posted by Anita Kerzmann
categories: Spotlight

There are differenct ideas of what a classical topic might be. Film still from "Romeo and Juliet" by Baz Luhrmann, 2006.

In our first spotlight in August 2010, Petra Kohse reported on multilingualism on stage and examined how theatres chose to convey it. In this next spotlight, I’d like to look at what exactly is being conveyed (or not) in those surtitles, subtitles, paraphrases and simultaneous translations. Which topics of mutual interest have the theatres in the Wanderlust Fund chosen for their co-productions? Are the themes global or rather local in scope? Does their intercultural experience, which they’ve gained behind the scenes, also “play a role” on stage? Do they revert to classical pieces as a foil to examine cultural differences? Do they commission playwrights or do they, the actors, dramaturges and directors, develop their own material from research and improvisation? Which forms are over- or underrepresented in comparison to the theatres’ regular programmes?

First let’s take a look at the themes. Almost half of the Wanderlust partnerships – thirteen to be exact – have chosen material which is somehow related to the wanderlust experience. The central focus of these co-productions is either the encounters or conflicts between different cultures. Plays about migration and globalisation also belong to this group. The productions include Laura de Weck’s intercultural Internet love story “SumSum²” (Erlangen – St. Petersburg), Mike Kenny’s modern Sinbad adaptation “The Boy with the Suitcase” (Mannheim – Bangalore) and the Heidelberg production “They call me Jeckisch“, a piece, developed by Nina Gühlstorff, which examines the relationship between Israelis and Germans based on the main theme of “family”. Seven other partnerships explore a local issue in an international context. For example, the automotive cities Stuttgart and Barcelona chose the “car manufacturer” theme and reflect on the economic links between both cities against a backdrop of modern production methods and their human impact. Wilhelmshaven and its Polish partner city Bydgoszcz decided to collaborate on a production based on “Bromberg’s Bloody Sunday” – a tragic event of World War II which left a lasting mark on both cities.

There are only eight partnerships that do not specifically focus on overcoming cultural boundaries – yet they’re not completely out of the picture either. For example, in the German-Dutch co-production “Candide“, directed by Paul Koek at the Schauspiel Bochum, Voltaire’s tale is told in the context of people living together in the Ruhr region today. In the German-Italian “Fatzer” project of the Volksbühne in Berlin and the Teatro Stabile in Torino, the production compares and contrasts the reception of Brecht’s “Fatzer” fragment in Germany and Italy.

What we can say for sure is that the international collaboration has generated new materials and themes which haven’t played such a prominent role in regular theatre programmes. Yet how have theatres come up with this material and in what form are they presenting it on stage? It seems that play development is the preferred modus operandi in fourteen of the productions. In other words, half of the partnerships are working to develop at least one new project. This may have something to do with the general trend at municipal theatres where participating artists prefer to explore themes through research and improvisation than consult with finished theatre texts. Nonetheless, compared to the repertoire of the regular theatre programmes, this form of theatre work is overrepresented in the Wanderlust projects. These play developments are closely followed by newly commissioned pieces; in eleven partnerships, a total of 22 playwrights have received commissions to write new works. These include Juli Zeh, Claudius Lünstedt, Soeren Voima and Andreas Sauter. There are various ways the writers are involved – sometimes two playwrights from different countries work together (Thalia Theater Halle – Théâtre de la Tête Noire Saran), sometimes they write a play as a guest at the other partner theatre (Dresden − Copenhagen), and sometimes they develop pieces based on researched material, for example, provided by youngsters (Theater an der Parkaue − Leeds). Only seven Wanderlust theatres have chosen existing pieces as the basis of collaboration. These include five classics, such as “Romeo and Juliet” (Tübingen –Petrozavodsk) and “Frau Luna” (Schwedt – Szczecin), and two contemporary pieces, one of which, namely the one by Laura de Weck mentioned above, was revised for the coproduction by the author herself.

Whether the plays are written or “developed” depends on the participating artists and dramaturges and basically boils down to a matter of taste. In view of how many municipal theatres sought new material for their international cooperation, we can assume they didn’t already have such material in their regular repertoire. Perhaps the simplest way was to develop an absolutely new piece together with the partner theatre. German classics are not necessarily classics in China, and what we think as being novel and exotic in Germany might actually be old-hat in the partner theatre’s country. For example, the suggestion by Schnawwl in Mannheim to produce a German-Indian co-production of Schiller’s “Intrigue and Love” was met with a yawn at its partner theatre in India. Love triumphs over class distinction? A typical Bollywood plot – been there, seen it, done it…

The question remains whether a new repertoire will evolve through the internationalisation of municipal theatre. Will these Wanderlust-funded pieces have any permanence beyond the scope of each co-production? Should municipal theatres create an intercultural repertoire with the aim of appropriating the classics of other cultures? Or are they creating something completely new – a new pool of material and a new way of doing theatre?

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