How we do it in Germany: We Are These Kids
I always thought the different reputation of musical theatre in Germany would have effects on fans, how they behave and what they do here in Germany. But when I recently read Stacy Wolf’s Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical and it included a full chapter about fangirls in the 21st century, I was – you definitely could say – amazed by the similarities. I mean, Wolf covered a very special kind of fangirl: seemingly rather ‘educated,’ thoughtful fans who in addition to obsessing about certain actors also think about what happens on stages theatre-wise. But other than this fact (which is very hard to find with German fans, at least the ones I know personally), there basically seem to be not too many differences.
Anyway, although I once started off as a fan (as probably most of us did, I can only assume) I am not very familiar with how to be one of the hardcore-fans who follow their star and how they talk about theatre when they are not trying to ‘show off.’ But what I do know is that being a fan of something (or someone, for that matter) really can motivate you to stay somewhat in touch with what you are a fan of and it can give you the opportunity to make something of it. This definitely has happened to me. Somewhere along being a ‘fan’ of musical theatre, working with all kinds of theatre people and eventually majoring in theatre studies, it occurred to me that I could start thinking about musical theatre just the way I am thinking about plays, and dance performances and any kind of performing arts in general.
I am – as I mentioned – pretty sure that was the case with most of the people working in theatre and with theatre. At some point we probably all were like “Oh, theatre – I think I like that!” and it just stuck. We probably didn’t see a good enough reason to like another thing better. Or we learned that we are ‘good’ at what we are doing. Or we liked doing it and then became good doing it. Where I spend most of my time thinking and talking to people about theatre, musical theatre as in ‘opera’ is widely accepted, but so many people are not really into it, musical theater as in ‘musical’ can hardly be discussed. This is where this famous German distinction between ‘entertainment’ and ‘serious’ theatre kicks in – musicals are entertainment, therefore something for the masses and therefore something you don’t discuss.
During the last couple of years I realized that I am good at discussing musicals; basically when I gained more confidence discussing things with ‘grown’ theatre scholars. Since then I got more confident to read and speak about how and why musicals can be important – from a theatre scholar’s perspective.
On the other hand – I know very few people in Germany who seem to think about musicals the way I do (I’m sure they are somewhere around here, though), which is sad and highly ‘unproductive’ as some probably would put it. When Neil Patrick Harris rapped in this opening song of the 2013 Tonys that they “were that kid,” I sat in my German room realizing: I am that kid! Only from a slightly more theoretical point of view.
To be honest, I think most of the young(-ish) musical theatre people here think that we are that kid, waiting for something to happen: for us to grow up, for things to become the way we want them to. For the most time I have the feeling we are living and working on hold – although being inspired, we don’t do what we think we might need to do, just because we might not know how-to or maybe wouldn’t get the funding – which is already hard to get when you are doing ‘serious theatre.’
So we are doing what we have to do, or not.
We think about how a new kind of musical theatre (regardless of genres – opera, musical…) could be thought about and how we could shape it, make it something new. This is probably a process every new generation of theatre people is going through and I don’t know if we are in a more difficult position than others, because so much was done already and things are changing. There are people working on getting musical theatre as a genre more recognition, making people not only see it as a blank form of mindless entertainment, but as a theatre form just like operas or plays.
Musical theatre in Germany is changing – not all too quickly, maybe it’s only shifting, slightly, from time to time, testing its boundaries, testing its audiences.
Until then we – kind of – are these kids Neil Patrick Harris was rapping about in 2013.