Recently, Charles Urban gave an interview to LIFT magazine to mark NEAT’s 25th birthday. LIFT published excerpts, but here is the interview in full!
LIFT: Swabians and English humour – how big a challenge is this really?
C.U.: Twenty five years ago, there was a HUGE difference and that is why I didn’t do any comedies at all! I focused on dramas such as THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams, ‘NIGHT, MOTHER by Marsha Norman, KRAPP’S LAST TAPE by Samuel Beckett and ZOO STORY by Edward Albee. Drama was always readily understood and accepted. Twenty five years ago, Germans were very serious and not as open to slapstick and sillyness.
LIFT: Where are the biggest differences humour-wise?
C.U.: I no longer see any major differences. Today, through internet and globalization of the media, Germans have had many years of access to specific American and British forms of humour (for better or worse); Geman comics and comedians are not only familiar with it but have actually adapted much of it. There was no such thing as a German “Stand Up Comedian” twenty five years ago! That is one of the oldest forms of English Language Comedy performance.
LIFT: In which way do English and German theater differ?
C.U.: Contemporary Theatre is experimental and modern in the respective country of origin. When English language theatre is presented in a foreign country, the tendency leans towards conservative staging. WERKTREU. When German theatres present productions “FREI NACH SHAKESEPEARE” for example; they often have very little to do with the original AND through the translation into German, there is virtually nothing left of the original play except a very simple and often banal plot. When a British or American theatre performs a Shakespeare play, the setting might be entirely different BUT the beauty of the poetic language is still intact.
LIFT: What about the audience: Who’s coming to NEAT?
C.U.: The NEAT audience consists of three (nearly) equal parts: one third English Native Speakers living in Stuttgart (British, American, Canadians, Australians, etc.), one third Germans who enjoy being entertained with the original language versions of Classic and Contemporary Theatre productions, and one third people from Asia, Middle East, Africa who speak English as a second language and whose knowledge of German is not such that they would be able to follow a German Theatre play.
LIFT: 25 years NEAT is quite the achievement. Which plays were extraordinarily popular during that period?
C.U.: WAITING FOR GODOT by Samuel Beckett, EDUCATING RITA by Willy Russell were extremely popular. Many of our productions have won prizes at the European Theatre Festival (FEATS – Festival of European Anglophone Societies); most recently DEATH by Woody Allen, THE EVENT by John Clancy, THE DIARIES OF ADAM & EVE by Elton Townend Jones, the musical THE FANTASTICKS. These have all been very popular with Stuttgart audiences. Also, our current productions THE UNREMARKABLE DEATH of MARILYN MONROE by Elton Townend Jones and SPRINGTIME IN THE FOG by Lisa Ritchie, THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES by Eve Ensler. Our annual CELTIC CULTURAL EVENING and CHRISTMAS PANTIS are very popular. Our ongoing DARK MONDAY series at MERLIN (every first Monday of each month, since October 2013) is extremely popular!
LIFT: What were the most original locations you played in?
C.U.: That would have to be LAPIDARIUM at the foot of Karlshöhe; where we performed DEATH by Woody Allen there and THE DIARIES OF ADAM & EVE by Elton Twonend Jones, for which the beautiful lush garden of LAPIDARIM became the Garden of Eden! We also performed at the CORSO cinema. The ROYAL THEATRE in Den Haag is the oldest theatre in Holland and comparable to the opera in Stuttgart; we performed THE EVENT by John Clancy there! That was FABULOUS!
LIFT: Who is your longest playing actor?
I am the only founding member of NEAT that is still active. The actor who has been involved the longest, next to myself, is John Doyle; who first joined in 1997. Age wise, we have actors who are older than John but who have not been involved in the group as long; here I’d like to mention Derrick Jenkins and Wolfgang Hahn, who are both very active and could recently be seen at the Mark Twain performance in THEATERHAUS!
LIFT: What is your role at NEAT and what do you like about it?
C.U.: I founded NEAT in 1991 for the express purpose of performing DRIVING MISS DAISY by Alfred Uhry (a production of the US military theatre that I was featured in) to a downtown theatre and making it accessible to the German public. This was at THEATER IM ZENTRUM in Heusteigstrasse.I never expected the group to continue performing beyond that but one project lead to the next… and here we are!
LIFT: What, essentially, is the main reason NEAT was founded?
C.U.: I founded the group in 1991 to give Stuttgart audiences access to authentic English Language Theatre. I thought if the original language versions of films at Corso could be popular, then why not theatre as well. I was right in my assumption!