Languages and Literatures
Standing Ovation for Else und Franz
Yet again, Dr. Alexandra Zimmermann, professor, playwright and theatre director, has delighted us with the production of a German play resulting from her course Performance in German.
Else und Franz, written and directed by Dr. Zimmermann, is a theatre production that combines words and songs to explain the life and tragic destiny of painter Franz Marc (1880-1916), cofounder of the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) movement, an influential avant-garde group that started in Germany, and Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945), activist, journalist, and poet, who moved to Berlin in 1894 and embraced the bohemian life of the avant-garde groups of the time. It was in Berlin that Else met Franz.
The encounter of Else and Franz is used as the main narrative axis to introduce the audience to the rich artistic life of early twentieth-century Berlin. Slide projections of the paintings produced by the artists of the Blaue Reiter, and other masterpieces of influential avant-garde painters such as O. Kokoschka and Wassily Kandinsky help us to understand the turning point that these artist represented in the renovation of traditional art perspectives. We travel, throughout the scenes, to Prague, where we come to appreciate the connections between artists and writers such as Franz Kafka.
The play progresses to more dramatic events with the arrival of the Nazi Party into power: a whole epoch is destroyed and with it the bohemian life of Else, who finds her home in Jerusalem, where she dies. Archival footage of the war is also projected, giving to the scene a deeper sense of the tragedy.
The play is carefully punctuated by musical pieces masterfully executed by students from the WLU Faculty of Music. While all of the characters – interpreted by the students enrolled in the German Drama course – are very well portrayed, move on stage with ease, and seem comfortable in the language, the interpretation of Else Lasker-Schüler by Mali Fatimah is truly outstanding. A star was born at the Theatre Auditorium last weekend.
Else und Franz is a fine example of what theatre can bring to the teaching of languages when understood as a holistic pedagogical approach that entails not only the knowledge of the language but a love for the culture – or cultures – where it is spoken.