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. (mehr …)

She He Chat

In Testament, the performance group She She Pop brings their own fathers onstage. Through questions, through songs, and through re-enactments of rehearsals, phone calls and arguments, She She Pop uses „real“ material to explore the „real“ generational shift happening in their „real“ lives. After seeing the show, Matt and Cory shared thoughts through a „real“ GChat session.

Cory and Matt GChatting about Testament.

Cory: Okay. Let’s talk about Testament. My mom read Leo’s interview with one of the fathers, and she’s jealous. She wants me to do a production with moms.

Matt: Well, She She Pop is not planning a production with mothers, so it’s open for you! Your mom was able to read Leo’s interview in German?

Cory: Yes. She lived in Germany, years ago.

Matt: Cool! I didn’t realize until yesterday that the German word „Testament“ is not the same as the English testament, which has a much broader definition.

Cory: What is it specifically in German? Testament as in, will?

Matt: Yup.

Cory: While in English it can mean a lot more. Tribute, for example. Or statement.

Matt: And I found the performance itself to actually have quite an American feel to it. (mehr …)

Konradin Kunze auf Skype

Stefan Konarske as young journalist and Seyneb Saleh as the daughter of the hotel porter in Konradin Kunze's "foreign angst". Foto: Piero Chiussi

In foreign angst, Stückemarkt playwright Konradin Kunze sets a German sort-of journalist in a sort-of Arabic country, war-torn and rundown and, simply put, not the way Kunze’s protagonist imagined it. The play explores the German „Angst“ (fear) of what’s strange to us, but Kunze says you can pronounce the title any way you like – although an English „foreign“ and German „Angst“ fits the piece’s multilingual leanings. After the reading of his play I talked with Kunze via Skype, that faithful friend that so often accompanies us when we travel far from home.

Warning: German ahead!

Konradin Kunze Interview from theatertreffen-blog on Vimeo.

Below are some tidbits about Kunze and his work that didn’t fit into our Skype interview. (mehr …)

Booing, wtf?

Srsly, what’s up with booing? Just as at The Cherry Orchard’s Berlin premiere on Monday, Tuesday’s matinee had a few audience members loudly decrying Schauspiel Köln’s performance just as its (in this case metaphorical) curtains fell. Now I understand booing hateful politicians, or perhaps particularly dumb plot twist fails in summer blockbusters, but actual performers working their asses off on stage?

I always assumed that involved a similar social contract to restaurant tipping, or at least the Euro version thereof: you base your tip on the service’s level of excellence, leaving none for insulting or careless waiters, and storming out without paying in case of severed fingers in your soufflé.

Applause works the same: the usual few rounds for a solid show, bravo/as for amazingness, and storming out all huffed up in cases of unadulterated boredom or insult. Boos, then, would seem to me reserved for instantaneous protesting of specific on-stage abominations, a botched monologue or slaughtered lamb, perhaps. (mehr …)

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.
(mehr …)

Margarita Broich’s exhibition – less is more

Ben Becker Jedermann, Salzburger Festspiele, 17.8.2010

Ben Becker Jedermann, Salzburger Festspiele, 17.8.2010. Foto: Margarita Broich

Yesterday I went to see Margarita Broich’s exhibition in the Martin-Gropius-Bau. The exhibition presents 60 portraits of actors in the subject of „the state of the actor after giving a performance“. The photos were taken in various locations: backstage areas, dressing rooms, caravans, open air and more.

In some of the portraits, Broich captures  unique and magical  moments between herself and her subject; in others, the subjects are posed, not giving a genuine look into the camera.

60 photos is quite a lot for an exhibition and I believe that it could have been reduced by half to get the best of the best. Like they say, less is more…

The prints are printed in large format. Some of the photos spread out to about two meters in width and one-and-a-half meters in height. This does glorify the actors, but it misses a sense of backstage intimacy. On the other hand, when I look at the photos in the exhibition book I did feel that intimacy.

Tacheles reden:  I enjoyed the exhibition and recommend it. If you do go, check out the book as well.


Seitenrang links: Testament

After every premiere, we ask one audience member four questions about their experience during the show. For Testament, the 2011 Theatertreffen’s first production to use video prominently, our „fast critique“ is a short movie.

Seitenrang Links: Testament (She She Pop) from theatertreffen-blog on Vimeo.

We just want to play

When you open your festival with a three-hour stream-of-consciousness deluge of text, tragedy, and water, what can possibly follow? The Theatertreffen’s answer: Bring in its opposite. Der Biberpelz (The Beaver Coat), the second invited production in the program, is an 80-minute comedy directed by the darling of this year’s Theatertreffen, the twiceinvited Herbert Fritsch. But what is the thesis of this Jelinek/Beier antithesis?

Herbert Fritsch makes no secret of his primary motivation as a director: During the Theatertreffen press conference, in interviews with Theater heute, our bloggers, and more, he is fond of saying that directing, for him, is about the fun. It is another form of playing — in that special way that the German word for „to play,“ spielen, also means „to act.“ Fritsch’s Der Biberpelz, invited to this year’s Theatertreffen from the Mecklenburgisches Staatstheater Schwerin, is one big Spiel.

The ensemble of Der Biberpelz. Foto: Silke Winkler

A game would be nothing without its players, and it is indeed the cast of Der Biberpelz that deserves first mention. The Wolff family (Stéphane Maeder’s rock-dumb father Julius, Isa Weiß and Sonja Isemer’s bickering swindlers-in-training Leontine and Adelheid, and Brigitte Peters‘ masterminding matriarch Mother Wolffen), their cohorts and antagonists form an ensemble tumbling over itself to top its own impressive intensity, physicality, and speed. With their grotesque grimaces and colorful costumes, the characters might be the rejects of any number of cult movies (where an impressive ensemble performance is also, as a rule, the number one draw). But my favorite character in the play is one that gets no credit in the cast list: the wall. (mehr …)

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


Waters Rising

Elfriede Jelinek and Karin Beier explore natural, man-made disasters.

From left to right: Thomas Loibl; Lina Beckmann; Susanne Barth; in the foreground: Kathrin Wehlisch. Photo: Klaus Lefebvre.

Waves of light ripple across the ceiling of the Berliner Festspielhaus auditorium. In the slowly spreading lake below, a woman, covered in mud and naked but for her underpants, battles and screws and dances with a shirtless man, his chest painted blue. Behind this elemental battle, sand pours from the heavens, a women reads a newspaper, and a man taps on a laptop. Another flips through a binder. While humanity invents ever new ways to please and progress, the feminine earth tumbles on the floor with the masculine water: the sky caves in, the flood keeps spreading, but nobody is responsible. “It’s possible for everybody to do everything correctly and still reach a faulty outcome,” a political voice broadcast over loudspeakers assures us. In these final moments of Elfriede Jelinek’s three-and-a-half hour The Work / In the Bus / A Collapse, I look up over my head at the rippling light, and feel like I am covered with water.

(mehr …)

Water, water everywhere

The first of this year’s invited productions, Das Werk/Im Bus/Ein Sturz, is actually three shorter plays, written by Austrian playwright Elfriede Jelinek and directed by Karin Beier, artistic director of Schauspiel Köln. The third piece, Ein Sturz, has water in it. A lot of water. Yesterday, before the premiere, I got the chance to sit in on a technical rehearsal on the main stage. I tried to capture a bit of that experience on film.

Ein Sturz: Water and Technical Rehearsal from theatertreffen-blog on Vimeo.

Plagiacriticism: Berlin’s ‚Theatre Meeting‘ Explained

Guttenberg introduces the Theatertreffen

Dr. Herr Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the former German defense minister better known to some as Baron Cut-and-Paste, hasn’t had much to do since resigning recently in an overblown scandal, so he kindly offered his services to us as a guest blogger. In his first post, Guttenberg gives you, lovely reader, a high-octane English introduction to this year’s Theatertreffen – and be sure to check back, because he’ll return throughout the festival to offer his thoughts on the various productions and German theatre in general.

You simply cannot miss the 2011 Theatertreffen („theatre meeting“)! This Berlin festival has been hosting this exhibition of the German language theatre landscape ever since 1964. Experience new trends and controversial themes from 6th to 23rd May with the ten most notableoutstanding, exciting and innovative productions from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Some complain that the Theatertreffen is just a hit parade of “winners” that reduces to losers the unnamed works not selected (often for political reasons). And every theatre student knows that German drama is more or less a comedy-free zone. Hell, let’s face it, some pieces can be difficult to watch. (mehr …)

Saying No in a Yes-world

Retweet, share, rate, join, check in, like: we live in a time of constant affirmation. But what does all this „yes“ mean without a little „no“?

At the Schlingensief Seminar held at Hebbel am Ufer 3 on Monday, Johannes Hoff (a Catholic theologian with whom Christoph Schlingensief shared a “lively exchange of thoughts about last things and last questions”) and Carl Hegemann (the friend and dramaturg who put the two in contact) talked about Schlingensief’s search for ways to come to terms with death during his struggle with cancer. Acceptance is loss’s clichéd little brother, a familiar trope in discussions like this, but a different spin on this idea of acceptance also kept popping up between Hoff and Hegelmann: To be ready to die, you have to consider everything to be egal, the same –- life and death, traditional notions of good and evil, what makes a good life or a bad one. And you can achieve that egalitary perspective by saying “yes” to everything.

A simple enough statement: Always say “yes.” It’s a word that comes easy in a world that seems to want nothing more from us than yes, yes, yes. From the “Like” function on Facebook to the yes-I-am-here mentality driving foursquare, we seem to be in a constant state of affirmation: seeking something to affirm, hoping that someone else will affirm us. (mehr …)

The first press conference – live

Live-blogging  (almost – there were some internet problems) the first press conference of Theatertreffen 2011.

All are gathering, getting their swag, drinking some coffee, and flipping through the program books. The contestants today are:

Herbert Fritsch, director of Nora and Biberpelz, two of this year’s invited productions.
Iris Laufenberg, the artistic director of the Theatertreffen.
Aino Laberenz, the costume designer for Via Intolleranza II and widow of Christoph Schlingensief.
Joachim Sartorius, the director of the Berliner Festspiele.

Links bis rechts: Joachim Sartorius, Aino Laberenz, Iris Laufenberg, Joachim Sartorius. Foto Yehuda Swed.

Grete Götze and I are blogging behind the scenes – sitting behind the public on heaters.

Germans are not as always punktlich as we foreigners are led to believe: everybody’s mixing and the press conference doesn’t seem ready to start anytime soon. They may be Germans, but they’re also theatre people…

And here we go! The conference has begun with a lot of promises that the building here, which is currently under major renovations costing €15 million, will actually be ready when the festival officially opens this Friday, the sixth (the Germans had better be punktlich with this). Behind us, outside, the construction crews are working like crazy.

And apparently Sartorius just got back from New York City this morning. I’ve done that flight several times, and I cannot imagine leading a press conference a couple hours after the overnight lands.

(mehr …)