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When we started Theatertreffen-Blog in 2009, developing the young arts‘ journalists section of the theatre festival Theatertreffen from a print programme into an online editorial experience, we were overwhelmed with the support of readers and the success of the project. In its third edition in 2011, the blog gathered around 1.000 unique visitors per day, collaborating with three different media partners, such as the Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung, the Berlin English magazine exberliner and the online cultural platform Kultiversum. Over the years, the blog also was supported by distinct artistic bloggers from Berlin, by Mary Scherpe from stilinberlin and by Johanna von Stülpnagel from redenswinger.

And, believe it or not, we are entering the fourth year of Theatertreffen-Blog, with our partners Berliner Zeitung, exberliner and with financial support by the renowned Rudolf Augstein Stiftung, making possible a different discussion about contemporary theatre with the ideas and works of online talents. A blog that runs for four years can be regarded as a classic, can it not?

For 2012, we are again looking for young arts‘ critics, photographers, graphic artists and audio journalists up to 35 years, that would like to participate in a festival editorial team, accompanying the festival in May 2011. Par­ticipants must be theatre enthusiasts with very good spoken German and their own blog (in German or English) on theatre, cultural issues and contemporary debates, prefer­ably in multimedia form. Our aim is to promote young online cultural journalism and to give theatrical issues a stronger presence on the web.

If interested, please send your CV including your date of birth and address, the link to your blog, one or two samples of your work and a short motivation letter why you’d like to be part of Theatertreffen-Blog 2012 to theatertreffen-blog (at) berlinerfestspiele (dot)de. Deadline: 1st February 2012. You will find more detailed information on the website of Berliner Festspiele.

Final participants will be announced in mid Februrary 2012. They will be paid their trip to Berlin, hosted in Berlin – if not Berlin residents – and given free festival tickets as well as a little remuneration.


Live-Blog of the „Via Intolleranza II“ talkback

Tonight is the last official night of the Theatertreffen, and we are blogging up to the final minute, with the last of our live blogs. Starting at 22:00, you can follow the Via Intolleranza II audience discussion here. I will be sharing the threads the discussion follows and my impressions and reactions – all in the role of an audience member, filling the seat of those of you who can’t be here but wish you could. So get that „refresh“ button ready, and please feel welcome to comment (in English or German). And as preparation, read up on Christoph Schlingensief’s opera village.

Via Intolleranza II Mamounata Guira Foto: Yehuda Swed

Mamounata Guira (Performer, Via Intolleranza II). Foto: Yehuda Swed

22:13 The talkback is scheduled to start in two minutes – a little later than planned. The show ran until shortly before 10pm, and it’s our last night to enjoy the garden bonfire, after all…

22:17 Slowly but surely, the audience brings its pretzels and beer upstairs. Maybe they were all busy downstairs at the donations booth, responding to the call for donations to the opera village during the curtain call.

22:19 By the way, I hate to spread stereotypes – but I’m really not kidding about the pretzels and beer.

22:20 Here we go! Curious to see how this plays out, because I know a couple of people on the podium don’t speak German.

22:22 Got it. Wilfried Zoungrana’s on it.

22:26 A question on the actors from Burkina Faso about the casting in Ougadougu: Why did you want to participate? How did you end up participating? There were 300 people participating – why did you want to take part? Isabelle Tassembedo: „I’ve never acted before, I came because I heard they needed a woman of my age. And as soon as I got there, I realized there was no language barrier. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, I understood him.“ (Also, a correction from Tassembedo: „actually, there were 400 participants.“)

22:30 Schlingensief has a convert to the theater through Tassembedo: „I had a lot of fun. I think I’ll keep going.“

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Via Intolleranza II – Soundcheck photos

30 minutes before Via Intolleranza II directed by Christoph Schlingensief starts, the actors are doing a soundcheck. I documented a few moments.


Art is Magic / It Cannot Succeed

From left to right (back): Ahmed Soura; Jean Chaize; Primo; Abdoul Kader Traore; Kandy; Mamounata Guira; Kerstin Grassmann; Issoufou Kienou; Isabelle Tassembedo. Front: Stefa; Wilfried Zoungrana; Jean Marie Gomzoubou Boucougou; Amado Komi. Photo: Aino Laberenz

The man himself finally appears 80 minutes into the 90-minute show, a projection on a curtain of a man standing in front of a projection on a curtain. We’ve heard his emails, even seen footage of him in Africa. And now Christoph Schlingensief stands before us and addresses us directly for the first time, looking almost like a hologram. But is he present?

Schlingensief’s absence has become an almost overpowering aspect of “Via Intolleranza II”, which opened in the Bayerische Staatsoper München in late June of 2010, with Schlingensief himself still able to perform in person with the actors at the end of the evening. It was to be his last production directed to completion, as Schlingensief died just two months later on August 21st at the age of 49, thereby entering the pantheon of German genius artists. But before his lung cancer diagnosis, before his bestselling memoir about the illness, before the sycophantic obituaries, Schlingensief was anything but beloved. He appeared in almost all of his controversial works: assaultive, anarchic, unbalanced, uncategorizable films (“The German Chainsaw Massacre”), stage productions (“Rocky Dutschke ‘68”), and art actions (“Foreigners Out!”). A Schlingensief is not a Schlingensief without the man himself – and knowing he would likely not live out “Via Intolleranza II”’s theatrical run, he wove this paradox into its complex fabric.

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Getting to know you: the Ballhaus and Heimathafen meet their audiences

The term „audience development“ is a new one in Germany – so new, there’s not even one of those wonderful German compound words for it. But as the independent theater scene becomes a stronger presence, theatermakers like Shermin Langhoff of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße and Nicole Oder of the Heimathafen Neukölln are starting to ask themselves: Who is our audience? Who should our audience members be? And how do we find them?

Berlin is a surprising city to live in for an American theatergoer used to American audience sizes. The selling capacity of theaters in the United States, for the most part, just doesn’t compare. Germany hasn’t felt the need to think too much about its audiences, because its theaters are always full. And also because that’s not where they’re getting their money anyway.

As Berlin’s independent theater scene gets more and more visible, however, the voices of smaller, independent theaters that aren’t always full are getting louder. At the talkback after Verrücktes Blut at Ballhaus Naunynstraße, the „target audience“ question was part of what made the discussion turn heated. Artistic director Shermin Langhoff sees the ideal Ballhaus audience as primarily existing of people with „migrant backgrounds,“ which would make ita kind of by-of-for theater. In contrast, Nurkan Erpulat, director/co-author of Verrücktes Blut, sees the target audience as white, educated, middle-class. And everyone at the Ballhaus is opposed to the idea of targeting an audience of children or youth – something that the Augenblick mal! jury seemed to find very offensive during its talk last weekend. (A bi-annual festival of children and youth theater that runs concurrently with the Theatertreffen, Augenblick mal! also invited Verrücktes Blut to their festival this year. The Ballhaus turned them down.)

Only two years old, the Ballhaus has experienced a drastic audience shift after the opening of Verrücktes Blut in fall 2011, which received lots of press attention and praise. (mehr …)


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?

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All Horse

I had the honor of meeting and speaking with Halito (16 years old, Arabian), a horse who has often appeared on stage and screen, by now cutting a familiar figure in the Berlin theater-going community. Halito played a small but stirring role in tonight’s staged reading of Mario Salazar’s „Alles Gold was Glänzt“ (All That Glitters), the fifth and final play of this year’s Stückemarkt. „Alles Gold“ won the Hörspielpreis at the 2011 Stückemarkt, and will be produced as a radio play in the spring of 2012 (off the record: Halito is playing coy about his ongoing negotiations for an expanded speaking part in this upcoming version).

Though Halito is quite voluble, your knowledge of ‚horse‘ might not be quite sophisticated enough to follow all his answers to my questions in the video included here, so I have included a transcript of our conversation after the jump.

Interview with Halito the Horse, by Anna Deibele from theatertreffen-blog on Vimeo.

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Staging the gender imbalance: women in theater

From the theme of the Talentetreffen, to a women-in-directing exhibit, to yesterday’s „Feminism: Today a Dirty Word?“ discussion and more, gender has been a big topic at this year’s Theatertreffen. As the Theatertreffen Stückemarkt prepares to wrap up tonight with the awarding of the 2011 playwriting prizes, which include cash for the author and a production of the winning play, there are numbers that beg the question: what is the Theatertreffen as a whole really doing to contribute meaningfully to the gender debate – other than just talking about it?

We’re thrilled to see a debate happening on the blog – over a sexist-or-maybe-not-remark from director Herbert Fritsch, invited twice to the Theatertreffen this year, and both times with a play centered on a strong female character (in the case of A Doll’s House, one of the strongest female characters in the dramatic canon). For you non-German speakers, it boils down to a little something like: Fritsch says he likes a woman who’s a „Luder“ (hard to translate but suggestions include „hussy,“ „minx,“ or my personal favorite, „a sly cow“). Some folks find this sexist and unacceptable for a theater director because of the way that implies he interprets female characters onstage, others find it to be a mere personal preference and therefore don’t see the harm in it, still others seem to be worrying about how the actresses themselves must feel having to act out Fritsch’s female caricatures for an audience.

Personally, I’m inclined to say Fritsch can go ahead and show whatever he wants onstage – as long as there’s room left for other perspectives to be shown. It shouldn’t be a problem for him to tell a story the way he wants to tell it – as long as other stories are getting their chance to be told.

And in theory, everybody gets to tell their story. But there’s a big gap here between theory and practice.

The „post-migrant theater“ movement represents one part of the population not getting its proportional share of stage time. Yet there is another group whose presence in the theater world is far smaller than it is in the real world, whose voice is not being heard, whose perspective isn’t being seen. So let’s look at it through some numbers, because after all, numbers are neutral, aren’t they?

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An American Melodrama

After watching the Theatertreffen premiere of „Death of Salesman“, directed by Stefan Pucher, we’re sitting on the banks of the Spree River in Berlin to chat through what we just saw. While we work away – selling our carefully crafted language to our adoring public – the artists are being honored, their hangers-on are smoking and drinking behind us.

Matt: I’m disappointed that we’re getting the Beatles for the premiere party music right now – I feel like Elvis would be more appropriate.

Leo: Definitely. The Lomans tonight even had an Elvis record in their fancy 50s living room.

Friederike Wagner; Jan Bluthardt; Sean McDonagh. Photo: Tanja Dorendorf/T+T Fotografie.

Matt: Did you read it as 50s? I saw the set as more late 60s, with all the burnt-orange furniture and mod chandeliers. And that gorgeous Ford Thunderbird was definitely 1960s.

Leo: True. I have to say that I’m not really sure how to read the period. It felt more like a juxtaposition of any Americana they could get their hands on.

Matt: Like the giant statue of a baseball player for example!

Leo: Or the stand with the USA postcards on it.

Matt: „Death of a Salesman“ was written by Arthur Miller in 1949, and when produced in a „period“ style, it’s usually set in the 1950s. The play has that brooding post-war feeling, in which the idea that everything is possible, if you only put your mind to it, was already proving to be deceptive and destructive. (mehr …)


Seitenrang links: Death of a Salesman

After every premiere, we ask one audience member four questions about their experience during the show. Tonight’s interviewee was Tomoya Kiriyama, from Japan, who has been living in Berlin since October.

What did you find remarkable about this production?
The atmosphere and the set design.

Why did you want to see this particular production?
It’s a very famous American play, and I was interested to see a German production of an American play.

How did you get your ticket for this evening?
I bought it at the box office.

To where would you like to travel?
Well, I’m already in Berlin, so – I can’t think of anywhere.


Nora: Hinter den Kulissen

This gallery shows the actors preparing for „Nora oder Ein Puppenhaus“, a play by Henrik Ibsen, direction and stage design by Herbert Fritsch, costume design Victoria Behr. Find another picture gallery here, showing „Biberpelz“ actors before and after make-up.


Der Biberpelz: Before/After Shoots

This gallery shows the change that the actors go through, getting ready to perform Gerhart Hauptmann’s „Beaver Coat“, directed by Herbert Fritsch. Costumes by Bettina Lauer.


I saw the Lion King: American theater through German eyes

During Friday night’s discussion in HAU 2, a panel of performance artists, artistic directors, dancers, and cultural politicians debated the state of the „free theater scene“ in Germany. On the table were financial infrastructure, artistic freedom, audience development, interaction of the free scene with state-funded theater, political lobbying and more. Here’s my problem with the problems: in searching for answers, Germany isn’t looking any farther than its own backyard.

We’ve already taken a look on this blog at some of the stereotypes about German theater that appear in English-speaking media. But Germany has plenty of stereotypes and assumptions to match. One biggie: American theater is just not interesting.

You’re welcome to argue for the truth of that statement. And if your knowledge of American theater is a bit broader than Broadway, I’m ready to listen to you. However, my experience is that the complete lack of interest German theatermakers have for American theater is matched by a complete lack of insight into the American theater system and community. I talk to directors, actors, artistic directors, designers, and playwrights here who have grossly limited views of my country’s theater landscape. Statements I’ve recently heard:

  • Oh, but I thought you could get the money to produce anything in America if you cast the right star!
  • Hm, I had no idea there was theater going on in Chicago.
  • Yes, I’ve seen American theater. I saw a touring production of The Lion King.

Outside of the United States, American theater is synonymous with big, commercial Broadway musicals. And in general, it’s not my business to complain about that. (mehr …)


Plagiacriticism: German Theatre through English Eyes

Our favorite guest blogger, Dr. Herr Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, is back – this time, with a critique of German theatre in general.

German theatre seems to wax and wane in unpredictable patterns – almost as difficult to keep track of as varieties of German sausageNo paparazzi photographing C-list celebrities, no hysterical standing ovations, no mobile phones suddenly going off: simply a well-dressed, middle-aged, bourgeois audience enjoying all the on-stage nudity, sex and graphic violence to which it is accustomed. After all, most theater directors in German-speaking Europe concern themselves with the restaging of classic plays. No wonder that German audiences have developed a taste for audacious plays, and that young German writers are far more adventuresome with form. German audiences can’t be shocked any longer.

German actors look a bit more like the rest of us they do a lot of shouting normally, and sometimes even hit the bottle onstage. Design is a major part of German theatre. And it is taken to extraordinary lengths. Seems like Germans will go almost as far for an elaborate set design as they would for a boot of beer. They’ll wrap all the actors in cling film and swing them from the ceiling on meat hooks, take out all your text and add in new text by Michel Houellebecq.

In the notorious, lavishly financed, postmodern German theater, adaptation and appropriation are the sincerest forms of flattery — which I personally find to be the most fabulous thing about it of all.

Editor’s Note: One of the subplots of Season Two of the Canadian television series Slings and Arrows offers a hilarious look at the stereotyping of German theater in the English-speaking world through the character of Darren Nicholson, a Canadian director who spends a season in Germany and comes back a changed man. He spends most of the season directing Romeo and Juliet with a „German“ concept – only to have a change of heart (worth checking out if only for the show’s version of „German“ costumes and set design). [C.T.]


Ably and Competently

Don Carlos staged thoroughly as Don Carlos

The men who hold the power stand at the back of the stage, literally behind the scenes. They wait quietly in dark suits and sunglasses, their hands behind their backs, casting large, looming shadows. In the lights at the front of the stage, the men who struggle and cry and storm recognize their limitations only at the end, not having imagined that the walls towering proudly around them only keep them in, that their protectors actually limit their freedom, controlling the actions they believed they were choosing themselves.

Burghart Klaußner; Christian Friedel; Matthias Reichwald; Thomas Eisen; Christian Erdmann. Photo: David Baltzer

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