I was invited to Germany by THEATER ERLANGEN to see their production of A Girl With A Book and to take part in a post show discussion. They were terrific hosts and I had a great time. However while I was waiting to check in at the airport a friend of the actor Anika Herbst - it's a one person play came to find me because she wanted to tell me what had been going on with my play. At first I was embarrassed as thought my irritation at the way they'd changed the text - they always do that in Germany - had been too obvious, and she was there to offer an explanation for the rewrites but that wasn't the case at all. What she told me means that I can't not write this post even if it means offending my genourous hosts at THEATER ERLANGEN.
In Germany actors are either 'guests' with a company who are theer to play specific roles or they are permanent company members. Most theatres have a different production on each nigh so an actor ahs to carry several roles in their head and they may be considerable gaps between performances of any particular play. Anika Herbst who took the role in my one person play A Girl With A Book had been with the company for four years. She trained at one of the top drama schools in Berlin. She has two children, and the birth of her second child put back plans for the production of AGWAB. She worked right up to the end of her pregnancy and then took maternity leave. When she returned from maternity leave and start to reharse AGWAB and take up her other roles she was told she was sacked.
In Germany, unless there's an obvious reason like dishonesty, it is possible to sack an actor for 'artistic reasons', a phrase for which no-one has found a deffinition. It appears, according to Anika's friend that her major difference with management was to ask if they could rehearse AGWAB within scheduled hours, and to suggest to overworked techies that working 12/14 hour days wasn't good for them or the theatre and thay should request that their hours be respected. That might make her sound like a trouble maker. I don't think that's the case. During the time I was there she never mentioned her situation once, she was professional, cheerful, stimulating and enthusiastic in the post show discussion and at the mal that folllowed. When I met her the next morning in the rain on her way to take the play in a school she was exactly the same. It was her friend who thought I should know what she was going through, and that on the day I arrived for the performance she had been told that her role in AGWAB was to be taken away from her which is against all precident. In Germany if you leave a company for whatever reason it is expected that you will continue playing the roles you have created until you find other employment. All her roles have been removed, her directors have been told they must rehearse another actor even though they don't wish to as they are more than happy with her work, and last week she gave her last performance.
So a mother of two, in my judgement, a fine actress, and a professional company member has been sacked for 'artistic reasons'. She has the backing of her union, recieved many endorsemenst form fellow professionals who are baffled by the decision, and her case will come to court I believe in October. I'm sorry THEATER ERLANGEN but while I'm delighted you invited me over, proud that you decided there was enough in my play to interest you and your audience, and grateful for your genourous hospitality, I've got to play the ungrateful guest and say I believe your management has treated Anika Herbst appallingly.
Below is a statement I've written in case it might help her in her fight.
If you belive this to be unjust, please share the link - she needs the widest possible support.
I met Anika before her performance in my one person play A Girl With A Book. We talked afterwards over a meal with others from the company, and I saw again, briefly, in the morning as she was waiting in the rain to take AGWAB out to a school. That’s how long we were in each other’s company. No time at all. Long enough to assess the quality of an actor? I would argue it is.
Her professionalism and integrity? Let’s start with that. On the day I met her I knew nothing of her circumstance with the company. I didn’t know she’d just been told that her role in AGWAB was going to be taken away from her. I didn’t know she’d been sacked. She didn’t tell me and there was nothing in her demeanour to give me a clue that anything was wrong. I learned about that when a friend of hers came and talked to me as I was waiting in the airport because she wanted me know what her friend was going through. There was a discussion after the performance and she talked passionately about the play, about the significance of Malala for young women everywhere, was enthusiastically supportive of colleagues involved in the production. Whatever she might have been feeling inside the only thing she allowed me and the audience to see was a committed, talented actor at the top of her game.
Her qualities as an actor? Okay, so it was only one performance, however it was in a play I’d written, in a role I have performed myself, that’s not a problem for me but I mention it to underline that I do know the play pretty well. And then there’s the German compulsion to change a writer’s original text without even asking - okay that’s a gripe from an English writer who once saw a play he’d written for two characters performed in Germany with three.
So I’m watching my play where the central character is now an actor not a writer, where there are several moments where my text has been changed/cut/rewritten/added to etc etc and in my opinion not for the better, though I suppose I would say that. I’m thrilled to have been invited, thrilled that a company in another country can find something in my work that resonates with them, but, if I’m honest, given all of the caveats above, inside I’m thinking - just for once, why can’t someone do my stuff the way it’s been written?
Within five minutes I’d forgotten I was supposed to be carping about all the ways they were going to mess with my text and was concentrating on Anika’s performance. Her energy, vitality, her intelligence, her awareness, the way she could change direction in an instant, her stillness, her commitment, her clarity, her honesty, the clear definition in her character work, her contact with the audience, I thought she was terrific. I didn’t for one moment think that I was watching an actor who’d been sacked for ‘artistic reasons’ whatever that might mean.
It’s only my opinion but I have to say why any company would want to sack such a professional, committed, talented actor is beyond me.