Diverse Voices Reading Series Tackles the Topic of Race

Race is ridiculously difficult to talk about—certainly up there with politics and religion (if not beyond).  It’s impossible to be completely objective, easy to offend, and simple to fall into defensive stances.  That is all to say, it’s excellent subject matter for theater—messy, complicated and hard.

This year, Theatre Horizon launched its Diverse Voices Reading Series.  The goal is to hear celebrated plays that spark dialogue about race.  These plays are being considered for inclusion in future seasons.  The next play in this series reminds me of just the very conversation about race we hope to inspire:  it unravels, it builds upon itself, it asks questions, it’s seemingly reserved and then BAM—you find yourself in a the middle of a heated debate.

Bee-Luther-Hatchee by Thomas Gibbons is about a young editor who sets out to meet a reclusive author.  Her investigation leads to unexpected confrontation, played out on the edge of the racial divide.  I’d love to tell you more… but that would rob us of some excellent fodder for conversation next month.  Let’s just say, if on December 9, you don’t leave the theater talking about this play, and hopefully the issues it brings to light, then I’ve failed to do my job as director.  Which reminds me of the actual topic for this post…

What exactly is a director’s job during a reading?

Beats me.  I mean, I assume it’s no different than a director’s job during a full-length production… not that I’m any more confident in that job description.  But, what I can tell you is that readings are tough little nuts to crack.  Here are a couple of the many reasons:

  1. Firstly, there’s never enough time.  To prepare for the reading, to do proper dramaturgical research, to rehearse… we do hope to steal four hours of rehearsal for Bee-Luther-Hatchee… a luxury for most readings.
  2. Many of the normal tricks of the trade (things that can help clarify story, i.e. props, lighting cues, costumes, sound cues) are stripped away from you… mostly because of #1 and also a little because of #3.
  3. There’s not much money.  Readings are a way for authors, actors, directors and producers to get together to see what’s next for a play.  Do we want to produce this play?  Does it need a workshop?  How about we bring it to Broadway?  Most outcomes require the producers to pony up some amount of cash… needless to say, one tries to put as little money into these things as necessary.  (Thanks to Pennsylvania Humanities Council, Theatre Horizon is able to pay all those involved with bringing our readings to life, not to mention that we are able to offer the reading free-of-charge to you—our audience.)
  4. What stage directions get read?  Who reads them?  Do they help tell the story or do they distract from the story?
  5. Did I mention that there’s never enough time?  You probably won’t even get a full reading of the play completed before it’s actually time for the audience to arrive.  This means that the director and the actors don’t get to hear the whole thing out loud, in order, until there’s an audience.  So… that’s stressful… but it’s also magical.

So there you have it… a difficult topic—race—in the context of a difficult form of theater—the reading.  It’s going to be a night of theater (and dialogue) you don’t want to miss.  Availability is limited so reserve your tickets now by clicking here.

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German Expert Bernd Spott reflects on his journey from Germany to the United States

My name is Bernd Spott and when I arrived into this world in Halle/Saale, a city about an hour from Berlin in what was then the German Demographic Republic (or East Germany to the Amis), little did I know that 5+ decades later I’d be a “German expert” to Theatre Horizon for the production of I Am My Own Wife, but then considering that German is my native language and I grew up in post-war East Germany, I guess I do have a somewhat unique perspective.

My life journey began in Halle/Saale. Post-war East Germany in the 1950’s was not a pleasant place to be but I really didn’t know any better. Food was scarce. We felt lucky if we had meat one time during the week. Otherwise, lots of beans and potatoes. We played in the streets and would often watch the Russian panzers rumble through our town, leaving broken cobblestone in their wake and giving us something to do for the next several hours, namely putting the cobblestone back into place.

My father wasn’t around much. He made a practice of sneaking across the border and for months at a time working in West Germany, but as children we didn’t really know that. He was just off working somewhere. Then one day when I was about 7 years old, my mother announced that we – my 2 brothers, my infant sister, and my mother – were going to a family wedding in West Berlin and would be staying overnight in the big city. I didn’t even know we had family in West Berlin, but in any event, I was looking forward to my first train trip. In the morning, we each had a small overnight bag to carry and off we went, unbeknownst to me that I would not return again for almost 32 years.

The train pulled into East Berlin and with my mother carrying my infant sister, we walked into a designated checkpoint to make the crossing into West Berlin. Lots of new things to see but also lots of policemen watching us, starring at us, and making us scared. I really don’t know what happened next but moments after our mother had been given the OK to proceed and we were moving through an underpass that led to West Berlin, the police sounded a siren, whistles began blowing and suddenly my mother grabbed my older brother and I by the hand and began running toward the West Berlin side. A stranger grabbed my younger brother and ran alongside us, and as a group we sprinted across into West Berlin and my mother immediately started asking where the West Germany embassy was. Wait! What was going on? I thought we were going to a wedding. Only later did I learn that there was no family wedding. Instead, my mother was following a plan devised in secret by my father for us to escape from East Germany. We were now refugees seeking asylum and shortly thereafter we were on a plane from West Berlin to West Germany.

My life took a fateful turn that day. We left behind aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who continued to live in East Germany. Over the years and after a somewhat rough start as a refugee among my own people, I learned a trade, went on to earn an architecture degree and met a beautiful, young American tourist, who would eventually become my wife and help me write the next chapter of my life in America.

In 1989, I watched as the Berlin Wall fell and in 1991, with my American wife and two year old, I returned to Halle/Saale. My aunts and uncles had aged, living in East Bloc high rises built so shabbily that they cautioned us not to step out onto the balcony for fear it would collapse. One of my cousins was serving time in prison for “speaking his mind”, and although the Communist regime had collapsed, he head not yet been released. They told of decades of Stasi surveillance and not being able to freely speak with neighbors because every building and neighborhood had undercover Stasi agents that were your friends and even family. One had to live by the motto “Feind hoert mit”, meaning the “enemy is listening”. So as I read the script of I Am My Own Wife to help refine “Charlotte’s” German pronunciation, I could not help but be taken back to my own life experience, and in particular, that of my family left behind in East Germany. Dangerous, frightening and uncertain times – never being able to be your true self.

I’d like to thank Erin Reilly and the entire gang at Theatre Horizon for the opportunity to be part of this fine production.

Review of I AM MY OWN WIFE

Written by Theatre Horizon subscriber, Susan Wolfson, Quick Critic

It was my pleasure to bring a group of 17 to the Sunday afternoon preview of I Am My Own Wife.  This new theatre space is warm and inviting with a friendly and helpful staff.  The seats are very comfortable with lots of legroom and visibility from any row or seat.  Where can you find a BYOB theatre except right here at Theatre Horizon!

This amazing one actor play was a stunning piece of theatre.  Who was Charlotte von Mahlsdorf?  During this performance, we learn so much about this polite and soft spoken woman (who was born a German man).  She certainly was not a weak woman but rather a brave and courageous person who survived not only Nazi Germany but also the Communist regime.  Charlotte is portrayed in her little black dress, string of pearls, orthopedic shoes and black head scarf.  We follow her from childhood until her death many years later.  So many twists and turns…and beautiful executed.  She was an amazing individual!

With a change only in position, voice, and accent, Charlie DelMarcelle becomes over 30 character with apparent ease.  I was totally enthralled with his portrayal of all the different people who each had an impact on Charlotte’s life.

This play deals with a difficult subject and era in history and I felt it was beautifully executed.  Please come and see this show and tell your friends not to miss it.  It runs until November 24.  You have my recommendation plus the friends who joined me!

A Note from Our Honorary Producers

Cindy and I first learned about Theatre Horizon during its 11/12 season.  In December, 2011, we attended our first production, Voices of Christmas, at the former venue in Norristown.  We should have had a clue then that Theatre Horizon productions are unlike any others.  We become instant fans of everything Theatre Horizon.

In April, 2012, we were entranced by the theatre’s gripping production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, How I Learned to Drive, after having enjoyed dinner with clients accompanying us that evening, at a Mexican restaurant just a couple of blocks from the theatre.  A month later, I was invited up the block from the old venue.  Although it was hard to believe on that rainy day in May, 2012, Norristown’s long shuttered Bell Telephone Building, was to become, in little more than five months, a shining light upon a hill in Norristown.  In February, 2013, during Theatre Horizon’s 12/13 Grand Opening season, Cindy and I, along with friends we invited, were spellbound by the theatre’s production of An Infinite Ache.  In May, 2013, we also brought guests with us to see the theatre’s electrifying production of the Tony Award-winning musical, Spring Awakening

With its lighted marquee sign on DeKalb Street, Theatre Horizon stands both literally and figuratively as a beacon and signpost for what’s vibrant, new and exciting in and about Norristown.  On a personal level, because of our association with Theatre Horizon, after having been Montgomery County residents for more than thirty years, Cindy and I have a new relationship with Norristown.  We find ourselves, for the first time, regularly traveling to the borough, often accompanied by family members, friends, and business associates, discovering, enjoying and then returning to some of the County’s best restaurants, and participating in the restaurant renaissance, cultural awakening, and commercial resurgence, of the County seat.  By making annual gifts to Theatre Horizon, we also believe we’re investing in Norristown’s future.

Theatre Horizon’s co-founders Artistic Director Erin Reilly and Resident Director Matthew Decker have created something magical in Norristown.  Cindy and I have awaited with anticipation Theatre Horizon’s 13/14 season.  Well the new theatre season begins with I Am My Own Wife.  We can’t wait!

~ Bill and Cindy Wanger