And whose experience and historical circumstances are so different from mine? Well, we in Scotland have been pre-occupied of late with questions about nations, and states, and questions of how we might live together.
What makes a state? When does a state fail? When it is exhausted? When does it know it has failed? How might we live together in an imagined future in a re-invented country whether it is an historical restoration or not?
And right now we are confronted with asking how we might live together in the meantime, in the postponed hope of something better. I think we’re ideally placed to think about living in East Germany.
And all of us are allowed, most of the time, more identities than one. One of my identities is as a theatre person, and as a theatre person, I am already part of a brother and sisterhood who know what it is to devise and rehearse and make a piece of theatre. And those of us who make theatre together know about the different statuses of the different rooms where we work…The rooms where we work alone on writing the lines or learning the lines or deriving ideas for design and music from reading the lines…the rooms where we come together apart from our lives and rehearse together what it’s like living together in a different world…the world of the play…and finally when we lift the curtain and share what we’ve found there with a group of strangers and colleagues and enemies and friends who themselves abide by certain conventions of behaviour while we’re doing it.
Making theatre is all about imagining community, rehearsing how we get things done together, and it is all about testing those models too, against the “reality” that happens when we leave those privileged rooms, those rooms that are supported by and are part of a wider, “actually existing theatre” of society as we don’t have to imagine it, because we live in it. But a society, any society, in which the life of the imagination is an absolutely intrinsic aspect of reality as it is actually lived.
Bertolt Brecht, who was my remote teacher, and who was so controversially central to the early development of East Germany’s very important theatre culture thought of plays as models of the world presented to an audience as if to say : ”Do you recognise this? Is this how things work? Is this how things might change.” His name means different things in the former East Germany than it does to me – as someone who is just old enough to have been politically active on the left in the last days of the Cold War…where imagined and real communities lived with the imagined a but real possibility of wiping each other out over the imagined and real communities they advocated. For me, our research trip to Berlin and Dresden and other places…will still be crossing the wall that was built the year before I was born, a wall which defined the first half of my life as it dramatized the lives of others.
All of us live twice, once in hope and once in actuality. All of us have to get by in both lives. Maybe that’s the territory, on a personal level, that a play about an East German ensemble in the dog days of the DDR might look at. Maybe that might answer the good theatre producer’s eternal and universal questions. Why here? Why now?