The Actor and the Fall of the Berlin Wall
On 6 October 1989, in East Germany, the members of Dresden’s leading theatre came on stage at the end of the evening performance. They held hands, trembling, as the lead actor stepped forward and declared:
We are stepping out of our roles. The situation in our country forces us to.
A country that cannot hold on to its young people is endangering its future.
The leadership of a state that does not speak to its people has no credibility.
A party leadership that has ceased to examine the practicability of its principles
Is condemned to decline.
A nation that was forced to remain silent is beginning to become violent.
The truth must come to light. We have invested our work in this country. We will not let our country be destroyed.
We are using this platform to make the following demands:
- We have a right to information
- We have a right to dialogue
- We have a right to independent thought and creativity
- We have a right to pluralistic thinking
- We have a right to disagree
- We have a right to freedom of travel
- We have a right to examine the leadership of the state
- We have a right to think new thoughts
- We have a right to intervene.
We are using this platform to declare our duty:
- We have the duty to demand that lies and rose-tinted reports disappear from our media
- We have the duty to insist on a dialogue between the people and the leadership of the party and state
- We have the duty to demand that both we and the state apparatus conduct this dialogue without violence
- We have the duty to define the word socialism in such a way that it once again becomes an acceptable ideal for our people
- We have the duty to demand of the leadership of our state and party that they work to regain the trust of the population.
This statement announced a shift from theatrical dissent to political opposition. Read more at: http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/whos-watching-who/tales-archive/theatre-fall-berlin-wall/.
Just under a month later, theatre practitioners played a key role in a demonstration on Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. Held on 4th November, this was the largest mass demonstration in the GDR’s history.
- Read the text quoted above carefully and, in groups of two to three, try to imagine life in the state against which the authors are protesting. What conflicts might arise out of this situation for actors dedicated to artistic exploration but employed by state theatres? In these groups, improvise a situation in the daily life of an actor that would reflect the conditions that might prompt you to write such a protest.
- This text was delivered on stage every night from 4 October 1989 by the actors of the Staatsschauspiel in Dresden, after the evening’s performance had ended. They would step out of the roles they had been playing in order to do so. Imagine that you are stepping out of a theatrical role to deliver this protest speech to a theatre audience. Think in particular of the differences you would have to make to your physical presence on the stage and how you would speak directly to an audience.
- The image above depicts the actors Ulrich Mühe and Johanna Schall (Bertolt Brecht’s granddaughter!) at a demonstration held in Berlin on 4 November 1989, which was attended by over half a million demonstrators. In pairs, devise how you would deliver this protest speech to an audience on this scale. You would be standing on a platform and speaking into a microphone, so your movement would be severely restricted. Think about how you might need to adapt your performance according to the reactions of your listeners.
- Imagine that this speech provides you with the text for a short play. Try to perform this play to a theatre audience, considering in particular how you would divide the text between actors and how you might generate some form of plot unfolding between the actors.
Protest read by the Ensemble of the Staatsschauspiel Dresden every night as of 4 October 1989. For the original German, see Angela Kuberski, ed., Wir treten aus unseren Rollen heraus: Dokumente des Aufbruchs Herbst ’89, Theaterarbeit in der DDR, 19 (Berlin: Zentrum für Theaterdokumentation und –information, 1990), p. 39.
The additional text on pages 1 and 2 of this handout is adapted from a more detailed text by Dr Laura Bradley, University of Edinburgh, available at http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/whos-watching-who/tales-archive/theatre-fall-berlin-wall/.