Plays about the Crisis Alas, Europe ...

A big clean-up: scene from Clean City
A big clean-up: scene from Clean City | Photo: Gely Kalambaka

Europe is suffering a crisis. What, again? Still? Or is this just the beginning? Has the curtain dropped? No. The curtain is only just rising on Wednesday at Europoly, a festival by the Goethe-Institut and the Münchner Kammerspiele.

It sounds just as unusual as it does intriguing: Opera for ten cashiers, supermarket noises and piano. Sure, you may not expect to hear Have a Good Day! on Bayreuth’s Green Hill or in the Milan Scala, but that’s not where the opera “from the heart of capitalism” is being performed either. The main characters, ten supermarket cashiers from Lithuania, lament and sing on the stage of the Münchner Kammerspiele for the Europoly festival.

Then there’s Monday – Watch out for the right!, a performance in which Cláudia Dias and Pablo Fidalgo Lareo enter the ring together. In reality it’s a boxing match, but it’s an unequal fight. While the choreographer fights with her fists, the poet attacks with words. His questions slam like uppercuts, her blows like good punchlines. But which will get knocked down? Will there even be a winner? After all, the battle between the Portuguese and the Spaniard lasts twelve rounds.

A question of even greater significance occupies a PR agent in the thriller Lessons of Leaking: to leak or not to leak? It is the year 2021, Germany is about to hold a referendum on remaining in the EU, and by chance the agent comes into possession of top-secret information that would shake up all of Europe if divulged. Should she keep it to herself?

As different as the stories that are told at the Europoly festival at the Münchner Kammerspiele may be, they are linked together by the same basic theme: Europe in times of crisis. The Goethe-Institut invited five performance collectives to write plays about the changing realities of life in Europe. The groups come from Greece, Lithuania, Ireland, Portugal and Germany.

How is the continent changing?

The festival is not only for stage productions. The Europoly project curated by Dorothee Wenner and Anna Mülter makes use of three media, theatre, film and web. Starting in December week-by-week nine films have been put online. Unlike the plays they are each based on a statistics. Where in Europe do people sleep the least? Where are the most murders? Where do they eat the most fruits and vegetables? Incidentally, Germany has the lowest percentage of dog owners.

It’s all about stereotypes, surprises, about “Europe in times of transformation” as the project is described. How is the continent changing? What are the new rules of play that the people here have to follow? Theatre makers, film directors, writers, actors, musicians, entertainers and activists have taken part in Europoly and documented this transformation process in a wide variety of ways.

The website combines the film and theatrical productions for which there is a “lab” for each, an interactive workspace that provides a look behind the scenes. It is also a place where users can get involved with questions and comments. The films will also be shown during the festival in addition to a master class where 15 young artists from the countries represented can meet and discuss the benefits and freedoms of art based on the stage productions.

Europoly is based on an idea by Johanna Keller, the former director of the Goethe-Institut Vilnius. She had noticed that the rest of Europe tended to see Lithuania in a way that had little to do with the reality she experienced. “How can we draw a surprising image of Europe?” was therefore the initial question that the makers of Europoly also asked, particularly in times of crisis and transformation.

Who’s cleaning up?

When the first conceptual works for Europoly began there was a lot of talk about Greece. It was all Greece and the euro. Today, when we use the words “Europe” and “crisis” in one breath, we are usually talking about the waves of refugees streaming in and the challenges they pose. But there is plenty about refugees and migration in Europoly as well.

For example, the Greek contribution Clean City ties into a demand by the Golden Dawn, the extreme right party that aims to “clean” Greece of immigrants. Directors Anestis Azas and Prodromos Tsinikoris thus ask, “Who is it that actually cleans our country?” The answer: immigrants. In the 1980s most of them came from the Philippines, then they began coming from the Balkans and former Soviet bloc, while today most come from Africa and Asia. In Clean City, cleaners from these many immigrant generations talk about the work they do.

The Irish production This Beach is also highly topical. The beach is where tourists and refugees meet. Hardly anywhere do the contrasts of the two clashing worlds reveal as much as here. The theatrical troupe Brokentalkers chose the allegorical location to describe the desperate struggle of a family looking to defend their private fortress, Europe, against anything foreign.

The festival is taking place from 17 until 23 February at the Münchner Kammerspiele. Some performances are already sold out, but tickets are still available for most productions. You can find the exact dates on the Kammerspiele calendar.