What is the European Union for? Who are its real beneficiaries? The answer might be clear for those who have benefitted from freedom of movement to come and make Berlin their home. Or for those who have never left Berlin but have enjoyed the economic boom that EU-driven tourism and migration has brought. But for those in the Hauptstadt who have faced the full brunt of Brussels immigration or asylum bureaucracy, or who are all too aware of dire conditions in migrant camps and the brutal actions of Frontex at the EU’s borders, the answer may be more nuanced.
“Everything we say comes from the interviews. We are not inventing anything.”
This thorny issue is what Daniel Brunet and his team are diving into in a new documentary piece at the English Theatre in Kreuzberg. Brunet is the theatre’s producing artistic director and has been creating works there for around 20 years, since he moved to Berlin from his native New York State. This is not his first foray into verbatim theatre to get to grips with big issues in Berlin. In 2013, he created ECHTER BERLINER!!!! IHR NICHT FUCK YOU, which took its name from a piece of graffiti spotted near Schlesisches Tor and looked at the treatment of ‘immigrants’ versus ‘expats’ in Berlin. In The Land of Milk(y) and Honey: Israelis in Berlin in 2017, he spoke to Israelis of different backgrounds living in Berlin.
His style of verbatim theatre follows a pattern: the performers interview the subjects of the shows themselves. I love EU? has four performers, respectively of Japanese, Israeli, Turkish and German-Iranian heritage. Each has spoken to between 10 and 15 people with a variety of backgrounds, including EU citizens. Performers then presented their texts to the whole cast and the script is created collaboratively in the rehearsal room. “I like to create the conversation out of people who this really affects,” Brunet says. “Everything we say comes from the interviews. We are not inventing anything.”
It is a very democratising idea to put on shows in English, as it is such a lingua franca
The performance asks big questions. Brunet’s goal is not to deliver answers, but to instigate a pondering on the topic. The structure of the show is based around dramatic issues like the war in Ukraine and Brexit. It is also worth noting the niche that the English Theatre has carved out in the decades since it was founded. At a time when most big Berlin theatres perform pieces with English surtitles, the little Kreuzberg gem remains unique in the focus it puts on spoken-word, English language productions. “It is a very democratising idea to put on shows in English, as it is such a lingua franca here – for better or for worse,” Brunet reflects.
“Of course it is unfair in some ways. As native speakers some of us can, in theory, get by in Berlin only speaking a few words of German. Whereas I know people who came from Turkey and were forced to learn German. So it is a very political decision to put on a show in English.”
- I love EU? Dec 2-10 English Theatre Berlin | International Performing Art Centre Kreuzberg.