NEAT – 30 Years in the Making

It was Thirty Years Ago on June 4, 1991, that the first production under the name of NEAT – New English American Theatre was performed!

Photos by Kathleen Cole & Jack Jetmund

Kathleen Cole directed the play DRIVING MISS DAISY by Alfred Uhry; a dinner theatre show in the NCO club at Nellingen Barracks early in 1991. The show featured Becky Connolly as Miss Daisy, Tom Lindsay as Hoke her Chauffer and Charles C. Urban as Boolie, her son. The show was very popular with the military audience and was held over for several performances. As the Nellingen Barracks, and with it the show, was off limits to Germans, we thought it might be a good idea to bring the production „downtown“ to a centrally located theatre venue in Stuttgart. After looking around for such options, we contacted THEATER IM ZENTRUM in Heusteigstrasse. They were very receptive to the idea and helped us publicize the show in the printed press. The sold out performance was a great success and we earned enough money to out for a meal afterwards. The jazz cellist Ina Kammerzell provided the intermission music.

All we needed was a name for our troupe. Inspired by the disorganized state of the english language theatre group that I had been a founding member of in 1989 called Open Minds, I decided that this group needed to be better structured and organized… basically, the aim was to be neat! We unanimously agreed on this short, precise, appropriate name and it wasn’t until much later, when someone inquired what the initials N.E.A.T. stood for that I made up New English American Theatre on the spot. I had been writing it N.E.A.T. (as an abbreviation) because I thought it looked more official that way; like an actual organization. 

In the meantime, THEATER IM ZENTRUM, which was an old multistory factory has long been remodeled into downtown loft apartments and the periods between the letter in the name NEAT have disappeared. Also, Nellingen Barracks were razed and the site used for a large scale garden show before much needed housing was constructed. An attempt was made to relocate the Nellingen Dinner Theatre to Kelley Barracks in Möhringen; the performances were good but the dinners weren’t up to par. 

In 1993, it was decided the group should become a non-profit organization for tax purposes, so the official name is actually NEAT e.V. That year we decided to attempt an ambitious production of THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE by C.S.Lewis in both English and German versions (we translated the play ourselves) and performed it six times as the unofficial opening of the Kelley Theatre in Möhringen, when the US Entertainment Branch decided to repurpose the on base movie theatre for live stage shows. Originally built as a theatre venue when the barracks was constructed for the German army, it had been used as an American Cinema for decades. The founding members of the e.V. each invested DM 200 to finance the LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE; these were Ken Miller, Susan Borofsky, Giselle Schick, Werner Shick (along with their daughter Jenny), Marshall Lee, Julian Rich, Nancy Rodgers, Vineeta Manglani, Charles C. Urban, Astrid Klein (Costumes, Set & Lighting), Monika Bricke (Director), Michael Kester (Sound & Music). Four of those founders have since passed away… Thirty years is a long time… 

Back in the early 1990’s, the barracks at Kelley were not yet AFRICOM and access to the base was without any formalities. The difficulty was getting the Stuttgart audience to cross the threshold of a military establishment at a time when anti-American sentiments loomed. Also, spreading the news that the former Cinema was now a Theatre location took some doing. As it turned out the German language version of THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE drew only a fraction of the audience that the English version did and we therefore never performed another project in German. 

One of the earliest benefactors of NEAT was the Amerika Haus in Stuttgart. They had a well stocked library and an auditorium which seated nearly 300 people. This building was built and financed by the American Cultural Department and hosted readings, concerts, theatre performances, etc. and was the only place where one could see original language films in Stuttgart. NEAT was allowed to rehearse on the auditorium stage and this was to be the site of regular performances starting with CAGES by Lewis John Carlino. A downtown theatre dedicated to English language entertainment. 

After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the reunification of Germany, the Amerika Haus funding was reduced by the US government and rechanneled to new institutions opening in Eastern Germany. It eventually closed after many decades of service and has since been demolished for office space. The above mentioned CAGES production was performed during the summer of 1993 at Irrlicht Theater near Marienplatz (another old factory, long demolished to make room for a hotel) and at the University of Tübingen. 

Without missing a beat, NEAT found a new home at KKT in Bad Cannstatt, where we rehearsed, performed and were able to store props, scenery and costumes for 12 years. When the founder of this venue, Hanne Tächl, retired and it was taken over by a new administration, who needed more time and space for their own productions, we moved on yet again.

Our next rehearsal space was found at the Alte Bahndirketion across the street from the Main Train Station, which we used for several years before it was demolished. Luckily, a quick substitute was found at MUSEO in Gablenberg where we have been preparing shows since 2012.

Since 2013 NEAT has been presenting monthly DARK MONDAY @ MERLIN performances and staging large scale theatre projects at our other main venue THEATER AM OLGAECK since 2015.


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