I have never seen as many directors and budding directors at the Playground, part of Philadelphia's Adrienne Theater, as I did last night for the first salon of a new organization: Directors Gathering. It was well organized by Jill Harrison and a team of fellow theatre people.
What a wonderful coming together of bright and dedicated collaborators. Jill brought out the best in that large crowd of directors and friends. She and her team managed to get half of Philadelphia, plus one director from Baltimore, to pack the Playground. Amazing.
We split up into groups of 5 or 6 participants and discussed a wide range of topics: including, different ways of directing where we compared the frozen-in-time classical Russian ballet to modern American dance which allows significantly more freedom to a choreographer. We also talked about the responsibility that everyone has to contribute to the success of a play--not only the playwright and the artistic director, but all the actors and theatre artists involved in a production.
The evening ended with a preview of the different topics at the upcoming monthly salons at various locations. Group members then shared news with everyone. I greatly enjoyed the evening and the many people who came up to me afterwards and wanted to learn more about the new website, Drama Around The Globe.
Many thanks to Jill and everyone involved in making this event a success, including: Taste the Difference Events for providing platters of delicious food and Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery for a wide range of wines. I am looking forward to many more salons in support of Philadelphia theatre.
Top right-hand side: Henrik Eger with a small group of directors and actors: KC MacMillan and Seth Reichgott;
not pictured: Susanna Berger, Anat Eshel, and Page Ridgeway.
Photos by Hannah Van Sciver
On a strange Russian website where people submit questions in any language of their choice, and where artificial intelligence is used to come up with the best link, someone asked: "Does anyone know of Amsterdam Attic?" [sic]
Of the three responses, one linked to my article, "Hidden Inside The Amsterdam Attic: A Guide to The Secret Diary of Anne Frank"—not exactly the kind of loft someone had in mind to rent, I dare say. Of course, I could be wrong . . .
“Wow, he listens to us!”: Anonymous weekly student feedback and its dramatic impact on teaching and learning
Click the third arrow to the right to begin the PowerPoint presentation.
Five hundred years ago, unlicked by any knowledge of Pinter’s pauses, I saw my first Pinter play and felt sorry for the actors who clearly had forgotten some of their lines, desperately trying to retrieve them from their memory–an excruciating experience.
It wasn’t until later that I realized how, subconsciously, I had made a judgment, based on a simple internalized CHECKLIST of what actors have to do, totally unaware that Pinter’s script demanded those pauses.
Since that time I try to listen with ears, less clogged by wax and rules, and I try to ask, rather than make snap judgments. As a theatre critic, I spend significantly more time and energy researching and writing reviews than before, often with the script right next to me, and with interview transcripts that may reveal whole new aspects I may have overlooked.
Writing theatre reviews under those circumstances also comes with another price: unlike some of my colleagues who churn out witty and often devastating judgments within hours of opening night, my articles may have lost those deadly stings, those lethal hits which sell like ringside seats at caged wrestling matches in London, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles.
And yet I write, listening to the silence, the unspoken word–not only in Pinter’s plays–leaving old checklists where they belong: in the bottom drawer, next to earnest instructions on how to operate a phonograph and crumpled maps to Shangri-La.
For my theatre reviews, click here.
Originally published on March 24, 2013.
Below an article about one of my workshops on cultural differences we need to know when traveling abroad.
By Cynthia J. McGroarty, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENTPOSTED: July 21, 1994
SPRINGFIELD — Henrik Eger had been living in Iran for a short time when he learned the accepted routine for getting rid of an unwanted guest.
"You'd invite him to lunch," Eger said.
It was like a game, his Iranian friends assured him. The individual who no longer wanted company simply had to extend the invitation, and the visitor would take the hint and graciously leave.
So when accosted in a marketplace one day by a friendly fellow he could not shake, Eger decided to try out the advice. He invited the man to lunch.
And the man accepted.
"I paid for lunch," Eger said, "and of course I had to pay for the taxi as well."
Occasionally travel tips backfire, said Eger, an assistant professor of English at Delaware County Community College who gave a workshop on international communication at Borders Book Shop in Springfield Tuesday. But it never hurts to be culturally literate when traveling abroad.
Most Americans who embark on overseas trips are not forewarned that their behavior, even their body language and facial expressions, can be offensive to people in their host country, Eger told the group of about 40. For instance, the openness and familiarity toward strangers that is common to many Americans is a no-no in many places - Japan, for one.
In Japan, a respectable physical distance must be kept when standing near someone, Eger said. And lots of smiling and small talk are taboo.
"Americans find it very difficult to sit in silence," Eger said, but to the Japanese, silence is nurturing. That's why, when exchanging business cards in Japan, an American should examine the card thoughtfully, without speaking, for at least two minutes, and never write on the back of it.
Scribbling on a Japanese business card is the equivalent of "tattooing the person's flesh," Eger said.
Another tip for travelers to Japan, he said, is to never blow your nose in public. Such a gauche act can cause great embarrassment.
Born in Germany, Eger was left fatherless when his war-correspondent father was killed near the end of World War II. He was expelled from school at 13 for failing to master English, but took night classes and finally passed the exit exam for high school. He developed a taste for travel after he spent some time in England.
After he earned a bachelor's and master's degree, he traveled in the United States, met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and ended up translating some of the mail Dr. King received from abroad after he won the Nobel Prize. He later earned another bachelor's degree, two more master's degrees and a doctorate, and soon found himself teaching and traveling around the globe. In 1978, he taught at a university in Iran, where he learned "just how different another culture could be," Eger said.
For instance, many Iranian homes are short on furniture, but well-outfitted with beautiful carpets, which are not to be stepped on. "It would be like walking on a Rembrandt," he said.
Invited to a camel farm for a party one evening, Eger dared not insult his guest by refusing the opium pipe, so he indulged - "There goes the presidency," he joked - but he coughed so much that the drug had little effect.
Eger gave some additional traveling tips: When in India, shake the head
from side to side rather than up and down to indicate an affirmative answer; in Greece, shove to the front of the line at the bank or bus stop rather than standing politely; in France, take the hands out of the pockets when conversing.
In Africa, hitchhike by slapping the outer thigh, not by sticking out the thumb. The latter, Eger said, is considered obscene. The "OK" sign common in the United States is also obscene in some places.
He also had advice for travelers to his native country: Do not ask for a glass of water because no one drinks tap water. Germans drink bottled water and will respond by asking which brand you would prefer, he said.
I enjoy conducting interviews, hearing playwrights, directors, musicians, theatre artists, and even critics talk openly about their work can be very satisfying.
Yes, compiling and editing documents, stumbling through verbal fragments and juggling asides, can be time consuming, especially as I often find myself writing follow-up letters, asking searching questions, and then reshaping the writing of the interview to reach a deeper level of understanding.
However, rather than relying on notes, quickly jotted down in a darkened theatre, or getting influenced by superficial first impressions of an interviewee, I send the penultimate version of the interview to the subjects and ask them for their input. Even if theatre artists want to change something that they had said earlier, now they have a chance to fine-tune it. As a result, the readers of my interviews really get to learn what the writers, directors, etc. really want to say.
This photo of me holding a concentration camp puppet with a Star of David expresses exactly how I feel about serious theatre and the Holocaust in particular.
The puppet was made by Robert Smythe and his team as part of The Puppetmaster of Lodz at Mum Puppettheatre in Philadelphia, October 2004.
The image of my star of David was taken by Alex Griffin during the Puppet (r)Evolution convention at Swarthmore College, August 2013.
Drama around the globe has existed since human beings began to dance, make drawings, sing, and deal with conflict. I experienced the drama of life very early on when my mother—wife of a prolific young writer who, as a German propaganda officer and war correspondent, had documented almost every day of the Third Reich—did the unthinkable.
My father, aged 31, got killed while reporting in Russia during World War II. A talented writer who not only penned countless articles and one book, but also close to 500 love letters to my mother from occupied France, he also filled about 20 volumes of journals, covering almost the entire Third Reich on a daily basis. He considered those journals and letters his life’s inheritance. My mother cherished them, and always told me that once I was old enough I could have all of them. However, something horrible happened.
Because I have studied and taught in countries around the world for many years, I could not take her up on the offer. However, once I had settled in the Philadelphia area, I asked her for my father’s journals. I added a sentence that I will regret for the rest of my life, namely, “I want to publish them.” My mother, apparently horrified by that request, threw my father’s life’s work into an incinerator.
This act of deliberate destruction was one of the most dramatic and saddest moments in my life. The burning of my father's journals was the catalyst of my desire to write plays about subjects that people might not know about or may be too scared to touch. Out of that anguish, my first play, Metronome Ticking, grew like a phoenix out of the ashes, followed by more plays.
So far, almost all my plays deal with the oppression of Jewish people and culture, seen from a German perspective. I’ve also begun writing about American characters, presenting aspects that may feel as uncomfortable to some Americans as my German plays may feel uncomfortable to some German audiences. Bambi and Cinderella are not exactly my role models.
If my plays could encourage some people to think about the damage of prejudice, I would consider all the work done worth doing.