My PhD research grew out of the coming together of two quite straightforward thoughts. 1 in 5 people in Germany today have a ‘background of migration’; Germany has a state-subsidised system of artistic representation with an international reputation for political engagement and with a historically close relationship to the national self-image. If Germany is a country of immigration, how is that societal reality reflected in the theatre?
This is a lie, of course. Or, as Jenny put it so much more elegantly in her post for the last thesis of the month, it is not the whole story.….
My PhD grew out of a piling up of coincidences and questions: being taken to the theatre for the first time aged 21 in Germany to see a play (it was a fantastic postdramatic Der kaukasische Kreidekreis – well-to-do old pensioners booed, I was shocked, an obsession was born); pulling a friend along to a class on Interkuturelle Literaturwissenschaft at 9am every Friday on Erasmus and encountering, to my surprise, the ever so beautiful words of Emine Sevgi Oezdamar there; curiosity about why people I saw speaking German were first and foremost referred to as ‘Türken’; some inspiring tutors in Edinburgh; a healthy streak of nomadism in my own family perhaps also helped sway things in this direction.
I chose to focus my study, which ended up being submitted last year with the hefty title ‘Turkish-German Scripts of Postmigration: Mimesis and Mimeticism in the Plays of Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Feridun Zaimoglu/Günter Senkel’, on two Turkish-German playwrights who are already well-known for their award-winning prose work. As an MSc. student in European Theatre I had found it extremely difficult to find any information on Özdamar’s plays in performance, although plenty had been written about the role of theatre in her novels. It turned out that this was not unusual – there was very little information about theatre by Turkish-German practitioners in general available when I started my thesis (the notable exceptions being work by Erol Boran and Katrin Sieg). Luckily the success of institutions such as the Ballhaus Naunynstraße in Berlin over the past decade means that this is no longer the case: other people beginning to publish in this field include Onur Nobrega, Azadeh Seyhan, Nora Haakh and Jane Wilkinson – look them up!
Taking the scripts of two playwrights as the baseline from which to begin my exploration of productions of plays had the advantage of allowing me to work from within an existing body of secondary literature on their prose work and combine this productively with a medium-specific approach to theatre taken from a performance studies framework. Working with archival sources and interviews relating to the plays in production, my aim was to explore the dramatic and performance texts’ negotiations of mimesis – the artistic representation of ‘the real’ – and mimeticism – a mechanism identified by cultural theorist Rey Chow as relying on Platonic concepts of idealised ‘originals’ to keep certain subjects ‘in their place’. This also became a means to trace the trajectories which have seen Turkish-German theatre move not only geographically, but also symbolically, from the margins to the centre of theatrical life in contemporary Germany in recent years. In my thesis I try to position the scripts of Özdamar and Zaimoglu/Senkel as scripts which form the basis for an engagement with postmigrant life in the FRG from a number of quarters, by actors with complex agendas, and with results which may diverge from these. This also allows me to explore the role which Özdamar’s and Zaimoglu/Senkel’s ‘script[s] of multiculturalism’ (B. Venkat Mani) have played in a larger, ongoing re-scripting of the German stage, which has taken place as Germany adjusts to its status as a country of immigration.
Doing so has been extremely rewarding. Along the way I have had the opportunity to explore everything from rewrites of Shakespeare’s classics to representations of Muslim women; from fantastical dream plays to post-dramatic documentary theatre, as well as to meet many of the people I write about. The joy and the frustration of working on contemporary work is ever present though – there is always another play appearing on my Facebook feed that I can’t get to, more stories that need to be told which I haven’t yet heard. So, for anyone interested in this line of research, there is plenty more work to be done….
Lizzie Stewart completed her PhD at the University of Edinburgh under the supervision of Laura Bradley and Frauke Matthes. Her research was funded by the AHRC, with additional funding for research trips from the DAAD and the AGS. She is currently a Teaching fellow in German at the University of St Andrews.
For more about Lizzie’s research interests see: