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Enhancing the Student with German Theatre

Experience

Erol Boran, Associate Professor of German, Teaching Stream German-language theatre is becoming a tradition in our department — and it has the potential to go far! Within the city of Toronto, the former Deutsches Theater Toronto once boasted a longstanding tradition of exciting productions. The German Department at the University of Toronto has begun to fill the void that was created when the German Theater Toronto broke up in the early 2000s. First impulses came from graduate students who staged occasional theatre productions with undergraduates. I remember visiting a rehearsal of Arthur Schnitzler’s Der Reigen when I first came to Toronto in early 2006 for my job talk. It was a pleasure to see how the students interacted and to witness the level of energy the project inspired. I knew immediately that this place would be the right fit for me. Since then, I have also established a theatre production course within the undergraduate curriculum. GER340 premiered in 2010 with Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Die Physiker staged at Alumni Hall. Two years later, with the help of a generous CRIF grant, we moved to the Ignatieff Theatre to stage Drakul( j)a, my own adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, with allusions to Bela Lugosi and the German vampire film tradition. For this year’s production, which seemed to anticipate Günter Grass’ death on April 13, I adapted Hochwasser, his absurdist play about humans and rats stranded together in a house during a flood of biblical proportions. As in Noah’s ark, the characters are presented in pairs. This structural feature proved

pedagogically effective, since each performer was able to rely on a partner to help practice dialogue and pronunciation, delve deeply into the text, and develop his/her character. It was a delight to see students begin to bond and work off of each other’s strengths. The only characters not presented in pairs were five rats, new characters of my invention designed to provide comic relief. The rat quintet worked with a local choreographer (a native German speaker) to embrace and embody their non-human side. Nine weeks of preparation for the three evening performances staged in the George Ignatieff Theatre on March 23, 24, and 25 proved highly rewarding for audiences and students alike. One participant in the Hochwasser production maintainted, “This was the best class in my university career.” On the challenge of performing in German, another student remarked: “I’m no longer afraid to make mistakes in German. For me, that’s the most important aspect.” Of course, graduate students enrolled in the Program in Literature, Culture, and Theory also regularly stage plays in collaboration with undergraduates. Next year, on the occasion of the German Department’s 150th anniversary, they will join forces with the students of GER340 in a production demonstrating how much theatre has become part of our department’s cultural program. Theatre not only enriches the student experience, it also attracts an audience from beyond the university community, bringing together all those with an appreciation for this dynamic living language. Website: http://erolaner.wix.com/theater-du

2015 annual newsletter of the department of germanic languages and literatures at the university of  
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