About the project
This is a documentation of the theatre project GYPSIES, developed by werkgruppe2 between 2016 and 2018 and performed in Germany, Romania and France. The project tells of encounters with Roma families in these three countries. werkgruppe2, supported by the Berlin association, RomaTrial, travelled to these countries between summer 2016 and winter 2017 to talk to Roma people of different ages living in diverse conditions in cities and villages in order to find out:
How do we ‘whites’ – non-Roma known as ‘Gadjo’ in Romani - live together with Romas in different European countries? What images do we have of them? How do these images effect communal life?
The interviews formed the basis for the later documentary music-theatre production for which original texts were faithfully spoken by the actors.
GYPSIES was made by werkgruppe2 in cooperation with Staatstheater Braunschweig (Brunswick), Teatrul Național Timişoara and Théâtre de la Manufacture Nancy. An ensemble of actors from Romania, France and Germany was formed and complemented by two Serbian musicians living in Germany who focus on conserving and reworking classical Roma music. Following the premiere in Brunswick, GYPSIES was shown in Romania and France.
This documentation covers the two-year process with emphasis on the research, impressions from the theatre production, reactions to the opening night and later performances and the results of the evaluation by Achim Müller, commissioned by the Institut für Kultur und Medienwirtschaft. In conclusion, we wanted to know: how did our perspectives, those of the artistic teams from werkgruppe2, the three participating theatres and the ensemble, change during this intensive exploration of stereotypes projected on Roma.
The project GYPSIES was funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, the Foundation for Independent Theatres of Lower Saxony and the Foundation Stiftung Niedersachsen.
Together with Hamze Bytyci and Veronika Patočková from the association, RomaTrial and the actors involved, werkgruppe2, travelled to the three countries- to Nancy in June 2016, to Timișoara in September 2016 whilst continuously conducting interviews in Germany. The project was launched on International Roma Day on the 8thApril, 2016. We met activists, we heard success stories, we surveyed misunderstandings, were led through villages and saw the best of EU-financed exemplary projects – and in general met many different people and documented the life stories which they shared with us. The conversations were recorded, the places, landscapes, houses and flats were filmed.
During the research, three aspects - each specific to a particular country - became apparent and the focus for the devised theatre piece: the question of education opportunities in Romania, the accommodation situation in France and the right for residency in Germany.
With the aim of encountering the most diverse families (from different milieus, living conditions, residency status, levels of education and employment), werkgruppe2 was supported by a number of people and institutions who were able to make contact: RomaTrial e.V., Refugee Council of Lower Saxony and Saxony, Forum for Sinti and Roma, FEMROM/ Timișoara, Romanian Intercultural Institute/ Timișoara, Advice Centre for Roma, Timișoara, Amitiés City Council, Tziganes/Nancy, Nancy City Council.
The conversations happened in the preferred language of the interviewee: German, Romanian, French, Serbian, English, Roma. During the interview, an interpreter accompanied us with a simultaneous translation. Later, a precise translation of the interviews was made into English and German. The entire transcribed document was over 500 pages long, the script for the opening night was edited down to 39 pages.
The interviews were transcribed word for word including every pause, blunder, correction and interruption. Interviews made in German and English were transcribed in their original state; the interviews in Romanian, French and Roma were translated orally and these sound recordings of the translation were transcribed.
Examples, excerpts from the theatre script:
G. in Germany: And MTV was by far the most important medium for me when I was growing up. Now I don’t think that that, now, that because I’m Romni that my my youth now is that different culturally as if I’d been brought up somewhere else. What I was brought up with is with more music than the average child now - but perhaps also in a German musical family, the children are influenced in the same way by music, in a Romanian musical family just the same and so on and so on. And that’s the way it was, that my family, eh, had a lot to do with music and then also with art. We are also related to the Stojka family.
A. in France: What can I say? There was no work, that’s all. We didn’t have any work. What did we say? We’ll go to France - we- we- we ‘ll simply go to France, simply to give our children the possibility of better possibilities, so we’ll go to France, just to
find a bit of work, thank God, thank- thank- God that we now have the possibility to find work here. We never stole, - we never went begging - and now we work. From Romania - that’s where we’re from - naturally, its our country - where we were born aand - and then of course, when they now don’t want us here anymore, we’ll naturally go back to our home country, of course. - Yes, of course, we are going to eh continue… our work here and we’re going to stay here as long as we can, our children have more possibility here an’a better chance than in Romania. But what should we do then, should we kinda start to steal, go to prison? No, we’re not going to steal! Ok, just imagine there are people, Roma, that have been living here for twenny years. And when they for example, live here for say twenny years, they are not Romanian anymore, they are French, yes of course. My son, for example, started to learn Fren- French and now, bang, he knows he has the possibility to find a job here.
M. in Romania: Yes, actually, you know, this is the- the major stereotype, that the gyspies in Romania are more gypsy than the other gypsies in Europe. Because they- they believe the gypsies are Romanians. That´s why now Romania, the government fights to- to change this title of roma people and bring back the gypsy title instead of roma, because some people understand roma as Romania and some Romanians don’t agree and actually disagree fantastically with this title. Actually this should be no title… I mean yeah it´s a stereotype. And yes, most people say that real gypsies are Romanians. Those from Romania. So that´s true yeah…
At the begining of rehearsals, we produced a trailer which we used to announce the theatre performances. The actors and musicians can be seen speaking texts and our own questions from the interview material.
Before the interview phase of our project started, we undertook background research which alongside informative discussions with experts, involved collecting and analysing documentary film and theatre project material, documentary pictures and literature.
YOU WANT TO KNOW IF I CAN FORTUNE TELL?
by Silke Merzhäuser (from the theatre programme)
The project GYPISIES recounts meetings with Roma families in Germany, Romania and France which took place during field research undertaken by werkgruppe2 for over a year. The interviews made on the tripsformthe basis for the theatre piece and are spoken faithfully by the actors. The music follows elements of the research which were difficult to summarise in words – such as atmospheres, unknown traditions or hopes that cannot otherwise be formulated.
The aim of GYPSIESwas to graspmore accurately what the relationship between the majority and the Roma minority is. In order to do this, actors from Romania, France and German were brought together, complemented by two musicians whose special interest is in the conservation and modern re-intepretation of classical Roma music. Following the opening in Brunswick, GYPSIES was shown in Romania and France.
Searching for the true encounter
How do we who belong to the majority live together with Roma in different European countries? What images do we have of them and what burdens communal life? According to the philosopher, Carolin Emcke, identities are not just chosen freely, they are also “constructed, allocated, attributed, they come with limitations, with a history of criminalisation, denunciation and neglect and are attached to resentment, ignorance and conviction and these are quoted and passed on, in jokes, spoken with a covered hand, when uptight, in contempt and passed on from generation to generation, in school books or (…) in films.” This project is about those who are referred to in this way;the images which form our impressions of Roma (such as aggressive begging, a tendency to steal, a disregard for civil life, the nomadic way of life, fortune telling), are easy to define, are repeated regardless of location and appear timeless. Why can we immediately speculate about this, why are people connected to the Roma considered a threatat distance and become this as soon as they arrive in a locality? From where comes the weak assumption that living together is difficult and seemsunthinkable? Who taught us that there are also fascinating aspects of their lifestyle, such as the richness of their music and their independent way of life? And what does it mean when a concept of identity proves invalid in its entirety as it has beenreduced to derogative associations? How does the Roma minority define itself when its traditions are gradually being lost and their language has not been spoken and long not understood by all Roma?
The limitingand yet necessary effect of these descriptions of identity are sumarised by Carolin Emcke: “Concepts of collective identity are used as rhetorical vehicles for political battles in legal recognition but not in terms of belonging, or feeling at home.” A deliberate misrepresentation is acknowledged in the project title alone in choosing the colloquial term “gypsies”, although its association with the particular music genre is loaded with positive connotations. Roma has been the the official, inclusive name of all Roma peoplesince the first World Roma Congress in 1971 in London. It is the name “one is born with, one is made into a gypsy.” (Klaus-Michael Bogdal)
Our images of Roma have little or nothing at all to do with what we experienced in the meetings during our research. All at once, behaviour from where the assumed characteristics come from, lead back to particular situations and conditions, to plausible explanations and can be understood. How does someone get to the point of standing in a town centre and begging people for money? Because he has no choice; because he does not know from what he can buy his food during his first days in France; because no one has explained to him if and where he can get support; because it works and we give him money, more easily than we give him work; because there are burocratic ‘permissions to beg’ which legitimise this activity – though shame is nevertheless present. Different strategies, forced and distributed bythe media serve a so-called ethnicisation of social relationships in which specific qualities of a particular, clearly splintered – and as such imagined – group are presented.
“The culture of the Sinti and Roma is hardly unified, one cannot talk of the complexities of lifestyle, generally accepted norms, habit and customs of a people,” writes the antizigan researcher, Wolfgang Benz. The study of discrimination and the history of persecution of Sinti and Roma is revealing“as it shows the origins of the minority’sbehaviour not its prescribed character as being untamable, having aninsatiable need for freedom, acontempt of civil structures and other assumed characteristics emanating from genetic (earlier labled “racial”) rootsbut rather as the result and effectof exclusion, discrimination and persecution.” Perhaps what really unites the Roma is the memory of permanent discrimination over centuriesand the genocide of the Nazi period.
When enlightenment is to know the place from where one’s own thoughts originate in order to perceive one’s own perspective, the overall intention of the theatre project was an attempt at self-education. In this way, the actors on stage report from the kind of meetings they had during the research, from the attempts at explaining what the purpose of the interviews were; for the apologies for stereotypes and in the end for trying to come closer to one another. They transmit answers to the question of what a German theatre audience should know about Roma. They try to be substitutes – always conscious that this is challenging and presumptuous at the same time.
Against the resistance of prejudice
How can one overthrow stereotypes which seem inevitable as soon as we think of Roma? How is it possible to overwrite images? It seems to be a laborious process, to overlay and transform the habits of seeing, perspectives and their implications. “This search for other aspects, for other figures in familiar images is not at all easy. Being willing to discard a familiar practiced way of seeing and look for another is a hard premise,” writes Carolin Emcke and with it asks the question, how can this willingness be activated which is so urgently necessary when one follows the results of representative extreme right studies proving a significant rise in antiziganism: compared to 2011, when 40,1 percent of Germans stated they found it “problematic if Sinti and Roma were to stay in their neighbourhoods”, in 2014, 55,4 percent of Germans shared this opinion. Therefore antiziganism can already be found in all classes and professions in Germany, amongst the educated as well as the uneducated and right through all political factions. At the same time, it can be ascertained that no explicitly conscious decision is needed in order to communicate antiziganism. In contrast, in a society which is inherently influenced, there is the need for a conscious decision which is taken from the outside in order to reflect and question one’s own - often deeply embedded - patterns of thought, ways of perception and world views. Perhaps it helps in order to encourage this consciousness, that we keep on thinking about what sense and use it has for the majority of society (for us) to stigmatise a minority to such an extent? What does it mean for the social sense of the majority of society? And in order to expand this view, the literature theorist, Klaus-Michael Bogdal, makes the prognosis which has an even larger consequence on these questions: “Last but not least, the future viability of the intellectual construct of Europe will have to be judged in how the Roma people are treated.”
The multiple languages were kept in the final script of the theatre piece: the players speak either English, their mother-tongue and one or two other languages - the production had sub-titles in each of the languages respective of the country it was being showed in.
about the production
announcements, critics, booklets, articles
For getting to know how this specific type of documentary theatre (a multilingual verbatim theatre) is working with an audience outside of Germany, we asked the professor of dramatics Lucie Kempf (Université de Lorraine) to attend the show and after talk in Nancy and to write a comment:
On the online-platform feinschwarz.org the dramaturg Silke Merzhäuser wrote an article: ROMA BETTELN NICHT! about the stereotype BEGGING.
We chose different paths in order to evaluate our project:
We commissioned Achim Müller from the Institut für Kultur und Medienwirtschaft, Berlin to scientifically observe and evaluate the project process. He was to find out how we as a group made up of Roma and non-Romas worked together and how our stereotypes changed in relation to Roma and the conflicts that arose from this over the duration of the project. In order to do this, he attended rehearsals at various stages and performances with audience discussions, he led thematic discussions with different constellations of those participating, he met the artistic direction for evaluation and those responsible from each of the three cooperating theatres at the beginning and end of the project and asked questions as to the relevance of the projects in each of their peripheries.
Link to the academic evaluation (in German):
After the last show in Nancy we asked all team members to tell shortly:
“What is the most awareness or the open question when you are leaving the project now? What persists?”
The project was realised by werkgruppe2 in corporation with Staatstheater Braunschweig (were the rehearsal and premiere took place) and with Teatrul National Timisoara and Theatre de la Manufacture. All the three theatres are members of European Theatre Convention (www.etc-cte.org); the idea for the project GYPSIES and the cooperation was born at the festival “Art of Aging” of the ETC in spring 2015.
The Staatstheater Braunschweig became a member of the European Theatre Convention during the General Assembly in Nicosia on May 14, 2010. It is a state-owned theatre in the second largest city of Lower Saxony/Germany and offers not only drama, but also opera, musical theatre and orchestra, a contemporary dance company and a section especially aimed at young people’s theatre productions. The repertoire of about 30 premieres and more than 500 performances per season is presented on several venues located in the center of the city. The »Großes Haus« is a building in German Renaissance style containg 896. Nearby, the »Kleines Haus« has almost 300 seats. In »Haus Drei« with 80 seats plays for children and young people are shown and in the »Hausbar«, a studio opened in 2010, the audience can watch contemporary plays, listen to readings and concerts or meet the artists at after show parties. From 2010-2017 Joachim Klement was the director-general of Staatstheater Braunschweig. One of his main focuses is on the support of young international directors, playwrights and composers. As a result Joachim Klement initiated »Fast Forward«, European Festival for Young Stage Directors. Apart from this the Staatstheater stages two more festivals: »Themenwoche Interkultur«, Festival for Diversity and Cultural Participation and »fresh«, Dance Days Brunswick. The repertoire includes unconventional staged classics, world premieres and German first performances of contemporary drama and intercultural theatre.
Timisoara National Theatre is one of the most important and dynamic Romanian theatres, located in Timisoara the city that sparked the Romanian Anticommunist Revolution and central point of the region West Romania. Its key activity is the production of diverse and high quality performances based on new and classical drama, reaching out to the community through a modern approach and social relevance. The geographical position gives Timisoara National Theatre a constant opportunity for cultural exchange with Hungarian and Serbian theatres and a key role in encouraging cultural dialogue on a local, national and international level. Its interest in fostering productions in collaboration and intercultural dialogue at European level is obvious in the affiliation with the ETC, the European Theatre Convention, the European Festivals Association and the Intertext theatre networks. Timisoara National Theatre aims to valorise national and international, classical or new dramaturgy, as well as any other form of artistic expression, by promoting national drama and Romanian performing arts nationally and internationally and, at the same time, by promoting universal artistic values within the Romanian theatrical phenomenon. The National Theatre’s repertoire targets all categories of audiences. As a result, the 15 annual premieres cover a large variety of genres: experimental theatre, children’s shows, musicals, theatre - dance, image theatre etc. Starting in 2005, the institution has developed a strategy to strengthen its identity nationally and internationally, on different levels. This involved the development of a strong artistic and technical team, a clear option for modern theatre (based on both contemporary and classical texts), the creation of new performing spaces,participating in European festivals, programs and networks interested in collaborating with a relatively young and dynamic national theatre, establishing the image of a modern, socially involved institution in the public eye.
Les créations du Théâtre de la Manufacture sont présentées à Nancy, en tournée régionale, nationale et internationale. Le Théâtre de la Manufacture s’associe régulièrement à d’autres théâtres ou à des compagnies pour produire des spectacles sous forme de coproduction. Scène ouverte sur les moments forts de la création théâtrale d’aujourd’hui, le Théâtre de la Manufacture accueille chaque saison une quinzaine de spectacles créés par des théâtres ou par des compagnies nationales, régionales et étrangères. Une fenêtre ouverte sur le monde …avec RING, Rencontres Internationales des Nouvelles Générations. À Nancy, en 2011, RING a inauguré une nouvelle aventure avec l’ambition de créer un rendez-vous international du théâtre musical au coeur de la Lorraine. Au printemps, tous les 2 ans, le CDN créé autour de ce temps fort les bases d’un événement extraordinaire venant ébranler la normalité de notre quotidien. En faisant appel à des artistes européens et du monde entier, nous continuons à rassembler de nouveaux publics avec une ouverture culturelle dense et dans un esprit de partage et de mélange entre générations, publics et artistes. Ouverture, curiosité, innovation, création sont quelques-uns des mots clés de ce Nancy Ring…et avec Neue Stücke ! Semaine de la dramaturgie allemande organisée en partenariat avec le Goethe-Institut de Nancy et la Badisches Staatstheater de Karlsruhe. Initiée en 2012 par Michel Didym, Neue Stücke vise à explorer la dramaturgie allemande en faisant émerger un répertoire nouveau et vivant grâce à une semaine ponctuée de spectacles, échanges, lectures et rencontres.
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production photos by Volker Beinhorn, Isabel Winarsch
research photos by Silke Merzhäuser, Charlotte Pistorius
Videos: Gregor Dobiaschowski (complete recording, trailer), Veronika Patockova (Titel), Charlotte Pistorius (research), Silke Merzhäuser (evaluation)
corporate design, webdesign, realization: atavist.com, Silke Merzhäuser