By Nora Schüssler, dramaturg in the German PHONE HOME team.
My friend, Catelyn, who lives in the US, asked me about the right wing politics in Germany, the other day. She had called me up, when she had heard about the news of the amok run in Munich, that she was told by the news to be just another terrorist attack. I told her not to worry too much. Things could be worse, I said, we could have a Trump running for president.
I was only half kidding. It makes sense to be worried about the fact that terrorism has reached Germany. It makes sense to be afraid about violent attacks in a bus, a train, a shopping mall. And, unfortunately, it also makes sense that Arabic looking people seem more suspicious to us. It is stupid and, at the same time, it is rational given the latest statistics. However, our fear mustn’t lead our actions. The facts matter and they show quite clearly that the number of terrorist attacks in Germany is rather low. In fact, it is much more likely that you die in a car accident than in a bombing. However, it seems to be human nature to become suspicious. While I write this blog entry sitting in a train, I keep checking for unattended luggage or Muslim looking men around me. My radars are sharp and if the guy three seats away from me with the dark beard and the strange blue eyes got up in a hurry, I would certainly be quick to pack up my things and get off the train. The human brain creates stories from loose associations, pictures or words. And this happens almost unwillingly. This is fascinating, especially for me as a theatre artist and writer. We make stories out of everything. When you read a fairy tale to a child, she will know intuitively when the ending of the story is reached. When you invent a story, she will be able to give you feedback on how well the story works, and maybe even why it doesn’t work. As soon as we learn how to speak, our minds know how to create stories and how to understand them. This ability has made us who we are and it is an important part of our success. At the same time, we need to be aware that our mind will make a story almost out of almost anything. And it is created in a way that it will always prefer the good story to the actual facts.
As a theatre person this gives me a lot of responsibilities. I want to tell stories. And I want people to like the stories I create. At the same time, I need to know what I want to tell my audience, because a story can be dangerous when used under the wrong circumstances. How do people in Europe feel about refugees? Is there an insurmountable gap between lefties, who want to embrace every refugee who enters their country and right winged populists, who fear the huge number of foreigners? What does the majority think about refugees? How do they feel about it? And, more importantly, how does our audience in London, Athens and Munich feel about refugees? Do they feel threatened? Do they feel worried at all? Are they happy that more people with various cultures come into the country and change it for the better? Do they get informed about what is going on in Europe? And if so, which source of information do they use? Do we need to inform them as well as educate them about the refugee crisis? Or is this something that theatre nowadays shouldn’t do anymore, because information is something you can get via other media? Is the theatre a place rather for alternate realities, for political discourse and critique?
When I think of PHONE HOME, I feel this responsibility even stronger. We tell stories from the news, from loose associations, and from our own experience. How can we do justice to the huge amount of varying opinions in our complex society? Is my friend Catelyn right, when she worries about the future of Europe and about my safety? Should her voice be heard on stage?