Plays That Fit – New Theater Texts for Children
From May 21 to 25, 2012, “KinderStücke 2012” (Children’s Plays 2012), the festival for new German-language drama for children, took place in Mülheim an der Ruhr. Here an overview of the most important German children’s plays of the 2011/2012 season.
Dramatic literature for children’s and young people’s theater has never been so diverse in form and content. In the last three decades many plays have been performed beyond “Grimm and Grips”, the once dominant framework for German children’s theater – beyond, that is, conventional fairy tale plays and emancipatory theater. And in the last two decades an unprecedented system of support for authors has produced a new generation of writers. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century at the latest, we may speak of a repertoire for children’s and young people’s theater.
Many premiers in children’s and young people’s theater are world premiers. But by no means does every world premier then enter the repertoire. Many productions are based on adaptations of children’s books, picture books, youth novels or films. The resulting theater versions are seldom performed again. In addition to adaptations, there are theater texts that are collectively developed by an ensemble, which make up the bulk of world premieres. On the basis of research, theater ensembles develop specific material and work out improvised texts and their dramaturgy in rehearsals. Such collectively created texts, however, are also seldom re-performed.
Authors’ theater and play development
This trend was reflected in the invitations to “KinderStücke 2012”,(Children’s Plays 2012), the festival for new German-language drama for children in Mülheim an der Ruhr: of the 26 world premier plays proposed for the competition, only eight were short-listed. Many of the collectively produced plays were no match for texts by playwrights. One exception was Lottes Feiertage oder Wie Joseph zu seiner Ohrfeige kam (Lotte’s Holiday, Or How Joseph Got a Box on the Ear) by Sabine Zieser and Michael Schramm. The actors in this production were also the play’s authors. The staging was marked by their presence and their physical expression. The play fit them.
Theater practitioners seem less and less to look for such “plays that fit” in texts by theatre authors. In the works of playwrights they find neither the themes nor the manner of performance that they prefer, while the figures in these texts often strike them as one-dimensional. Playwrights, on the other hand, point to their skills in dramatic writing, which can be made productive in theater particularly in the collective development of a play.
For three years now the German Children’s and Young People Theater Center, in cooperation with the German Literature Fund, has successfully promoted the collaboration of theaters and authors in the program “Nah dran!“ (Close Up!). One result of the program could be seen in Mülheim: Freund Till, genannt Eulenspiegel (Friend Till, Called Eulenspiegel), a cooperative production of the Young People’s Theater of Brunswick with the Berlin playwright Katrin Lange.
There were more examples of this mutually valuable collaboration between theater and authors: for the Berlin Grips Theater and working closely with it, Lutz Hübner wrote his first children’s play, the comedy Held Baltus(Balthus, the Hero). With dense realism and a comic denouement in the emancipatory style, the play shows how the six year-old Balthus conquers his fears and becomes, in other respects as well, a hero. It is an example of what emancipatory children’s theater can look like today.
Jens Raschke's Schlafen Fische? (Do Fish Sleep?) won the 2012 Children’s Play Prize in Mülheim. The play was likewise a commissioned work, for the Theater im Werftpark in Kiel and was staged there by the author himself. In a monologue, the ten year-old Jette describes with simple words and in vivid language the illness and death of her six year-old brother Emil. The associative web of narrated episodes creates a dense text on life and death.
Now that theatre for children and young people has established itself as a form of expression and performance, among the novelties of the 2011/2012 season were theatre texts for children under three years of age. Supported by the grant attached to the 2010 German Children’s Theater Prize, Bernhard Studlar wrote his play Um die Ecke (Around the Corner), which received its world premier in Vienna and was then premiered in Leipzig and Brunswick. The dialogical theater text for young children creates situative occasions for playing and is written in simple, sometimes rhythmic language. Around the corner is unknown territory. Are the two main figures afraid of taking the plunge or will they go round the corner on a journey of discovery? In Ingeborg von Zadow’s Raus aus dem Haus(Out of the House), likewise a play for young children, two anonymous characters also explore their surroundings with the childlike naivety of clowns. In and out. Up and down. Forwards and backwards. Back and forth These two texts opened a new division of the children’s and young people’s theater repertoire: plays for the very young.
The author is Director of the Children’s and Young People’s Theater Center in the Federal Republic of Germany, Frankfurt am Main.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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