Saturday, 13 March 2010

Nottingham - Karlsruhe Theatre exchange 2004

A personal look at the Nottingham and Karlsruhe theatre exchange by Phil Lowe.

Known in German as the Deutsch-Englischen Theaterbegegnungen, an exciting exchange of theatre performance has been happening between the Lace Market Theatre, the Theater Die Käuze and the Jakobus Theater in der Fabrik since 1982 when the two amateur Karlsruhe theatre groups came over to perform three plays on our request to form a twinning arrangement through the medium of theatre. On that very first visit the Jakobus Theater performed Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar by Brecht as well as Kannst du zaubern Opa, a piece written by the Grips Theater (Berlin based) and Theater Die Käuze performed Der Meteor by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

The atmosphere apparently, was electric, and since that foundation of exchange of presenting thrilling and unusual theatre work in another country the twinning event has gone on from strength to strength with many Anglo- German friendships blossoming along the way. In late March 2010 we at the Lace Market Theatre are looking forward to another visit from our friends in Karlsruhe and this will mark the 15th bi-annual exchange.

Lace Market Theatre visit to Karlsruhe May 2004.

My personal story of enjoying such events comes in regarding our visit to Karlsruhe in Easter 2004. I was asked by Max Bromley to play a small part in our production of ‘View from the Bridge’ by Arthur Miller and part of the deal was to also be in the production that was going to Germany to perform at the Jakobus Theatre in central Karlsruhe. I love travelling and speak some German so I jumped at the chance. There would be a short break between the LMT production finishing and the trip to Germany so we had a couple of post production rehearsals to refresh our memories. Max had been to the Karlsruhe theatre before, independently and through the LMT and advised us of the difference between our own stage and the performance space over there. We also got a hint of the hopefully rapturous applause and foot stamping we were likely to receive and the generous nature of our hosts. The Café Bleu, a bar across from the theatre was mentioned too. It all sounded very exciting.

Another two plays were to be performed at the smaller Theater Die Käuze on the outskirts of Karlsruhe, a venue run by the Kaufmann family and colleagues. It exists to perform plays for children. We were taking a one man show called Anorak of Fire by Stephen Dinsdale brilliantly performed by Neil Duckmanton and another larger cast show called Post Mortem by Brian Clarke and the lead woman even learnt some German to say in the show.

Majority of folk from the three productions travelled for fourteen hours on the hired coach and a ferry overnight. The route took us across France, Belgium, and much of Germany and the boarders of the Alsace region. Two of our younger members, Kate and Keith, very nearly got thrown off the coach for constantly making groaning bear noises as we passed through the heavily wooded Ardennes and onwards. Someone foolishly mentioned that there might be bears in the woods and that started them off. I won’t mention who that someone was but he is typing this article up.

The long journey was broken up with regular stops and a change of driver and it also gave rise to the theatre members having an opportunity to properly talk and get to know their friends at the theatre. It was said then and certainly since that although you get involved in a play, the time in rehearsals don’t always give you the chance to get to know your acting/director/backstage friends well. In relation to this I recall enjoying speaking to Andy Taylor about life and such and got to teaching him some German words and phrases, en route.

Once in the city of Karlsruhe we parked the coach outside the Jakobus theatre on Kaiserallee and saw a sea of grinning Germans all thrilled we had made it safely to their city. We dumped our bags and theatre costumes and props inside the building and enjoyed a welcome drink whilst being introduced to our fantastic hosts. John Parker and I stayed at the house of Andrea and Peter Voos and their daughters in Blankenloch-Stutensee. It was about twenty minutes ride away from central Karlsruhe on the beautiful old tramway system. They made us very welcome and comfortable throughout the stay despite poor old John not sleeping well because of his bedroom was practically next to a main train line. It was also part of the hosting tradition that we guests gave the host a small gift as part of the exchange experience. My friend John also had the pleasure of learning the German for cylindrical advertising column, namely Litfaβäule after a certain Herr Litfaβ. Remarkably he retains this knowledge today.

Neil Duckmanton in Anorak of Fire

The following morning we had all been invited to attend an official ‘Welcome to Karlsruhe’ ceremony at the Town Hall or Rathaus am Marktplatz. Once assembled we were indeed welcomed by a representative of the Lord Mayor of Karlsruhe, presentation speeches were made; Gill Scott making ours, and we watched a short film about the city and its industries, economy and attractions and its alleged Mediterranean climate. Afterwards we enjoyed a glass of wine and some light refreshments and felt very welcomed. Each person also got a cloth bag depicting the Karlsruhe logo as a souvenir.

At some point following the official welcome, our group performing ‘ View from the Bridge’ , met at the theatre again and set up the space for the performance later that evening. We had a couple of cast members unable to come on the trip so it was arranged that three actors from Jakobus would take on their small roles. It was quite an intense rehearsal with everyone getting used to the new space and the need to learn new movements. I took the chance to help Max and his team by working with Gerd Lehrmann and Manfred Paul (our new immigration officers) and I explained and rehearsed their performances separately using my basic German language. Gerd was so funny as he seemed dramatically compelled to play a serious part with a comic walk and voice.

The folk at the theatre gave us a huge and delicious lunch (the first of many generous meals) and we all took some time out in order to be fresh and ready for the first evening performance. The other team over at the Theater Die Käuze on Königsberger strasse would’ve had their own similar agendas for their two shows playing later that week.

The play went extremely well and we did get the massive applause and foot stomping we were hoping for and the audiences throughout our three performances were packed houses. After the last performance we even had a champagne reception and a chance to mingle with the audience including a lot of Americans resident in Karlsruhe. Most nights, post show, we all gravitated across the road to the Café Bleu until the early hours. They served nice food and the Hoepfner Pilsner bier was pretty good too.

Above: Image from our production of View from the Bridge.

Our friends over at the Theater Die Käuze reported that they were equally happy in their venue and extremely well looked after by Larissa Kaufmann, her family and host families. The ‘View from the Bridge’ group went over on the tram to support their shows. They had had standing ovations at their performances too and were thrilled by the response.

After the shows were all over we had some free time for relaxing and shopping and eating in nice cafes/restaurants in friendly groups. The flammekûchen, a regional dish with spinach, was delicious. A few people on the visit had decided to stay in hotels and so it was good to catch up with them too and have a relaxed chat over a coffee or glass of wine.

Several of the Lace Market crowd made their way independently on the train to the spa town of Baden Baden for the day and I went there with John Parker. He was great company despite being tired out from lack of sleep and we made the stupid decision to walk from the Baden Baden train station into town figuring it would only be a quick ten minute walk. Three quarter of an hour later we were still on the outskirts and the skies were threatening heavy rain. Finally as the heavens opened we dodged into a posh hotel and sheltered from the storm. A pot of tea later, we ventured out on to the newly wet streets. The town itself was quite small and we didn’t stay that long. Somewhere along the way we bumped into Roger and Gill Newman, had a chat and sandwich to eat and returned to the railway station, this time on the packed bus full of school children!

On Thursday all the English and German theatre collaborators went out on the tram (it is has many more lines than ours in Nottingham having been established in 1934) to a museum of music making machines, the Deutsches Musikautomaten Museum at Schloss Bruchsal and also to a big mansion that was housing a Salvador Dali exhibition including a dozen life size giraffe models in the courtyard. Afterwards we went to a stube (pub) for a meal via a walk through some delightful orchards.

On Good Friday we enjoyed an organised day trip out on a coach with the Karlsruhe groups to Heidelberg and its impressive Schloss. Afterwards some of grabbed a chance to have a nice meal in the town and mooch around the shops. In the evening we were thoroughly spoilt with a fantastic celebratory meal and party at the Jakobus Theatre. There was even a roast pig and all the trimmings brought in on a grand platter. On the tables were gaily coloured, little wooden Easter animals and hens as party decorations. We were really impressed and there were gifts exchanged from our theatre to the German theatres and vice versa. Max and our production presented them with a framed black and white image of the Brooklyn Bridge signed by the company. The other group from the Die Käuze theatre also made their presentations. It was a very pleasantly emotional time and I think we were all aware that the following day would be one for departure and the long journey back across mainland Europe and across the channel to England and home after such a good time.

After that wonderful last night of friendship and presentations and great food it was time to part the next morning. I’m getting tearful even as I write this thinking about our German host’s generosity and the experience of acting in Karlsruhe and new friends made. Our whole English entourage were given wax Easter eggs as a parting gift, big hugs were shared, hangovers quietly spoken of, photos taken and addresses swopped. Then there were some tearful goodbyes and at last the bus started up and we began the long journey home made more special by everyone’s chatter exclaiming what a great time they had had. And funnily enough there weren’t any bear sounds uttered on the journey home.

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