Back in Mainz, the model’s working well, adding something from both sides. There’s a new Chris Thorpe project – Status, and Jörg’s also been talking to Unlimited Theatre in Leeds famed for collaborating directly with scientists. And through Chris, another UK company, China Plate, who brought a piece to Grenzenlos, The Shape of Pain. It seems that this German-UK exchange is becoming a familiar fixture in the Mainz programme and there is much to be learnt on both sides.
Jörg ponders the different approaches and endorses the oft-cited notion of playwright versus regisseur driven work: “Watching how British authors work with directors on a play is inspiring. Here, there’s the occasional partnership like Simon Stephens and Sebastian Nübling, and there’s quite a bit of text-based work especially in the smaller towns, but in the UK its really text-based. Starting with a script, the writer’s often in rehearsals throughout and it’s the writer that manages the changes as rehearsals progress. That way the final script stands up for itself on a literary level. The writing’s often more developed. In Germany, the director generally takes a script and works into it, focusing on the emotions, how people and things are, the story that comes back, rather than the language. And then mixing in other genres, so lots of dance, movement, music, song. Bolder design, a different style of acting. Also inspiring work, but the script becomes just one element. And sometimes I think we’d benefit from a more literary approach here.”
So maybe a few more play commissions then? There are of course several established writers here, but not so many coming through the system. And bringing in visiting work or touring out in line with the British model isn’t really practical. Jörg explains: “Our Ensemble system restricts the opportunity for this. In the Staatstheater system, we permanently employ around 20 actors and have around 20 plays in the current repertoire, each running for maybe 2-3 nights before switching to something else. Breaking out of that, logistically and economically, whilst not impossible, is difficult. Festivals have always been a good way to vary the offer, exposing audiences and artists alike to other creative influences. But this model of co-production, whether with Freie Szene (German independents) or international companies, actually embeds the work in the programme and our theatre-making. That way we all grow. Together.”
And with that thought spinning round my head, I go back into the, literally borderless, Grenzenlos, a festival that stands for just this – breaking down the borders between people and finding ways for us all to grow together.
* a brief footnote about a great piece of spontaneous theatre: about a year into Müller’s tenure, a right-wing rally was protesting about asylum being offered to refugees in the square outside the theatre. Müller got everybody inside the theatre to sing an impromptu ‘Ode to Joy’ from the foyer, briefly drowning out the rally speeches. A theatre joining societal debate with echoes of the 1989 Singing Revolution of the Eastern Baltic.