New Theatre Quarterly

Research Article

Risking Everything: Political Theatre for Mass Audiences in Rural Germany

Alison M. Phipps

Abstract

In the south-west German village of Hayingen, the playwright-director Martin Schleker presents large open-air productions of politically sensitive yet entertaining plays to mass audiences on an annual basis. This article explores the element of risk in Schleker's work: his use of purely amateur performers; his job-creation schemes for young people; and his left-wing and often anti-Catholic stance on issues such as racism and nuclear arms before often deeply conservative, culturally Catholic audiences. Schleker's work is situated in the wider context of the state-funded, civic theatres in Germany, and of the tradition of open-air ‘Naturtheater’ which is particularly strong in the Swabian region. Some assumptions surrounding such binary divides as amateur-professional and high art-entertainment are also explored. Data for this article was collected in the Hayingen ‘Naturtheater’ during a period of ethnographic research supported by the Leverhulme Trust. Having completed her doctorate at Sheffield University, Alison Phipps has been working as a lecturer in the Department of German – and in particular in the Centre for Intercultural Germanistics – at Glasgow University since October 1995. She has published in the areas of her research interests, which include contemporary German theatre and performance research, Ethnographic approaches to language education, and popular German culture and intercultural studies.