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Simon Stephens. Photo by Piero Chiussi
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The Theatertreffen 2011 opened this weekend in a flurry of premieres and openings, the last of which was the Stückemarkt's. This competition program of new playwriting is taking over the nooks and crannies of the Haus der Berliner Festspiele this week, and will also play host to the odd panel discussion. Before taking part in the first of those, an ill-conceived panel on what we were repeatedly told was 'Infinitive Diversity in New European Writing', playwright Simon Stephens delivered a bravura 'keynote speech' on what he saw to be the specific characteristics of German theatre.
Bordering on manifesto (subtitled 'FIve Things I Learned from Sebastian Nübling', after the German director he often collaborates with) it offered a great intro to what the Stückemarkt actually does. It not just assesses these works for what is on the page, awarding prizes only after elucidating the text through staged readings. More than table reads, these more closely reflect theatrical practice, at least in Germany, as they involve the input of actors and directors, a modicum of set design, as well as that most mystifying of theatrical creatures, the dramaturg.
Stephens enlightened us on the ways in which theatre in the German-speaking realms explicitly differs from the naturalistic, mimetic works so respectfully staged in the US and UK. He emphasized the German commitment to the physical dimension of theatre, the gestures that can enhance the meaning of the text and sometimes even replace it, noting that the English word for audience is etymologically based on the act of listening, whereas Zuschauer implies the audience is expected to use at least one other sense.
Stephens confessed that he was initially shocked, then stimulated to hear his painstakingly crafted lines occasionally used as background noise, as but one of the director's tools to explore and actually communicate a play's meaning, but that it made him realize theatre was a multi-authored medium. Ultimately, he praised the (to Anglo minds quite daring) notion that theatre's ultimate goal is to be art (or at least to get a place at the Theatertreffen), not to rake in West End or Broadway grosses.
This would be a good point to tell you that, though tickets for many of the performances are already sold out (who says art and success are mutually exclusive?), a few are still available for the Stückemarkt (one of the plays, Foreign Angst, is performed in a mix of German, broken English, and Pashtu, with the English translation freely available online), the Erika Stucky show, as well as some of the selected plays. What's more, we have three pairs of tickets to give away to the Haus der Berliner Festspiele matinee of Schauspiel Köln's The Cherry Orchard (in German with English subtitles) on Tuesday at 16:00. Email us with the subject line "cherry orchard" at firstname.lastname@example.org with your definition of a dramaturg's duties for a chance to win! Don't forget to include your full name.
For more on Theatertreffen visit the blog at http://www.theatertreffen-blog.de