Conference Report CDE 2003

12th Annual CDE Conference at Meissen, Germany
June 19-22, 2003
„Extending the code: New Forms of Dramatic and Theatrical Expression“

The 12th Annual Conference of the German Society for Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English (CDE) was organised by Hans-Ulrich Mohr and his team of ‘invisible hands’ from Dresden University of Technology in the beautiful town of Meissen, world-famous for its manufacture of china. While the conference topics did not extend to China, papers were given on the theatre and drama of Britain, Ireland, Germany, the U.S., India, Kenya, and New Zealand.

The keynote addresses by Theodore Shank (San Diego), scholar, playwright, director, and editor of Theatre Forum, and Aleks Sierz (London), who must be held responsible for the label of ‘In-Yer-Face-Theatre,’ set the stage for lively discussions and further papers on related subjects. Shank focussed on contemporary American experimental theatre – Annie Sprinkle, Ron Athey, Guillermo Gómez Peña, Ping Chong, the Wooster Group – in „Beyond the Boundaries: American Alternative Theatre,“ while Sierz re-evaluated British theatre in the 1990s. In his analysis „‘In-Yer-Face Theatre:’ British Drama Today“ Sierz discussed the wide terminological spectrum relating to British avant-garde theatre – Mark Ravenhill, Patrick Marber, Sarah Kane – and listed future challenges for British playwrights.

Clare Wallace (Prague) picked up one of Sierz’s suggestions in her paper on „Dramas of Radical Alterity: Sarah Kane and Codes of Trauma for a Postmodern Age,“ where she pointed out the double-coded quality of Sarah Kane’s plays. Mateusz Borowsky (Cracow) then drew a line between different generations of British playwrights, who were/are considered avant-garde, in his comparative analysis of „Gendered Bodies – Historical Bodies: The Development of the Brechtian Convention in Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine and Mark Ravenhill’s Mother Clapp’s Molly House.“

The postmodern avant-garde featured again in Sylvia Jestrovic’s (Toronto) evaluation of „Body and Machine in Postmodern Performances“ and Piet Defraeye’s (Edmonton) assessment „‘When will you shock us so nicely, again?’ Reflections on Provocative Theatre.“ Jestrovic illustrated the extent to which the use of technology on stage results in an extension of space and body, thus altering theatrical conventions. Defraeye, meanwhile, discussed the performance as well as the reception of theatrical provocation, an approach also adopted by Heiner Zimmermann (Heidelberg). His presentation, „The Ambiguous Body in Contemporary British and American Theatre,“ stressed the body’s postmodern ontological ambiguity and changes in the perception of the body in plays of the past decade. Brutal physicality and verbal violence resurfaced in „Battlefield Body: Gregory Burke’s Gagarin Way and Anthony Neilson’s Stitching“ by Kathleen Stark (Leipzig), while Marion Hebach (Mannheim) concentrated on the body as site of narration and individuation in „‘Published and Perished:’ The Blurring of Boundaries in Margaret Edson’s Wit.“ Destabilisation of identity as well as theatrical space were the central points in „‘The Celtic Tiger is trapped and speaks with a twisted tongue.’ Language, Space and the Question of Identity in the Plays of Enda Walsh“ by Mark Schreiber (Bremen).

The discussion extended into other areas of playwriting in the English-speaking world as well: Dieter Riemenschneider (Auckland, NZ) described the fusion of global and local forms of playwriting into a ‘glocal’ „Maori Contemporary Theatre,“ using the example of Witi Ihimaera’s Woman Far Walking (2000). Wumi Raji (Iloran, Nigeria) took this argument further in his analysis „Transformed Identities: Cultural Transgression and Postcolonial Representation in the Plays of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o“ by claiming that postcolonialism tends to do away with local differences, the outcome being – in the case of Africa – ‘Afro-Saxon’ literature. Christopher Innes (Toronto) illustrated cultural cross-fertilisation or even the merging of artistic cultures in „Cross-Cultural Connections – Indian Signs in English Conventions,“ through the examples of Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink and the Andrew Lloyd-Webber production of Bombay Dreams. In a similar vein, Christiane Schlote (Berlin) talked about ethnically focussed theatres in Britain and ‘hyphenated Brits for/in a hyphenated age’ in „Migrants Onstage, Please: Claiming History and Challenging Conventions in Journey to the West by Tara Arts.

Academic discussion was then extended into hands-on experience in a workshop on „Creative Drama Writing“ conducted by Adele Edling Shank (San Diego), who provided participants with insight into her playwriting workshops at UC San Diego. Parasuram Ramamoorthi (Madurai, India) read from his plays, which again took up the issue of frictions between Indian and British identities, and the two theatre productions followed the paths of provoking audiences and breaking taboos. Christopher Durang’s Betty’s Summer Vacation (1999) was performed by students from the Department of English and American Studies at Dresden University of Technology and was directed by Laura Park. Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things (2001) was performed at the Staatsschauspiel Dresden. This visit was followed by a discussion with the director, Christian Schlüter, and the actors.

Heiko Stahl (Mainz)