhaus Naunynstraße, is delivering a lecture in English and German at Potsdam University tomorrow. 18:00 on May 12, Universität Potsdam, Neues Palais, Haus 09, Hörsaal 1.02. Entry free.

postmigrantisch: Shermin Langhoff, director of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße, didn’t invent this term, but she’s sure been instrumental in defining it. Ballhaus Naunynstraße defines itself as “postmigrantisches Theater,” which is just to say: it’s concerned with telling the stories of second- and third-generation Germans. Simple the definition may be; but the themes that belong to it are complex. Post-migrant theater asks questions about integration/assimilation, roots, language, education, equality, discrimination, religion, tradition and above all identity.

Berlin's Kottbusser Tor, home to Ballhaus Naunynstraße and often the symbolic center of the Multikulti debate. Photo: Cory Tamler

Migrationshintergrund: Literally, “migration background.” I find this one especially problematic when I’m trying to speak in English about German race politics. In German, you can denote second- and third-generation Germans as “Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund” but it would sound awfully weird to talk about second- and third-generation Americans that way. The percentage of actors, directors, playwrights and other theatremakers in Germany with a migration background is far smaller than the corresponding percentage of the German population as a whole (in 2010, about 20%).

Multikulti: Actually, there’s no use defining this one, since it’s dead. Angie says so.

Thilo Sarrazin: Conservative politician who splashed the Multikulti debate all over German headlines with the publication of his book Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Abolishes Itself) in 2010. Also, he’s really, really racist. After his book people kind of figured that out, which ultimately led to his resignation from his position as member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank. But the SPD (Social Democratic Party) just voted not to revoke his membership.
Continue reading A “post-migrant theatre” lexicon