Music as Cultural Diplomacy

Lange Amerika Nacht, Got Change? - November 1st, 2008. The Volksbühne Theatre

Lange Amerika Nacht, Got Change?
November 1st, 2008. The Volksbühne Theatre

Event Report

Three days before America voted in their presidential elections, East Berlin’s famous Theatre, the Volksbühne, held a series of events on the theme of America and American culture, which allowed the citizens of Berlin the opportunity to get more involved in the campaign. Organised by the Volksbühne, with cooperation and support from the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, and RBB/Radio Multikulti, “Lange Amerika Nacht“ featured theatrical performances, live music, and informed debate on the influence of the U.S..

Music Leads the Way
The sound of „Detroit“ Gary Wiggins and the Volksbühne’s P14 Youth Choir opened the evening,  with a live performance of “America the Beautiful“ conducted at the theatre entrance, the audience watching from the steps. The musicians then led the crowd up to the Sternfoyer on the first floor to the tune of “When the Saints go Marching in“. Once in the foyer, surrounded by red, white and blue colours projected on the walls, the finale “Star Spangled Banner“ was performed to the delight of the crowd. A wonderful start to a special evening.

On the Stage
The music faded away. The crowd moved into the auditorium for the opening theatrical piece by Frank Castorf and Meg Stuart, “Die Maßnahme/Mauser”. Some of the audience sat in the auditorium, some on the stage. The lively performance was filmed and projected simultaneously onto a screen, allowing the actors to use the foyer and the rooms backstage for parts of the performance.

The second theatrical component, Castorf’s “Der Jasager/Der Neinsager”, allowed the audience back onto the stage as they got to experience the energy of the performance from close up. The popular play was a crowd pleaser and took proceedings late into the evening.

For those with the energy and willpower to stay up later, and there were plenty, their dedication was rewarded with a lively and loud performance of Castorf’s “F*** off, Amerika!”, which began at 0:30. Noise and confusion, drama and dance, the actors worked hard to keep everyone involved and excited, and succeeded.  

Panel Discussion
The academic highlight of “Lange Amerika-Nacht” began at half past nine with the panel discussion “Der Jasager/Der Neinsager oder angekommen im globalen kapitalistischen Sozialismus?”. The panellists included Don Jordan (journalist from Deutsche Welle, CBS, The Guardian), Elsa Rassbach (film-maker, political activist, and journalist) and Lothar Trolle (playwright, in-house writer at the Volksbühne). The discussion included debate on the current political situation in the U.S. and the consequences of its new policies for Germany and the world, as well as the panellist’s own predictions regarding the election and future social policy.

More than Musical Interludes
In addition to the wonderful opening, “Detroit” Gary Wiggins became a firm hit with the theatre-goers as he provided a welcome break from the events on stage, and a reminder of the power of American music to move and to entertain. Together with Helmut Bruger, Max Hughes, Eddie Dejean and J.C. Dook, Wiggins made the Stern foyer his home with two further concerts featuring jazz, soul, and R & B.

The music in the Sternfoyer was complement by DJ Hype from Radio Multikulti, who played a diverse set of hip-hop and rap in the Red Theatre on the 3rd floor, an ideal juxtaposition to the more traditional music on offer below.

American Film Festival
After the last musical performance by Gary Wiggins and his band, there followed a ‘Mini Film Festival’ in the Sternfoyer, during which two films with critical perspectives on America were shown. The first film was Elsa Rassbach’s documentary film "We were soldiers in the war on terror", containing powerful narratives on the consequence of the Iraq war. This was followed by the satirical animated film “Team America”.

Something for Everyone
Other possibilities for entertainment during “Lange Amerika Nacht” included the Media-Lounge on the ground floor. This consisted of three media stations with background information on Obama and McCain’s biographies and campaign advertisements, clips from America’s late-night TV shows, as well as other satirical commentaries concerning the American elections.  A diverse range of videos in the ‘Kinobox’ (a miniature cinema with room for approximately 10 people) was also shown.

Over 700 Berlin citizens came during the night. Some left tired and weary, worn out by the diverse array of activity, others left buzzing with energy, looking for the next destination. All, however, left with food for thought, and with a greater appreciation for the importance and relevance of what was about to take place in the U.S.