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Risking Everything: Political Theatre for Mass Audiences in Rural Germany


In the south-west German village of Hayingen, the playwright-director Martin Schleker presents large open-air productions of politically sensitive yet entertaining plays to mass audiences on an annual basis. This article explores the element of risk in Schleker's work: his use of purely amateur performers; his job-creation schemes for young people; and his left-wing and often anti-Catholic stance on issues such as racism and nuclear arms before often deeply conservative, culturally Catholic audiences. Schleker's work is situated in the wider context of the state-funded, civic theatres in Germany, and of the tradition of open-air ‘Naturtheater’ which is particularly strong in the Swabian region. Some assumptions surrounding such binary divides as amateur-professional and high art-entertainment are also explored. Data for this article was collected in the Hayingen ‘Naturtheater’ during a period of ethnographic research supported by the Leverhulme Trust. Having completed her doctorate at Sheffield University, Alison Phipps has been working as a lecturer in the Department of German – and in particular in the Centre for Intercultural Germanistics – at Glasgow University since October 1995. She has published in the areas of her research interests, which include contemporary German theatre and performance research, Ethnographic approaches to language education, and popular German culture and intercultural studies.

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Notes and References

1. The closest translation of this term is ‘open-air theatre’, but this is only approximate and consequently I shall retain the original throughout. Unless otherwise stated, all translations are my own.

2. Concise Oxford English Dictionary.

3. Brook Peter, The Empty Space (London, 1968), p. 80.

4. For a full discussion of the state of audiences in Germany, see Schmidt-Mühlisch Lothar, Affentheater: Bühnenkrise ohne Ende (Frankfurt am Main, 1992).

6. Schöpel Brigitte, Naturtheater: Studien zum Theater unter freiem Himmel in Südwestdeutschland (Magstadt, 1965).

8. Figures from Hayingen ‘Naturtheater’ archives.

9. Barba Eugenio, ‘The Founders of Tradition’, New Theatre Quarterly, X, No. 38 (1994), p. 197–8.

10. Belsey Catherine, Critical Practice (London, 1980), p. 3.

11. Beckerman Bernhard, Theatrical Presentation: Performer, Audience, and Act (London, 1990), p. 30.

12. See Neuhaus D., Arbeitstexte: Theater spielen (Stuttgart, 1985), p. 134; or Mason Bim, Street Theatre and Other Outdoor Performance (London, 1992).

13. A Midsummer Night's Dream.

14. Lothar Schmidt-Mühlisch, op. cit.

15. Peter Härtling, German novelist, in speech at Hölderlin Prizegiving.

16. ‘Aufstand der Engel fand nicht statt’, Das schwäbische Tagblatt, 29 June 1993.

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New Theatre Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0266-464X
  • EISSN: 1474-0613
  • URL: /core/journals/new-theatre-quarterly
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