Digital derring-do in German drama. A festival highlights the way stage artists have coped with their hiatus.

Munich The most immediate striking aspect of this year's Theaterreffen, the annual showcase of the best of German-language theater is the numbers.

To make their selection, the 2020 festival jury watched 285 productions in 60 cities across Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The resulting program, which runs until Monday is dauntingly full, with 80 hours of streaming events on a digital platform.

When the seven jurors announced their selection in February, the festival hoped to hold in-person performances. But a third wave of the coronavirus, which has gripped Germany in recent months, meant that for the second year in a row, Theaterreffen was confined to online presentation.

Since the start of the pandemic, German playhouses have been uniquely proactive in adapting to social distancing restrictions. Many have devised new theatrical formats, including immersive live productions for solo spectators or digital-only  productions that have enlisted social media, video messaging apps, chat rooms and video gaming technology to create art that responds to our circumstances.

Keeping up with this creative proliferation has been occasionally exhausting; more consistently, it has been inspiring to see how theater here - much of which receive robust state funding - has refused to lie down and die.

I had hoped that this year's Theatertreffen would take the full measure of this challenging year, so I was dismayed that the jury chose only one ''corona show'' among the 10 productions selected for the festival.

But what a production it was!

''Show me a Good Time'' by the German-British theater collective Gob Squad, was a wild noon-to-midnight performance that whizzed between the empty stage of the Berliner Festspiele and various participants in the outside world, discussing life during the pandemic, conducting man-on-the-street interviews about theater and soliciting artistic suggestions from callers.

The performers at the theater, driving through Berlin and traipsing around England were connected via headsets and cameras in what often had the aspect of a theatrical telethon.

Yet despite the marathon running time, it was accessible and down to earth. By design, it was a show that one could dip into and out  of at will; over the 12 hours, more than 3,000 people popped their virtual heads in.

While meditating on life, theater and intersection of the two, the performers routinely injected their largely ad libbed performances [in German and English] with generous doses of humour and silliness. 

One example : For two minutes each hour, they dropped everything and screeched with laughter.

While none of the other productions provided a similar degree of meaningful reflection on life during the Covid-19, the reality of the pandemic clearly influenced the aesthetic choices behind several of the other streamed productions.

The World Students Society thanks author A.J. Goldmann.


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