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BWW Blog: Why Study Theater in Berlin, Germany?

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To be honest, if this intensive was never offered, I probably wouldn’t have considered traveling to Berlin, let alone Germany, at all.

BWW Blog: Why Study Theater in Berlin, Germany?

When you think of theater students studying abroad, you probably think of them going to London for a semester to study Shakespeare. While that definitely sounds like an exciting opportunity, it's one that I personally did not experience in college. While I could have searched the internet for such a program, my college instead offered a summer theater intensive in Berlin, Germany. Soon after I first learned about the intensive, I was immediately intrigued. I wasn't that familiar with the city but the intensive promised to offer a month long experience where we would explore the city of Berlin and the kind of theater it offers. I therefore spent the summer between my sophomore year and junior year of college studying abroad at Bard College Berlin.

To be honest, if this intensive was never offered, I probably wouldn't have considered traveling to Berlin, let alone Germany, at all. While I am of German heritage, I was unaware of what Germany offered to travelers in comparison to places like London, Rome, Tokyo, etc. However, I'm so glad I went to Berlin. If Berlin isn't near the top of your travel bucket list, you should absolutely reconsider. The city is full of culture all around. From the abundance of graffiti to its many monuments and museums based around a variety of subjects, there is always something new to discover and learn about. If you go to Germany, you should definitely give Currywurst a try. However, aside from local delicacies, Berlin offers delicious food from breakfast to dessert from all around the world. I strongly remember Vietnamese food and gelato being popular among my class. When it comes to shopping, there's so many locally based stores to stop by in (and perhaps purchase something). This includes several clothing and accessories stores and even an open air flea market with karaoke. Finally, at the end of the day, if you have the time and energy, Berlin is famous for its nightlife. I will say though that many nightclubs are quite hard to get into, especially if you're not from around Berlin. You can give it a shot if you really want to (it's not impossible!) but don't let tough doormen ruin your trip. There's plenty of fun bars (many are themed) to head to as well as other spots such as jazz clubs. There's something for just about everyone in Berlin. Since it's such a huge city, you can easily uncover hidden treasures. Towards the end of my trip, I discovered that one of the city's largest shopping districts has an alleyway with a strong amount of pop culture themed graffiti as well as animatronics. Really just the overall culture and environment of Berlin is exciting. It's different from where I am in the United States and that alone always kept me excited and active.

BWW Blog: Why Study Theater in Berlin, Germany?Of course, the real reason why I went to Berlin was to see and learn about theater. Berlin is actually home to several acclaimed theaters including the Schaubühne and Berliner Ensemble. We would get to see multiple productions at most of these theaters and we were always immersed in shows that are presented in a very different way than in the United States. Berlin is very experimental. While there's plenty of theater in the United States that's experimental as well, it appeared to me that just about every production in Berlin was experimental. This includes adaptations of stories of famous people and already well known plays. Among these, a look at the life of Vladimir Lenin as played by a woman who made actresses like Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett appear like amateurs. The most insane one though was probably an eight hour long experimental adaptation of Les Miserables. We all survived though and we have now all had the experience of watching a play in a different language for an extended period of time I actually recommend that all actors have this kind of experience. It's very intense and challenges you to see theater differently. Now, even if the play is in German, there are either subtitles or you're given a summary of the play beforehand. Sometimes though, there wasn't even a plot. We actually saw multiple plays where the characters were basically clowns doing the same antics over and over again. These were actually among my favorites of all the shows I saw. Once in a while, we weren't even in a traditional theater. Instead, we would be seeing a show all around a park or all around the city itself as we become the "actors". We definitely got a good sized serving of German theater. In fact, we even got a sense of a different kind of theater etiquette. At the end of one show, while most people were applauding, there was a man that was loudly booing. This may not be entirely unusual but I had never heard booing at a show until then. It made us think why we don't hear that more often in the states and if it's okay to boo when others aren't. The most notable difference though was the curtain call itself. The actors would come out and bow about eight times! It's not your typical Shakespeare play but it's always good to see how theater can be altered from its "norm".

Now the actual classes and workshops in theater weren't necessarily all about experimental theater and the German language and crossing boundaries. Instead, they were more common, basic sounding theater classes such as Devised Theatre, Movement and Songwriting. However, the classes challenged us take what we've been learning about theater in college and combine that with our experiences seeing all of the different shows in Berlin. Soon, we were split into groups and challenged to create devised theater pieces which were to be presented at the end of the program. This tight knit collaboration resulted in three thrilling student created pieces based on our field trips and class work as well as our own personal interests. My group ended up creating a wrestling themed piece based upon the idea of touch and consent. Each of the performances were site specific with student created technology and costumes and props. It was truly amazing to see what could happen when actors were faced with intense teamwork and intellectually stimulating influences and I definitely feel as if more student showcases should actually be like this.

BWW Blog: Why Study Theater in Berlin, Germany?Studying Theater in Berlin, Germany may at times feel very different and at times intense but theater students should always be up for a challenge and one would be with a small group of students and professors who will always make sure everyone feels safe, comfortable and content. The opportunities given as part of the intensive will help one got beyond their limits and comfort zone and a few you may only get to experience this one time. And of course, what kind of theater wouldn't want to see a play almost every day? What kind of traveler wouldn't want to explore a culturally rich city like Berlin? I truly believe that more students should learn about the kind of theater showcased in Berlin. It's far from the typical study abroad trip yet still ties in American academic subjects and topics. So what are you waiting for? Grab a Club Mate and head to Berlin, Germany for an adventure!

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From This Author Student Blogger: Brigid Pfeifer