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Saxons and sorcery in German student drama

Friday, 14 September 2018

krabat cast image
Front row (from left): Heike Cebulla-Elder, Marie Dunn, Ashley Honeywell, Mika Young, Will Warren. Back row (from left): Samantha McArthur, Cynthia Tian, Bet Tauscher, Sam Sharma, Peone Logo

Theatre and performance is, of course, a big part of the student experience for students enrolled in Otago’s many Music, Theatre and Performing Arts programmes. But taking to the stage is an annual tradition for students within the University’s German programme as well.

The German language play is an annual event produced by students of the University’s German programme within the Department of Languages and Cultures.

Earlier this month, the students took to the stage at Dunedin’s Playhouse Theatre for two nights to perform an adaptation of the novel Krabat, by Otfried Preussler.

“It is an adaptation of a traditional folktale from Saxony,” says Cynthia Tian a third-year student who adapted the play for this month’s performance and served as director as well.

The story follows the experiences of the orphan Krabat who is lured into becoming a sorcerer’s apprentice only to realise the dangers of the evil powers he has associated with.

Cynthia says the children's folktale “seemed easier to work with” than a satirical comedy from the 1920s (or similar) which had been the sort of play performed in previous years.

“In the years I've been involved, the language of the plays had been very hard to work with. Last year it was in Bavarian dialect! The plot [of Krabat] was also straightforward and engaging. Everyone likes dark wizards and magic.”

Audiences were provided with a plot summary in English, but otherwise immersed themselves in the German dialogue.

“The cast really enjoyed the second night where more German speakers were present. They really engaged with the play such as clapping as the evil wizard was dragged off to hell.”

Though she is an English major, Cynthia became involved with the play through a German paper she took in 2016. After acting in the annual production for two years, she took over the directing reigns for this year’s performance.

“It was very challenging but something different that you probably wouldn't get to do again. It was fun to take a peek in the world of theatre and experience that because it's not something I would normally have the opportunity to do.”

The actors mostly consist of German students studying at 200-300 level, students who speak German but don't study it at University, as well as members of Dunedin’s German-speaking community.

“This year we had a German mother and her son also taking part. Some of the cast had performed before in things like the Capping Show. Some hadn’t. It was a mixed bag this year.”

The annual German performance is in its 64th year – a run unbroken apart from one year, where rumour has it the director fractured his leg.

Exactly how or why the students in the German programme began putting on an annual performance all those decades ago has been lost to the mists of history.

“I've heard it's the oldest running German play in Australasia.”