At the end of last semester, Christina and I attended the final performance of the Faust class, which was a co-taught collaboration between the Theatre Arts Department and the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Pitt. The students performed a bilingual selection of scenes from Goethe’s Faust — there was a much higher proportion of German than in our zweisprachiges production of Autobahn in Augsburg, incidentally.
We talked to the German half of the teaching team after the show, Professor Münzer, about our project; he was interested and curious, and wondered if Nora and I had chosen something to adapt.
“We hadn’t really thought about adaptation,” I said.
Nodding, he warned us that co-writing a play was going to be challenge enough and that having something to adapt might help ground us. He told us about a very successful play he’d seen, student-written, that adapted some Kafka stories. “You should think about choosing something that’s culturally significant and well known to both Germans and Americans as a starting point for the play you’re going to write.”
Kafka is Prof. Münzer’s thing, so that was his suggestion. Talking about it afterwards, though, Christina and I hit on the idea of using the Brothers Grimm tales. There’s been a lot of scholarship on American sanitization of the tales and so though the tales are extremely visible and present in both cultures, there are innate differences in the way we relate to them, understand them, grow up with them. In the original “Cinderella,” the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet to try and fit into the glass slipper. You don’t see that in the Disney version.
Our idea is not so much to consciously analyze the difference between the two cultural perspectives on the tales, but rather to see what emerges organically when we have one young German playwright and one young American playwright using the tales as a starting place. Nora likes the idea a lot too, so we are in business.