• Germany's news in English
 
jobs_header_v3

Berlin's English Theatre fights closure threat

The Local · 22 Oct 2012, 09:10

Published: 22 Oct 2012 09:10 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

When the Schlosspark theatre cast a white actor as a black man in its production of “I'm not Rappaport” earlier this year, it sparked huge public outcry – particularly when the director defended his decision by saying they could not find a black actor who could speak good enough German.

Shortly afterwards the Deutsches Theater staged “Innocence”, a play by Dea Loher one of Germany's most reputed modern play-writes. It tells the story of two illegal immigrants from Africa, who were played by white German actors - again in blackface.

The English Theatre in Berlin (ETB) has decided to rework “Innocence” and bring it back to the stage – this time without blackface.

It will be followed by a discussion about the changing face of Germany and the role that race plays in the arts – with the Deutsches Theater director John von Düffel and two of the organisers of the protests against blackface, Julia Lemmle and Sithembile Menck.

'Black face must only be used for a reason'

Daniel Brunet, who translated and directed the play, told The Local it was just one part of a series that he hoped would “re-open the dialogue about the use of blackface in Germany and to let people air their grievances.”

He said, “If a director is going to use a symbol connected with so much pain and suffering, it needs to be abstract, removed, and for a reason.” In another English Theatre play – Neighbours – a black actor plays a minstrel, a white man who in 19th-century America would dress up as a crudely stereotypical black person and perform and which has since come to personify the racism of the time.

“We showed him putting on, and taking off, his [black] make-up. The character was playing a character in the play,” said Brunet. The black characters in Innocence are to be played by two Afro-German actors, Ernest Hausmann and Moses Leo.

Hausmann, from Hamburg, said he went to see “Innocence” when it was at the Deutsches Theater. “The whole idea of German directors trying to express foreigners is getting boring, it's ignorant,” he told The Local.

“The English Theatre production will be far more authentic, visually it will be better and moreover it will concentrate on the questions raised by the text – those of guilt and hopelessness,” he said.

The piece tells the stories of a group of seemingly unrelated characters existing at the fringes of society. Other productions in the series, which started in August and so far comprises of four plays, explore issues of immigration and racial identity.

“I imagine the German production (of “Innocence”) had reason for choosing to cast white actors,” said Brunet, a New Yorker, but said he found blackface offensive.

Berlin senate is cutting the theatre's funding

The mix of ethnicities regularly treading the boards at the English Theatre is one of the organisation's shining points in a largely white theatrical city.

This could come to an end if the city authorities cut the theatre's funding as planned in 2013, leaving the capital city, and its 150,000 or so English speakers, without a theatre dedicated to offering them accessible productions.

The Berlin government told the ETB the €100,000 grant it uses to pay its rent and staff wages would not be coming in 2013, leaving the theatre in a bind.

“At any one time, there are around 40,000 people in Berlin with an American passport,” said Brunet. “And the ETB takes Berlin's rich, creative scene and makes it accessible for all of the city's inhabitants,” he added.

Shutting down arts centre that the director believes has been “at the heart of Berlin ex-pat culture for the past 23 years,” would also threaten the Thikwa theatre run by a mixed disabled and able-bodied team, which operates alongside it.

An educational force in the city

If it were to close, the chances of it re-opening would be slim, said Brunet – he argued it was a lot easier to keep an institution going, no matter how financially troubled, than to start all over again.

Theatre staff have launched a petition which they plan on presenting to Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit before December. Just because the senate want to cut funding, does not, the petition letter states, “mean that it will close its doors without a whimper.”

Both Hausmann and Brunet hailed the educational benefits of having an English-language theatre in the city. Over the 23 years that it has been open, thousands of German school children from across Berlin and Brandenburg have been coming regularly to watch productions.

“The city needs it, especially for educational reasons,” said father-of-one Hausmann. “Not everyone can afford to go to London if they want to see an English play,” he added.

Innocence starts on October 22. The ETB and The Local have three pairs of tickets to give away to give away for the opening performance. Email The English Theatre Berlin to be in with a chance.

Jessica Ware

jessica.ware@thelocal.com

twitter.com/jesscware

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit


Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Nazi POW leaves estate to 'kind' Scottish village
The former German soldier stayed on to work in the Perthshire village for a time after the war. Photo: Andy Buchanan / AFP file picture

A former Nazi prisoner of war has left his entire estate in his will to a small village in Scotland to show his appreciation for the kindness he received there during his captivity.

US tries to block Chinese purchase of Aixtron
Photo: Oliver Berg / DPA / AFP

US President Barack Obama on Friday moved to block a Chinese company's purchase of German semiconductor equipment maker Aixtron by rejecting the inclusion of Aixtron's US business in the deal.

Merkel to chart 2017 election battle at party congress
Photo: Tobias Schwarz / AFP

After Donald Trump's shock victory, Francois Hollande's decision not to seek re-election and populism on the rise, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is next up on the campaign podium to set out her strategy for winning in 2017 polls.

Berlin vs Munich: whose newborn polar bear is cuter?
Berlin's (left) and Munich's (right) newborn bears. Photos: Tierpark Berlin / DPA

Both city zoos welcomed baby polar bears into the world in November, with Berlin zoo its releasing first photos on Friday. But which one is more adorable?

Learn how to speak German like a silver screen icon
Dirty Harry. Photo: DPA

We all agree that there is no other option than to learn irregular German verbs by rote. But when you want a bit of downtime, why not learn from your big screen heroes?

Stolen Dachau 'Work will set you free' gate found: police
The entrance to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Photo: DPA

An iron gate from the former Nazi concentration camp in Germany's Dachau with the slogan "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work will set you free") has been found two years after it was stolen, police said Friday.

Mystery flight path artist draws new message in sky
Photo: DPA

A pilot who likes to draw patterns in the sky using his flight path has returned with his greatest artwork yet.

Berlin 'abusing power' to stop Snowden coming to Germany
Edward Snowden. Photo: DPA

Opposition parties have accused the coalition government of overstepping its authority in its attempt to block American whistleblower Edward Snowden's trip to Germany.

Germany gains record number of Michelin-star restaurants
Head of the Michelin Guide, Michael Ellis (centre) with Michelin-star chefs at a presentation in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

Germany had a slew of newly minted Michelin-star restaurants this year, and its top-rated establishments held onto their prestigious three stars.

At last: Germany passes major disabled rights reform
People in wheelchairs watch as the German parliament deliberates on the new disability rights reform. Photo: DPA.

For years people with disabilities in Germany have called for legislation to provide them with better benefits and opportunities in life and work. On Thursday the German parliament passed such a reform - but is it enough?

Lifestyle
10 German Christmas cookies you have to bake this winter
Sponsored Article
The key to launching your international career
Lifestyle
Our 10-step guide for doing Christmas just like a German
National
Here's why so many Germans vote for the far-right AfD
National
7 events in Germany that'll make December unforgettable
Lifestyle
7 frosty German sayings to make you a winter wordsmith
National
This is how unequal German society has become
National
Six things you should know about the Lufthansa strike
National
9 ways living in Germany will make you a better person
National
These 10 German Christmas markets cannot be missed
Features
8 German words that unlock amazing secrets in English
Culture
10 German words with simply hilarious literal translations
Lifestyle
7 things Germans do that make foreigners feel awkward
International
Why Donald Trump's grandad was booted out of Germany
National
This is what is really inside your Döner kebab
National
Rejoice! Christmas markets start opening across Germany
Education
These German universities are best at landing you a job
Travel
Why Heidelberg is Germany's most inspiring city
Lifestyle
This soppy German Christmas ad will bring you to tears
National
Here's where Germans speak the best (and worst) English
Culture
10 German books you have to read before you die
Culture
U-Bahn train found filled with autumn foliage in Berlin
Features
Seven German words that unlock amazing secrets about English
Travel
Germany's ten most beautiful towns you've never visited
6,591
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd