Friday, 12 December 2014

Eins, zwei, drei: children, parents, grandparents

by Daniela Firescu – Ramuri magazine, no.10/2014

A project in collaboration - ʺMarin Sorescuʺ National Theatre Craiova, State Theater of Braunschweig and werkgruppe2

Started within a program of the European Theatre Convention, ʺThe Art of Ageingʺ Strawberries and Orphans / Erdbeerwaisen collapses in the documentary theater, a space where artistic tools & techniques are used for and with different expectations - not to produce subtle mutations in the perception of the spectator, but to bring into debate a social problem while presenting their own version of the events. In the documentary theater, ʺdramaturgy of the realʺ (in the conceptualization of Carol Martin), art can be objective, and the actor/performer can be a person and not a character, a part in the classical acceptation of the term, applied in the dramatization procedure also applied in the dramatization performed by Julia Roesler. (...)

There are stories that reveal the true state of a widespread phenomenon - the exodus of seasonal workers, generically called ʺstrawberry pickersʺ, and especially the side effects: family disintegration, extreme situations, childhood without parents, material compensation, suffering, sadness, dissimulation. ʺWe are a happy family.ʺ is the conclusion of the first episode. There is a pattern in almost all stories related, a monologue which introduces the family drama, with digressions/confessions, a public denudation develops gradually. (...)

The episode of the two brothers is played naturally by Sven Hönig and Oliver Simon, perhaps the most convincing piece performed by the two German actors, nothing is ʺlost in translationʺ. (...)

Interesting is the option for the two cases presented - the grandmothers as feminine protecting presences, a matriarchal view on the family proves to be only a circumstance solution: lamentations, mourning of the woman living in the countryside, confused, overwhelmed (Gina Călinoiu makes a very suggestive translation between grandmother and girl) or the aggressive grandmother who says bluntly, ʺI started to get to the limitʺ. In all this madness, words are not enough, the music is a more effective means of outpouring, but all the songs reflect concretely breaking the harmony, sung false, incongruous, cried, most evidently in the song I would give up on life and you, in the two interpretations: Oliver Simon, quietly, almost intimidated, Gina Călinoiu - hard-bitten, desperate. (...)

The theater of the real is an inexhaustible source in this topic of orphans, where concealment is generalized ʺeverything is/will be fineʺ. Parents wearing cheerful, optimistic masks, where an eye is crying and the other is laughing, because (although ignored in the show), the parents’ leave (when it’s not overly extended) has a positive dimension, there is a restoring of the individual dignity, of the possibility to support one’s family - an idea best grounded on Gabriela Baciu’s performance, a speech of defeat (...), a scene that resists and stands due to the force, the intuition of the interpretation, rather than due to the script, which in most episodes prefers to stay at a documentary level, but in this context, the purpose is not the aesthetic, but the impact / the ʺaesthetic shockʺ.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Finding ways to communicate - questionning the role of theatre

by Miriam Horwitz and Anne - Mareike Hess

Reharsals for the production Bojim se da sada poznajemo (Ich befürchte, jetzt kennen wir uns) have started at the Gavella City Drama Theatre Zagreb in Croatia. The premiere will take place on January 16th. One day after the German version will be performed to the Croatian audience.

M: The piece is questioning language as, “The way” to communicate in the world. It is asking if we do understand each other, if we are able to share.
Do you have different ways of communicating to each other in the society we are living in?
Or did you find any examples you are developing?

AM: Yes, I think the piece questions the role of spoken language for our communication and the concept of language in itself. But it also questions the importance of memory and collective memory. Our interest in this context is to open up the notion of communication, to take it beyond the spoken word and to involve the whole body. We are searching for another way of speaking to each other. Through words and body we want to challenge our understanding of each other and our preconceptions as well as open up to multiple ways of interpretation.

M: The concept of communication through spoken language implies misunderstandings. This is an agreed fact, which nevertheless leads to problems. We want to create a space, in which the performers as well as the audience have the possibility to experience multiple meanings, in the pictures and the words and the way the body is moving. That means to not put one definition on a situation, or a dialogue, but several. It also means to put the audience in a position where they have to work, in this way they have to decide things for themselves - if they want one meaning. Through this opening up of definitions, we want to create a room in which the imagination and the understanding of the performer and the audience is constantly in movement.

Does that mean to push everybody towards their insecurities?
Into a state of being lost or at least shaken up?
What do you think is hidden in this moment of being shaked?
Why do we search states which are in between, whose meaning is not defined by the performer or the observer?

AM: This piece, at its roots, is questioning the fundament of our communication and therefore also us, as social beings. This approach is in a way so basic but that's exactly what makes it so difficult. We are constantly organizing and categorizing the information we perceive with our senses in order to make sense and in order to navigate through the world - and this also applies to watching a piece of theatre as an audience or performing it as an actor. In this moment where this basic understanding is challenged or even suspended, because maybe information becomes contradictory, an opening appears, a gap that we believe holds the possibility for a different approach to the known. It is a moment for possible expansion of the socially agreed. A moment where two well-known components can create something unexpected or even unknown. And this is exactly the reason why we in our work like to provoke these moments of insecurity or let's say ambiguity. The problem is of course that this new or unknown can not be predicted, because it is nearly impossible to construct, but it is through the (physical) experience of these gaps that possible new ways of thinking can be enabled.

I think it is important to know that with our work we are not suggesting or propagating just one vision for society, rather we are introducing a first step in order to raise questions. and trying to multiply the visions or even try different visions. Theatre is in our opinion the perfect media to do this, because it happens in the moment and decisions are taken live in front of and with the audience.

M: That means to open up the working process. The moment of taking a decision or not taking it. It means to put yourself as a performer in an insecurity, and show it on stage. To raise the question of how we will spend the time together in the theatre room, in the black box. In relation to the text it has to be an undecided open process, which is not ending. In that way to put the text in between you as a performer and the audience, to let them raise their own questions. So it is a constant working process on both sides.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Opening night in Berlin!

Land der ersten Dinge premiered on November 14th at the Deutsches Theater Berlin. 

Exchanges and group pictures after the premiere!

Gabriele Heinz and Emília Vášáryová, actresses

The Slovak premiere will take place on November 27 at the Slovak National Theatre Bratislava. Click here for more information on the production

Links to the critics
Nachtkritik, by Simone Kaempf
Taz, by Barbara Behrendt


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Opening Night in Heidelberg

The cultural exchange has been successful – artistic team got big applause!
An audience survey by Janina Beck, Intern at Theater und Orchester Heidelberg.

We’re ready to rock and roll: Sunday, 16 November 2014


While the first spectators are entering the theatre, taking off their soaked jackets and give them to the cloakroom attendant I try to figure out their previous knowledge and expectations of „Ich befürchte, jetzt kennen wir uns. I am interested in what they think about such projects in line with the ongoing globalisation of the world.

Anna Maria L. from Heidelberg replies: “Such projects are more than important! They are a chance to get to know theatre esthetics from different countries and to gain new perspectives.“

Sophia R. from Rauenberg agrees: ”I’m interested in the cultural exchange. I hope that contemporary drama brings more young people with different cultural background together and notably to go to the theatre. I hope we, as the audience, will notice this exchange.“

18h55: The doors open

The venue is wrapped in a spooky dark light with generated fog and the public is sitting dangerously close to the action. It’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Dieter B. from Heidelberg: “The stage design is very impressive. The audience is sitting vis-à-vis, that’s new for me. It’s like the searching and penetrating looks from the actors interfuse me.“

Annette P. from Heidelberg likes the stage very much: “It’s unique that it’s rotatable and formed like a walkable ramp! I like the timber and the details very much.

Credit: Annemone Taake

My first thought after the actors enter the stage is about their wondrous suits. It’s a mixture of fabulous and abstract designs.

So much for the first impressions…

First the actors stand next to each other and move slowly and controlled but little by little they get more hectic and ecstatic.

Stephan from Frankfurt compliments: “The fantastic physical-athletic performance is well done, chapeau!

The audience is impressed by the extraordinary way of movement and the imbrication of several theatrical methods.

Marlene P.-S. from Trier agrees: “This interlinking is new for me, but exciting!“

“A successful combination, the movements have extended the language.“ (Peter Z., Frankfurt)

Erika M. from Heidelberg contradicts: “I can’t understand the physical activity referring to the subject. Everything is like a bit too flurry, too loud and too disturbing.“

The first spoken sentence hits! It shook me up, while before I was totally captured by and immersed in the movement.” (Alexander W. from Heidelberg)

This first sentence of the play sets the course for the play: As Ivana leaves Filip it turns out that he can’t remember special moments, for example like their first love confession. Furthermore he’s also not ready to recapture this memory.

It is very interesting how the public thinks about narrated time and narration time:

I think there are some time jumps. I also believe that this story can happen anywhere, whether the people are young or old.“ (Erika M., Heidelberg)

Marlene P.-S. from Trier describes it by a single word: “Timeless!“

I also want to know which actor the audience likes the most - But they couldn't agree:

Lisa Förster has the attitude of a ballerina.“ / “She shows so much strengths but looks really gracile.“ / “Ivana has an excellent pronunciation.“

I was so surprised about the big voice of the petite actress Josepha Grünberg.“ / “She has a lot of humor and knows how to entertain.“

I’m impressed by Fabian Oehl’s strength and his body control.“

I think Andreas Seifert’s skill is based on his experience.“ (Stephan, Frankfurt)

  Credit: Annemone Taake

Another question from the survey was: “Which scenes did you particularly like or dislike?“

"I like a lot the quiet moments. In these scenes it’s easier for me to understand the narration“. (Anna-Maria L., Heidelberg)

I didn’t see the memories that this play was about." (Erika M., Heidelberg)

The emotional song by Ivana was really cool. Was it “Lithium” by Nirvana?!" (Alexander W., Heidelberg)

 “I didn’t like the physical violence.“ ( Susanne M., Heidelberg)

I’m glad that no one had been injured!” (Peter Z., Frankfurt)

21h15: A big applause for the actors and the team around Miriam Horwitz!

21h30: While the public compliments the actors and the team, I’m handing out my questionnaire and interview some audience members.

During my research I thought about the topic and the difficulty of the project, and that’s what I want to know now from the audience, too: Has the production inspired you to think about something?“ / Are there unresolved questions?

I have been thinking about what it means to be an actor.“ (Barbara K., Frankfurt)

I cogitated about nihilism and war.“ (Marlene P.-S., Trier)

I asked myself all the time if someone would die.“ (Alexander W., Heidelberg)

I talked with some ladies about maturing and how they define it, according to the motto of the project “The Art of Age!ng”:

Age means to me maturity“ / “Ageing means to me to evaluate memories.“ / “Ageing is a wonderful experience.“

Credit: Annemone Taake

To give a résumé

The audience liked the high skilled actors, the special design of the stage and the richness of details. The experimental use of phisicality detached from direct meaning of the spoken wod presented a challenge to the viewer. 

The rehearsals of the Croatian production will start next week in Zagreb. The audience from Heidelberg is already cuirous to see the result and wishes the Croatian team and Miriam Horwitz

“Good luck!“, „Viel Glück!“ and „Sve najbolje!“

A few words about me

A few weeks ago, my ntership tutor explained to me what to do, I remembered she said:
Acquaint yourself with the production, work into it, it’s important to know what the audience is thinking“At that point we wanted to figure out how my voluntary project would look like. Realizing a project is the task of each volunteer of the „Landesvereinigung kultureller Jugendbildung Baden-Württemberg“ so I, Janina Beck, a 19-year-old girl from a small town, 30 kilometer away from Heidelberg, working one year at press department, decided to do a survey with the audience of the opening night.

“To look behind the curtain“ or what I did in the last few weeks

To prepare this survey, I attended the rehearsals and the press conference just a week ago.

It was the first time for me to visit a rehearsal without audience, where only the team is present, and I was amazed by the atmosphere which was magical but also very professionnal. Right after that, I started to work on the topic and made this questionnaire, printed 100 copies and built a carboard box to receive the survey on the opening night.   

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

What kind of stage director are you?

A portrait of Miriam Horwitz, Director of the play "Ich befürchte, jetzt kennen wir uns"

Es gefällt dir, Zuschauer,
nur Zuschauer anderer zu sein.
Aber heute, Zuschauer,
bist du nicht nur das.

10:00 o’clock. Pia Dederichs, costume designer, still isn’t here.
2 Minutes later she arrives. 
Too late. 
It’s the third time Pia is late, which means she has to cook for the whole team. 
This is just one of Miriam Horwitz’s rules.

Then Miriam starts the daily warm-up. 
30 minutes of fitness, stretching and poweryoga. 
That’s one of her other rules. 

She loves discipline, hard work, physical strength and health.
This means that she demands a lot from her actors.
But not only in a physical sense, also intellectually...
A lot of time is allocated during the rehearsals for talking. 
About current themes, politics, and society, mostly referring and connected to the project of course. Even the actors give special presentations about chosen topics.

Although her way of leading is quite strict, she really wants to create a team around her. 
Everybody’s opinion, suggestion or advice is welcome. 
She is really interested in everyone's impressions during rehearsals, even from the young students or interns (I have not seen any other director who includes everyone from the artistic team, no matter which position they have). 
She creates a very familial atmosphere. It is not just some people working together for a few weeks; working with Miriam Horwitz means spending a period of your lifetime together. And it can be really fun. Her energy is impressive and contagious. She herself is a performer during the rehearsals from time to time, playing the king, the teacher, the mother or just being crazy. 

She wants artistic freedom, meaning time and liberty for the process, for creating, finding, forming, trying, failing, and building a team, which is 100% dedicated to the project, working towards an aim, which is never 100 % definite. 
This way of working is not always easy when putting it in the context of a city theatre, with its hierarchical structure, its bureaucratic system and the lack of time.

It’s like the dramaturge Bernd Stegemann says: 
“The director’s force crystallizes in the ability to turn the genuine character of the text, with his chosen propositions and together with the actors, to a new quality. 
The greater this force is, the more successful the performance can get, or the more disastrous its failure“.
This is the risk more directors should take.
Miriam does.

After all Miriam's work is essentially about finding a new language on stage.
And it is not just the actors, the lighting technician or even me that have to learn it. 
It’s important for the audience to understand her intention and to grasp a feeling for her artistic cosmos, because and especially this time, from the very first show of „Ich befürchte, jetzt wir kennen uns“ we will be on our own conducting it, having no cues, no scenic lighting – we will decide which light and when. We are free to make our own decisions.  So are the actors. We have built a framework in which we can move.  
Our strength is in our intuition and the trust we have in each other.

Miriam's work opens spaces, in which the audience has to fill with their interpretation, with their thoughts, associations, mental connections and imagination.
The audience has to be awake and aware, 
just as Miriams actors/dancers/performers have to. 
And if the audience is willing to „work“ and not only wanting to be entertained,  maybe they will find out what Miriam's work is about.

„It’s the spectator, not life, that art really mirrors“. 
(Oscar Wilde)

Juri Padel
Assistant Director

 Miriam Horwitz, Credit: Pia Dederichs

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Welcome Berlin!

Berlin, November 6 2014
Miriam Kičiňová takes a look back on the mutual work started with the Deutsches Theater Berlin one year ago, and the play "Land der ersten Dinge" (written by Nino Haratischwili). The premiere is next week on November 14. 

It has been already some time before the start of the project „Bludičky“. But now the third part of the journey through the topic of ageing starts for me.   

The first part of the trip started some time ago. It was a year ago when I met Nino Haratischwili, Christa Müller, Malin Nagel and Ulrich Beck for the first time and we started to talk about the topic, our work on the text together and the performances in Berlin and Bratislava.

It was really fun to work on this, but also quite hard to explore our common and very different history.  We searched for an interesting approach. And after that Nino came up with her story. A nice story. A strong story. A sad story. A story of hope. A story that tells us that we can understand things better when we know each other’s origins. 

And after that, we discussed our visions a lot, our different readings of our history. We had deep talks about feelings that are based on our personal experiences, feelings that remain hidden in our subconsciousness because of historical experiences. Maybe this is why we are still going back to the past. We are still trying to understand, trying not to forget. Thanks to Bludičky, a very important part of my history was opened up to me, the history of my family, as well as that of lots of families in Slovakia. And it is nice that this was opened up to me by someone from abroad. Someone, who can see things in a more objective way. Thanks to Bludičky, we can also understand the history of the last 50 years of German families. Thank you, my German friends. 

The second part of the trip took place in Bratislava and it was very strong. We started to rehearse the  play Land der ersten Dinge/Bludičky. It was a deep, strong and also passionate meeting. The rehearsals were about questioning, searching and changing. We worked in such a nice atmosphere together and I cannot continue writing without saying thank you to the team : Brit, Karin, Niko, Peter and Thies. For me, it was so impressive to see the work of Gabi Heinz on stage. Of course I know the work of our actors, but seeing her work was something totally new for me and very inspiring for my future work. How is it possible, at the same time, to see a strong emotion on stage and acquire distance to it, always immediately, intensively, and so easily? 

A big part of our journey is already over. We really had fun and enjoyed it so much. Of course when comparing two different working system of two big theatre houses, we have to admit that it is not always easy to understand each other and that everyone has different expectations. But the whole experience was very enriching, even if that sounds cliché. But the journey is not over yet, the most important part is in front of us now. 

For me, it starts right now, as I just arrived in Berlin to join the team during rehearsals. We are still researching and trying to understand our history, and history in general, better. Therefore, welcome to Berlin! 

To be continued....

Miriam Kičiňová

Dramaturge at the Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Immersion into rehearsal

Glimpse of a dialogue between the actors of the production "Ich befürchte, jetzt kennen wir uns" (Theater und Orchester Heidelberg)

We have to be careful not to celebrate the sentences too much and by that give them just one meaning. That would be wrong.

You could compare that awareness of the language to the situation when you don't just produce a sound while singing but you listen to yourself develop that sound and you feel it and sing it out because you want to hear it.

One is exposed on stage and has to be careful not to fall off it. And while doing that, you have to say your lines and pay attention to how you say them and know what they mean and on top of that you have to play with the audience.

I am in a weird state right now. I can't say I have understood but I notice that there is something developing.

Sometimes emotions arise from the examination of the text while you say the words. For example, you start to cry because you notice that you ask "do you remember" three times and nothing happens.
If an emotion arises from somewhere else but the lines, we can just let that emotion happen if it fits the scene. That makes us sincere.

Learn to be in the moment more than just on stage - what is staged, what is the moment?

For me it is about the effort of making the unvisible visible.

We miss each other in the attempt of communicating and sharing. Speech is breath is body.
We are building a language.
We are banging against walls, verbally and literally.

We need to move our utopia from an island to the land.
An abstract utopia can't age.
Utopical ideas are more similar to maps than to tales.
Each figure has their own time.
Our economy of gazing. 
Affective presences. 
Hug machine   
The ship has to go over the mountain.
Do we have strange memories?
We are not animals in herds but hunters who hunt in groups.
Can the mountain grow so that the audience sits inside of it?
We are eating "snowballs" and "icecream", sticking ourselves to one another, we are melting and desolving, between all of that we are killing ourselves and afterwards our remains stood on the roots of the old maple tree that had been burried deep for a long time.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The German press talks about "Erdbeerwaisen"

The premiere of the production "Erdbeerwaisen" (Strawberry Orphans / Capsunile si Orfanii) took place last Thursday October 23 at the Staatstheater Braunschweig. 

Here is a selection of articles, tv and radio links:

Geld oder Kinder?
By Jan Fischer
>> Click here to read

Norddeutscher Rundfunk
"Erdbeerwaisen" - Eine verlassene Generation
>> Click here to watch and listen

Deutschland radio
"Erdbeerwaisen" - ein Theaterstück in Braunschweig über EU-Waisen in Rumänien
>> Click here to listen

Braunschweiger Zeitung"Erdbeerwaisen" weinen nicht
By Florian Amold

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Translating = Creating

Some thoughts on Ivor Martinic’s play “Bojim se da se sada poznajemo” (“I’m afraid we know each other now”)

by Renata Britvec, translator of the play from Croatian into German

„A language is always a whole world view”, my professor of philosophy used to say. What seems so obvious opened up a new perspective to me and raised a lot of questions. During my studies, I started to ask myself about my native language from another, broader point of view and I also started questioning how my mother tongue affected the way I express myself in German, or any other language I speak. Back then I realized how strongly my mother tongue determines my personality and how the simple fact that I am bilingual causes many misunderstandings, and that there is always the imagery, the fierceness, the head-on brutality, the meekness, the sense of humor, and the meandering ways to tell stories of my home countries which always seeps through and interferes with my expression and way of speaking.

I love my language, I love the way it creates and destroys images. I also love that you can be obvious and subtle at the same time. But how can you translate this language without losing all the richness? I realized I wanted to dedicate myself to these questions, and not only on a theoretical level. I wanted to contribute to creating an understanding for the cultures of the Ex YU countries. So I started translating, short texts at first, then longer ones, from different genres, and as my way has always led me to the theater somehow, I ended up being a translator of dramatic texts.

When Jürgen Popig of Theater and Orchester Heidelberg asked me to translate Ivor Martinić’s new play for the project The Art of Ageing, I was honored and excited. I had read Martinić’s work before and his subtle writing and his ability to create a strong narrative in dramatic texts impressed me a lot.

In Martinić’s new play “Bojim se da se sada poznajemo” (“I’m afraid we know each other now”) Ivana leaves Filip for his increasing inability to create a common narrative and therefore (a personal) history. He cannot remember important moments of their relationship, like the first time she told him she loved him, nor is he willing to remember or to recreate those moments for the sake of her – and his! - wellbeing. Even when she breaks up with him, he refuses to react appropriately. Instead of saying something valuable, he just recites what his mother told him once. Ivana cannot accept his reaction and comes back and back again to demand a real and just ending, an ending she will be able to retell as part of her personal history. As soon as they aware of the break-up, Filip’s neighbor Andreas and Filip’s friend Natalija come to support him. While Andreas is trying to persuade Filip to come Ivana’s way and find a nice ending, Natalija is holding on to her conviction that Ivana does not deserve a man like Filip anyway. The two of them probably serve as hidden undercurrents of Filip’s persona. When these antagonists eventually knock each other out and Filip is alone again, he subsequently finds a way to create the story of his relationship and to make peace with himself, with Ivana, and with their failed relationship. “I’m afraid we know each other now” is a subtle play about the human need to locate oneself in history, and moreover, to create a personal narrative, where memory, emotion and what one desires supplement the truth.

As I have stated before, Ivana leaves Filip because of his inability to create a common narrative, which means specifically that he is unable to express his emotions through language: He himself explains at a later point of the play that he always felt the most urgent need to tell her he loved her while she was asleep, and as soon as she would wake up, everything was gone. When she tells him the relationship is over, he cannot find words to express his feelings and instead quotes his mother, who told him about the best way to please a woman. He shifts his emotion into somebody else’s words, and he shifts the actual problem into something easier, more materialistic and “real”. But in the course of the play and in the course of his involvement with Andreas and Natalija, i.e. with himself, he realizes how important it would have been and still is to communicate. 

More important, he realizes he needs to actively translate his innermost feelings into words, and that he needs to talk, to narrate. He may be right with his assumption that words can never describe appropriately what we actually experience and/or feel: “How strangely do we diminish a thing as soon as we try to express it in words.”, says Maurice Maeterlinck (we’ve all been sceptics since the beginning of the 20th century, but …).

But the sole act of speaking is always a translation of what we feel, of something indescribable into words other people can share and understand. In the end Filip is able to open up and create a story by which he is able to express himself and his love for Ivana subsequently, and by doing so, he creates an end to the relationship he will be able to remember, and Ivana will be able to remember, too. By remembering and retelling their story, they will know it has been there, it has been true, and now it is over, finally.

Ivor Martinić created the play during and after the workshop with artists of Theater and Orchester Heidelberg and Gavella Theater Zagreb. With this play inspired by artists of at least two different nations, he beautifully demonstrates the human need for words, language, narration, memory and therefore history. But above all, he depicts the act of struggling for words which will translate what we feel into something we can grasp, we can understand, we can share and make peace with.

Renata Britvec, October 2014

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Rehearsals in Heidelberg - Impressions by Ivor Martinic

Rehearsals of the performance "Ich befürchte, jetzt kennen wir uns" have started in Heidelberg on October 7. Photos by Ivor Martinic. 
Click here for more information about the play

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Strawberry Picker’s Heritage – Erdbeerwaisen

The German language is like Lego pieces; the words can interlock with each other, reaching incredible lengths. They adopt each other to form new words, new subtle or specific meanings. In that regard, it is a rather poetical language, even though it may sound abrupt. In Romanian, the title of the show was Căpşunile şi orfanii (Strawberry Orphans), which in German was translated as Erdbeerwaisen, almost identical to its English title – Strawberry Orphans; this translation didn’t suggest that those children belonged to strawberries and became orphans as a result of their absence, but rather meant that they were made orphans by strawberries. The English language is more flexible than Romanian too, because it even has a word for making, turning someone into an orphan: The children were orphaned by strawberries.

(...) "we have long become accustomed to the thought that people go away to Spain, Italy, England, Greece, Germany, and many other countries where this very complicated economy seems to be more stable." (...)

When I was little, I was under the impression that the world can only evolve and constantly improve, albeit at a slower pace. It only seemed natural, perhaps thanks to the stories I read, which always ended well for everyone who was good. I honestly believed that politicians learn from past mistakes and will automatically avoid repeating history, and I was convinced that economists can only improve the methods meant to control the economy. I have no better understanding of these things now, but at least I understand that everything is much, much too complicated and that people don’t always know, or do what’s best. Nor do Romanians know whether it’s always best to go and work in other countries; but when it seems to be the only option, and many others around you are doing it, you don’t waste time in securing your chance. Thus, we have long become accustomed to the thought that people go away to Spain, Italy, England, Greece, Germany, and many other countries where this very complicated economy seems to be more stable. And we’re used to hearing stories about those who left – some better, some worse. We, from the younger generations, have friends whose parents seem to have always been away, friends who come to aspire to the same goal because it’s the best success example they’ve ever had. 

It is also commonly known, although a generalization, that the orphans whose parents have left either miss a lot of school, or barely learn anything. They also say that all Roma people went abroad to steal or beg. Lots of other stereotypes circulate among us, oral and from the media; both the foreign press and the Romanian press have magnified these stereotypes for ratings’ sake, and we’ve assumed them without even realizing. The subject of the strawberry pickers has been disputed so much that we’ve somehow forgotten to pay attention to it; which is why a performance like Strawberry Orphans turns into a fundamental reflection, because it restores an objective perspective on the situation that has been happening in Romania for such a long time. The show, created within “The Art of Ageing” project, brought together four actors: two from Romania, from the National Theatre “Marin Sorescu” of Craiova, and two from Germany, from Staatstheater Braunschweig of the homonymous city. It was also supported by Goethe-Institut Bucharest, but by WorldVision and Save the Children too, which helped the artists’ team on their research work; through these two organizations, they were able to communicate with children, grandparents and families who live the reality of having relatives that work abroad. Their stories were dramatized in the performance I saw on the 28th of September in Craiova. Actors Gina Călinoiu, Gabriela Baciu, Sven Hönig and Oliver Simon animated these characters who live among us, and who were so real on stage that they must have brought tears to spectators’ eyes throughout the performance. On stage with the actors was musician Kim Efert, who provided the live soundtrack created with an electric guitar, synthesizers, a drum brush, and rhythmic tapping on the enormous cardboard box that was, in turn, a closet, the actors’ wardrobe kit, a children’s playground, or any other necessary furniture piece. 

The actors took their part in the research work; back in Germany, all four of them spent a day on a strawberry field, picking full baskets of this significant fruit, probably reflecting on how difficult it is to perform a task like this, day after day. The show’s director, Julia Roesler, together with other members of werkgruppe2, interviewed and had discussions with approximately 30 families in the Craiova area; the stories from the show are their stories, which the team tried to transpose in all their variety. The main subject here are the children and what happens to them when they cannot grow up next to their parents. Sven Hönig, an actor who is rather well-known on the scene of German cinematography as well, and who best managed to sink into the minds and worlds of the children he interpreted, concluded that for these so-called orphans, communication becomes the most difficult thing to do. Children like these don’t receive the same attention, or the same solid structure that would allow them to grow and evolve normally, with normal children’s thoughts. If Hönig was the most credible child, Gina Călinoiu was the most sensible one; her interpretation, oftentimes incredibly touching, demonstrated a level of empathy we should expect from all the citizens of this Europe we want to live in.

The show has its moments of original humor as well, but it works to further highlight the true bitterness of reality, like the scene when the cardboard box becomes an outhouse, and an interviewer’s voice asks: was this your toilet? The reply comes: it still is! On stage, we saw children who wished their parents brought them some doll when they came back, but more than anything, that they simply returned; children who tried to raise their younger brothers and sisters almost on their own, children who were apparently rejoicing in the liberty created by their parents’ absence, grotesquely matured children, sad children, but grandparents as well, who couldn’t enjoy their retirement, worried when their children stopped calling, or fearing that someday, the money might stop arriving. Similar situations from the Roma communities were interpreted, communities where the same children who rarely have access to a real education and equal rights – due to certain traditions, but also because of a less than tolerant society which is everything but equipped for such a responsibility –, are also deprived of the presence of parents who would at least love them. In order to have a real awareness impact, at the end of every show the actors are available for discussions and questions; the more we talk about this subject, the more real it will become, and we will come closer to finding a possible solution, or at least closer to eliminating a generalizing mentality that tends to discriminate against the seasonal immigrants from the get-go in the countries where they appear, but their children as well, whose poor start in life hinders a normal evolution in society. The performance will also be played in other Romanian cities like Sibiu, Brașov and Bucharest, thereupon following a similar route through Germany.

The situation is clearly overwhelming for all those involved, perhaps even more so for those who only know of these cases, like the Romanians, or for those who meet these cases in their own countries, like the Germans, the Italians, the Spanish, the French and so on. And yet we’re the ones who might be able to help, we whose families are at least together; the people who talked to the artists from werkgruppe2 often receive aid from the NGOs involved in this project, and which are mostly interested in providing the children with school supplies, making sure they can continue with their studies even when life at home is difficult. Projects like Strawberry Orphans are necessary, because they remind us to not become used to a tough situation, even if it’s been going on for such a long time that we barely notice it anymore. Habit leads to negligence, to forgetfulness, to indifference; and the theatre must take on a social role as well, like any of the arts – something that the collaborating artists have fully managed with this show. A show which, if analyzed from a purely aesthetic point of view, is well put together, played by discerning and skilled actors, and carrying that quality of keeping spectators on the edge of their seats, only this time being uncomfortable as well, because the theme itself brought to mind conflicting thoughts and emotions; a modern show directed with precision and minimal use of raw matter, but generous in subjects, range of emotions, and interpretation.

Lia Boangiu, Essayist & translator

Friday, 10 October 2014

Strawberry Orphans – A Touching Reality

With Strawberry Orphans, being a documentary theatre play, you feel the desire to engage in a dialogue with the characters. Because you perceive the vein of the immediate reality and it is from there that the predisposition for involvement comes. Incidentally, the show even asks that implicitly and explicitly. It requires an attitude. Julia Roesler, Silke Merzhäuser, Gina Călinoiu have documented in details, working with, unfortunately, the few non-governmental organizations concerned with the fate of children who, in one form or another, are disadvantaged. Silke Merzhäuser and Axel Preuß, built, based on documentation, a well-structured dramatic, homogeneous and dense text, attractive in all respects. The subject is a current one and it demands our attention, it is challenging for debate. The topic of the play deals only with the consequences and not with the causes. How did we come to the situation of this mass labor migration? A grandmother in the story could have conjured the image of mornings before 1989, when waves of people headed for various industrial areas that provided jobs for almost everyone. And most of them were at that time highly skilled labor, whereas now it became a migration to low-skilled jobs. We could even push the question further and ask why are there so many jobs available? Without ignoring the major issue of the performance, i.e. the transfer of civilization, beyond the material quantification, a positive aspect could be added to the discussion, when parents arriving in the West acquire skills and discover modern attitudes and approaches which gradually impact in the country of origin.
Until now, this topic was barely highlighted in studies or analyses, but now this performance succeeded in addressing the topic to everyone, children and adults. The text skillfully combines stories collected from interviews with a minimum of fiction to ensure a connection and a flow that keeps the audience's attention. Being a show that brings together two cultures, it had to deal with languages. The combination of the two languages was so natural that, at no moment, the homogeneity suffered. Here, of course, the major asset were the two German actors who spoke many lines in Romanian, often with an effortless accent. Naturally, in Germany the proportion will change, Romanian becoming an element of ambience and particularity. 
Speaking of homogeneity, I would like to emphasize the perfect harmony between the German actors, Sven Hönig, Oliver Simon and the actresses from Romania, Gina Călinoiu and Gabriela Baciu. They form a team and complete each other delightfully. When the actresses emphasize the emotional side of the story, their partners offer a playful counterpoint. Their game is overflowing with inventiveness and they successfully embody children. Naughty boys, especially in a cavalcade of gestures and gags, but also with sensitive episodes. Oliver Simon has a very successful monologue as a girl and Sven Hönig goes through the full range of expressions from burlesque to tragic. Julia Roesler uses the space well, with minimal decor but successfully employed throughout the show. That huge cardboard box becomes by turns a trunk or a closet, a long table or a hiding place for children's play, a stage for Gina Călinoiu's performance, who gives an amazing performance, constantly relying on a direct relationship with the audience. That murmured chorus becomes obsessional, "I would give my life and me", especially in Kim Efert's musical adaptation, who as a discreet presence on stage, like a magician, accompanying the story with original music, played on all kind of instruments, simple or more sophisticated, joining the actors, producing melodious sounds even with the carboard box. Perhaps an accoustic guitar instead of an electric one would have induced even more emotion; perhaps choosing electronics is to remain closer to the tone of this epoch.
The five of them, together with Kim, of course, are the key to this show that deserves to be reviewed, especially since it will also be played in Germany where, I imagine, Gabriela Baciu will bring tears of emotion in the audience.
In these stories emotion is palpable. At one point in the story the children confess they want, besides the presence of their parents, of course,  a telephone. One of the smart ones existing today. This, in fact, seems to be the unanimous desire of this generation. For these so-called 'orphans', communication, especially with their parents working far away, is what they desire most. But this communication is not enough, technology being powerless to provide what a child feels, what any of us feels: the need for comfort, for touch.

Marius Dobrin

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Rehearsals have started in Heidelberg!

An E-Mail-Correspondence between the director Miriam Horwitz and the dramaturge Jürgen Popig about Ivor Marinić's play ‘Ich befürchte, jetzt kennen wir uns’ / ‘Bojim se da se sada poznajemo’

The play is based on the results of a workshop with the Croatian and the German cast who will perform the piece in Heidelberg and in Zagreb.

September 20th
Dear Jürgen,
I am asking myself what kind of importance the city has for the characters in the play. It seems to me a place where they can orientate themselves, find ways to go. As soon as they can't find themselves in it anymore, they can't survive. It seems to me a mirror of time as well as of themselves.
All the best,

October 3rd
Dear Miriam,
I also assume the city supports the characters. Here they can find the localisation that is disappearing in their existence. In our text the city is always presented in a positive way: The city is safe, the city is comfortable, that's why I love to live here, etc... At the same time this city turns out to be an imaginary place: it combines elements of Heidelberg as well as elements of Zagreb. A kind of an utopian construction of a European city in which the characters can locate themselves. In the Heidelberg production the city will be called Zagreb, in Zagreb it will be called Heidelberg. Conflict arises when the city loses its reliance: in Mirogoj cemetery the inscription of the memorial for the fallen Croatian soldiers in the first World War has been extinguished so that you can mistake it for a partisan memorial now. I am anxious to know what equivalent in Heidelberg history our author will find.

Second question: The play is part of the European theatre project „The Art of Ageing“. Where do you see the connection? In my opinion the play is about locating oneself in history. The memories of the characters change in the course of time until they cannot be sure any longer what really happened. At the same time they fear they cannot exist without history. The text says nothing about the age of the characters. I could imagine that ten years are passing between each scene. How do you think about this?

October 4th
Dear Jürgen,
that's an important question which I hope we can answer. How much time passes between the scenes? The actors in Zagreb said at first they felt the whole action would take place in a few hours, later they thought it would cover many years. Time passes and our counting of it can only be a kind of guiding rule. What does it mean to feel young or to be tired of life? How can you say, you have lived your life, you have experienced everything you could, and now it's over. For me it is exciting that not only Andreas – our ‘older’ generation – feels like this, but also Josepha (Natalija) has a reply that describes exactly that feeling. The question is, what do I have to experience in life? How many things do I have to have seen, how many questions do I have to have asked? When are we old? Is Filip young because he denies life, denies memory? He lives just in the moment, he creates his own life, not reacting to anything that lies in the past, he becomes timeless. Through that he is no longer available for the others and at the same time he is immortal. When I don't know how old I am, I am not as old as I am, am I not? The years and hours and moments we are counting are just a kind of education – I say it’s summer even if it is raining and hailing, because it is June. I believe that our history depends on ourselves. We use language for orientation, to share and communicate with each other, to become of one voice. By doing so, values have changed. At an age of 65 you are going to be a pensioner, whether you are tired of life at 30 already or even not before 80. This Orientation makes understanding possible but doesn't permit deviation. This is what the play points at: deviation.

„Man kann die Dinge nicht aufschreiben. Und wenn man sie aufschreibt, sind sie doch immer anders.
Er ist immer ein anderer."

Same as time. Perception of time – it is always deviating.


October 6th
Dear Miriam,
Let’s develop this further! Another question: You are putting the play on stage, first with a German and afterwards with a Croatian cast. I find that very unusual! Do you have different concepts and/or expectations for the two productions? 

-   to be continued -