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.

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