Conference Report CDE 1999

8th Annual CDE Conference, Rauischholzhausen
June 17-20, 1999
Organised by the University of Giessen
„Mediated Drama / Dramatized Media: From Boards to Screens to Cyberspace“

The German Society for Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English (CDE) held its 8th annual conference at the castle of Rauischholzhausen, a convention centre of the University of Giessen. The conference was organized by Eckart Voigts-Virchow of the English Department of Giessen University and was sponsored by the University of Giessen, the Hessisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst, Dresdner Bank, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Giessener Hochschulgesellschaft, Fachschaft Anglistik JLU Giessen, the publishing company Francke / Narr and the British Council.

One of the most remarkable of the many achievements of the local organizer Voigts-Virchow was his recruitment of speakers who are actively involved in transforming theatre plays into different media, such as television, or who produce media texts, such as radio plays, TV sitcoms or films. The keynote lectures of the first evening were thus given by Guy Montavon, director-manager of the theatre in Giessen, and Wolfgang Bergmann, head of the Theatre Department of the Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), who talked about the objectives, difficulties and rewards of their work, which in each case is connected with plays, but which deals with theatre productions in specifically different ways.

Kenith Trodd (London), arguably the most prolific British producer of films for TV and cinema, who worked on the prestigious BBC ‚Plays For Today‘ series in the 70s and 80s and collaborated with writers and directors, such as Jean-Luc Godard, Dennis Potter, Stephen Poliakoff, Mike Leigh, Pat O’Connor, Simon Gray, Danny Boyle, and Nigel Williams, and who was presented with the ‚International Emmy Award for Drama‘ in 1993, spoke about the history and development of the production of TV drama in Britain. Everett Frost, professor at the Institute of Television and Film at New York University and also a producer of radio plays and series, such as ‚The Beckett Festival of Radio Plays‘, discussed the history of American radio drama and its difficulties in an almost completely commercially orientated market. His comparisons of German and American productions of the same plays were particularly illuminating. Christopher Walker, a director of the Nottingham Playhouse, adviser to East Midlands Arts and a member of the Eileen Anderson Central Television Award Panel, was a speaker with extensive experience in the production of comedy for television. Formerly head of comedy development at Central Independent Television and now a freelance producer, Walker spoke about creating TV sitcom in the nineties.

These speakers with a strong practical orientation were complemented by contributors with a predominantly academic perspective: Samuel Weber (Los Angeles / Paris) characterized the exposition taking place in the theatre by comparing Aristotle’s theory of drama with Walter Benjamin’s 20th century modern analysis of theatre, radio and television and by detecting remarkable similarities in these two theorists. Helga Finter (Giessen) discussed theatre with Guy Debord’s diagnosis of a society of spectacle; Johan Callens (Brussels) sorted out ontologies in Mark Ravenhill’s play Faust; Claudia Sternberg (Chemnitz) pointed out the significance of screenplays for theatre and other media productions; James M. Harding (Fredericksburg) discussed the historicity of and the cinematic influence on Pam Gem’s Queen Christina; Martin Buxbaum (Vienna / St. Louis) analyzed the influence of news reporting and television on recent stage productions; Robin Nelson (Manchester) spoke about his model of flexi-narrative as the dominant dramatic mode in contemporary popular television; Derek Paget (Worcester) discussed dramatic practices in television dramadoc and docudrama; John Cook (Leicester) described the influence of Sydney Newman on British TV drama, and David Kilpatrick (Westchester County) talked about the most recent Wooster Group production, House/Lights, in the contexts of modern technology and Gesamtkunstwerk.

The morning of the last day of the conference was devoted to cyberdrama and cyber performance. Jill Scott (Weimar) gave examples of how the human body and concepts of identity are transformed in the new media and particularly in interactive media. Paul M. Malone (Waterloo, Ontario) discussed the virtual actor as cyber-marionette and the theatre as a chief model in interactive computer technology and concluded that the theatre of living actors is not rendered obsolete, but is given another stage for further experiments. Margaret Hamilton (Kensington, Australia) ended the conference with a paper on terminal desire, examining the relationship between new technologies and conceptions of theatrical subjectivity and claiming that representational forms cannot be privileged any longer in our postmodern culture. Their replacement by interactive video-computer technology was presented as a good example of a culture in which the body loses self-reference and where interaction of disembodied identities predominates.

As always during CDE conferences, theatre performances corroborated or contradicted the papers given, and provided most welcome alternatives and entertainment. The Giessen Shakespeare Marathon Group performed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing with clearly embodied identities; the media students group Drei Wolken gave a multi-lingual performance in the garden of the castle, dislocating sound and image, word and music, character and action; and Oliver Haas, Karin Karn, and Helge Weichmann complemented the human body on stage with mediated representations and non-European forms of theatre. The Schlomo Weintraub Syncopators played music of the twenties and thirties and in their way added a fine note to this rich program.

The latest CDE publication, Race and Religion in Contemporary Theatre and Drama, Trier: WVT, containing the best articles of the 1998 conference in Leutesdorf was presented by its editor, Bernhard Reitz. The book is free for paid-up members of the Society, and is also available in bookshops.

Klaus Peter Müller (Stuttgart)