Nashville professional theater kicks into full force this week, with stalwart companies like People’s Branch Theatre and Nashville Children’s Theatre unveiling season openers. But the biggest news comes out of Tennessee Repertory Theatre, where groundbreaking things are happening. In TPAC’s Johnson Theater, the Rep, in partnership with Germany’s Theater Magdeburg, will present five performances of Das Treffen—The Other Side, a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience featuring an interactive trans-Atlantic simulcast.
The project, more than a year in the making, is under the local sponsorship of Sister Cities of Nashville, a nonprofit corporation founded in 1990 to promote global understanding through educational, professional and cultural exchanges.
With Magdeburg, a city of about 270,000 located on the Elbe River in central Germany, celebrating its 1200th birthday in 2005, The Rep became a willing participant in the city’s festivities. The result is Das Treffen, in which local audiences in both Nashville and Magdeburg become simulcast video subjects for each other, while a team of actors—five on each side of the Atlantic—enact a specially commissioned script created by Germans Thomas Oberender, an acclaimed playwright, and Sebastian Orlac, known primarily as a director of stage works, music videos and Internet projects.
The five Nashville actors participating in Das Treffen—Brian Russell, Richard Northcutt, Marin Miller, Brooke Bryant and Mark Cabus—spent seven weeks earlier this year in Magdeburg working with director Markus Dietz and video artist Oliver Iserloh, who are responsible for staging the performances in both locales.
“We were approached over a year ago, and I thought it was a fascinating idea,” says Rep artistic director David Alford. “It’s Theater Magdeburg’s project, their creative impulse. We’ve facilitated as partners. Aside from an early story conference, we hooked them up with good actors and our publicity connections, and really that’s all we’ve done. Their creative team came over to Nashville early in the going, and they will be making it happen. It was featured in a recent issue of American Theatre magazine. As far as I know, nothing’s ever been done transatlantically in this way.”
In Das Treffen, spectators face a wide video screen, onto which are projected the images of the spectators on “the other side.” Actors enter, take their seats among the audience, and proceed to relate individual stories that link the live screen images to the narrative. The stories, based on real-life anecdotes, aim to express a range of emotions, and the theatrical experience floats somewhere between the authenticity of the live situation and the fictitious nature of the script.
“I would say it’s like a collage,” says Gunda Mapache, the project coordinator who will “call the show” in Nashville, assisted by a team of transmission managers and video and camera technicians. “The script is of a high literary quality, and it has a kind of rhythm that is almost musical. The text is based on real interviews, and it investigates what people have in common. You might say it’s like watching yourself in the mirror of the other. And yet, the protagonists change with every performance.”
Das Treffen will be presented five times, with Nashville performances at 5 and 8 p.m. on Sept. 30 and 1, 5 and 8 p.m. on Oct. 1. The show runs a little more than 60 minutes with no intermission. With a seven-hour time difference, the German audiences will be doing most of their viewing very early in the morning.
“It is Magdeburg’s anniversary,” Mapache says with a smile. “We’re well aware that the attention is stronger over there. While we believe the performance will be interesting for people in Nashville, we didn’t think it would be so interesting that we could get them into the theater at 3 a.m.”
“An event like Das Treffen has never been done before,” Alford adds, “and who knows if it will ever be done again? Nashville audiences have an opportunity to be part of something great, in particular because they are integral to the show itself. I can’t wait to see their response. We’re a part of creating a work of art with people across international borders, and the effort that goes into the timing and the technology is immense. But also, it’s a piece of art that requires an intellectual engagement. It allows the audience to fill in the blanks, and it doesn’t pander.”