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Drive-By Theatre Double Feature: Brecht+60/Kleist+205
On 28–29 September 2016, the German program at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) hosted a two-day conference on the lives, works, and lasting legacies of Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) and Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811). The conference title, Drive-By Theatre Double Feature: Brecht+60/Kleist+205, referenced the presence of many participants of the Fortieth Annual German Studies Association (GSA) Conference that took place in San Diego on the weekend directly following Brecht+60/Kleist+205. Unlike a traditional “drive by,” no scholars were harmed in the organization of the CSULB conference. Instead, the CSULB co-organizers, graduate student Madeline Foss, lecturer Rebecca Stewart, Professor Jeffrey L. High, and the CSULB German program, invited some scholars already travelling to the GSA conference to present a few days earlier at Brecht+60/Kleist+205.
Scholars, musicians, and actors offered not only analyses and interpretations of Brecht’s and Kleist’s work, but also original artistic contributions inspired by the life and writing of both authors. On 28 September, Fareed Majari (Director of the Goethe Institut in Los Angeles) opened the first half of the conference, “Feature 1: Brecht.” Mr. Majari was followed by scholarly papers by keynote speaker Wolf Kittler (University of California, Santa Barbara), Jack Davis (Truman State University), Carrie Collenberg-Gonzalez (Portland State University), Matthew Straus (University of Washington), Jeffrey L. High (CSULB), and Madeline Foss (CSULB).
The second day of the conference, 29 September, was dedicated to the second author in the “double feature”: Kleist. Brian Jerksy (Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at CSULB) and Nele Hempel-Lamer (Interim Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Studies) opened this day of the conference. Their remarks were followed by scholarly papers by keynote speaker Bernd Fischer (Ohio State University), Matthew Feminella (University of Alabama), Robert Blankenship (CSULB), Seán Allan (University of St. Andrews), Rebecca Stewart (CSULB), and Rick McCormick (University of Minnesota). [See program for full details].
Sometimes it feels like the panels and papers will never end at academic conferences. We all know that feeling. At “Brecht+60/Kleist+205,” the organizers did not miss a beat in presenting a varied and engaging schedule, which included musical and theatrical performances. On 28 September, Hugh O’Gorman (Head of Acting at CSULB) lead an actor’s workshop on Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle featuring Theatre Arts graduate students Thomas Trudgeon (as Simon) and April Sigman-Marx (as Grusha). Following this, former and current CSULB students premiered an original musical theater production Outlaw Brecht (Author/Director: Elaine Chen, Musical Director: Rebecca Stewart), which explored (in dialogue with Brecht’s Three Penny Opera) the meaning of the “outlaw” figure in his literature.
On 29 September, German students presented dramatic readings from Kleist’s oeuvre and current and former CSULB students Glen Gray and Zaq Kenefick presented and performed original compositions on the life and literature of Kleist, featuring Rebecca Stewart (Soprano). Composer Hauke Berheide and librettist and director Amy Stebbins spoke about their recently premiered opera, Mauerschau (2016), which draws largely from Kleist’s Penthesilea and received the Opera Festival Prize in Munich. The presentation included performances of two selections from the opera—a song in the style of Brecht & Kurt Weill, “The Iron Man,” and an operatic aria, “Nun o Unsterblichkeit bist du ganz mein,” performed by Amber Alarcon (Mezzo-Soprano) and Ryan King (Baritone). Dorothy Robbins accompanied the singers with a piano reduction of the original orchestral score. Each conference day was concluded with a film screening: on day one The Jack Bull (Kleist and Dick Cusack, 1999) and on day two Hangmen Also Die! (Brecht and Fritz Lang, 1943).
Over the course of the two-day conference, participants and students brought the works, lives, and legacies of two authors, separated historically by over a century, into interaction in twenty-first century Long Beach. Their works were confronted in a way that was accessible to all attendees. The organizers hope that this not only entertained, but also taught. We would like to thank all student co-organizers for their work and all participants for joining us in beautiful, sunny, capitalist California for our “Drive-By Theatre Double Feature.”
-Madeline Foss & Rebecca Stewart
[Photos by Tegan White-Nesbitt]