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September 19, 2013

Max Kade Center Celebrates 10th Anniversary with German Theater and Writing

The Max Kade Center for German Studies is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

To mark this milestone, students from the German 441 seminar staged a theater performance during the spring semester that they created under the guidance of Oliver Kluck, the 2013 Max Kade writer-in-residence and an award-winning playwright from Berlin.

The unconventional performance consisted of a series of exercises that the class had done throughout the semester.

It began with the students stretching and moving in the space. Then Louis Wheeler ’15 (Easton, Pa.), a computer science major, taught the others some karate moves.

Students stretch and warm up during the performance.

Students stretch and warm up during the performance.

From that, they moved into a “tableaux vivant” (a living picture), each of the students posed as a figure from a classical painting while one student remained apart, cutting up pictures and pasting them to the walls.  While posed, they chanted, in German, phrases that translate in English to: “Wake up, be on time, brush teeth, eat food, drink, tell lies, ask questions, answer.”  The chant was repeated, louder and faster with each repetition, until the student standing off to the side yelled “Stop!”

The performance then shifted to reading from a collective biography. During the semester, each student wrote an individual autobiography which Kluck compiled into one biography.  As part of the performance, the class read through this text, first in German, and then incorporating English, speaking backwards, and even Spanish.

For Brenna Murphy ’14 (Bloomfield, N.Y.), a theater major with a minor in German, the seminar was a particularly good fit with her academic interests.

“This experience was extremely valuable to me,” she says. “The course allowed me to combine my disciplines of study in a way that no other course could really do.”

Since 2008, Kluck’s works—several of them commissioned pieces—have been performed at numerous prestigious theaters in Germany and Austria. His plays were the most-performed pieces on German-speaking stages during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.

“Working with Oliver was fantastic,” says Meagan Betke ’13 (Commack, N.Y.), a double major in anthropology & sociology and German. “He really tried to make us comfortable with the process, involving us in the choices that were made and asking us for our input.  Oliver was successful in creating a unique, unexpected performance that expressed some of the ideas we as students think about—mainly, questions pertaining to identity and personhood.”

The center’s spring anniversary events also included a reading by Kluck and a lecture by theater critic Bernhard Doppler, a professor of German at the University of Paderborn in Germany. Doppler spoke about aspects of the German theater scene.

On Sept. 19, Theodore Ziolkowski, German Scholar Emeritus from Princeton University, will give the annual Max Kade Distinguished Lecture. “Duerrenmatt: The World of His Imagination in Word and Image” will explore the art and plays of Friedrich Duerrenmatt.

On Oct. 17, Anne Berg, assistant professor of history at University of Michigan, will present “Talking Trash in Nazi Germany,” a look at how Nazi ideology manifested itself in such mundane materials as trash, waste, and garbage.

From Nov. 8-10, there will be an American-Austrian conference on creative writing with Austrian writers Marianne Gruber, Gabriele Petricek, Judith Pfeifer, Vladimir Vertlib, and Philipp Weiss and American-German scholars Elizabeth Ametsbichler (University of Montana), Barbara Kosta (University of Arizona), Kirsten Krick-Aigner (Wofford College) and Dagmar Lorenz (University of Illinois at Chicago), all of whom are members of the writers’ association Podium. The “PODIUM-Dialog’ is cosponsored by the Austrian government, the City of Vienna, and the Deutsches Haus at New York University.

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