Sunday, 31 January 2010

A PNG-German Dramatic Collaboration Begins

Marc’s initial idea was to use large mannequins for actors. This was both because of his own training in European puppet theatre and because of our discussions about the problems of representing the first mixed-race Unserdeutsch speakers using German actors with no understanding of PNG or Papua New Guinean actors with no knowledge of the German language. As he gathered a team, he was able to enlist Nicola Unger, as director. Nicole, a German artist living in the Netherlands, decided to focus on themes of death and continuity, both on an individual level and for the community of speakers as a whole.

A combination of factors–Germany’s strong support for the arts and Marc Pohl’s enthusiasm for the project–led to enough initial funding for Nicola and Marc to come to Papua New Guinea and Australia in late 2008 to meet and interview the last active Unserdeutsch speakers and to get a firsthand feeling for the country itself, which neither had ever visited. I was able to make contact again with Unserdeutsch speakers and to travel with introduce Nicola and Marc to meet them in Rabaul, Brisbane, and Sydney. For me it was especially rewarding to reconnect with my former student, Yvonne, now a public servant in Queensland, whose appearance in my classroom a quarter century ago had changed my life so significantly.

We were also able to meet with the vice-chancellor of the University of Goroka, Dr Michael Mel, a well established Papua New Guinean artist in his own right. With his help, Nicola and Marc met with the Goroka-based Raunraun Theatre. They participated in the Raunraun Theatre’s rehearsal workshop and shared their impressions of contemporary German theatre. It is my deep hope that this contact can be further developed into stronger links between this very talented–and very underfunded–Papua New Guinean theatre company and artists in central Europe. Certainly, the discussions in Goroka helped Nicola and Marc get an understanding of Papua New Guinean dramatic creativity and sensibilities.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Unserdeutsch and Berlin

One of the people who read the interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine about Unserdeutsch was Marc Pohl, a theatre producer with Aktionsbank, e.V. (, a not-for-profit drama group in Berlin that tends to work with issues that push traditional borders. Marc thought the idea would be an interesting idea to base a play on, so he cut the article out and put it in a drawer to "Deal with later".

Two years later, "later" arrived when he was cleaning out his apartment and came across the article again. Resolving to do something with the idea, he used Google to find me at my university in Japan. He explained his interest in the idea, but, of course, knowing nothing about Papua New Guinea, he wanted to pick my brain about it. As luck would have it, I was planning a trip to Berlin during my next summer holiday, so we arranged to meet up.

When we met in the summer of 2005 at an outside beer garden in Berlin, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much research he had done in the meantime and how many old books he had found about the German colonial period in New Guinea. We hit it off and decided to go ahead with some kind of a theatre piece based on how the Unserdeutsch-speaking community began in the late 1800s in New Britain-- if Marc could get funding.