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Theatre Festival: Tank in the Wasteland

David Baltzer Copyright: David Baltzer
Dark vision: Dirk Laucke’s play There's Not Enough to Go Round (Photo: David Baltzer)

4 November 2009

Seventeen European playwrights write about the consequences of the fall of the wall: The Goethe-Institut’s cross-border theatre project After the Fall generated a partially frightening portrayal of Europe. A selection of seven plays is now being shown at a theatre festival in Dresden and Mülheim an der Ruhr. By Aya Bach

You are ten and the teacher hits your fingers with a ruler. You are ten and have to write a letter of peace every week. You are ten and can take apart a Kalashnikov and put it back together again in three minutes. You know how to put on a gas mask in 0.01 seconds and how to make a breathing mask out of gauze.

You are ten and, the accusations of the Moldavian playwright Nicoleta Esinencu could be continued, you live in an authoritarian state where nothing has changed since the fall of the wall and the end of the dictatorship. Her play Antidot is an enraged all-round blow at the might of the state before and after the fall of the wall, at the nuclear threat and the terror that arises from the battle against terrorism. “Everything is actually the same as it was in our country; we don’t have a genuine democracy,” she says. Some things have even gotten worse. “Before, everything was forbidden. Now, the people think that democracy means they can do anything; that they can kill someone. That is a very peculiar interpretation of democracy. And it’s not just like that in my country, but in many of the ex-Soviet states.”

Copyright: Florin Tabirta / David Baltzer Photo gallery: Young Europe on Stage

Nicoleta Esinencu, the angry young woman born in 1978, describes a wild and wilful arc from genocide by gas in Auschwitz to the nuclear catastrophe of Chernobyl to suicide at a domestic gas oven. The invisible poison becomes a metaphor of spiritual contagion. “It may be that instead of an antidote, you’ll be given a mask with a blocked breathing tube,” is a line from Esinencu’s play. This state makes people dual victims. When the actors spray graffiti on the stage, the audience breathes acrid vapours; bringing the subject matter luridly to life.

This furiously dark premiere launched the theatre festival After the Fall this weekend at the Staatsschauspiel Dresden – a well-known place for the playwrights, of whom only a few, like Andrzej Stasiuk of Poland, are known to a larger audience here in Germany. Nineteen authors from 15 countries were asked by the Goethe-Institut to write plays about the consequences of the fall of the wall and seven of them were now chosen to be performed in Germany.

A new version of xenophobia

A work by the eastern German playwright Dirk Laucke, born in 1982, is one of them. He, too, is harsh on his country: Für alle reicht es nicht (There's Not Enough to Go Round) is the name of his play, in which he focuses on a number of society’s castaways. Jo and Anna, who make their living smuggling cigarettes, and Heiner, the Ossi who has reconditioned an old tank in the wasteland close to the Czech border and dreams of military times. When a lorry full of abducted Asian refugees is found, a conflict emerges. The “Fijis,” says Heiner in the neo-Nazi jargon, have to go. Wessi Jo feels a burgeoning sympathy for them, but in the end they let the refugees perish in the lorry. The failures of reunification, who see themselves as victims, have found someone even weaker. Laucke’s test arrangement is strikingly pointed. The fall of the wall mainly generated “a whole lot of nationalist crap,” he says. “Reawakened national pride and the will to be German is increasingly becoming the national consensus.”

The idea for the cross-border theatre project came from London of all places in the very northwest of Europe, where Claudia Amthor-Croft, responsible for the region’s Goethe arts programmes, was looking for a way to artistically approach the subject matter. The western European authors in particular, she reports, offered unanticipated contributions: “I was surprised that they seek to access the topic via immigration, border problems and globalization.”

On clear analysis, the fall of the wall also caused shifts in the west. For example, Christian Lollike of Denmark, who contributed a play to the theatre project, tells how people in his country optimistically believed in “One World” after the fall of the wall. “But then, all kinds of borders fell, we suddenly became frightened and realized that we are an insular society that doesn’t want any outside stimuli.”

On stages in the west, ignored at home

Dresden, Saxony’s state capital, is not the only setting of the festival After the Fall. Until next weekend, the productions will also be running parallel in the western German city of Mülheim an der Ruhr, which has made a name for itself as a place for new dramatic arts and cross-border theatre projects. In addition, all of the plays are being performed in the playwrights’ home countries. A good aspect for the authors is that some of the participating theatres not only produced “their” authors’ works, but also plan productions of other plays written for the project. Martin Berg, curator of After the Fall at the Goethe-Institut says, “I think they’ve all now noticed that they would like to be more internationally networked. This can have a very long-lasting effect.”

It has already worked well for Nicoleta Esinencu from the Republic of Moldova. She has been invited to Poland and Denmark with her play Antidot. Whether that will, however, change her situation in her own country has yet to be seen. Critical voices like hers are not very welcome there. “I have contacts to theatres in Europe,” she says, “but no contacts at home!”

Used with the kind permission of Deutsche Welle
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