FROM TC: The Guardian newspaper has been running an interesting series on German theater as part of its "New Europe" feature section. Here are some recent blog posts of note:
Commentary: German theatre is at an important crossroads
Michael Billington, The Guardian, 3/13/11
I came to Berlin eager to learn about the current issues. Talking to Thomas Ostermeier [director of the Schaubuhne, which offers a mix of new work and radically reimagined classics, he said]: "I think the notion of German theatre as a refugee camp for an old idea of German monoculturalism and nationalistic values is stone dead. We have to recognise that we live in a multi-ethnic society and have to create a vibrant new theatre that goes beyond endlessly deconstructing the classics." At the prestigious Deutsches Theater...everything is on a grand scale. It has no less than 60 productions in its repertory, spread over three auditoria, a state subsidy of nearly €20 million and a staff of 282 people. Cities such as Hamburg and Cologne boast similarly well-endowed institutions.... On the basis of three days in Berlin, several things struck me. One is that Berlin exudes confidence. The 1990s were a time of financial crisis here. Today, however, commercial shows co-exist with the cutting-edge internationalism of the Schaubühne and the traditional model of total provision at the Deutsches. I also sense that Berlin theatre is stronger in acting, direction and design than it is in new writing. I left feeling that German theatre is at an important crossroads. It has a lot going for it. But how does it reconcile the traditional bourgeois audience's hunger for the classics with the need to address the country's multi-ethnic reality? It's similar to the dilemma we face in Britain. I suspect the future of theatre depends on how it is resolved.
Commentary: Is Volker Losch Germany's most controversial stage director?
Hannah Pilarcyzk, The Guardian, 3/18/11
Michael Billington argued Berlin and most likely German theatre in general isn't too strong when it comes to new writing. He is absolutely right. But when you have a veteran director whose highly political updates of modern classics cause such uproar - well, maybe you don't miss young writers that much. That director is Volker Losch, and with every new production he manages to create new controversy. Yet he never strays far from his simple modus operandi, [casting] non-professional actors who have a real-life connection to the topic of the play. In his most recent production, Losch took on Lulu, using a choir of sex workers. Among German critics, Losch is celebrated for his will to bring politics back into the theatre. But some wonder whether his productions really make the audience think, or simply cater to voyeurism - Losch's productions are surprisingly popular. Lately, he has created a different kind of controversy: some of the non-professional actors he hired for Lulu have accused him of paying them too little, and it has emerged the choir did not consist exclusively of sex workers. Losch defended this, arguing he is more interested in focusing on the authenticity of the writing rather than that of the actors, and suggesting that, anyway, theatre is make-believe. He said, "In theatre, there is no such thing as reality. There's playing, claiming, inventing, and fabricating." It will be interesting to see whether German audiences worry about that distinction - or just keep on coming.
Commentary: Germany's fringe theatre is confusing, unpredictable - and thrilling
Andrew Haydon, The Guardian, 3/15/11
The thing I find most difficult when writing about German theatre -- particularly because I tend to write and think about it in contrast and relation to British theatre -- is the way that it seems to wax and wane in unpredictable patterns. As a result, I've been guilty of making some appallingly sweeping and incorrect generalisations about German theatre in the past. The truth is, I'm still on a steep learning curve, where every week I spend in Berlin seems to uncover a new facet of German theatre culture that confounds my expectations -- in much the same way that British theatre no doubt would to any German visitor. A brilliant example of this is its theatre fringe. For a long while, I wasn't sure there was one. To my English eyes, much of what I now understand to be quite different examples of Stadttheater at the time looked pretty radical and experimental. At the same time, there does seem to be an "official" off-scene. The main centres for this in Berlin are the three Hebbel am Ufer venues and Sophiensaele, but these are also both (pretty lavishly) state funded.
Commentary: Do German audiences have a keener appetite for experimentation?
Mark Espiner, The Guardian, 3/17/11
It's striking how attentive audiences are [in Germany]. There are no mobile phones, a genuine sense of concentration, and -- usually -- sustained applause at the end of the show (not always, in my opinion, commensurate with the quality of the work). You'll often see audiences reading the script during the performance, and there's absolute silence throughout. You sense everyone is watching very carefully indeed. But this week at two Berlin theatres that offer cutting-edge new work, albeit subsidised -- audiences encouraged to analyse their own behaviour became the point of the show itself. At HAU, visiting Swiss company FADC staged a Mafia story referencing The Godfather while simultaneously cooking its audience pasta dishes. In the words of its creators, the show examined the "informal networks that keep the family, trade and culture -- briefly put, our society - together". At Sophiensaele, meanwhile, as part of the Freischwimmer festival, theatregoers were obliged to take the part of the fluttering court surrounding a baroque queen. All this action took place within a complicated hooped dress, to a score of electronica and glockenspiel. It was theatre, it was dance, it was art; it was none and all of these -- the kind of work that often struggles for recognition in the UK.