November 22, 2007

That Other Paper (Austin, Texas) November 20, 2007

Road Theater: German Theater Abroad
by Chad Hanna 20 Nov 2007

This past Tuesday, November 13, the German Theater Abroad troupe rolled into town to perform — for one night only — the play Start Up at the Vortex Theater. And I enjoyed it thoroughly — not just the play itself, but what German Theater Abroad does in general.

Started in 1996 in New York by Ronald Marx, German Theater Abroad stages productions both in America and Germany. With each project, GTA experiments with newer and more radical forms of theatrical presentation, though at their base they hold to three basic principals: GTA always produces plays by contemporary playwrights, the teams that produce and act in each project must be of various nationalities, and (in the tradition of Bertolt Brecht) conceptual innovations should act as a conduit to dialogue, obscuring the line between spectator and spectacle.

GTA’s current project Start Up spans across the US from New York to LA. In seven weeks the crew of 15 people plans to hit 24 cities in 16 different states. There are five actors (three Germans and two Americans), a director, an associate director, and a production crew that includes two Austrian video artists. Between 11 and 13 people ride in the bright green GTA bus, with the remainder driving ahead in a U-Haul full of equipment. Their rigorous tour schedule means that they put on a play every other night.

GTA commissioned German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig to write the play specifically for this project.

Schimmelpfennig is a hot playwright in Europe, though his name is only now starting to circulate here in America. After a long stint as a journalist in Istanbul (a place of particular interest to Germans, given the country’s sizable Turkish population), Schimmelpfennig returned to Munich, became involved in theater, and began to make his living as a freelance writer. After living in America for a year he returned to Germany, working in Hamburg and Berlin (where he currently resides), eventually receiving commissions from theaters across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Obviously written with GTA’s threefold aesthetic in mind, Schimmelpfennig’s text is playful, fluid, and self-referential. And there are no artists more contemporary than the ones you can commission.

The play is complex to talk about (in a good way). So I want to say right up front that the actors — Lisa-Marie Janke (Kati), Nils Nellessen (Rob), Roland Sands (Ike), Nicolai Tegeler (Micha), and Myxolydia Tyler (Liz) — did a phenomenal job, especially when you consider the demands a production like this must put on actors. Performing an emotional play with such complicated staging and subject matter every other night must be exhausting. But they were spot on, well-spoken, and kept the audience thoroughly engaged — even during most meta-moments in the play.

As they travel across the country, GTA’s Austrian video artists have been filming various scenes in different cities, out on the streets with pedestrian actors accompanying their own. These scenes are projected onto a screen throughout the play, often to provide context. The film component is remixed whenever possible on the road, so the footage is always evolving. They also film live during the play. The effect is extremely entertaining — your role as spectator constantly shifts. You watch actors on a stage; you watch actors on a screen, filmed days or weeks ago; you watch actors on the screen, acting live offstage and on; at one point you even watch a lecture-style presentation on the history of world politics, aided by intense images on the screen.

Juxtaposed with all this live action and footage of the actors playing out Schimmelpfenning’s plot, we see panoramas of the wide open western landscape, clips from westerns, and segments of video in which we see the actors decked out in western garb wandering through an old west town, or the actors wandering through a modern day cityscape as a voice-over describes a frontier where food is scarce and survival questionable. There are even slow-motion clips from the movie Tremors, referenced several times in the play.

The conceptual video work and accompanying music were not written into the play, rather the directors and video artists conceived this aspect of the play masterfully — an extremely well-organized, well-timed production. Quintessential multimedia.

This show was the first outside performance staged by the group. We all sat in folding chairs, illuminated by the Christmas lights strung above our heads, looking at the stage where a threadbare couch stood with a large projector screen glowing blue beside it. To the left was a long table filled with mixing boards and several Macs.

Suddenly we hear the honking of a horn and someone shouting “Hallo, hallo!” on a bullhorn. Funky music came rushing out of the speakers near the stage and the bus drove right up into the courtyard through the gate, filled with all 15 actors and crew members. They spilled from the bus door and the crew manned their positions as the actors ran through the audience, handing out German flags and saying, “All right, this is going to be a good show! Thank you for coming to see the show!” And then they all disappeared backstage and the lights went down and the music faded out and we all sat there sort of shocked and then the play/visual-art experiment began.

The play centers around three Germans — Micha, Kati, and Rob — driving westward across America in a bus with the dream of starting a type of culture factory, providing Americans with cultural imports in the form of theater (a premise tangled up with the reality of what GTA is actually doing). The trio just needs a space to set up their theater.

But it’s obvious that the trip has been ill-planned, a source of conflict manifested mainly in the character of Kati. When we join the trio, they are penniless — Kati is nowhere to be found, Rob is starving, and Micha has just met Ike, a Vietnam Vet and luckless property owner, willing to rent them a space for their as of yet unspecified import business.

Once Micha and Rob have signed the contract to rent the space, Kati shows up, exposing the German crew for what they really are: idealistic kids with a vague plan that will never work — starving kids with no money to rent anything, let alone put down a deposit of three month’s rent.

Ike takes the starving Rob and sultry Kati out to eat to try to convince them to start a video store in the space, leaving Micha behind. There had been a successful video store in the building until the owner had a heart attack while watching Tremors.

With Ike, Kati, and Rob offstage, Micha sets up a podium and takes out his notes and gives an historical lesson to the audience with the aid of images on the screen. He covers WWII starting with the battle of Normandy, goes on to talk about the divvying up of Europe, the division of Germany, the Marshall plan, the Cold War, 9/11 and the disillusionment resulting from America’s false information concerning WMAs. Just then Ike’s daughter Liz shows up and playfully seduces Micha and they go offstage for a romp.

Then on the screen we catch back up with Ike, Kati, and Rob — filming their live performance offstage, projecting it on the screen.

Though bighearted, Ike’s values are doggedly informed by American capitalism, a system that has alienated Ike in ways he doesn’t fully acknowledge, as he still seems to believe in the American dream. As he tries to convince the Germans to open a video store, we see Ike’s version of mythical America juxtaposed with that of the German’s version. American movies — specifically westerns — and the vast American landscape are the common subjects that enable the dialogue between different cultural perspectives and expose the inevitable cliches that accompany them.

Upon returning from their meal — almost catching Micha and Liz in flagrante — Ike has pretty much convinced Rob and Kati that starting a video store would be a good idea. Once this becomes fully evident to Micha, an argument ensues with everyone participating that neatly ties in the previous history lecture.

Liz is Ike’s American foil. She’s been to college — she’s young and, like Micha and Rob, idealistic. Liz believes supply dictates demand rather than the other way around. If you give people a video store, people will watch videos.

So the play becomes about not just the fate of the characters but the fate of the space they have rented. It will either be a theater or a video store. Both transmit culture, both are a record of human imagination, but video stores make money while theaters don’t. Theaters are about drama (as can be films) — imparting people with some kind of insight, while video stores are about renting things to people.

The main difference between a video store and a theater is what people on both sides of the transaction bring to the space and what they walk away with. Following the dramatic logic of the play, countries can be thought of as spaces, too — video stores or theaters. I’ll let you decide for yourself which one America is.

In the end, Kati stays behind to start a video store with Ike; Liz leaves with Rob and Micha to wander into the illusive west — a literal cultural exchange.

I see it like this:

Ike is used to dealing with the realities of the American capitalist system; his big dream has been to make it, and he’s done a good job despite this empty building he owns. So it’s fairly impossible for him to sell out, lending his character a complicated moral authority. Micha and Rob are operating under a misunderstanding of what is possible in America and what America actually is: They tend to substitute the mythic west for America as a whole — as long as we keep moving west we will eventually find a place to settle, though they are not totally unaware of the danger inherent to their situation. Kati originally shared Micha and Rob’s perspective, but quickly comes to realize the true realities of making a living in America, where so much pressure is put on the individual to fail or succeed, and ultimately sides with Ike — you have to get by even if it means doing things you don’t want to, even if it means giving up on dreams. Liz refracts Rob and Micha’s romanticized version of America through the lens of her naiveté — a naiveté nurtured by her father’s unwillingness to accept that the American dream is bankrupt. In America, if you want to be free you might have to starve for it; if you don’t want to starve, then you’ll have to compromise yourself to some extent to make money. The key is finding some kind of middle ground.

And yet the play ends on a beautifully hopeful note, and we’re convinced that everyone will make their way eventually.

At the end of the play Marx thanked the audience, saying that ours was the best audience they’d had on the tour so far. I caught up with Daniel Brunet, the play’s associate director, to ask if that was truly the case, or if Marx says that at every show. Daniel answered: “It’s the truth. You guys really got it. You know this is theater so there is obviously a listening thing that happens — and this show is a comedy, a farce — you guys laughed at all the jokes and were really responsive. All the audiences we’ve had have been lovely, however some towns aren’t theater towns. But Austin definitely is a theater town — the first one we’ve hit since leaving New York, really.”

Good to hear.

November 17, 2007

The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, New Mexico) November 16, 2007

Cultural Learnings of America


Start Up is a staged road journal about three Germans who travel across America in a bus looking for a place to start a theater company. Before locals in the know say, "Better skip Santa Fe," they should take note: Start Up, produced by German Theater Abroad, plays at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

According to German Theater Abroad's artistic director, Ronald Marx, the show is a life-imitates-art saga in the sense that the company really is touring the country in a bus, stopping in 24 cities from New York to Los Angeles to present its story. Along the way, troupe members videotape their offstage encounters with real Americans, and some of this footage makes its way into the multimedia production. (You can also find clips of it on YouTube.)

Though Pasatiempo didn't get to read the script in advance, we called Marx in New Orleans, where he and his five-member ensemble were preparing for a show there, about halfway through the tour.

Pasatiempo: How do you describe Start Up?

Ronald Marx: The play deals with transatlantic issues. It's not a political play, but it contains political issues. It came organically out of GTA's mission. We started 11 years ago in New York, bringing contemporary German drama to the United States. We did a couple of festivals there -- some productions, staged readings -- and a few years ago I had this idea of going with a play through the heartland of America and getting in touch with the people here. We commissioned a playwright, Roland Schimmelpfennig, to write the play for us. We bought an old school bus, got the cast together, and now we're on the road. The experience has been pretty amazing so far. The people we've met have been very open, but of course we don't know what to expect; every city responds to the play differently. We have a talk back after every show.

Pasa: Start Up sounds autobiographical.

Marx: Exactly! Roland and I talked about it, and he said in a way it should be about GTA. The play mirrors our trip, trying to find a space, trying to find an audience and get in touch with that audience and evoke a discussion about what this relationship between us is. ... Our cultures are so different. German traditions are not what American traditions are. We try, through comedy, in a very light manner, to put that in there, not to scare people away but to open up a discussion. And we in Germany, even if we haven't been in America, believe that we know America. Since [World War II] we've had all these movies from the states. So if we're in New Orleans, we think A Streetcar Named Desire, because everyone has seen that film.

Pasa: In viewing a snippet of the show on YouTube, I see you use film clips from American Westerns and emphasize the idea of pioneering. Is the Western as myth part of the play?

Marx: In the play it's about settlement. One of the characters, Kati, has a monologue: "In this country you have to take the initiative, you have to take action." Yesterday [in Baton Rouge, La.] someone in the audience said, "No wonder our president seems like a cowboy." There was no judgment passed on that. But that image of George Bush when he goes to a farm or his ranch -- that's what we get in Germany. If you go back not that long ago, people [in America] took the land, fought for the land, built a house, and settled down. The Western image has a lot to do with freedom; that's why the Western images are in there. But that's still our romantic idea about America -- a big country where people look for their piece of the American dream. In this country, when you have an idea, people are willing to help you to pull it through. In Germany it's a lot of "But." You have an idea, and they say, "But how are you going to get the money?" But Americans, in the 11 years of doing German theater here, never say "But." They say, "Great," and they help you do it.

Pasa: Your Web site,, has updated postings on your trip. Has anything uncomfortable or shocking happened?

Marx: So far everything is going great. In Jackson, Mississippi, we were playing a conservative Christian college, and there was a wall of silence. That was the first time there was not one laugh during the whole show. The sound of silence, really. And there were a lot of young people there. I think they were intrigued, but they didn't know what to think about it. But when we were in Edmonton, Kentucky, a 1,200-soul town, farmers there, we had more of a reaction than in Jackson. So that was a shocking thing.

Pasa: And the site makes clear that things do go wrong, like when an actor skipped five pages of dialogue during one show.

Marx: We always do our best to do a great show, but of course things happen. I like when things go a little off. I'm not a Broadway person. The worst thing is like you have a record, and you put the needle down on the record and it plays and goes up again, and it's the same thing. I'm not interested in that as a director. I travel with the group, throw out new ideas, try to keep it alive. Plus, through traveling, they experience different things; it's like the characters traveling.

Pasa: One of your last stops will be at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel at Death Valley Junction in California -- a ghost town.

Marx: Yes. We met Marta Becket in June. She's an artist in the true sense. She's doing what the characters in the show want to do: opening a theater in the middle of nowhere. She bought that ghost town and a small motel, and the community center became a theater, and she moved in. This lady is amazing. She's 84, still performing, still painting, and she just does it.

Pasa: Which leads to the question: in order to be a true artist, do you need to create without thinking of financial gain?

Marx: Yes, that's part of the characters' point of view. But they run into Ike, the landlord who wants them to open a video store instead, because that will make money. Germany has state-sponsored theater, but it's still hard to get money. I know a lot of my American friends and colleagues in New York work for free or do something in the commercial sector. But I think the real experience has to be completely free from commercial pressure, or otherwise you have to adjust to too many things -- like only pleasing an audience, which I don't mind -- but theater should open a dialogue, and I don't think you can do that with a Neil Simon play.

The Prospector (El Paso, Texas) November 13, 2007

German Theater Abroad stops in El Paso

By Pink Rivera

Media Credit: Special to The Prospector

GTA Road Theatre is made up of five cast members from Europe and the U.S. They will perform their first show in El Paso at 8 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Ramblin Gallery, 714 Montana Ave.In mid October, German Theater Abroad's Road Theater USA kicked off their biggest tour ever, covering 6,000 miles and 24 cities nationwide.

For the first time, El Paso is a stop on the troupe's tour and they will perform Roland Schimmelpfennig's play "Start Up" Thursday at the Ramblin Gallery.

GTA has traveled around the world for the past 11 years. American Theatre Magazine, said the group has become the "most important organ of German-U.S. theatrical exchange," performing contemporary plays written by globally recognized artists.

"Start Up" is a comedy specifically written for GTA, with a cast of five actors, three from Germany and two from the U.S. The group is touring with two Austrian video artists who record each performance. The group is traveling in a bus from New York to Los Angeles, hitting 16 states in seven weeks.

"They have sold out and received very good reviews from the Eastern states," Georgina Hernandez, co-founder of Fourth Wall Theatre Productions said. "I think us merging with GTA is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and the Ramblin Gallery is really excited to have this German performance."

Fourth Wall Theatre Productions, which this summer staged a production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," is promoting the troupe's El Paso performance.

Hernandez said this year GTA changed their normal tour circuit, allowing them to perform in cities where they have never been and El Paso made the list.

"Start Up's" author, Schimmelpfennig is one of Germany's most renowned playwrights. At only 35, he has been featured on the playbills of the most prominent international theaters from Hamburg to Paris.

The play deals with U.S. and German stereotypes, pioneer romanticism and cinematic myths while portraying the culture clashes in a small U.S. town.

Young Germans Rob and Micha are played by Nils Nellessen, who trained as an actor in Potsdam, Babelsberg and Nicolai Tegeler, a native of Berlin. In the play, the duo tries to find fortune as they journey to the West with a business idea, selling cultural imports from old Europe.

They make business plans and negotiations with real estate owner, Ike, played by American Roland Sands. Ike, however, already has priorities of his own. His daughter Liz, played by Myxolydia Tyler, a 2005 graduate of the Brown University/Trinity Rep Consortium MFA program and Rob's girlfriend, Kati, played by Lisa-Marie Janke, who completed her acting training at the Westphalia Acting School Bochum in 2001, fill the play's female roles.

"I think a play like this will bring more audience toward the arts and, with that, an interest in the city's arts in general," freshman theater arts major Nick Balcazar said. "I am interested to see this play and I would love to join because it combines my two interests of acting and traveling.

The actors for the production were professionally cast in Berlin.

The video recordings of the tour are used in performances, showing how the actors interacted with people from other cities.

Hernandez said, by the time the production reaches Los Angeles, other cities will have seen the El Paso segment of the video.

"We're really excited about performing in El Paso because it's a border city," said Daniel Brunet, translator, associate director and associate producer for GTA. "It's going to be exciting visiting Juárez over the border to see what's going on. The performance is still transposed, which makes it very special because of the flexibility for each specific city, letting us know how much the translation makes a difference."

"Start Up" will premiere at 8 p.m. this Thursday, Nov. 15 at the Ramblin Gallery, 714 Montana Ave. Pre-sale tickets are $5 or $7 at the door.

What's Up Weekly (El Paso, Texas) November 14, 2007

'Start Up'
German theater at the Ramblin Gallery

By Marina Monsisvais

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but here goes: What do you get when you fill a green bus with 15 freethinking, artistic, sensitive German individuals?

Answer: A cultural experiment on wheels known as "Start Up," a multimedia play about a group of idealistic Germans who move to the United States to "sell" German culture to Americans. Thing is, the (real-life) troupe behind the play is an actual busload of Germans traveling the States to create demand for new German theater – thereby "selling" German culture to Americans.

They're taking on 24 cities in seven weeks. So far they've performed in a hangar in Birmingham, Ala., fairgrounds in Paris, Texas, and a community theater in Kentucky. El Pasoans will get to see them – for one night only – on Thursday at the more-than-intimate Ramblin Gallery.

Plus, there's a multimedia twist to the black comedy: A (real-life) video team is filming tour footage, to be incorporated as background and stage design for the play, which centers on three Germans starting up a theatrical business in America.

"We're looking to have a cultural exchange," said Dagmar Domros, co-producer and school bus road warrior, on the phone from somewhere in the American South. "We spent the past couple of days in New Orleans. For everyone it was a big experience to hear from people aside from the media coverage we had in Germany. But to hear people, to hear their stories — for them it was sort of a sign that we decided to perform there. They were happy that we came."

Some might say jumping into a bus to spread new German theater to Middle America is a naïve thing to do. Even the play, penned by leading German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig, acknowledges such. When the protagonists are met with adversity (a.k.a. "capitalist American spirit"), one character, Ike, suggests that a video store would be more profitable, because the market on high-art culture isn't exactly booming.

So does Domros think this project is naïve?

"Yes and no. It's definitely crazy," said Domros who admits that this is an ambitious project. Scheduling meals and hotel stays alone are a constant logistical nightmare, he says, and Hollywood salaries are nowhere in sight, but there's something to be said for embarking on a project that they all believe in.

"We're leaving a little trace behind, and we're having actual exchanges. A lot of people like it, and it opens up a dialogue where we openly exchange ideas and viewpoints," Domros said.

The parallels between art and reality don't stop at the plot. No two performances of "Start Up" are alike. The production continually morphs thanks to an in-house Austrian video crew, which documents and adds new material as the production moves from city to city. And as "Start Up" films itself, there is an actual German Public television crew documenting the entire project.

"They're not traveling on the bus, but every now and again, one of them will hop on to film for their project," Domros said.

"Start Up" is a production of German Theater Abroad (GTA), a company that began 11 years ago with the mission to bring German plays to the United States. The company set up shop in New York City and decided to take their shows on the road three years ago to bring new German theater to the rest of us. El Paso's Fourth Wall Theatre Productions is helping bring the play to the Ramblin.

Other cities on the current tour include Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, Austin, Las Vegas and Nashville, Tenn.

November 10, 2007

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) November 10, 2007

Troupe dispels notions of heavy German theater

Saturday, November 10, 2007
By David Cuthbert

If we haven't visited a country, what do we know about it? In the case of Germany -- besides World War II -- there are its cultural exports, especially the influential German cinema directors (Pabst, Murnau, Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders) and German Expressionism, the visual template for decades of horror films.

In German Theatre Abroad's frisky, theatrically adventurous "Start Up," by Roland Schimmelpfennig, which had its single performance Wednesday at the Contemporary Arts Center, three young Germans roam America, where they hope to start a new theater.

The German and American characters relate to each other through the shared experience of movies, mostly American ones, although their would-be landlord does mention "Das Boot." The Germans are fixated on the America of John Ford Westerns, Elvis, romantic farewell close-ups and the American Movie Dream that "everyone gets their chance in this country!"

Director Ronald Marx has expanded on this theme visually by pre-filming and taping parts of the play, and imaginatively using live, on-the-spot video, beginning with the company's green bus pulling into the CAC warehouse. We've all seen multimedia projects, but this was multiple-multimedia, playing with an already Pirandellian-skewed reality, since the actual theater company is taking the same trip as its characters.

Schimmelpfennig's plot has Rob and Micha trying to rent space from American Ike for their "cultural laboratory," although they don't have the necessary start-up money. Rob, in fact, is growing faint from hunger. Micha has a secret stash of Snickers and Peanut Butter Cups, so has the energy to accommodate Ike's forward daughter Liz who jumps him, tearing his clothes off. Meanwhile, back in the bus, live on video, Ike and the German Kati are getting acquainted as Ike reveals his obsessions with movie-perfect teeth and of restarting a video store that once occupied the space. There's a lecture on D-Day, the Marshall Plan, the Cold War and criticism of the war in Iraq before we get back to our story, in which Kati abandons her friends to stay with Ike, while Liz joins the boys as they take off for "Paris, Texas" -- the troupe's actual next stop, an homage to the Wenders film.

Some of the early "Start Up" clips are hard to understand and don't add much. However, the coordination of the live action, video, sound, music and lights, is impressive and great fun.
Roland Sands grounds the play as Ike, with a commanding voice and innate likability; America at its best. Myxolydia Tyler, as his beautiful, brazen daughter Liz, is the brash New World seducing the Old (à la "Lolita"). Nicolai Stegeler is the sturdy, naively serious Micha and Nils Nellessen the cheerfully boyish, famished Rob, who has "gone American" in a hippie shirt and cowboy boots. His resemblance to the young Montgomery Clift doesn't hurt, either. Lisa-Marie Janke is a striking brunette whose tough demeanor softens as she bonds with Ike.

"Start Up" dispels the notion of "Germanic" being dark and heavy. Here's hoping that this creative company returns for a longer stay.

November 06, 2007

The Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) November 4, 2007

German troupe will stop at LSU Monday

News Features staff
Published: Nov 4, 2007

German Theatre Abroad’s Road Theater USA will perform the dark comedy Start Up at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5, at LSU’s Hatcher Hall Theatre.

The troupe is on a theatrical adventure in which five actors, two video artists and a support team are going across the country in a tricked-out school bus. They’re touring the world premiere of Start Up, which was specifically written for them by Roland Schimmelpfennig, one of Germany’s most-produced contemporary playwrights.

In Start Up, a crew of pranksters decide to sell German culture to Americans in an effort to earn a million euro, which is the same thing that German Theatre Abroad is doing as it travels the country.

The tour will go through 24 cities over seven weeks. They will travel 6,000 miles and perform in cities including Las Vegas, El Paso, Death Valley Junction and New Orleans before ending up in Los Angeles.

Tickets are $8 and will be available at the door only.

The New Orleans show will be at the Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St. at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Tickets are $20, general admission; $18, students and seniors; and $15, CAC members.
All (504) 528-3800 or go to

The Paris News (Paris, Texas) November 5, 2007

Multi-national road tour makes stop in Paris

By Mary Madewell
The Paris News
November 5, 2007

A German/U.S. theatrical road show currently touring the country pulls into Lamar County Fairgrounds Friday, Nov. 9.

The 15-person mixed German/U.S./ Austrian cast is to perform “Start Up” at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 at the door.

The group travels in a converted school bus and is moving from New York City towards Los Angeles over seven weeks and 24 cities, performing the new play by Germany’s hottest contemporary playwright, Roland Schimmelpfennig, written especially for the group.Information about the group’s tour can be found on their Web site at

“You can find reviews from our New York run at Performance Space 122 and from our performance in Pittsburgh on October 16th,” said Daniel Brunet, associate director/associate producer of German Theater Abroad.

A brief synopsis follows.

Three Germans drive into Anytown, USA, looking for their piece of the American dream. They’ve come all the way from Berlin to rent a building and START UP a business. There are just a few problems: one’s starving, one’s missing, one’s gotten involved in certain practices and they’re all broke.

The audience is treated to a unique, riotous and ever-changing performance event, a combination of the filmed “reality” of the tour and the theatrical “fiction” of the Schimmelpfennig play.

In “Start Up,” an assorted crew of merry pranksters come up with what they believe is their million-euro idea: to sell German culture to Americans, which is of course the exact same thing that German Theater Abroad is doing as it travels across the country presenting this fast-paced farce.

A video team documents this ambitious road trip, then mines the video material collected up to that point live during each performance where it is projected on set.

This always new and expanded dramatic “Road Journal” interacts with the production of the play “Start Up” as background and stage design.

Other cities on the 6,000-mile tour include Edmonton, Ky., Las Vegas, the original sin city, melting pots like El Paso on the Texas/Mexico border and even an actual ghost town, Death Valley Junction – until they reach Los Angeles on the Pacific Ocean.

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) November 3, 2007

Stop for 'Start'
German road show pulls into the CAC

Saturday, November 03, 2007

German Theater Abroad's 24-city, 6,000-mile tour of America -- both major municipalities and off-the-beaten-path burgs -- comes to the Contemporary Arts Center Wednesday. GTA is a German-American theater based in New York that has been criss-crossing the Atlantic for the past 11 years. American Theatre magazine called it "the most important organ of German-U.S. theatrical exchange."

An actual cross-country trip gave GTA artistic director Ronald Marx the idea of taking a play on the same sort of journey. The group commissioned the work from Roland Schimmelpfennig, who is not a Mel Brooks character from "The Producers," but Germany's most prolific playwright.

"He told us, 'The play should be about you, your theater troupe,' " Marx said, "and so it has become 'Start Up,' a comedy adventure about five actors -- three German and two American -- who travel from New York to Los Angeles in a souped-up school bus (a la Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters) as they search for the American Dream. They want to bring German culture to the United States -- sell it, actually -- and they're trying to find the right place to set up shop. With them are an Austrian video team, who will actually get married in Las Vegas, hopefully, with an Elvis minister. "We have an Elvis character in the show. There's a lot of playful culture clash going on."

In each city, the video artists tape monologues that are used in that location's performance. "By the time we get to Los Angeles," Marx said, "we'll have video from every city and town we've visited."

Daniel Brunet, GTA associate director and producer, translated the play and his father fitted out the school bus to accommodate the 15-member troupe.

"There is also a 'good will' element to the play," Brunet said, "in that the Germans feel they need to give back something to America for the Marshall Plan and European Recovery Plan after WWII. I think the play provides a unique point of view and it's always changing with each place we visit."

The tour began in Pittsburgh, "with nine people in the audience," Marx said. "And the bus made a wrong turn and the play started 20 minutes late."

"But in Edmonton, Ky., we had 1,200 people and everyone was very excited. We were all asking, 'How did you find us?' "

Other stops along the way have been or will include Louisville; Cincinnati; Sautee Nacoochee, Ga.; Paris, Texas (in tribute to the Wim Wenders film of the same name); an airport hangar in Birmingham, Ala.; and the Armagosa Opera House in Death Valley, Calif.

"The thing that's delighted us," Marx said, "is that American audiences seem so open to this kind of thing. They usually come having no expectation of what they're going to see and are pleasantly surprised."

"The bus will just pull up into the CAC Warehouse. We all spill out of it and the show starts."

The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi) November 1, 2007

Road Theater USA performs a comedy

Special to The Clarion-Ledger

Top line: The transatlantic performance group German Theater Abroad's Road Theater USA brings Roland Schimmelpfennig's Start Up to Millsaps College Saturday.

The troupe's focus is on contemporary drama, international teams and discussion with the audience. Five actors - three German and two American - along with two Austrian video artists and the rest of the team are touring the U.S. from New York to Los Angeles to present Start Up.

The play is an intelligent comedy which deals playfully with German and U.S. stereotypes, pioneer romanticism and cinematic myths, for a comic culture clash.

"Part of the goal for this is to help the dialogue between German and American people right now," said Tim Coker, chairman of Millsaps' department of performing arts.
"It gives us a chance to see how they see us."

- Sherry Lucas

November 04, 2007

The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama) November 4, 2007

Direct from Germany:
By Alec Harvey

Though not as prolific or famous as Shakespeare, another foreign playwright was front-and-center in Birmingham this week.

Roland Schimmelpfennig wrote "Start Up," a play performed in an airplane hangar on Tuesday night. Yes, an airplane hangar.

It was all part of the German Theatre Abroad Road Theatre USA program, with five actors and two video artists traveling the U.S. presenting the play in sometimes unusual circumstances.

About 125 people enjoyed the troupe's performance, said Trish Coghlan, executive director of the AlabamaGermany Partnership, which brought the play here.

"It was very different, but everybody really liked the play a lot," she says. "They incorporated pre-shot video and then used a video camera to shoot from different perspectives, and projected that on a screen. It was something that no one had ever seen before."

Audience members, both German and American, commented on how much they enjoyed "Start Up," which was performed in English.

In seven weeks, German Theatre Abroad will hit 24 cities from New York to Los Angeles. Birmingham was the fifth or sixth stop, Coghlan says, and "this was the largest crowd they've had."

November 02, 2007

The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee) November 1, 2007

Locals to play role in German act

By Christopher Blank

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The sweet pickle-green bus pulling up to TheatreWorks tonight contains not a gaggle of merry pranksters, but a troupe of actors touting German culture.

Audience members at the single performance, in return, will offer their American reactions, which they'll videotape and export to Germany after the tour ends on the West Coast.

German Theater Abroad, now on the biggest tour in its 11-year history, performs at TheatreWorks tonight.

The theater company, German Theater Abroad (GTA), is now undertaking its most extensive tour in its 11-year history. Memphis is just one of 24 one-night stands on their jagged route across the continent, which began in New York on Oct. 9.

"Memphis wasn't on the original schedule," said associate producer and director Daniel Brunet. "But we heard that Tennessee was divided into three distinctly different parts, so we wanted to see how Memphis contrasted with Nashville and the Eastern part. We also really wanted to see the Mississippi River."

The company brings a dark comedy called "Start Up," commissioned specifically for the tour from Germany's most-produced contemporary playwright, Roland Schimmelpfennig.

Translated into English, the play depicts a comic clash of German and American cultural stereotypes in a small U.S. town. Two young, broke Germans traveling west stake their fortunes on an unlikely business plan: they want to bring Old European theater to a small town. The landlord of their rented theater space, however, isn't so sure about the idea's feasibility.

Brunet says that the "deceptively soft" script is bisected by a 10-minute monologue that offers a historical perspective of German culture after World War II, from the "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech to the recent purchase of a Berlin apartment by Brad and Angelina.

"Part of the mission of GTA is cultural exchange," Brunet says of the company founded in 1996 in New York to introduce more German playwrights to the United States. "We want to generate thought-provoking discussions in towns across America."

Part of the company is a team of Austrian videographers who combine live video into the production and also tape the post-show talk back discussions.

Along the way, they are also taking video at odd American attractions. Combining live action, pre-recorded video from stops along the way and live video taped during the performance, the production changes every night of the tour.

Brunet says the project is reminiscent of a traveling troupe of actors in days of yore -- with a high-tech twist.

November 01, 2007

Theater Heute November 2007


Das German Theatre Abroad begibt sich mit Roland Schimmelpfennigs «Start Up» im Gepäck auf Straßentheatermission in Amerika

Der Kulturaustausch beginnt mit einem hellgrün lackierten Schulbus, der vor das New Yorker Off-Spielhaus P.S. 122 vorfährt. «Road Theater USA» verkündet das solide Vehikel der deutschen Theatergruppe GTA (kurz für «German Theater Abroad») in selbstbewussten Großbuchstaben. Zwei Monate lang soll es die Ensemblemitglieder 6ooo Meilen weit und über 23 Zwischenstationen quer durch Amerika transportieren.

Drei enthusiastisch aus dem Bus springende Schauspieler verteilen bei der New Yorker Premiere erst einmal Deutschlandfähnchen unter den wartenden Zuschauern. Roland Schimmelpfennig hat eigens für diese Theaterexpedition das Stück «Start Up» verfasst, das das durchaus romantische Anliegen des GTA selbstironisch widerspiegelt. Die bettelarmen Kreativen Kati (Lisa-Marie Janke), Rob (Nils Nelleßen) und Micha (Nicolai Tegeler) versuchen darin, ein deutsches Theaterhaus in der amerikanischen Provinz zu gründen und mieten zu diesem Zweck ein Ladengeschäft. Der Logik des amerikanischen Einwanderertraums folgend, wollen sie Kapital aus ihrer nationalen Identität schlagen. Der schwarze Hausbesitzer Ike hat für dieses zugleich utopische und unwirtschaftliche Unternehmen wenig Verständnis, fasst aber Zuneigung für seine neuen Mieter und versucht sie davon zu überzeugen, eine rentable Videothek zu eröffnen. Auch über diese erfrischend respektlose Parodie hiesiger Pionier-Mythen hinaus bekommen die amerikanischen Zuschauer von «Start Up» einiges zu schlucken: Der lockere, postdramatische Berliner Schauspielstil mit seinen lang hingezogenen Nonsens-Dialogen über Popkultur und 70er-Jahre-Kino ist selbst in New York noch fremd. Das spartanische Second-Hand- Bühnenbild und die Live-Videoeinspielungen aus dem GTA-Bus, die sich im Lauf der Tour mit Reiseerinnerungen anreichern sollen, tun ein übriges. Mit ihren Anleihen an Gob Squad und René Pollesch wirkt GTAs «Start Up»-Inszenierung ein bisschen wie eine abgespeckte Version des Berliner Praters – eine Ästhetik, die im Kalkül liegt.

Wie Regisseur Ronald Marx berichtet, hatte er das GTA vor elf Jahren gerade mit der Idee gegründet, in Amerika für den deutschen Theaterstil und seine Autoren ein Publikum zu schaffen. «Wir machen keine Folklore», erklärt er. Ein – für amerikanische Verhältnisse – gutes Maß an ästhetischer Provokation gehört zum Programm. In den Publikumsgesprächen bei Freibier nach den Aufführungen sorgt das für Gesprächsstoff. «Start Up» lässt am Ende offen, ob die drei Theateridealisten mit ihren Plänen Erfolg haben. Kati bleibt bei Ike und gründet tatsächlich eine Videothek. Micha und Rob ziehen zusammen mit Ikes Tochter Liz in die nächste amerikanische Stadt weiter, um es dort neu zu versuchen. Auf eine definitive Antwort wird man bis Anfang März 2008 warten müssen, wenn GTA ins Haus der Berliner Festspiele zurückkehrt. Schimmelpfennig wird dafür einen Prolog schreiben, der sowohl das Schicksal seiner Protagonisten auflöst als auch die Mission des GTA resümiert. Unter kann jeder im Netz dabei sein.


GTA"s Sponsors