Conference Report CDE 2000

9th Annual CDE Conference, Bad Alexandersbad
Nov. 2-5, 2000
„Crossing Borders: Intercultural Drama and Theatre at the Turn of the Millenium“

The German Society for Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English (CDE) held its 9th annual conference in Bad Alexandersbad near Bayreuth. The conference was organized by the board of the Society, in particular by Prof. Bernhard Reitz and his staff of the English Department of the University of Mainz.

According to the well-established tradition of this society, there was again an intriguing mixture of people with first-hand experience in the theatre and the production of plays on the one hand and speakers with more academic interests. The key-note lecture was given by Alby James, who outlined ‚The Essence of Drama‘ against the backdrop of his work at The Royal Court Theatre, his own Temba Theatre and his contacts with such directors as Peter Brook, Trevor Nunn, and Adrian Noble. James is now Head of Screenwriting at Leeds Metropolitan University and he provided the audience with an insight into his views of important aspects of the writing as well as the production and consumption of drama. Niamh Dowling, who works in the School of Theatre at Manchester Metropolitan University and has extensively toured the world with British actors for cooperations with actors from other cultures, spoke about the ‚Three Sisters of Africa‘ and described intercultural theatre productions in various states of the African continent, developing by this means alternative ways of acting and perceiving reality. Jane Turner, from the same university, but working in the Department of Contemporary Arts, has researched theatre performance in Bali and spoke about ‚The Third Spectator‘ created in this context. Whereas the spectator in the West is usually tamed and controlled, the third spectator is much more actively involved in the productions and actually becomes the director’s alter ego, passing from recognition to knowledge and understanding. The theatre productions she spoke about create a cultural hybridity by employing elements of different cultures, and the idea of the theatre developed in this way is closely connected with Homi Bhabha’s „The Third Space“ and Eugenio Barba’s notion of ‚the third theatre‘ located between the commercial and the avant-garde.

The discussions and elucidations of numerous aspects of intercultural theatre and drama were also enriched by the papers given from a more academic point of view: Stephanie Kramer (Giessen) discussed ‚Post-colonial Experience and Intercultural Communication in Hanif Kureishi’s Borderline (1981) and Ayub Khan-Din’s East is East (1996)‘, whereas Mark Berninger (Mainz) pondered over ‚The Absence of the Intercultural? Theatrical Exploration of Anglo-Indian History in Contemporary British Drama‘. Christiane Schlote (Berlin) examined ‚Goodness Gracious Me: Looking Beyond Stereotypes of Race and Gender in the Work of Meera Syal and Anna Deavere Smith‚. A surprisingly large number of speakers discussed intercultural aspects in the work of William Shakespeare and his repercussions in contemporary drama: Nüvid Mortan (Ankara) addressed examples of ‚Translating Shakespeare in a Turkish Context‘; Edith Hallberg (Dresden) made us participate in ‚Shakespeare’s Macbeth Crossing Borders‘ by presenting important aspects of Welcome Msomi’s (South Africa) and Dev Virahsawmy’s (Mauritius) adaptations of the play; Ulrike Hattemer (Mainz) revealed how Anglo-Jewish writers have taken on the bard and rewritten him. Beate Neumeier (Cologne) discussed various recent productions of The Tempest and revealed their intercultural qualities, while Heiko Stahl (Mainz) related the same text to ‚Négritude and the Master Narrative in Aimé Césaire’s Tempest‚; Heiner Zimmermann (Heidelberg) dealt with ‚Shakespeare as a Trojan Horse‘ and discussed ‚Theatrical Transgressions in Totalitarian and Democratic Societies and the Scandal of Sarah Kane‚.

The relationships between very different cultures and especially the attitudes of minorities towards the influences of dominant cultures were reflected by José Ramón Prado Pérez (Castellon) in his paper on ‚Interculturalism, Subversion and the Quest for Identity in Chicano Theatre‚; by Alyce von Rothkirch (Mainz) speaking about ‚A Welsh National Theatre? Welsh Drama in English before the Second World War‘; by Angelika Keil (Chemnitz), who detected ‚A Plurality of Experiences‘ in the ‚Postcolonial Identities‘ expressed in two African plays (by Athol Fugard and Ayub Khan Din); and in Stuart Marlow’s (Stuttgart) examples of ‚Dramatic Art and Political Violence: South Africa and Northern Irish Case Studies‘. Rewritings of ancient Greek and Roman myths were analyzed by Anette Pankratz (Passau), who raised the question whether appropriations of myths in plays by Barker, Wertenbaker, Kane, Duffy, and Daniels were ‚Greek to Us?‘, and by Stefani Brusberg-Kiermeier (Berlin), who has researched ‚Re-writing Seneca‘ in Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love.

The Berlin TU English Drama Group, directed by Peter Zenzinger, gave an exhilarating performance of two short plays and a Glasgow street song reflecting the conference’s topic in their very individual ways and providing ‚Contemporary Hamlet Parodies‘: the plays were David Ives’s Words, Words, Words, and Tom Stoppard’s Fifteen-Minute Hamlet. The production was very entertaining and gave additional, much welcomed insights into further ways of ‚Crossing Borders‘.

The latest CDE publication, Mediated Drama Dramatized Media, containing the best articles of the 1999 conference in Rauischholzhausen, was presented by its editor, Eckart Voigts-Virchow, and the general editor, Bernhard Reitz. The book is free for paid-up members of the Society and is available in bookshops.

At this year’s conference, the Society for the first time awarded a prize for the best dissertation on contemporary drama in English, the CDE Award: Stephanie Kramer (Giessen) received the Society’s award for her doctoral thesis on „Fiktionale Biographien: (Re-)Visionen und (Re)Konstruktionen weiblicher Lebensentwürfe in Dramen britischer Autorinnen seit 1970 – Ein Beitrag zur Typologie und Entwicklung des historischen Dramas,“ published as a monograph in the CDE Studies series and likewise available in bookshops.

Klaus Peter Müller (Stuttgart)