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"Comedy is tragedy plus time", Woody Allen once said. But time has not been so kind to comedy. These days it’s considered passé, if not downright reactionary, and there’s nothing staler than yesterday’s jokes.
Yet the lone juror of Berlin’s second Autorentheatertage festival Elke Schmitter specifically requested that budding playwrights write comedies – a species thought to be all but extinct here in Germany. "Make me laugh!" was her challenge to the writers. The response was overwhelming: 140 plays were submitted. Schmitter, herself a novelist and editor at the magazine Der Spiegel read each one, all the while asking the question: What is funny?
The five playwrights whose works she has selected provide different, very individual answers to this question. Four plays –by Daniel Gurnhofer, Judith Kuckart, David Lindemann and Julia Wolf – are being workshopped and performed at the Long Night of Writers on June 25. The fifth play, by Mathilda Onur, is being presented in the form of a reading on June 19 – and will have its world premiere staging at the start of the next theatre season.
The quest to discover what is funny also served as a guideline for the festival program. Are laughs to be had above and beyond the comedic battle of wits of a René Pollesch or the sophisticated and timely boulevard theatre of a Yasmina Reza? Our initial research uncovered something like humour, irony and a desire to mine theatre’s comedic possibilities. This applies not only to playwrights like Roland Schimmelpfennig, who knows how to combine magic, comedy, slapstick and metaphysics, but in particular to the younger generation of dramatists like Rebekka Kricheldorf, Felicia Zeller, Philipp Löhle, Ewald Palmetshofer and writer-director Rafael Sanchez. They all have a more uninhibited, playful relationship to comedy as a form than the previous generation. Still, the big themes and stories favoured by their predecessors are also very much in evidence at the festival, which is hosting productions of: Elfriede Jelinek’s very personal Winter’s Journey; Feridun Zaimoglu’s Alpsegen (Alpine Blessing), a panorama of Munich; and the theatrical adaptation of Uwe Tellkamp’s sprawling novel Der Turm (The Tower), which chronicles the period leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
We would like to thank the Berlin Lottery Foundation, the Rudolf Augstein Foundation and the Mara & Holger Cassens Foundation for their generous support.