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.”

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

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?

We Need To Talk About Markus

Last night saw the performance of the first-ever collective to be selected for the Theatertreffen’s Stückemarkt. Alongside the straight-up scripts the jury trawled through in order to select five to stage in readings at the festival, the jury also received project outlines from many applying theatre collectives. In the name of fair play, the judges weren’t told the names of the playwrights until the selection had been made – but choosing between outlines is not so easy without some knowledge of the creators’ background, past work, and suchlike, so in the case of the collectives this rule didn’t apply; the jury was free to google to their hearts’ content.
Their chosen collective, Markus&Markus (Markus Schäfer claims to be the first Markus in the name, Markus Wenzel begs to differ), admitted at the post-show discussion that they have a similar work process. When asked how they found the material for their project Polis3000: respondemus, they answered together with spontaneous comic timing any comedy duo would envy:

Markus S. A lot of it is –
Markus W. googled –
Markus S. collected.

So what is it that the collective was collecting? Continue reading We Need To Talk About Markus

Running the Faust-Marathon

Director Nicolas Stemann appeared on stage with a microphone at the start of nearly every section of his Faust I+II to explain the plot of Goethe’s two-part tragedy bit by bit as the performance unravelled. “Unravelled” feels like an accurate description of the evening, but – like Stemann – I should preface my statement with a fast-forward through the storyline: Continue reading Running the Faust-Marathon

Your Day at TT (11)

Today’s the day the winners of the three Stückemarkt prizes will be announced (10.30pm), following the staged reading of the last chosen piece, Magdalena Fertacz’s Caliban’s Death (6pm), and the reveal of what’s been going on behind closed doors on the Probebühne of the Haus der Berliner Festspiele at the rehearsals for Markus&Markus’ performance (7.30pm), which had a name before it had a form: Polis3000: respondemus.
Markus&Markus, Dramatic Arts students from the University of Hildesheim are the first “project developers” to perform at the TT Stückemarkt, although they don’t see what the fuss is about – after all, says one of the Markuses, artists have been developing performances without using a pre-existing dramatic script for hundreds of years. Still, it’s a Theatertreffen first, and excitement is in the air. Continue reading Your Day at TT (11)

The D-Word

I set myself a task during my year in Berlin to find the answer to a question that has been bothering me for a while: What Is A Dramaturg? Adding to my motivation (and time constraint) is the fact that the Master’s program in Text & Performance I’m due to begin in October offers a Dramaturgy pathway in one of the modules. I thought it would probably be wise to find out what exactly that might entail before making any rash decisions.
First I should clarify something that makes this topic even more confusing than it already is. A dramaturg will tell you that dramaturgy is not just a profession, but an inherent feature of any performance. The definition of this ‘dramaturgy of a performance’ is a whole different can of worms, and not one that I want to open right now, but we do need an idea of what it is if we’re to find out what the dramaturg’s relationship to it is, so I’ll take Tim Etchells’ definition in his article When I say the Numbers … Some Notes on Time in Performance – not least because it was the closest one to hand, at the back of the Theatertreffen 2012 magazine:
A journey with picaresque structure, from a beginning to a >middle<, through anticipation and climax, finally to closure on arrival somewhere, here, a place which did not exist before.”
Continue reading The D-Word