Saturday, May 15, 2010

Some Observations from a Theater Person

This is Veronica again. :-)

After going to so many shows here, I feel like I should tell my thoughts about the experience over all and each show.

1. Frankensteins Rottkäppchen (Frankenstein's Red Riding Hood) - This was my first show here, and it was a fantastic way to enter the German theater scene. The show was at the Volksbühne, which is a communist theater. Sophia and I fell in love with it immediately. We even went back and got t-shirts, pins, posters, and temporary tattoos. The place is ridiculous. How the theater is set up is part of the entire experience. They give you tickets with famous socialists on them, and the area you wait in until they open the house is surrounded with red walls. The actual theater is also fantastic. There were wooden chairs set up in a cozy fashion. They obviously could have chairs that aren't temporary, but did have them for a reason. The show was great. Obviously I didn't understand everything, but I felt like I got most of it. The actors sang, rapped, and acted in English sometimes, which gave us a break from trying really hard to understand the whole show. The actors kept asking us what we thought, and it was fun to shout out answers. I really felt like I was back in DDR times or something. The people in the audience also looked very different from other people around Berlin. There was just something about them... Overall, a great introduction to the performance world in Germany.

2. Schneewittchen (Snow White) - This was different from every other show (they're all very different). It was at the Deutsche Oper because it was a ballet. I'm actually not the biggest ballet fan, but I went to the show just to see a different variety of things here. It was good. Not great. But good. It was very slow paced, and had a lot of repetition. I understood every word though...ha ha... (it didn't have any) I had a lot of issues with the amount of phasing between the dancers (meaning that they weren't moving at exactly the same time and that you could see the different paces). Silly marching band. Each dancer was great individually, I just felt like they didn't work very well together as an ensemble. Schneewittchen herself didn't astound me. It is the job of the star to stick out, and she didn't. There was only one scene where I was blown away, and I will admit that she did a great job. She was a corpse at that point, and was limp while the prince danced with her. Other than that, the show was okay. I was honestly falling asleep for most of it though. The music was actually great. I have to give them credit for that. The pit orchestra was spot on. They showed off the oboe, clarinet, and French horn a lot. It was seriously beautiful to listen to. I think I would have honestly enjoyed listening to the music by itself more than seeing the entire show, which is mean to say, but true.

3. Frühlings Erwachsen (Spring Awakening) - This show was put on at the Deutsches Theater by kids my age and younger. That was actually very nice to see because that is the age of people that the show is about. The originally story takes place in the 1800's or so, but they decided to have it set in the 1980's. I did really like that decision because it made it so that they audience could connect easier. And especially the fact that the kids who were acting in it were the right age made it much more believable. They weren't the best actors in the world. It was actually pretty disappointing that the main two did not really step up to the plate, but for the most part it was very good. The second largest male role was the one who stole the show...and it was played by a girl. I am personally very used to that because my theater company has girls play boys, so it was nice to see it done somewhere else. I myself have played a boy many times, so I understood how difficult it can be, and I think she overcame that obstacle very well. The show had some random parts that I don't know if they were needed or not. Overall all the actors seem full of energy, and appeared like they were enjoying it. It was easy for me to understand, but that may just be because I had seen the musical (in English) a day before. Even though it isn't the same script at all, it is the same story.

4. Trust - Wow. That is all I had to see after seeing that. Michelle actually literally only walked around saying, "Wow" for minutes after we had seen it. This show was at the Schaubühne (only theater that we've gone to in the west). The actual show blew me away. It was a mixture of actors and dancers. I have never seen anything so beautifully performed. Within the first twenty minutes nothing was said. It was just them slowly moving and building. Throughout the show there wasn't much speaking, and everything they said was important and wonderful. I was so engulfed in everything that they were doing. There was no intermission (there couldn't have been with everything that they were working towards), but I was desperately hoping when the end came that it would be intermission. I really don't know how to explain this show other than saying that after seeing it I couldn't concentrate on anything for a while. Andrew, Jeff, Michelle, and I just sat around unable to do much for a while. We loved it and made everyone else who could go. Often times when people try to mix acting and dance together like this it doesn't work. But these people were so into what they were doing... Wow. Many of the things they were doing looked ridiculous, but since they were so serious about it it was extremely impressive. I actually thought the dancing was much better than in "Schneewittchen." It was different, but I was much more impressed with this. I know the amount of time that goes into ballet, and I respect them for it, but their performance was subpar. The people in "Trust" were so synchronized. I'm very glad that there were supertitles for the show too because there were some long rants about things going on in Germany that I didn't understand with them. It just made me more interested to look things up. We were also lucky that we saw it the night we did, because John, Emma, and Maggie saw it the next night and the supertitles were in French. Ugh. Let me just say it was spectacular.

5. Diebe (Thieves) - The awesome thing about seeing this show was that it was written by Dea Loher (the woman who wrote "Unschuld" which is the show we did a few weeks ago for this class) and directed by Kriegenburg (Janet's favorite director). Both of whom were there for the curtain call, which was awesome. The performance was inside the main theater of the Deutsches Theater. First of all, that theater is absolutely gorgeous. Second of all, it is set up very poorly. Janet and I had seats in the last row of the first balcony. I literally could not see over the row in front of me. Granted, I am short, but it was still ridiculously silly. At least I was not Jeff or Michelle. They were in the second balcony, and they didn't even know that there were supertitles until an usher asked them at intermission if they could see them. They were able to move down to our balcony, but still didn't get great seats. Janet actually talked to the usher about my height problem before the show though, and the usher let to the two of us move to GREAT seats. We were literally the first row of the balcony, and the center two seats. Anyway, this show was great. The stage was phenomenal. It rotated...but horizontally. It's super hard to explain, but there was a wall that made up the back of the stage, a wall that made the ceiling for the bottom floor and a floor for the top one, and a wall for the top floor that looked like it continued off from the bottom floor's wall. It didn't just make those flat surfaces though. Sometimes it was slanted. Sometimes actors had swings on it. It was pretty awesome. Coolest set I've ever seen. The acting in this show was also the best that I have ever seen. It was super convincing. I was very impressed. The play was also good, but it was VERY similar to "Unschuld." Sometimes it was even pretty painful, and Janet and I would look at each other in amazement that Loher would do that. I do really like her writing style though. It's darker, which I enjoy a lot. The plots all twisted together again, which was pretty sweet. I also think that they picked out good music, and they had this one riff in particular that played throughout which I really enjoyed. It was really impressive overall.

6. Die Heilige Johanna... (Saint Joan...) - For this show I was also sitting in the first row of the second balcony in the main theater of the Deutsches Theater, but it was more to the left. The only thing I knew about the show was that it was by Bertolt Brecht and that Andrew had wanted to see it. That was enough to convince me to go. Every time I say that I am doing German theater people say, "Brecht?" and that's it. Now I've seen something by him, and have a better idea what his style is like. Yeah, I had read poems, but it's different seeing things performed by him. His style is very interesting. I liked it for this show, but I think I'd get sick of it if I saw it all the time. It's difficult for me to explain, but it's just pretty weird. The stage was also whack. It rotated. That was cool to watch. They had a live band in the opera boxes too, so that was nice. The show itself was about how big factories abuse the workers. It had a lot of meaning behind it, but I enjoyed the show more when it was at the beginning. In the beginning the actors were actually trying to figure out who would play which character in the show. It was very funny. Also, someone took a flash photo in the audience, and one of the actors actually made an announcement saying that it wasn't allowed. I really appreciated that. How would people think that that is okay?

7. Dritte Generation (Third Generation) - Best show I've seen here. By far. Well, maybe not by far...but it was amazing. This was also at the Schaubühne, so I am really impressed with that theater over all. It was at a different stage than "Trust" too. The show was done by a group of Germans, Israelis, and Palestinians. It was in English, German, Hebrew, and Arabic with German and English supertitles (depending on who was speaking). They all talked about their sides of the story with the conflict going on today and the Holocaust. They were spot on. It was fantastic and provocative. You could not do this type of show in the US. I wish you could. That would be amazing. There was a lot of comedy, but it was very seriously at the end. They even showed a video afterwards about the project and how they staged what they did. It was heartbreaking because it was so truthful. It made me rethink a lot of things. Last night a few people went and there was a discussion afterwards. Tonight, we were really looking forward to having one, but they didn't do it. Phia is actually going back so that she can take part in it. It actually is good enough that I would again, but I want to hit something else up if I'm going to theater here.

Here are a few quick things about theater in general in Berlin:

*The theaters all have many stages. It's crazy, and awesome. They have multiple shows going on at the same night. It's perfect too, because then they aren't limited in what kinds of productions they put up. Some shows work out better staged on certain types of stages, and this way they have options. I really like that.

*They don't let you go into the house until about five or ten minutes before the show. That's crazy in my mind. I'm used to getting to the theater about half an hour early and then sitting down. I guess this is a way to get people to buy drinks or food (which they sell at everything theater that I've been to). Personally I like being able to sit inside the theater and it was surprising the first time when we didn't early.

*Curtain calls last about fourteen years. I hate it. It's so annoying. It's not that it takes a long time and I want to leave (well, that is a little of it), it's just that it's not special for the actors to get multiple curtain calls. Every show has about five, and it really gets on my nerves. It's like the audience is obligated to clap until their hands fall off. Another big issue I have with them is that they are never done in an organized manner! LEARN HOW TO BOW AT THE SAME TIME! Sheesh. Every single curtain call I've seen has been so hectic. It looks really unprofessional. It isn't hard to bow at the same time, and also to bow well. I do at my little side theater company, why can't they?
*Edit* I also think that a curtain call is supposed to be a humble show of gratitude toward your audience. The way that Germans do it makes them seem full of themselves, instead of accepting what is worth to you. Yet again, it seems like more of an obligation of the audience.

*How Germans do their running schedule of shows is very interesting (as I mentioned in my earlier blog post). It's weird to me that some shows will last a long time (like years). It is pretty cool though, because you do get more of an opportunity to see it. Unlike in the US, where if you're busy for an entire weekend (normally) you miss the show. I would be frustrated if I was an actor in Germany though. That would be a long time to do the same thing. It is pretty cool to have so many options so often though. The same theater will show things different nights, so you really never get the chance to be bored or not have anything interesting to see. It also helps that there are so many theaters around.

*Along the lines of the fact that there are so many comes the inevitable fact that there are also many actors. In my opinion, it dilutes the quality of acting quite a bit. You really aren't getting the best of the best. You're getting very good, but not people who will knock your socks off. Also, the kids doing "Spring Awakening" were worse than even my little theater company which is by far not the best in Ann Arbor. Not saying we're bad or they're bad, just making a little observation. It made me realize that I could probably be an actor here. That's really cool. Too bad though.

*My one last observation is that since there are so many "experimental" type shows it really makes it a lot less special. Yeah, they're awesome for us to see, but I feel like if I lived here I'd get bored/used to it. We talked to a theater critic who told us that these people grew up with experimental, so that's all they know. That means that everything has some element of that. I think it would be nice to see a nice straight show every once in a while. Maybe that would be seen as radical?

It's really late. I've been writing this for hours and still have to journal. I have at least two more shows to see on this trip. I can't believe it's wrapping up. It's been wonderful so far. As mean as I have sounded about these shows, I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to see every single one and realize how lucky I am. Thanks for reading! Good night! :-D

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