The “most famous American in Germany” according to Stern magazine, Massachusetts-bred, New York-educated Gayle Tufts is the original post-Wende Berlin expat performer. Unapologetically mainstream, her onstage charm and original blend of Denglish and pseudo-anglicisms – lovingly referred to as Dinglish – has made her one of the darlings of the German entertainment circuit.
Tufts’ latest extravaganza Everybody’s Showgirl, a musical revue of the best of Broadway, directed by West Side Story-choreographer Melissa King, is ending its year-long tour through Germany with a limited gig at the Admiralspalast. EXBERLINER caught up with the ever-exuberant Tufts at Schloss Charlottenburg, where she is the Lichtpatin for the castle’s traditional Christmas market.
Everybody’s Showgirl is a very American show. Why do you think it’s done so well in Germany?
I think there’s a certain realness – in general, people are hungry for realness. We all want that feeling that somebody’s talking to us, that we belong somewhere. It started for me 17 years ago at what is now the English Theatre Berlin. I didn’t sit there and think up a concept, I’m going to call it ‘Dinglish’ and I’ll be an American comedian in Germany.
I was working at the time in Tanztheater, and I was always the funny person in a serious piece. That’s kind of a metaphor for my entire life here: I’m a funny person, trying to take the piss out of a situation, and Germany’s a great place to do that.
You’re talking a lot about being an American, but you’re saying, “take the piss”. That’s a British-ism.
Yes, I have slept with many people of many nationalities and stolen wantonly their thing. But it’s a good thing. There’s no English word for Schadenfreude. So you use what you can get, take it, taking yourself not so seriously. If there’s one thing we Americans do, it’s not take ourselves seriously – sometimes to our own detriment.
What do you say to people who see a glitzy show and say that it can’t be real art, that it’s just entertainment?
I grew up with Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Michael Jackson, and for me that was something to look up to. I was at NYU in the Experimental Theater Wing from 1978 to 1982. I was so lucky to be there at that time. Whether it was the Ramones or Blondie or the B-52s, it was about what’s commercial and what’s not. And why not be commercial? Why not reach more people and keep your integrity at the same time?
What has being an expat American in Germany meant for you?
I came to the land of Nachdenklichkeit and Überlegungen, and I think that those are all really, really good things to learn as an American. I will always however be an American. I recently thought: I’m getting very tired after all these years of filing my taxes in America, so I said to my tax guy, “Is there anyway I can stop doing this?” And he said, “Well you could take German citizenship, but you’d have to give up your American passport.” And I thought, “I can’t. I just can’t.” It means something to me still – something about being part of some grand experiment, this young upstart spirit. That’s always going to be in me, and somehow that little booklet means that. Whether it really does or not is another question, but for me it has a Bedeutung.
What do you say to the statement that multiculturalism has failed in Germany?
It hasn’t. It’s funny, I’ve been doing this show [Deutschland für Einsteiger] and going to all of these different places. I met an Indonesian woman in Ostfriesland, I met a Brazilian couple in Mainz, a man from Cameroon and his German wife in Cologne. And I asked all of them, especially the people who had a different color skin, “How is it for you? How is it when you take your daughter to the swimming pool?” And they said, “It’s fine, it’s really fine.”
Of course there’s a racist part. Of course there are people that are afraid, just like there is in the Tea Party in America. They should all just make one big club and call it: “They’re going to take away our insurance. They’re going to take away our jobs.”
After over three decades of performing, what still inspires you?
For Showgirl I went to the classics, this American show business thing. Somebody gave me the box set of Barbra Streisand’s TV specials back in the day; they were really amazing. It’s out of the box. She does this incredible set with modern dance. She comes around the corner and – boom – orchestra! There must be 12 cameras.
And the other thing that inspires me is just Berlin. I will never be German, but I am a Berliner in and out, this is my city: the craziness of it, the hardships of it, the history of it. What’s in this city, at the end of the day, is about surviving and moving on. Keep moving forward and don’t disrespect the past, but live with it. And I hope I’ve learned something of that from this city and celebrate it.