Conference Report CDE 2002

11th Annual CDE Conference at Würzburg, Germany
May 9-12, 2002
Organised by the University of Würzburg
„Global Challenges and Regional Responses in Contemporary Drama in English“

As part of Würzburg University’s sexcentenary celebrations, the German Society for Theatre and Drama in English (CDE) held their 11th annual conference at the picturesque castle of Rothenfels. Jochen Achilles and his team managed to enlist scholars and theatre practitioners from around the globe and bring them together in the Spessart and Mainfranken region to cover topics comprising American, Canadian, English, Irish and South-African drama. The result was an excellently organized conference on „Global Challenges and Regional Responses in Contemporary Drama in English.“ Keynote speakers included the distinguished scholars Marvin Carlson, Christopher Bigsby and Matthew Roudané.

At the Rothenfels conference the Society awarded the second CDE-Award for Outstanding Research in the Field of Contemporary Theatre and Drama to a distinguished work of scholarly analysis: Anja Müller-Muth (Bamberg) and her study of metadramatic representations in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia: RepräsentationenEine Studie des intertextuellen und intermedialen Spiels von Tom Stoppards ‚Arcadia‘ (published as CDE Studies 7. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2001). With her dissertation Anja Müller-Muth presents an essential work for the study of Stoppard’s plays – the board of CDE are proud to recognize this achievement.

During the conference, Native Canadian playwright Drew Hayden Taylor delighted his audience with excerpts from his Blues-quartet and his collection of short prose, Funny You Don’t Look Like One, while Janice Perry had her audience roaring with laughter with a performance of her latest programme, „Holy Sh*t – Stories from Heaven and Hell,“ a tour de force through occidental religious history.

Theatre performances by the Würzburg University English Drama Group, directed by Bertram Richter, of Tennessee Williams‘ The Lady of Larkspur Lotion and by The Anglophone Collaborative Theatre Stuttgart, directed by Stuart Marlow, with their original and topical work Pricing Freedom, a play about globalisation and the conflict in the Middle East, in addition to the Mainfranken Theater’s production of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen provided the outstanding theatre-in-performance aspects of this conference. Director Gabriele Wiesmüller and stage & costume designer Bodo Demelius joined the conference the following day for an intriguing discussion and analysis of their production and interpretation of Michael Frayn’s play.

In his keynote address, Marvin Carlson (City University of New York) explored „The Mother Tongue and the Other Tongue: The American Challenge in Recent Drama“ and included in his study of the American presence in British and Irish drama playwrights as diverse as John Osborne, Tom Murphy, Ann McGrady, Martin McDonagh, Marie Jones, and Caryl Churchill. The second keynote speaker, Christopher Bigsby (University of East Anglia, Norwich), shed light on Arthur Miller’s role in the strategic games of U.S. intelligence services in his paper on „The Politics of Culture, The Culture of Politics: The Case of Arthur Miller.“ Matthew Roudané (Georgia State University, Atlanta), concentrated on Sam Shepard’s central issue and the unifying subject of his plays, the exploration of the primal family unit, in his keynote address „Global Challenges, Regional Responses: The Theatre of Sam Shepard.“

The discussion of Sam Shepard and his plays was continued by Hans-Ulrich Mohr (Dresden) in „The Significance of Horse Play: Global and Regional Dimensions in Sam Shepard.“ Mohr analysed the invention of cultural traditions in Sam Shepard’s deconstructions of the American West. The connections between the American frontier myth and Irish history, intermingled with concepts of dislocation and pluralisation of collective memories, were at the centre of Jürgen Wehrmann’s (Tübingen) evaluation „Revising the Nation: Globalisation and Fragmentation of Irish History in Sebastian Barry’s Plays.“ Cultural memory, American identity, (re-)invention, and the constant rewriting of history were also important issues in Kerstin Schmidt’s (Bayreuth) talk on „Suzan Lori-ParksThe America Play: Playing America.“ Repetition and revision raise questions of authenticity, and Carmen Birkle (Mainz) explored these revised simulacra and the deconstruction of America’s monocultural history in plays by, again, Suzan-Lori Parks, Wendy Wasserstein and Tony Kushner in her talk on „Revising America, Revisioning the Past: American Identity in a Global(izing) World.“ The problem of simulacral identities and the loss of meaning in a postmodern world created in and by electronic mass media was taken up by Klaus Benesch (Bayreuth) in his talk on „Myth, Media, and the Obsolescence of Postmodern Drama: Don DeLillo’s Tragicomedy Valparaiso.“ Quite the contrary effect, yet again created by the language of the familiar and by repetition, was explored by Kara McKechnie (Leeds), who found a specific parochial appeal in „Homely Northern Women in Sensible Shoes: Alan Bennett and the Pleasures of Provincialism.“

The deconstruction of concepts of ethnicity, gender and culture was the focal point of Wilfried Raussert’s (Berlin) „Gender and the Performance of Local and Global Conflicts in Contemporary American Drama: LeRoi Jones, José Rivera, David H. Hwang.“ With the object of her analysis in attendance, Birgit Däwes (Würzburg) discussed „Local or Global? Negotiations of Identity in Drew Hayden Taylor’s Plays,“ and explored postcolonial and post-ethnic perspectives on the ideas of a homogenous self and Otherness, authenticity and historic truth, and the role of humour. Cijioke Uwah (Bloemfontein, South Africa) spoke about „The Theme of Political Betrayal in the Plays of Zakes Mda,“ a South-African playwright exiled in Lesotho during the height of the apartheid regime. Mda wrote prophetic plays about post-independence Africa, arguing along the lines of Frantz Fanon. Cordula Quint (Fredericton, Canada) gave an evaluation of „The Terror of the Postmodern Sublime: Intercultural Intersections in Contemporary British Drama,“ beginning her analysis with the Austrian playwright Brigitte Schweiger and linking her work to that of Caryl Churchill and David Edgar.

Theatre practice was the goal of two workshops: Janice Perry (Fulbright Senior Specialist) offered an acting workshop on „Constructing Self: Autobiographically Based Performance From Page to Stage,“ and the experience of „Teaching Contemporary Drama“ was explored in a workshop which was chaired by Annette Pankratz (Passau), Alyce von Rothkirch (Swansea), and Kathleen Starck (Leipzig), in which Merle Tönnies (Bochum) gave the introductory statement.

The conference programme was rounded off by a reception given by Würzburg’s mayor, Ms. Marion Schäfer, at Würzburg City Hall, and by a guided tour through the capital of Lower Frankonia.

Heiko Stahl (Mainz)