Sunday, February 6, 2011


Danton: "Ich werde, du wirst, er wird. Wenn wir bis dahin noch leben, sagen die alten Weiber. Wer wird alle die schönen Dinge ins Werk setzen?

Philipeau: Wir und die ehrlichen Leute.

Danton: Das 'und' dazwischen ist ein langes Wort . . ."

"D: I will, you will, he will. If we all live that long, goes the old saying. Who is going to do all these lovely things you speak of?

P: We and the honest people will.

D: That 'and' in between is a long word . . ."

("Inner-city bus lines disabled because of a large demonstration . . .")

Many of you I'm sure have heard me rave about how amazing the theatre system here in Germany is. I've talked ad nauseum about it with friends, and written monologues, told stories, and written about the state theatre system for most of my adult life. So you'd think that I would be pretty much used to it by now.

But no, friends, the resources and community support of the performing arts in this country continue to rob me of my senses and leave me slack-jawed and stammering, wide-eyed in amazement.

I've already written about the cushy rehearsal spaces and the five theaters. But lets get down to the nitty gritty of what that actually means. That means that at any given time, there are five performance spaces available. Plus the cabaret and the salon. An ensemble of forty actors employed full time, 10 months out of the year, with five weeks paid vacation in summer. Six full-time dramaturgs. Five full-time assistant directors. Hundreds of other technicians, secretaries and under-secretaries, assistants and interns and so forth. Which means that Hasko Weber the Intendant (Artistic Director), plans a ten month season with all of these resources at his disposal. The result is over twenty-three original productions this year.

Let me just repeat that: 23 original productions in one year.

Can you think of ANY theater in America (or anywhere else) that can handle twenty-three original productions in a season, and think that that is normal?

But the best part is: they sell out. A lot. That means people come and support this work, and really enjoy it. And don't forget that most of the money that supports this work comes from the taxpayers.

Today kids, our German vocab word is: Theaterparadies.

I'll let you translate that one on your own. :)

(Janek & Lisa recreate the Titanic moment on the barricades)

So needless to say, its a completely different world over here. And just when I thought the technology could not get any more high-tech, Karnik brought in a crossfader for the cameras last week, and started layering the feeds from both cameras on top of each other during rehearsal. Then, using his laptop and his Videographer magic, he also started inserting TV-backgrounds behind the actors on the screen, while they were performing. So that it could appear as if they were on a national news broadcast, or speaking with a news anchor next to them, when they were actually just standing in an empty room. Come to find out, that's just the beginning. We have a three day film shoot coming up this week, to simulate German talk-show environments, and to really get high tech with the media-collage. When we're done we should have a number of clips of our actors 'interacting' with German TV celebrities, but speaking with Büchner's text. That will all of course be layered over the cross-fading and live camera action that we've already been rehearsing. Wowzer .

Given that its a very political play to begin with, it should come as no surprise that politics (national, international, local) come up regularly in rehearsal. Since Nuran's concept is also zeroing in on politicians and how they interact with one another, he often uses analogies to the politicians of today and yesteryear. For instance, last week in rehearsal, Nuran's direction was:

Nuran: "Danton, you are Kennedy, Robespierre, you are Nixon. Sex versus Reason. Go!"

. . . which led to a scene where Christian, the actor playing Danton, worked himself up into a sweaty frenzy, screaming and yelling and jumping up and down on the table, removing his shoe and slamming it down on the table (Khrushchev anyone?) while Sebastian, playing Robespierre, simply sat silently, pensively watching him go crazy. Not sure how that came out of Nixon/Kennedy, but hey, it sure was interesting to watch.

And of course all that is going on in Egypt these past two weeks has come up often in rehearsal as well. The play is about the essential elements of government, and how politicians should govern. How liberal, how conservative should we be. What's interesting of course is the language itself, which resonates very different in German, and in Germany, than it would elsewhere. When Büchner writes:

"Das Volk ist wie ein Kind, es muss alles zerbrechen, um zu sehen, was darin steckt."

"The nation is like a child, it must break everything apart to see what's hiding inside."

Words like 'Volk' resonate in a very different way here. The idea of the nation/the people as a child that has to tear everything apart to see what works, is not a fantasy here, its history. It raises the stakes.

And its not always talk talk talk, act act act, talk talk talk. Sometimes these topics break over and get a little out of hand. Twice in the last week its come to an all-out argument between Director-Actor or Actor-Actor, no holds barred. Amazingly, after the smoke clears, everything is fine. We go from:

"You're saying that completely wrong! You're doing it Wrong! Completely WRONG!"

"I'm saying it Wrong? I'M SAYING IT WRONG?! You think I'm SAYING it WRONG?!?!

"JA! FALSE! INCORRECT! WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

(everyone holds their breath while the two combatants yell it out)

. . . to everyone being calm again, drinking coffee on a break and laughing.

How did we get from here to there? The answer lies in one of my favorite German words:


trans: setting one thing apart from another; argument; debate; discussion;

This doozy of a word permeates all of German culture. And the Germans have no problem setting one thing apart from another, sometimes calmly, sometimes heatedly, but either way everything is fine once its over. Add on top of this the fact that theatre folk have a tendency to get heated sometimes, and the Auseinandersetzungen in the rehearsal hall can get really extreme. But sure enough, afterwards, everybody is still friends and life continues as normal.

After rehearsal on Saturday the sun was shining and it was almost 50 degrees. I decided not to take the train home, and instead to wander through the Schloßgarten, the palace garden that runs through the heart of Stuttgart, and then curves north becoming Rosenstein Park, where I entered it just across from our rehearsal hall that afternoon.

And just to stick it to all my friends in Chicago who are buried under the snow, I brought my camera along:

And you know, the amazing thing about wandering around parks in Europe on a gorgeous day, is that sometimes you stumble upon remarkable 18th century palaces by accident, like this one:

which often have incredible pleasure gardens attached, perched upon scenic hilltops:

Swan-filled ponds and rolling parkland that continues for miles, all in the middle of the bustling city you call home. And for some Stuttgarters, the park itself is where they call home:

And a closer look will let one know the reason these folks have set up camp in the middle of the palace gardens: a train station that has become a political debacle here in Stuttgart. It has caused the normally passive, private, conservative Stuttgarters to take to the streets and demonstrate every week for the last year. The cause of all this unrest is STUTTGART 21. Check the link for more in depth info, basically its an underground train station that is going to cost billions of euros and possibly damage the palace gardens. Its caused quite a stir in Stuttgart, and at their highpoint the protests brought hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets.

Back in September the police broke up the biggest of these demonstrations with batons, tear gas, and water canons. It made international news, mainly because Stuttgart is known for being a hotbed of civil rest, not for mass protests. And because the police on the 30th of September used excessive force against the protesters, injuring over 100 citizens including school children, and blinding one man permanently with a water cannon.

There was a documentary film made about this affair recently, and when the politicians responsible for the police's reaction to the protests where questioned, under oath, whether they authorized the use of force, all of them seemed to have an acute memory loss as to where they were on that day and what they may or may not have said to the police. It was pretty much exactly the same as the scene in the recent Pat Tillman documentary when Rumsfeld and his cronies were asked if they remembered when they found out Tillman was killed in Afghanistan. Similarly, none of our generals or security personnel seemed to have any recollection of our most famous solider being killed. Which is of course, in both cases, a shameless lie. And just goes to show how frightfully abject those in power can be, regardless of their nationality.

But I digress. Its hard not to be political I suppose, when you spend eight hours a day watching actors go toe-to-toe with one another about these things. In an effort to join in the fun, I went to the 60th weekly protest to see what Stuttgart 21 was all about. I mean, I really had no choice since the demonstration takes place at the main train station and my bus route home was cut off because of it (see pic at top of post), but hey I was there nonetheless. And the plaza was full of hundreds of people, and a bandstand and megaphones and all kinds of soap-boxing. Certainly an interesting time to be in Stuttgart:

See My Video of the Protest Here

Today I took a break from all this excitement and made the most of the crystal-clear sky and mild weather to ascend the Stuttgarter Fernsehturm, the TV Tower which is perched atop the highest hill on the southern end of the city. Stuttgart is basically a bowl surrounded by hills, and this was the first television tower ever (there are now TV towers in most major European cities, as well as Moscow and Toronto) and they were all the rage in the mid-20th century. And the views were quite spectacular:

Ach, ja. So schön ist die Welt. The world is really beautiful. Hope this finds you enjoying the beauty in your own little corner of the world as well.

Ciao for now,


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