I’m back in Augsburg and the whole project already seems to be far away. At the same time, I can’t wait to do something like that again; in my head there are already a lot of ideas whirling around…
This is an excerpt from the presentation I gave in Burlington University:
The plays were both ready just before we started rehearsals in the beginning of May. By May 5th five Americans had arrived in Augsburg ready to start rehearsing on both plays, equally excited about the whole project.
Now, what you’ve got to understand is that we were all relatively inexperienced when it comes to working internationally. Although we were aware of that and therefore even more open-minded, and although we were all eager to learn from each other and to experience new ways of theatre, we still can’t deny the fact that we were unprepared for what was awaiting us.
For example did nobody tell our American friends that there wouldn’t be a stage manager in Germany, simply because we didn’t even know someone like that existed in America. No one said that there wasn’t a costume shop around the corner, or no light designer who would be responsible for lights in the theatre.
That means that there were a lot of surprises and there were a lot of cultural challenges.
What makes it hard to work together sometimes, is the fact that German and American theatre are very similar on the surface, but very different when you look at both theatre cultures in depth. Also, the cultures themselves are very different. You don’t notice these differences while you’re in your own country, but your guests from the other country can become distressed because of them. Let me give you some examples:
No 24hour stores in Germany
No wireless lan Cafés no Starbucks
No free water
No Ice in your water
When after our second performance one of our actors strained her ankle, she shouted at one point while lying on the floor in pain: “There is no ice in this country”. That, of course isn’t true, but you can see from this comment how small things can annoy you in a way that you haven’t known before.
Even minor things get on your nerves, if you have had other expectations of something. Our American guests had a great time in Germany nevertheless, but had they known about some things that can be different in Germany in advance, they would have had less trouble adjusting.
When six Germans arrived in Pittsburgh only two months later, in the end of July, they were taken aback by minor thing they weren’t used to like ice in your water, air conditioning in every bus, every café and restaurant, or the bad public transportation system in the city.
All these little things don’t really bother you, but I’m pretty sure that they are a reason why you get more sensitive while being in a foreign country. And in addition to the minor differences between our cultures, there are all these differences in the way theatre is approached in Germany and America and in the way we are used to doing theatre.
It all comes down to communication. Also, you must dare speak up and talk about things that bother you, because often, when you’ve talked about a problem, it suddenly becomes less grave and is easily solved.
German perfectionism vs American professionalism
Being the founder and leader of a student theatre group, I am aware of the gap between professional and amateur theatre. This means that, in order to achieve a close to proficiency-level, we have to work harder. In the week before the performance, students have to cancel their classes and be able to rehearse all day. In Pittsburgh, however, the schedule is different. Rehearsals are only at night, because our actors have to work during the day. Also, there is less rehearsal time, because the Pittsburgh actors had their fare share of acting training. In Augsburg this caused some problems, as the Pittsburgh actors couldn’t understand why there were rehearsals all day with few breaks to recover.
On the other hand, the German actors had a hard time adjusting to the very organized schedule of rehearsals in Pittsburgh, where a stage manager told them exactly when and where they had to be at rehearsals.
In the end both, Americans and Germans agreed that there were advantages in both ways of doing theatre. And that a mixture of both works best.
Mixture of German-English
Cory said: “We like to joke that nobody’s English or German gets any better, both languages get worse. They’ve become this conglomeration of half-phrases that no one understands but us.”
In Augsburg the plays contained a lot more German than in Pittsburgh. While in Cory’s play the siblings were German and thus spoke German and English depending on who they talked to, in my play the language switching had another meaning in Germany. For example, one of the characters is losing his sense of identity, so whenever he talks about the past he speaks German, but when he feels lost he speaks English. Another character considers himself a worldtraveler and therefore he speaks English.
Whenever People ask about the mixing of language, I tell them the following: Language represents and constitutes culture. Language in fiction creates an alternative world based on a specific culture. If you mix languages, a new, different alternative world is created.
Also, I’ve come to understand that theatre is always very closely linked to society. In Pittsburgh, for example, theatre artists tend to work with realistic sets and their aim is to be as authentic on stage as one possibly can be. If you look at the pictures of the performances in September in Pittsburgh, you see a huge difference in the set design.
While German theatres don’ want to imitate reality, but create an alternative world that is more than real, Some American theatres seem to try to get as close to a movie atmosphere as possible.
Naturally, there were a lot of obstacles, and my belief is that because of all the obstacles we loved working together so much. In fact, we had to get to know each other’s culture and reconsider our own methods and everything we were used to, which made the whole process even more exciting. If you work on an intercultural level, there are always problems and difficulties, but I can’t think of anything more rewarding than this project.
The whole project has been a huge success and Christina, Cory and I are looking forward to working together in the future.
We have learnt a lot and we got to know a lot of amazing people and met great friends.
I have had the time of my life!