|Mr. Udo Balzer-Reher
(Director of Mülheimer Theatertage “Stücke”)
Ms. Stephanie Steinberg
(Publicist of Mülheimer Theatertage “Stücke”)
Theater an der Ruhr
|Mülheimer Theatertage “Stücke” is a theater festival held in the city of Mülheim in Germany’s Nordrhein-Westfalen state. Launched in 1976, the festival is now in its 35th holding. For each festival, seven or eight new German-language plays that premiered the previous year are invited and the Mülheim Dramatists Prize is awarded to the play judged most outstanding. Winners of this prize to date have included leading avant-garde German-language writers such as Heiner Müller for the 1977 play Hamletmachine (1979 prize), Elfriede Jelinek (2002, 2004, 2009 prizes), the Nobel Literature Prize winner and author of The Piano Player, on which the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winning film The Pianist was based, and the pioneers of documentary theater, and Rimini Protokoll’s Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel (2007 prize). In this interview we speak with the festival’s director since 1992, Udo Balzer-Reher, and its publicist, Stephanie Steinberg, about its programs and philosophy.
(Interviewer: Akiko Yamashita; date: Nov. 4, 2010, in Mülheim)
Mülheimer Theatertage “Stücke” has one of the longest histories among Germany’s theater festivals, but unfortunately it is not well known in Japan. Could we begin by having you give us a brief summary of the festival and its history? This year marked its 35th edition, didn’t it?
Udo Balzer-Reher (hereafter BR): Yes. The festival began in 1976. Since then it has been held each year for two and a half weeks from late May into June. The works in this year’s festival were chosen from the time between March of last year to March this year in the German-speaking countries, in other words Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The works selection committee was made up of theater journalists who have read all of the new plays that premiered in these countries during the season and seen the performances of most of them. Our format is to have the committee select seven or eight of the best plays of the season and have them performed during the festival. The committee members are theater journalists and critics for the culture and arts pages newspapers like the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurter Rundschau and magazines like Theater Heute. In the past we also had academics in the theater field serving on the committee but now it is all theater journalists.
You say that you select from works that premiere that season, but the word premiere is also used for first performance of new productions of classic plays as well. About how many premieres are there in the German-speaking countries in one season?
BR: We have to make the meaning of premiere clear. It is true that the word premiere is used when a new production of a classic theater work is performed at a theater for the first time, but in our festival’s context, when we say premiere we mean the first performance of a newly written play.
There are about 130 premieres a year in the German-speaking countries, meaning premieres of 130 plays written by contemporary playwrights in German in the German-speaking countries. From these we chose seven or eight for the Mülheimer Theatertage each year. However, there are cases where there will be more than one production of same new play directed by different directors in the same year. In cases like that we invite the production that our selection committee judged to best reflect the play as it was originally written.
From the selected works invited to perform at our festival we chose one to receive our prize for most outstanding playwright prize. But for the prize decision, we choose a special jury. This committee is made up of five members, one of whom also serves on the works selection committee. The other four include not only journalists and critics but also at least two who are theater professionals, such as artistic directors, stage directors, dramaturges or actors. With the exception of the one member from the works selection committee, the other four are newly selected each year. By the way, the prize money accompanying the Mülheim Dramatists Prize is 15,000 euro.
The venues we use in our festival we use the Theater an der Ruhr where our office is located and two other theaters and halls in Mülheim.
Do you have any standards regarding the length of performances for the works you select?
BR: We set no conditions regarding whether it is a work that premiered at a public or a free theater and we set no conditions regarding the length of the performance. Usually the performances run from 90 minutes to 2 hours, but we have had works as long as six hours.
Stephanie Steinberg (hereafter S): We also accept works that have been presented as projects. If a work is introduced as a project by a certain ensemble and a stage script is then written from it that can be performed repeatedly by other ensembles, then it qualifies for consideration as a play by our festival’s selection committee.
Do you, Mr. Balzer-Reher, ever sit on the selection committees as a director?
BR: No, I don’t. My responsibility is only for running the festival. For both the works selection and prize judging, I am at the committee meetings but I don’t make any opinion statements regarding the selection decisions. The festival is organized by the city of Mülheim but all the artistic decisions are made by our selection committees.
S: Presently, we make the meetings for our prize judging open to the public. The committee members have held their discussions before an audience in a hall that seats about 300. This ensures transparency in the selections process. And, in recent years we have made it so people can watch the meetings via live streaming. Besides the prize awarded by this committee, we also have an audience prize for the work that draws the biggest audience reaction, but this prize doesn’t include any prize money.
When did the festival come to be run in this way?
BR: It has been organized with this style since the first festival in 1976. Even though the works selection committee and prize jury members have changed over the years, the format and the concept of the festival has not changed. If anything has changed it is the scale. In the mid-1970s when the festival started there were only about 60 premieres a year, but now that number has grown to over 120 new plays a year that qualify for our selection process.
This is just a general question, but can I ask you how many theater festivals there are in Germany today?
BR: Too many! (Laughs) So many it is hard to believe the number. They vary from very local ones to interregional and international ones. But I don’t think there are any other international festivals that have a clear guiding concept like ours. In that sense we also don’t really have any rival festivals. As I said earlier, our selection standards have remained unchanged from the beginning. This unchanging stance of focusing on new works, premieres and the playwright makes our festival unique and like no other. The Theatertreffen festival held in Berlin (annually in May) is also a very big festival, but it is organized under a very different concept from ours.
Would you tell us now about how the festival came to be organized in the first place? What was the background and events leading up to the establishment?
BR: Berlin’s Theatertreffen festival I just mentioned began in the first half of the 1960s. It is a festival that had a focus on directing in its programming criteria from the beginning. In Germany the focus was on the directors and the actors, while the playwrights were given the cold shoulder. Our festival was started out of a need to improve this situation and do something for the playwrights.
It was Nordrhein-Westfalen state that took the initiative in starting the festival. In deciding where the festival should be held, the state focused on finding a suitable city that had no theater. At the time, Mülheim had no municipal theater and its mayor was intent on bringing the festival to his city, so an initiative to allocate a budget was forwarded and the director of the city’s Bureau of Culture at the time, who was also avid to have the festival come to Mülheim, began gathering suitable personnel for organizing it. Holding such a festival would demand a strong desire to run it on an ongoing basis, and Mülheim surely had people with that kind of commitment. However, I don’t think what they did would have been possible in today’s economic conditions. In that respect, I think that time in the mid-1970s after the effects of the oil shock had subsides was probably a good time for starting such a festival.
S: At the time, the mainstream in German theater was doing contemporary adaptations of traditional works of already deceased master playwrights of the past, such as Shakespeare, Chekhov, Molie`re, Ibsen or Brecht. The contemporary playwrights of the day lived in the shadow of the great masters of the past and thee were few chances for their works to premiere. The purpose of the festival was to nurture playwrights writing in German. As Mr. Balzer-Reher just said, there were only 50 or 60 new plays in German premiering in one season in the 1970s, while today there are more than 120. One of the reasons that the number of new German-language plays has doubled in the past 35 years is definitely because of the existence of our festival.
BR: A lot has happened since 1976. A lot of festivals have been born and they are offering opportunities to a lot of playwrights. There are now theaters with affiliated playwrights. Incentive awards have been established for playwrights and there are universities now that have courses for training playwrights. I believe that we can say with certainty that in its 35 years the Mülheim Theatertage festival has been instrumental in laying a foundation that has made it possible for playwrights in the German-speaking countries to create new creative directions.
Could I ask the two of you to tell us about your personal career histories.
S: I haven’t been with the festival as long as Mr. Balzer-Reher, but I have been involved in it since 1997. Initially I worked in an administrative role, but since 2000 I have been involved in publicity for the festival and I have also been working as Mr. Balzer-Reher’s assistant on programs other than the competition. We are constantly thinking about a variety of programs that are possible within the structure of the festival.
Our job begins with preparations for the works selection committee, producing documents and other materials. Once it is decided which works we will invite, we decide on the schedule and the venues and begin publicity work. At the same time, we begin planning and implementing accompanying programs. These programs include things like translator workshops and a playwright festival for children’s theater. The dramatist festival for children’s theater has now become an independent program that I would like to talk about in detail later.
BR: I was born in 1955 and I’m 55 now, so I’m nearing retirement (laughs). I took on the job of directing this festival in 1992, and at the same time I was given responsibility for all of the theater-related programs of the Mülheim municipal government. That means I am involved in not only the festival but also in the planning and implementation of all the performing arts programs that the city of Mülheim offers our citizens during the year, including everything from programming for companies that tour to our city, children’s theater and our off-theater festival to things like our international piano festival. Among these programs the Theatertage festival is one of the most important.
My major field of study was public administration. After studying law, management and public administration, I began working in the Mülheim municipal government’s social culture departments, during which time I was involved in the creation of social culture centers at two locations in the city and establishing a theater company for senior citizens. I don’t know if you have social culture centers in Japan, but in Mülheim we established two, one in an upper class residential area and another in a district with a large lower income and unemployed population. In the Ruhr region where Mülheim is located, the decline of the coal and steel industries led to a restructuring of the industrial make-up of the region that led to a dramatic increase in the numbers of unemployed workers. In this kind of district the programs of the social culture centers originally was mainly to spread arts and culture among the citizens, but with the changing times that role has shifted to an increasing number of programs aimed at lowering the barriers that prevent the immigrant population that has moved into the area from participating more fully in German society. Since each of the centers has a diverse demographic mix and people with different cultural backgrounds, quite a variety of programs are going on there, some in which the citizens themselves have taken the initiative to start and some provided by the city’s bureau of cultural affairs. It was in the latter half of the 1980s that these social culture centers and the theater company for senior citizens were established, and I believe it was possible because it was an era of financial and budgetary affluence.
In 1992, when the former Mülheimer Theatertage director retired, I was approached with an offer to take the job and I accepted. But, to tell the truth, I never expected that I would be doing it this long. My training was in public administration but privately I had been a member of a semi-professional theater company and I knew a lot of theater people and had a real interest in theater. For that reason, I had been attending the Mülheimer Theatertage as a member of the audience from the very first holding, when I was 21. In order to concentrate on the social culture center work I just mentioned, I had quit the theater company in 1981, but the fact that I had been a member of semi-professional theater company and had experience organizing the social culture centers and the theater company for senior citizens must have convinced the festival people that I was someone they could entrust the job to.
In the years that I was attending the festival as a member of the audience, they weren’t making the selections committee discourse public yet. I think it was in 1989 or ’90 that I joined with the director of the Mülheim municipal bureau of culture, Hans-Georg Küppers (current director of the Munich municipal bureau of culture), to launch festival “Impulse”, an off-theater festival for Mülheim and the cities around it. After that, Küpers and I discussed several time what should be done about the Mülheim Theatertage festival’s selection process. It was noted as a problem with all festivals that there was a lack of transparency in the selection standards and reasons for choices and we were thinking about how we could make the prize selections more transparent. Just around that time the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis in Klagenfurt, Austria (Note: a festival having one of the most important literary prizes in the German-speaking countries) began holding its selection discussions in a public venue. So, it was decided to do the same with the Mülheim festival from 1993 with the price jury meetings being open to the public. And, beginning a few years ago we have made the meeting public by showing them as streaming video on the internet. I think that has made the discussions more objective and encouraged greater trust in the process.
Did the playwrights come to the public meetings of the selections committee?
BR: Of course, there is no problem with having them attend, but none of them do. But, we are sure that they are watching it on the internet. I imagine that they don’t want the audience to see their reactions as their works are being discussed. However they are definitely watching on the internet. Seeing responses sent by email as soon as the prize is decided shows us that they had been watching the proceedings on the internet all the while. But, none of them will say that they had been watching (laughs).
S: There has been a case of a playwright attending the public meeting the day after their play was performed in the festival. We are glad to have them attend, but we also understand why they would not want to attend.
Your festival has a very long history of 35 years. What do you think is the reason it has continued so long?
S: I think it is the fact that there is no other festival that has such a clearly defined theme. This is what makes the festival truly unique. If you look at the audience coming to our festival you will see that it is made up of journalists, theater academics, dramaturges and other theater professions from inside and outside the area. They know that is they come to Mülheim during the festivals three week run they can see the most important new plays in the German-speaking countries that have been selected by a reliable selections process. For that reason, this festival is different from any other, and I think that is why it has continued this long.
Yours is a festival that has a language barrier for many because it is all in German, but you have an accompanying program of translator workshops. Would you tell us in some detail about this program?
BR: The translator workshops program was launched in 1985 with the cooperation of the Goethe-Institute (GI) that has branches around the world and the International Theater Institute (ITI). Its aim is to introduce the plays of the German-speaking countries widely in foreign countries and it involves inviting translators from the various countries to Mülheim to have them work on translation the plays into their respective languages. We would like to have it every year, but for now it is only held every other year. We use the internet to send out invitations from Mülheim to the ITI and GI offices around the world and have the translators they select come to Mülheim. The important thing is that the translators selected be ones who specialize in theater and plays or translators who are involved in theater in some way. The participants are 12 translators from around the world, one seminar instructor and one representative from ITI to handle the administrative aspects. In terms of finances, the respective GI and ITI branches pay for the cost of sending the translators to Germany, and the festival pays for their living expenses during their stay in Mülheim.
During the festival’s run, the translators are divided into groups and work on translating the scripts of about three of the plays that are actually performed in the festival. The seminar instructors are theater or translation specialists.
S: Since they are translating plays that are actually performed in our festival, the translators can see with their own eyes how the scripts are brought to life as works for the stage. And, since the translators are actually there, they can talk to the playwrights directly and ask them questions they may have. Besides the translators, playwrights, publishers and directors of other festivals also take part in the workshops.
The purpose of our workshop is not only to have the participants translate the texts into their respective languages but also to go on to have the translated works brought to the stage as actual productions. That is why it is important that the translators not only be people who can produce translations of high literary quality but also be people who are deeply involved in the theater worlds of their respective countries.
Having the translators actually see the performances of the works means that they will also be seeing how the original text is colored by the director in bringing it to the stage. In that sense, the Translator is no longer able to translate the ply purely as a text, isn’t that right?
S: That is one of the points that comes into focus in our workshops and many intense discussions have taken place on this subject. The script of a play really only comes into existence when it is brought to the stage, and yet, bringing it to the stage always involves some amount of interpretation that is different with each director.
BR: This point has been one of ongoing debate ever since the festival was launched in 1976. The debate on whether the play is only the script or the script interpreted through the staging of it still continues today, and it will surely continue in the future, I believe.
Do your prize-winning playwrights appear to get more commissions for works from theaters?
BR: That is definitely a trend we have seen. It is also a fact that commissions from theaters bring the playwrights more stability financially. But, whether or not the playwright accepts the commission is another matter. If the premiere of a commissioned work is scheduled for the 15th of January, for example, the script has to be ready by at least October of the year before. It is a lot of pressure for a writer to have a deadline like that. There are some writers that don’t want to work under that kind of pressure.
There are some writers like Nobel Literature Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek who have won your festival’s prize multiple times in 2002, 2004 and 2009. What is your festival’s stance regarding young writers.
BR: Our festival sets no requirements on a writer’s age or past experience. There is only one determinant for qualification, whether the play has been performed or not. That is all. Speaking of young contestants, for example we had a student still studying in the scenario writing course at Berlin University have a work chosen and performed at our festival.
S: We gather the texts of the plays that are eligible for selection for our festival. Most of the texts are sent to us by the publishers. If they are scripts that aren’t finished yet are sent to us as information documents. In the case of playwrights who don’t have a publisher yet, or writer who keep the copyrights for themselves, we have them send us their texts directly. Anyone can send us the text of their play for consideration, regardless of career experience or how young they are as long as they meet our two requirements: that the play be written in German and that it is certain that it has or will premiere within the designated time period.
I would like to change the subject now and ask you about the financing of your festival. Have there been any changes in its 35-year history?
BR: There have been. At first the city of Mülheim provided almost all the funding, with a bit of support from Nordrhein-Westfalen state. Now it has changed and there are three sources of funding. The city of Mülheim provides about one-third of the funding, while another third is provided by the Nordrhein-Westfalen state and the final source providing just under a third is the national government’s Bureau of Culture and Media (Beauftragter für Kultur und Medien). The support from the Bureau of Culture and Media began from 2002.
The total budget varies slightly from year to year but it is generally in the range 600,000 to 650,000 euro. It is not really a large amount of money, but everything is paid for from it. The travel expenses for the selection committees, the costs involved in the performances, the prize money, the publicity fees, everything. The salaries of our staff, however, are not paid out of this budget. Also the cost of renting the venues is not included in the budget.
We have a staff of five, but as I mentioned earlier we have other responsibilities besides the festival alone. I serve as festival director and Ms. Steinberg is in charge of publicity and serves as dramaturge. We also have staff in charge of administrative duties and accounting. Our office is in the Theater an der Ruhr, which was completed in 1981 and is not a municipal theater but a free theater that gets some financial support from the city. It serves as one of our festival venues but it is not directly involved with the festival.
The festival’s performance venues are this Theater an der Ruhr and another citizen’s hall with a large seating capacity. A third is the Ringlokschuppen, which is a representative facility of the independent theater scene. These three venues are completely different in character, which is very important in enabling us to create a condition as close as possible to the original facilities where the chosen works premiered. For example, there are cases where we have to create a stage space very close to that of Schaubühne Berlin, which has a semi-circular stage space. Every year preparing the appropriate stage spaces is a very big job.
S: Most years, the works for the festival’s program have been selected by mid-March. That gives us eight weeks before the festival opens to decide which works will be performed in which venues and create the stage space that will best fit each work. To be honest, it is quite a tight schedule.
For the 2006 Mülheimer Theatertage festival you invited Okada Toshiki from Japan. What kind of program was that?
S: It was a program conceived by Mr. Balzer-Reher. As you know, 2006 was the year the football World Cup was held in Germany. To commemorate that, we decided to invite theater people from the countries participating in the World Cup. In some of the countries, the profession of playwright is not really established. So we wanted to at least get people involved in the theater scene in each of the countries recommended the translators selected for translator’s workshop by that country’s Goethe-Institute (GI) branch or International Theater Institute (ITI) translator workshops and have them come to Mülheim.
BR: At first we thought it would be good enough if we could get representatives from 20 or so of the 32 World Cup participant countries, but in the end we got representatives from all 32 to come. We had them all tour the Ruhr region and we did things like holding a table football tournament among them. It was the representative from Italy who won that. At the end of the festival we had all 32 of the representatives sit around a semicircular table and we had each of them read from Becket’s Fin de partie in their own languages after doing some rehearsing. I clearly remember that Okada from Japan read after the representative from Switzerland and it was very interesting. This was all done outside our usual work running the festival, so it was a lot of extra work for our staff. If we ever do a program like that again I think our whole staff would probably quit their jobs (laughs).
Among the winners of the Mülheimer Theatertage festival prize thus far, is there anyone whose work you especially like to see performed in Japan?
BR: That is very difficult question. The reason is that the only Asian country I have visited is the Philippines. Ms. Steinberg has never been to Asia either. The only two Asian countries participating in our translator’s workshop are China, Japan and Indonesia. Anyway, we believe German playwrights are not as well known in Asia as they are in places like South America. There are a number of reasons for that, I believe, but we haven’t actually been to Asia ourselves, instead we depend on the cooperation of the Goethe-Institute branches or International Theater Institute. I think this is all may be a result of the organizational structure.
For example, we have a very close relationship with the Goethe-Institute headquarters in Munich, and in connection with the Goethe-Institute’s Visitors Program, we have a program built into the Mülheim Theatertage festival that invites theater professionals from the Scandinavian countries. One thing I can say, however, is that the winner of this year’s Dramatists Prize, Roland Schimmelpfennig, has been to Japan and was very inspired by his visit. (*) He said Japan was a wonderful experience for him and he was greatly inspired by the activities going on in Japan’s theater world. His winning work this time, Der goldene Drache, directed by the playwright himself. It is a play that was highly praised for its depiction of the darker side of society through the stories of more than 20 characters, including illegal immigrant workers from China, a girl with an unwanted pregnancy and others, all performed by five actors in quick-change style. I think it would be great if this work were invited to China and Japan for performances.
[Footnote] *As one of the events commemorating the opening of the Kawasaki Municipal Arts Center in March of 2008, there was an international drama reading festival where Roland Schimmelpfennig’s important early work Vorher / Nachher was performed. This is a surreal work which presents fragments of the everyday fantasies of 39 different people in a place that appears to be a hotel.
Since you became director of Mülheimer Theatertage festival, Mr. Balzer-Reher, have there been any substantial changes?
BR: My hair has gotten a lot thinner (laughs).
S: The most substantial change has surely been the opening of the selection committee discussions to the public. Another has been the reduction of the number sitting on the committees from six to five people. When there were six members and the opinions split 3 and 3, the evaluations of the audiences were used as the seventh vote to break the tie. Reducing the number of committee members to an odd number solved this problem. Instead, a new prize with no prize money was established to reflect the evaluation of the audiences.
BR: I think the audience prize is one that must be especially gratifying for the playwright. It is also an interesting fact that there is a high degree of correlation between the selections committee choices and the audience choices. There have already been two cases where the selections committee choice has been the same as the audience prize.
Do you find that you see any trends in contemporary German-language theater through the Mülheimer Theatertage?
BR: I don’t know if the trends you speak of are aesthetic or subject-related, but it is definitely a fact that this festival mirrors what is happening in society. However, writing a play is a very personal endeavor and the writers are always exploring their own world. Also, as a festival, we don’t set any specific themes or aesthetic orientations.
About your children’s theater festival Mülheimer Theatertage “KinderStück,” what was the aim of starting this program?
BR: It was started with exactly the same concept as Mülheim Theatertage for writers of children’s theater. One of the Mülheim Dramatists Prize winners, Volker Ludwig for Linie 1, is the founder of the Grips Theater Berlin that is famous for presenting children’s theater. We made the children’s theater Mülheimer Theatertage a festival limited to plays that have been written for audiences of six to 12 age group.
S: The idea for this festival came from turning the same approach we use for the German adult theater festival to children’s theater. The works performed in children’s theater are plays adapted from children’s stories or storybooks and they consist mainly of works like Astrid Lindgren’s Pipi Longstocking. The fact is that there are few scripts for children’s plays written in German by contemporary playwrights. Words are a very important medium for children. That is why we wanted to support writers writing plays for children by starting this festival.
Compared to theater for adult audiences, the writers, actors and theaters involved in children’s theater are all few in number and in a weak position. The prize money for this festival’s prize is 10,000 euros, which is appealing for the writers. Also, performing these children’s theater works can be a good way for theater companies to become better known, and the reaction people in the field is always positive.
BR: There are many people that appreciate this idea. However, I believe it is going to take quite a while for this children’s theater Mülheimer Theatertage to become established and widely known. When you consider the fact that it has taken Mülheimer Theatertage 35 years to reach the position it has today, I think it is still going to take quite a while. But, I can also say with certainty that we have gotten off to a very good start with this new festival for children’s theater.
In the 35-year history of Mülheimer Theatertage are there any things that have left an especially strong impression on you, or any events that could be considered turning points in the festival’s history?
BR: There are many things that have left strong impressions. There have been very large-scale productions that could not fit in any of our theaters and we had to dig up land around the stage space just to accommodate them. Works like that which were especially difficult to mount certainly remain strongly in my memories. But most of all, the important thing for me is the encounters with such a variety of people, ideas, art and culture year after year in the festival. The concept and structure of our festival hasn’t changed in 35 years, but every year different plays and productions come to life here. It is wonderful to be able to experience the worldviews and aesthetic viewpoints of the different artists through this festival.
Also, every year, most of the playwrights involved come to Mülheim for us. They participate in discussions with the audience for us. This makes the festival a much richer experience for everyone. Elfriede Jelinek is one writer who has participated in our festival several times. She came to the festival the year she won the Nobel Prize for literature, in 2004. Now she is not any longer able to travel, so when she won our prize in 2009, I went to see her. She still is very interested and concerned about how the festival is doing and she writes letters to us frequently. There have been highlights and also low points. There was one play that we had scheduled for performance but the lead actor was an alcoholic and didn’t show up on the evening of the performance. We had a full house of audience waiting for the curtain to rise but the actor still didn’t show up and we where wondering what we could possibly do. In the end we had the playwright read the lead actor’s parts as a narration, and that satisfied the audience. Fortunately, that was the only time that a reading had to be used instead of a performance.
Since you mention Elfriede Jelinek, we heard in the news about a scandal that arose recently around a performance in Dusseldorf of her play Rechnitz (Der Würgeengel). It is a work based on mass murders of Jewish forced laborers by SS officers in the quiet Austrian town of Rechnitz during World War II. It is the work that won the 2009 Mülheim Dramatists Prize, isn’t it?
S: Yes. For our festival we invited the production directed by Jossi Wieler that had been performed at the Münchner Kammerspiele theater in Munich. I recall that the script of this play is very long with around 95 pages. It is a rule with premieres that the entire script should be staged, but Jelinek is a very unconventional writer and she had allowed for the possibility of a director taking liberty with the script because it would be impossible to stage it in its entirety in a normal stage production. The director of the Dusseldorf production didn’t cut the parts that Jossi Wieler had cut in the Munich production and, as a result, people in the audience were standing up and leaving in the midst of the performance, weren’t they?
BR: Since it is part of the original script, there is of course no problem with staging the portions that had been cut in the Munich production. But what I always think is strange is the way people avoid facing the facts of the crimes committed at the time by the SS officers. In Jelinek’s play she writes about an incident where SS officers executed 180 Jews to build excitement at a party. The part that Jossi Wieler cut from his production but wasn’t cut from the Dusseldorf production was a discussion between the victims and perpetrators of an incident that happened in Germany in 2001 where there was a killing and eating of human being. It is disturbing to me that people make a scandal about which part of a play is cut rather than conducting public discourse about the mass murder committed against the Jew.
In conclusion, would you please tell us about your plans for new projects and your visions for the future? Especially, is there anything you would like to see happening in connection with Japan?
S: As one of the programs connected with our festival, we have one that presents a translated version of a Mülheimer Theatertage play as a foreign-language production every other year. One example is a translation into Portuguese of Dea Loher’s Das Leben auf der Praca Roosevelt (2004) by a Brazilian translator that we had performed in Mülheim by a Brazilian theater company. Since this is a work that was already known in German, it was very interesting to see how a foreign company would perform it as a work in translation. We would be very happy to see one of our plays translated into Japanese and performed in Mülheim in a production created in Japan.
Also there is a website called nachtkritik (http://nachtkritik.de/) that presents performing arts critique. Last three years during the Mülheimer Theatertage festival, the website’s critics come to Mülheim and upload information and critiques of the festival’s productions, and it would be great if this kind of information could be introduced for the Japanese audience by Japanese media.
BR: I believe there are very few countries in the world that have established systems of playwriting, publishing and theaters like ours and also large-scale public funding to support them. Even though public funding is on the decrease, our situation here in Germany is still very fortuitous. Regardless of these circumstances, the Mülheim Theatertage festival with its unique format of presenting select plays that have premiered each year in the German-speaking countries will surely continue. I think it would be good if there were more festivals like this in the world. As far as I know, there is at least one other festival of this type that is being held in Macedonia, I believe. It would be good if there were a similar festival of this type in Japan and we could establish an exchange relationship, wouldn’t it?
Thank you for this very interesting interview.