This post is by Tahatto Member – Badrivishal Kinhal sharing theatre experiences during his 1year long stay in Germany.
The first few things that you learn being in Germany is that the country is not just about what we are made to believe it to be, although some of the known stereotypes grow stronger being here. Worldwide, Germany is still identified by the 12 year Nazi rule though the country’s history spreads far before and after this dark period. What is quite inspiring is how the country has bounced back from being crippled in economy, population and with a big hole in self respect. I feel lucky to have come to this country when it is enjoying the most peaceful and prosperous times ever.
There is so much of art in this country and the history of art and literature goes far beyond the borders. A German writer, Thomas Mann writes “Can one be a musician without being a German?”. It is hard to discard him as a chauvinist, when you know that Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and scores of other great music definers are from this country. And even one of the greatest contemporary musician, Hans Zimmer, who can make even an ordinary hollywood movie exceedingly fabulous to watch, is from Germany.
The world of ancient and modern literature has always enjoyed some pathbreaking works from German writers. Grimm brothers have taken fairy tales to such dark corners of imagination that they continue to fascinate the grown ups and the kids alike. They continue to inspire the academics, the novelists, film makers and story tellers in every country and every culture across the world. Sigmund Freud, Gunter Grass who continue to keep us hooked to their words, wrote in German.
Being a theatre enthusiast, I could encounter some inside process and culture associated with German theatre, art, music and literature.
Here is an account of my experience being an audience and a observing student of a small part of German theatre for over a year. I was lucky to land in Germany right in the middle of the Trans Europa Theatre festival that was happening in Hildesheim. A week long festival with events playing all day long gave me an exciting start to my stay in Germany.
Link for TransEuropa festival: http://www.transeuropa-festival.de
I watched 3 plays, 2 street plays and participated in 2 workshops over the week. Being a regular at each venue of the festival over that week helped me meet and interact with some really interesting people, mostly the students of theatre from the university of Hildesheim. The more I interacted with them, the more I understood about how little I understood theatre. The process of making an audience watch, listen and feel, felt so much more than the writer, director, production, stage, script, rehearsal, posters, tickets, audience theatreosphere. I could not contribute much in a conversation related to theatre, which for a while was demoralizing. In my defense, I have never been a theatre student academically but have enjoyed being in the circle of thyaatar people through Tahatto, our theatre group in Bangalore. But probably they soon realized that they cannot ignore me anymore. Why would an Indian guy who can hardly understand the language keep coming to watch German shows and sit through in the venues long after the shows are over? Well, I myself had not seen it that way until one student told me about it. Some of them were extremely sweet to sit with me long after the shows and explain in detail about the play when I told them I could not follow the text. This made me watch even more shows and very soon I could start catching their frequency of conversation which made watching plays with them more interesting and exciting.
Here I write a short notes on few plays I watched in Hildesheim, Germany for over a year from May 2012. The below notes are not the reviews of the plays, but only some points that I found interesting about each of those plays.
The Love Below:
A play, part of the Transeuropa festival was a musical of a humble scale. Staged in TheaterHaus, the playground of the students of Theater University of hildesheim, the Love below had a stage setting of a jazz music band. And in fact it was an evening of music with a strong story of relationships unfolding along with the tunes from the film Boogie Nights. It is always an asset when the stage actors can sing. And the group (James and Priscilla) showed their acting and singing skills quite efficiently.
Again a piece from the Transeuropa, this was one of the most bizarre experimental theatre event I have ever witnessed. With only little experience of being a theatre audience and some occasions being on the other side of the stage, I was mostly used to the theatre where we rehearse and reproduce. But this had nothing of that kind. Firstly there was no stage. And then there were no actors. Well, there were people who welcomed the audience into the hall with no obvious sets. One sofa somewhere in the corner of a big hall, a camera mounted on a tripod pointed at the sofa made up all the sets there were. Audience settled down and some instrumental music began. No one spoke for about 5 minutes into the “show”. The 3 people (organisers) went and sat on the sofa posing for a photograph. One came and clicked a picture. Then what? One of them walked towards the audience and took one to the sofa hand holding him. He was made to pose with the others. This set the tone for what was meant to happen for the next 90 minutes. Soon audience realized they are not just there to see a performance but to perform..So they started having fun posing..I was called in twice and tried to be different on both occasions. Admittedly, I started having fun too. Then a girl started to take off her clothes as she posed. To my surprise, only I was feeling a bit unusual about it, but just for a while. But that is when I missed my friends from Tahatto, with whom I am used to watching so many great and lousy plays. Soon the lady had nothing on and I was under a constant fear of that being the order of the rest of the evening. But thankfully it wasn’t. Apart from one man taking the cue and stripping for the photo shoot. Now the audience got the feeling of a show, as two people posed au naturale. Some more poses with the new lead actors and then the music went off, and so did the people.
Ticket said this, and I should have understood: “Good night, thank you for coming! To start the performance we would like to invite all of you to take a photo together with us. You can stay on or around the sofa.”
A play devised in collaboration with the students of Hildesheim theater university and an Icelandic group, was a confluence of personal experiences forming a single narrative. As I could not follow the text of the play, I was content noting the more visual aspects of the play. Especially the props and the lighting. The show started off on a magical note with just a pair of boots on stage. It was beautiful the way just the boots were lit and nothing else was visible. Then they started to move and dance before the stage gained more light to reveal the actor wearing them. I felt it must have been a difficult trick to pull off. Another noteworthy lighting moment was when a girl narrates her story about her intermittent nightmare. She is camping with her family in wild and she wakes up in the middle of the night to see some creatures approaching her. She thinks they are wolves, but cant tell because she only sees their eyes, bright in the pitch dark jungle. The girl narrated with her back to the audience and moving backwards..The wolves’ eyes were created by LED lights approaching the scared girl. Brilliant! I spent sometime after the play with the actors to just talk about movies, politics and their favourite drinks. Not much theatre about it !
A banquet for Animals:
A play set in a restaurant. The theme of the play was the paradoxical mindset of animal lovers who don’t mind them on their plates. It’s paradox in itself that this was played out in a restaurant. However, the play was interesting in parts and tried to question people’s two faced approach to loving animals. The play seemed to be strongly preaching vegetarianism, but I cant tell for sure because I was again short on grasping the text. It had some moments of shock and eerie feeling, especially when each actor goes to one table in the restaurant and cooks something in front of the people. And hmmm…they expected us to eat that. I, being a vegetarian would have eaten a chicken tandoori, but not what was offered to me by the actor at my table. And yes, then an actor stripped bare naked (let me mention an actress). I was not surprised when it happened this time, in fact I was waiting for it. She lay on an empty table, and the other actors dressed as animals drew on her body to mark their favorite dishes and which part of an animal body it comes from. The play didn’t do much to my emotional, intellectual or theatrical senses.
One of the most interesting theatre devices I have seen so far. Inspired by the story of Greek mythology, the play portrayed Antigone as the first revolutionary on earth and as someone who inspires the generations of revolutionaries to come after her. The most interesting aspect of the play was that there were 5 actors, male and female and all played one single role, that of Antigone. Its like each actor is playing a part of Antigone and together they form one revolutionary idea. The play, in general hailed the idea of standing against something that we don’t believe in.
StreetCar named Desire:
Marlon Brando became a star with this play and then the movie. So there is no way I could miss this play. Even if it is played in German, even if I have to take a train and go to Hannover to watch it. Highlight of the play was that it was set in a staged caravan, but for me that was what let the play down in many ways. For a huge stage, the caravan seemed small and it constricted the actors’ movements whenever they were inside it. For the roles as powerful, they needed much more rawness in the actors which I felt missing. Made me respect Brando even more. But then I cant be that harsh on an actor whom I will never see again.
Will write some notes about more plays some other time.