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End of an era

Final curtain for the Studiobühne

München, 04/21/2015

Ever since the 1970s LMU’s theater students have learned the practical ins and outs of their subject at Munich‘s Studiobühne, where they have presented intriguing and exciting works. Their current season marks the end of an era.

„Schieß doch, Kaufhaus" by Martin Heckmanns. Source: Franz Kimmel.

There’s only an hour to go before the curtain rises, but things are still pretty hectic. In the otherwise deserted library at No 25 Ludwigstrasse eleven of LMU’s theater students are getting ready for tonight’s play, Schieß doch, Kaufhaus (“Go Ahead, Big Store, Fire!”) by Martin Heckmanns. But there’s little sign of meditation or reflection in preparation for one’s entrance. Instead, this “limbering-up” session calls for lightning-fast reactions. Out of the blue, someone cries “Kotzendes Känguruh” (a suitably colloquial Australian equivalent might be “Chundering kangaroos”) – and gestures in the direction of a group of cast members in front of him. Each of them reacts by apparently throwing up into an imaginary “puke pouch”. The last one to get the message and adopt the correct pose then has to conjure up an equally unpredictable “stage direction” for his or her colleagues to respond to ­– “sex machine”, perhaps, or “toddler on the motorway” or “star wars”.

This type of exercise, which might seem more reminiscent of a playground than a playhouse, nevertheless has a serious purpose. As Dr. Katrin Kazubko, the Director of the Studiobühne, explains, warming up in this fashion helps the actors to get into the mood for their imminent appearance on stage. “Sessions like this are tremendously important, especially for non-professionals. They sharpen reactions and clarify enunciation, and they make students want to get out on stage immediately and play their hearts out,” she says. As stage director and drama coach, she has been in charge of the Studiobühne since 1993, and has instructed generations of theater students in the practical aspects of putting a play on the boards. In these hands-on exercises in stagecraft, students learn all the skills required in a working theater, from the process of quarrying a convincing acting edition from the author’s written text to the printing of tickets and posters.

The Studiobühne on tour
LMU students have been bringing productions to the stage at Ludwigstraße 25 for the best part of four decades. Several of them turned out to be real hits. One of the Studiobühne’s greatest successes was its version of “Ursonate”, Kurt Schwitters “phonetic poem for voices and musical noises”, which the troupe brought to venues in countries as far afield as the Ukraine, Russia, Canada and the US. In their production, one of its movements is set in a Bavarian beer-garden – complete with beer, pretzels and Weißwurst, of course – where players in Dirndl and Lederhosen intone such immortal Dada speech melodies such as “Grimm, glimm, gnimm …”. “I will never forget my encounter with an older member of the audience after a performance in Los Angeles,” Kazubko says. “He told me he had been very anxious to hear the piece, because he had spent years learning German. But now he was completely at a loss, because he hadn’t understood a word of our script!

Platteln_260_webPerformances of “Ursonate” brought the troupe to countries as far afield as the Ukraine, Russia, Canada and the US. Source: Studiobühne.

The Studiobühne is now in its last season in its present home on the Ludwigstrasse: In October the Gärtner Building will be fully remodeled – and LMU’s Institute of Theater Studies must find a new site for its practical workshop. In the longer term, the plan is for the Studiobühne to take up residence in the area around Munich’s Central Railway Station. But in the interim it will go on tour without leaving the city, and give guest performances at local theaters. Beginning next semester, a series of productions in the Prinzregententheater, the Rationaltheater and at Heppel & Ettlich is planned.

The Studiobühne’s boss has mixed feelings about bidding farewell to the Ludwigstraße. “On the one hand, the move represents an opportunity for the whole project to get off to a new start,” Katrin Kazubko says. “By giving performances in other theaters in the city, we have the chance to play for audiences that have nothing to do with LMU. On the other hand, we are about to venture out of our natural habitat, as it were – a place where we could afford to make mistakes, and where we could learn something from every flop!”

Meanwhile, a flop is the last thing the cast of “Go Ahead, Big Store, Fire!” want to think about. Daily six-hour rehearsals have been underway for the past five weeks. The actors have explored the nooks and crannies of the text and, together with the director, they have worked out a dramatic trajectory and a scenic concept for its effective presentation on the stage. Now it’s time to get out there in front of the first-night audience. “There is always a touch of stage-fright, of course,” says Andreas, who has been part of the troupe since his third semester at LMU. “But it’s always a terrific feeling to be on stage or to try out something new – and I have made lots of friends here.”

The Studiobuhne’s Summer Season 2015 runs until the end of July. Its final performances in its longtime home at Ludwigstraße 25 take place on July 20th-23rd with a farewell production of “Anmutige Gegend” (“Nice Place Here”).