Thursday, 25 July 2013

(Ab)using Fadoul and Elisio: Unmasking Representations of Whiteness in German Theatre

Based on paper presented at the Symposium "Blackface, Whiteness and the Power of Definition in German Contemporary Theatre", 16th October 2012 [i]
Also published on Textures. Online Platform for Interweaving Performance Cultures, 27th May 2014

White people have not always been “white,” nor will they always be “white.” It is a political alliance. Things will change.
(Amoja Three Rivers)

Whiteness[ii] is created and perpetuated in a myriad of ways, through tiny and massive interactions on a micro and macro level every single day. The “Blackface debate,” initially sparked in Berlin early in 2012 through the public advertising of Schlosspark Theater Berlin’s production of Ich bin nicht Rappaport, featured many examples of this: the use of blackface by Joachim Bliese, the white actor cast in the role of an African-American man was merely the tip of the iceberg, indeed the use of blackface is a demonstration and celebration of whiteness. In this article, I focus on how whiteness is represented in modern German theatre, using Michael Thalheimer’s 2012 production of Dea Loher’s play Unschuld (engl. “Innocence”) as an example. Unschuld was another target of criticism for the use of blackface and the site of the first in-theatre protest by the then newly-formed activist group Bühnenwatch (engl. Stagewatch). As is typical of most German theatrical productions, the non-racialised characters in Unschuld are all white by virtue of the fact that their whiteness is uncommented: it is self-evident, a matter-of-course. Loher (a white woman) and Thalheimer (a white man) obviously believe that this underlines the universality of the play’s message, but it is in fact the first clue to a problematic understanding of who, in their theatrical world, is “in” and who is “out.” Who “belongs”? Who is “othered”? The answers to these questions can be found, in part, through a closer examination of the characters Elisio and Fadoul.