November 06, 2007

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."


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