Conference Report CDE 2001

10th Annual CDE Conference, Vienna, Austria
May 24-27, 2001
Organised by the University of Vienna
„(Dis)Continuities: Trends and Traditions in Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English“

The German Society for Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English (CDE) held its 10th annual conference in Vienna this year. The conference was excellently organized by Professor Margarete Rubik of the English Department of Vienna University and was supported by the University as well as the Austrian Minister of Education, Science and Culture.

The splendid locality provided by Vienna was a most appropriate backdrop to the celebration of CDE’s first decade and an indication of the Society’s international acclaim. The founder and President of CDE, Wolfgang Lippke, was honoured with a Festschrift entitled What Revels are in Hand? Assessments of Contemporary Drama in English in Honour of Wolfgang Lippke, edited by Bernhard Reitz and Heiko Stahl and published in the Society’s book series, CDE Studies. The volume reflects Lippke’s connections with contemporary playwrights, such as John Arden, Howard Brenton, David Edgar, and Thomas Kilroy, his relationships with the director Max Stafford-Clark and with organizations like the British Council, represented by Frank Frankel, all of whom have contributed to this publication, and, of course, with numerous scholars, critics, and (university) teachers. The book, in an elegant way, mirrors some of the most important aspects of both Lippke’s and the Society’s interests in contemporary drama in English and is available in bookstores or through the publisher, Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier (WVT).

The Society now is directed by a new board: Wolfgang Lippke stepped down from the presidency and was appointed Honorary President at the annual meeting of CDE members during the conference. The new President is Werner Huber of Chemnitz University of Technology. Margarete Rubik (Vienna) is Vice-President with Peter Zenzinger (Berlin) as advisor to the executive committee. The former General Editor, Bernhard Reitz (Mainz), and the Secretary, Klaus Peter Müller (Stuttgart), both founding members of the Society and on the board since its beginning, did not stand for reelection and were replaced by Martin Middeke (Augsburg) and Heiko Stahl (Mainz), who have worked for the Society for a long time, the one as its Treasurer, the other as the Webmaster of the Society’s website. The new Treasurer is Eckart Voigts-Virchow (Gießen).

The 10th conference again offered the 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 on the other that has so favourably characterized CDE meetings. Both groups together opened the conference with a round table discussion on ‚Theatre in the 21st Century‘, addressing questions and answers with regard to the conference topic of the relationship between continuities and significant changes in theatre and drama today. The speakers on this first night also gave key-note lectures on the following days: Thomas Kilroy spoke about the ‚Painted Stage: A Personal Idea of Theatre‘, emphasizing the importance of imagery in his work (in the Yeatsian tradition) against the predominant Irish tradition of story-telling. Mark Ravenhill provided the audience with answers to questions he had handed out himself and thus passed on information concerning his education at Bristol University, his beginnings in the theatre, his successes and latest projects, such as the play he is currently writing for the Lyttleton Theatre, called ‚Mother Clap’s Molly House‘. Max Stafford-Clark, long-time director of the Royal Court Theatre and since 1992 self-employed director of his own theatre company, Out of Joint, discussed ‚Working with April de Angelis on a play about Garrick, She Stoops to Conquer and the disappearance (and discontinuity) of ’new‘ plays in the 18th century‘. He claimed that the big discontinuity in the 18th century after the success of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera in 1728 happened because the theatre was cut off from its main topics, sex and politics, by the Theatre Act of 1737 as well as because the theatre forgot its good qualities and also simply became too big (as is The Olivier today). Stafford-Clark emphasized the need for the theatre to instruct and please with measure. Howard Barker addressed ‚The Ethics of Relevance and the Triumph of the Literal‘ in an acerbic critique of social realism in the theatre, a style he called by far the longest of all continuities and one which seems to make tragedy redundant. Useful, entertaining or enlightening theatre excludes tragedy, which for Barker has none of these qualities, nor is it literal or ethical for him, but liberating, disquieting, and destabilizing. Barker wants to repudiate the cult of relevance, of moral conventions and rationality, in order to secure the autonomy of the individual. Michelene Wandor’s lecture on ‚Feminism and Theatre Now‘ found little continuity in writing by women. The family dominated plays of the 1950s and 1960s, ‚mothering‘ was an issue even in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and Brecht’s The Mother was very important in the 1970s. There was no domesticity left in the plays by Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill and other new writers of the 1990s. This lack of families should not be seen as a reflection of reality. Wandor denoted an aesthetic problematic and complicated feminist / gender dynamics in plays by women.

Papers given from a more academic point of view addressed the following topics: ‚Irish and British Drama‘ was focussed on by Werner Huber (Chemnitz), who spoke about ‚Contemporary Drama as Meta-Cinema: Martin McDonagh and Marie Jones‚; Peter Lenz (Regensburg) asked whether there was “’Anything new in the feckin‘ west?“ Martin McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy and the Juggling with Irish Literary Stereotypes‘; Michael Raab (Munich) discussed the complaint of “’Oh no, not another one!“ New British Plays in the German-speaking Theatre – the End of a Wave?‘; and Christoph Houswitschka (Dresden) examined ‚British Holocaust Drama and the Collective Memory‘. With a focus on ‚Mark Ravenhill and Drama of the 1990s‘ Martin Buxbaum (Vienna) pondered over ‚It’s All Politics, Stupid! – David Hare’s and Mark Ravenhill’s latest, Via Dolorosa and Some Explicit Polaroids‚, whereas Mary Luckhurst portrayed ‚England and the Tyranny of Stage Realism‘. ‚US Drama‘ was at the centre of talks by Pamela Monaco (Mississippi Valley State University) about ‚Drawing Rooms Drawing Forth Our Social Anxieties‘, Reade W. Dornan (Central Michigan University) asking ‚Whither Black Theatre in the US? Ungerminated Seeds from the 40s‘, and Christopher Innes (York University, Canada) speaking about ‚Designing Modern Life – the Impact of Theatre on Modern American Society‘. The state of contemporary Indian drama in English was the focus of the joint paper presentetd by Nilufer Bharucha (University of Mumbai, India) and Sridhar Rajeswaran (Univ. of Education, Hodeidah, Yemen), „Whither Indian Drama? The Politics of Performers, Performance, and Performance Spaces“.

Papers with a particular emphasis on initiating discussions among conference participants were given by Jose Ramon Prado Perez (Universidad Jaume I, Spain) on ‚Postmodern Representation and Political Discourse in Caryl Churchill’s Latest Work‘, Heiner Zimmermann (Heidelberg) on ‚Martin Crimp, Attempts on Her Life: Postdramatic, Postmodern, Satiric?‘, and Edith Hallberg (Dresden) on ‚The Play’s the Thing Wherein I’ll Catch the Conscience of the Player: Strategies of Conflict Transformation in Contemporary Australian Drama‘.

In accordance with a unique tradition within CDE, the conference offered practical experience of the theatre as well: Max Stafford-Clark gave a workshop providing insights into his approach to plays and acting, and conference participants also had the opportunity to see Peter Zadek’s production of Neil LaBute’s Bash at the Akademietheater as well as to attend a performance by the Vienna student theatre group ‚Bluff Acting‘.

Heiko Stahl (Mainz)