Conference Report CDE 1997

6th Annual CDE Conference, Paderborn
July 3-6, 1997
Organised by the University of Paderborn
„Anthropological Perspectives in/on Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English“

The 6th annual conference of the German Society for Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English was held in Paderborn from July 3 to 6. The conference was organized by the Society in cooperation with Werner Huber and Martin Middeke (both of the Department of English at the University of Paderborn). Generous financial support was received from the Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Technologie (Bonn) and the Kommission für Wissenschaft und wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs of the University of Paderborn. The conference investigated ‚Anthropological Perspectives in and on Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English‘, thus trying to invite new (and also traditional) ways of interpreting and performing plays. The anthropological turn in literary studies was expanded to theatre and drama and thus given a new focus.

The speakers applied this new perspective to their subjects in different ways and various degrees. Not surprisingly, the papers by Richard Allen Cave, David Edgar, and Nicholas Arnold had the strongest impact on the audience. In his keynote lecture („Engendering Confusion“) at the beginning of the conference, Cave (from the Royal Holloway University, London) spoke about the different ways in which contemporary theatre addresses anthropological questions, and he emphasized the point that theatre productions are usually most interesting when they are not only theatrically and aesthetically intriguing but also thematically or even topically relevant for the audience. The need to engender confusion in order to stimulate the audience’s awareness and suspense is in this way connected with an appeal to the audience to carry some of this theatrical confusion into their real lives in order to bring about changes there.

David Edgar had done some extra reading in anthropology for the conference, only to find out – as he with tongue in cheek told me – that he had basically worked in that field all the time. More in earnest, he then stated in his paper „From Babel to Pentecost: Language and Culture in the Liminal Zone“ that Victor Turner’s book The Liminal Zone made ‚a lot of sense‘ to him. All cultures are hybrid, according to Edgar, and this shows in the English language as well as in many other elements of English culture, where, for instance, Morris dancing developed out of moorish dancing. The idea behind his play Pentecost is precisely this tradition of hybridity. The play as he sees it has a structure like Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, but it is set in a different place and time. The liminal zone provided by this play is a space where conversation can occur and where cultural diversity as well as the possibilities and dangers of hybridity can be made evident.

Nicholas Arnold (De Montfort University, Leicester) spoke about rave culture: „‚Come, and Take Away the Green Pain‘ – The Shamanic and Ecstatic Features of Trance-Dance in Rave Culture“. His paper revealed that he had read social anthropology at the University of Oxford. Arnold described the dominant culture in the West as characterized by the commodification of everything and saw rave culture as a positive alternative to the reification of human beings. Ravers, he held, have a sense of being marginalized, and rave offers the possibility of escape from a negative society and of creating a shared experience of alternative existence. Even though Arnold finished with a very romantic evaluation of rave, he could not deny that a rave can also be very fascist. But he has met rave groups who have managed to transfer their ecstactic experiences of a loving community into their real lives so that rave is not just escapism, but can really take away pain.

Arnold is also a professional performer and theatre director with 42 professional productions to his credit; he has worked with Grotowski Theatre Laboratorium and Odin Theatre, and the Society was, therefore, priviledged to have a theatre workshop on „Impulse and Control“ offered by him for this conference. The workshop was a rewarding experience for all active participants and provided insights even for those who preferred simply to look on. Theatre practitioners offer invaluable understanding and alternative perspectives to everybody who only reads plays and watches performances without being actively involved in the process of producing a play. Their contributions to the Society’s conferences have always been remarkable, and Arnold’s workshop clearly belonged to this excellent tradition.

Performances of Brian Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa by the English Drama Group of the Technische Universität Berlin, directed by Peter Zenzinger, and of Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw by the Studiobühne of the University of Paderborn, directed by Heike Haase, provided additional opportunities for enjoying theatre live on stage.

Ten papers dealt with particular playwrights, individual theatres, or specific problems. Playwrights were discussed by Albert-Reiner Glaap (Düsseldorf), who reported on „Anguished Human Relations and the Search for Love: Plays by Canadian Writers Brad Fraser, Judith Thompson and Dianne Warren„; Thomas Leuchtenmüller (München) dealt with „Religion in the Drama of August Wilson„; Stuart Marlow (Essen) was involved with „Redefining the Redefined in Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa„; and Anja Oed (Freiburg) spoke about „Staging Ritual in Post-Colonial Drama: Wole Soyinka’s Death of the King’s Horseman and Tess Akaeke Onwueme’s The Broken Calabash„. Individual theatres and their theatrical concepts were presented in the papers by Johan Callens (Brussels) on „FinISHed Story: Elizabeth LeCompte’s Intercultural Take on Time and Work“ and Markus Wessendorf (Gießen) on „Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theatre and Its Deconstructive Theatricalization/Theatrical Deconstruction of the Neo-Ritualistic Experimental Theatre of the Sixties (Schechner, The Living, Grotowski)“. Specific problems were analysed in the papers by Stephanie Kramer (Gießen) on „Biography in Contemporary Women’s Drama“; Fritz-Wilhelm Neumann (Erfurt) on „Cyberspace: The Impact of Information Technology on the Stage. Theatre Resources on the World Wide Web“ (EESE Erfurt); Margarete Rubik (Vienna) on „The Bacchae in Modern British Drama“; and Klaus Stierstorfer (Würzburg) on „Life into Theatre – Theatre into Living: Dramatherapy and its Interface with Drama and Theatre Studies“.

The proceedings of last year’s conference on Beyond the Mainstream, published by Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, were distributed to the members of the Society by the General Editor Bernhard Reitz and the editor-in-charge, Peter Paul Schnierer.

Klaus Peter Müller (Stuttgart)