The well-known Volksbühne theatre of Berlin is collaborating with Qendra Mutlimedia and the National Theatre of Kosovo for the play The Return of Karl May (an entertaining play for the German people), which will be presented as an online theatre extract during the POSTWEST festival. The festival will take place between June 24-26 in Berlin, in the Volksbühne theatre. In the meantime, the full stage play will premiere at the National Theatre of Kosovo in September, after which it is expected to start its international tour.
Blerta Neziraj is in charge for the direction of the play, while the cast is comprised of these actors: Arta Muçaj, Armend Smajli, Edona Reshitaj, Adrian Morina, Ylber Bardhi dhe Shpetim Selmani. Text by Jeton Neziraj, video by Ilir Gjocaj. Alban Beqiraj is the artistic collaborator of the play.
About the play The Return of Karl May
Kara Ben Nemsi, the famous character of Karl May, escapes East and together with a group of actors from Kosovo, heads towards the German lands. In this almost-epic journey, he meets Slavoj Zizek, Peter Handke, a member of Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund and several other characters. The play confronts the audience with the almost-demonizing approach of the Western Europe – its supposed cultural, political and intellectual superiority towards the East – which according to Aleksandar Hemon, is deeply rooted in colonialism and racism.
About the POSTWEST festival
Originally planned for May 2020, the transcultural theater festival POSTWEST sought to bring together artists from ten countries who had developed twelve new plays especially for the festival. With its dramatic history between East and West, the Volksbühne is the perfect venue for this gathering of invited theater makers from Eastern Europe. Now all our partner theaters find themselves in a new reality. For us, as artistic teams, not only did the COVID-19 pandemic mean the cancellation of the festival week in May, but also the abrupt end of the preparation phase: rehearsals for our productions were just about to begin, the shared set for the stage in the Großes Haus had already been created in the Volksbühne workshops, and the schedule for each day of the festival had been finalized.
How, after a year of preparation, could this transcultural theater festival take place at such short notice without any completed productions or a real stage? By returning to the basic concept of the festival, collective artistic exchange. Over the last few weeks, we have intensified this collaboration that has brought our partner theaters to Berlin for three workshops since June 2019. Instead of the Volksbühne, we are using the digital realm to share ideas across borders—and thus also as a venue for the virtual edition of POSTWEST.
The twelve planned productions will now be replaced by digital contributions reflecting the nature of our international network, which will be made accessible to a global audience for the first time over a period of three days: online live performances, videos on demand, audio tracks, and discussions with the theater makers about their experiences with POSTWEST. This will be complemented by additional formats in our supporting program, which began a thematic countdown to the festival back in November 2019, including discursive events such as the series Plattform East, meetings with the artists, and DJ sets—all digital, of course.
POSTWEST has thus outgrown its original iteration as a stage event and is responding to this new reality. The Coronavirus crisis has allowed us to observe how many countries are turning in on themselves once more, and information about the situation in other countries seems like mere statistics. Against this background, reflecting on historical categories and the possibilities of their dissolution becomes more important than ever. East or West? Post-West, post-East, post-EastWest? Does a shared cultural heritage lead to a similar historical awareness? With such a wide variety of countries and identities, is it even possible to think about and shape the future together? What do a strong civil society, solidarity, values relevant to the future, and democratic systems look like to us? How can we, as theater makers—even during a global lockdown and without any public gatherings—continue to establish networks and long-term transcultural initiatives in order to respond artistically to these current social debates?
While the virtual edition of the festival addresses these questions, it also forms the foundation of an international network. The planned productions will premiere at our partner theaters once they have reopened and will be integrated into their repertoires. In this way, and through future collaborations, POSTWEST lives on as a space where artistic disciplines are not only considered from an individual or national perspective, but also create a transcultural context.
Funded by: German Federal Cultural Foundation, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Kosovo, Goethe-Institut, The Olof Palme International Center, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, European Union Office in Kosovo
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Illustration by: Hannah Goppel