Experiences 8: My incredible India - Julia Hesse, Dramaturgy and PR at Schnawwl talks about her first trip to Bangalore

My Incredible India

“You say you’ve seen seven wonders and your bird is green – but you can’t see me.”

Before going to India for the first time someone told me: „India is absolute. Either you will hate it or you will love it. There’s nothing in between.” She was right.
Before getting into anything in detail I tell you straight ahead: I love it. I loved from the very first moment I arrived at the airport in Bangalore. Although it was almost 2 a.m. the air was soft and warm and had a special perfume, I can’t describe, but it smelled different from home, excitingly different.

During our instrument-shopping-tour I didn’t know where to look first. The coloured buildings, the beautiful ladies with their magnificent saris of different styles, the shops with all these statues of Hindu gods and goddesses, the old woman that sold flowers to put in your hair (Kirtana once offered me such flowers for my hair. Jasmine and tiny orange flowers that smelled so unbelievably sweet and divine, that you wish to have them as your everyday perfume). The music shops were great and very different from our way of storaging instruments as drums, sitars, weeners etc. looked kind of stuffed in every free space and it was not what you would call clean or tidied up in a German way, but it was rather like a big tresurehold, where you could get lost. We bought a kanjera (but with goat, not lizard skin) and a cachon so that Coordt would have some instruments to play on during his session with the musicians we were meeting to find a cast for “Boy with the suitcase”.
For lunch we met Arundhati, the founder and artistic head of Ranga Shankara, at her theatre. She welcomed us very warmly although she was in big stress as the next day the big folk festival for traditional Indian theatre was going to be opened at Ranga Shankara and she had to leave for one day to Delhi to receive her latest price for best supporting actress, some kind of Indian Oscar…
Thanks to the excellently programmed festival at Ranga Shankara, Andrea, Coordt and I enjoyed several traditional Indian plays from all over India you normally never would get to see as a tourist and even as an Indian you would have to travel all over the country to see these kinds of different performances. As a matter of fact we didn’t understand a single word of the plays in Kannada, Tamil or Urdu, but the way of performing, the wonderful all-over present music and the impressing way of using the body to express feelings made us totally get the atmosphere and the mood of every play. Plus we were lucky enough to see big myths as the Ramayana we just produced in Schnawwl also and the story of Draupadi, this brave Indian heroic woman that fights again her fate of being pushed around and humiliated by men and is rescued by Krishna (?) who sends her a never ending sari so she can’t be seen naked.

Mission Musician

The following days we kept meeting with all kinds of musicians that were masters in handling their exotic and beautiful instruments and as I am rather good with words than scripted music, which means I’m no musician and can’t even keep a rhythm I just attended the jam-session of Coordt and the musicians enjoying the great sounds and rhythm they created without even knowing each other more than a couple of minutes. After some days we found our musicians for “Boy with the suitcase” while being in paradise on earth in form of Kirtana’s and Cookie’s farm out of Bangalore.  Sitting in the open air rehearsal space with a overwhelming view on the amazing countryside with its banana trees and round shaped stones and hills, Andrea and I got lost in the soundscapes the six musicians including brilliant and famous Pallavi, who will sing and act in “Boy” created and made us shiver with their heartbreaking improvisation of a Lullaby. Together with Shrunga, who will also act in the play, the musicians improvised on scenes in the play and invented sounds for a scene in the mountains or expressed an emotional sound setting for the children’s’ work in a sewing factory.


For “Boy with the suitcase” as a co production of Ranga Shankara and Schnawwl on all levels we want to collaborate not only on stage, but also have a common poster and production design in both cities. So on Monday Gayathri and Arundhati set us up with Sonya from “Idiom” a top agency for design and advertising, who does the design for Ranga Shankara. We agreed on having several suggestions for the design from Idiom and from our designer Tanja in Mannheim. The best ideas we will melt in one single design for our poster. I’m already very excited about the proposals and ideas of the designers and I hope we will make up something really excellent and extraordinary but fitting at the same time for both theatres and countries. Big challenge, I like that!

Cyber Classes

On Tuesday and Wednesday we went to two schools Kirtana had gotten in touch with for our outreach project “Cyber Classes&Virtual Pen friends”. This project wants to connect classes from Mannheim with classes from Bangalore so not only our theatres will benefit from our artistic exchange but also our young audience can get the most out of this interaction. The Cyber Classes give students the opportunity to exchange via internet, by blogging on one hand and by writing emails on the other hand. Additionally to an personal exchange about the different ways of life in Mannheim and Bangalore the students can ask each other about, they will get to know a lot about theatre in both countries as all classes taking part in the project will meet our ensemble of “Boy with the suitcase” during the rehearsals in Bangalore and Mannheim and they will also see the show and discuss about it. The project will be from January till July and it will end with a meeting of everybody on the internet during a skype conference with cameras, so the students can talk and see each other for one time “for real”.

The rock
My most amazing experience was our very early morning walk upon a hill near Kirtana’s and Cookie’s farm. After having wandered through high grass, banana trees, having jumped over a small creek and fought against bushes with bamboo sticks we reached the steep rock. As my shoes had no grip I was forced to leave them at its foot. First I was not comfortable with the idea of climbing the huge rock with bare feet, still having in mind the stories about snakes and spiders Vindi, a wild camp guide, was happy to tell me in the evening before (and by that arrived easily to freak me out for the rest of the night and for the big amusement of the rest of the others). But against all my fears and expectations my skin on the stone wasn’t hurt at all, but the moment I touched the solid and at the same time soft ground, I felt an enormous energy floating my whole body which I never felt before. I don’t want to sound like that Elizabeth Gilbert woman and talk about spiritual stuff, but being on that rock in the silent and still air of morning, facing a landscape so unknown and beautiful touched and marked me in a way I surely shall never forget in my life. Thank you so much, Kirtana!


First review on "The song of Rama"


This review is more a description than criticism, but well, the reviewer seems to have been impressed at least.


50th show of "Robinson & Crusoe"

Robinson and Crusoe has seen its 50th show on Monday, Sep 13.

Close to 18,000 children and adults have watched the play so far. While the children bring the house down in the school shows in the morning, adults have a rocking time in the evening too and always give a standing ovation.

Next, the play is invited to the National School of Drama's Festival in October 2010.


Article about Shrunga

...by Schnawwl-Dramaturg Anne Richter in the theatre magazine "Jünge Bühne".
In German!
Read it here:


Extensive Experiences 10: Kirtana trains German actors in Kalari

The opening play of the next season at Schnawwl will be "Das Lied von Rama" by Tor Åge Bringsværd. For this production Kirtana Kumar is spending two weeks in Mannheim training the actors in Kalari payattu, a martial art from South India. Read about her personal and professional experiences here:



Experiences 9: Kirtana Kumar "Sophia Chews On Me"

OK, this blog was written under duress. Torture. Waterboarding...nah! It's been so crazy-fantastic-rich it makes me want to stay with it a while...and simply mull. So much art, so much inspiration. I've liked it most when performances are questioning of the status quo, when form grabs my throat and leaves me breathles and in love. When theate-makers reference their passions - the cool and intrigue of film noir (hats, spats et al), the music of Frank Zappa - one of my teenage Gods (remember the sex and magic of Catholic Girls?)the lonely heart of Kerouac and his Bodhisattvas, I'm sold. I am not just interested in the form and the content, but the memory and the roots of the work.

From the high culture ethos of Puccini's Turandot to the simple Grotovsky inspired Open Circle (Lithuania), it has been an aesthetic roller-coaster ride. So...some moments.

- A poster for the Pat Metheny Group on the Altefeuerwache, the building that is home to Schnawwl Theatre, Mannheim. As luck would have it I miss the concert by a few days, but am thrilled by the idea of the continuum. We are here, Pat Metheny will soon be here. How cool, no?
- Watching Berlin '61. Lovely details strewn casually all over. The very '60s cocktail sticks, the 3-in-1 lamp, the use of music and that subtle yearning for the West, that we recognise so well. The sadness of it.
- Hanging out with the actors of NIE and Open Circle. Hopefully, friendships made and held onto beyond work, time and space. Listening to the ephemeal Unai speak about his method - transparency, honesty and in improv - just going with things and seeing where it gets you.
- The opening visual for the libretto in Verdi's Macbeth was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Haze of the blue scrim, an installation of trenchcoat behind. Then young girls in red wigs and tiny kilts appearing and pressed against the scrim...oh.
- Meeting and doing workshop with the sweetness of the actors at Schnawwl. Seeking something fragile and organic that is interesting and truthful for children and young adults. Also, chasing an ideal of participation and democracy.
- Learning that the Open Circle actors (so young, so talented, so hot!) have promised each other they will never take the commercial, establishment route. I applaud them and am thrilled by their idealism.
- Portrait la familia! How do actors become so strong of voice and body? I want so much to discuss with them the dramaturgy that I was just so unsure about...which brings me to the last thing.
- What I have loved the most is the German commitment to the discussion and analysis of theatre. What could be more dispassionate? To unpack and dismantle with a clear heart and mind, with only one intention.To forward the journey and movement to theatre.

That's it for now. I suppose I should write about the copious glasses of champagne and Pils, the interesting faces and souls, the nice rollies, the general decadence...but that's a given, no? The reason we do this thing?!
love, peace, freedom,

Experiences 8: Artistic Director Arundhati Nag on the German luxury of subsidised theatre

This is my third German festival ("Schöne Aussicht" in Stuttgart) and my second theatre for children festival and I am completely in awe of the fact that Germany has build this movement of theatre for children, which we could emulate in India also. Its very recent that theatre has been brought into the Indian educational system as an optioal subject, for students at the 10th standard level (16 years old), so we have a long way to go, considering the number of people and the shere size if the country, the diversity of languages. Tt will mean very large political will to bring in change for all. Ranga shankara is a small dot on the map which has this collaboration with Schnawwl and I am an fortunate Indian to have seen these festivals – this is a beginning and there is hope.

Experiences 7: Costume Designer Amba Sanyal on the Germans & Truth

The festival has been a revelation as to the way the German percieve reality.
The need to tell the truth, which might not encompass the TRUTH.
But it opens windows, which is very interesting as it gives you a peak into the German mind and rythms.

Experiences 6: actor Shrunga's thoughts on the Cold, Warmth & Magnitudes

I had heard people telling me about how cold the can be, but i had a first hand, first body experience when i got out of my Lufthansa flight at Frankfurt. The cold can just get into ur system in a few moments if u r not prepared for it... Luckily, i was.

I was pretty ill equipped to handle the warmth that i got here....
Having heard stories of the German discipline and punctuality, i was pretty nervous comin here...
But it was all dispelled by the hospitality, the warmth, the openness, the spirit, the cozyness of all the people here...

Funshops rather!!
The ``Do I Know U`` game, which gave insights into eachother, without being judgemental;
The ``Sheep and Shepherd``, which was so much fun especially for a person as disoriented as me!!;
The ``Sunnnies and the Moonies``, which made us literally roll on the floor! But at the same time, opened me up to explore the differences in our way of expression;
The ``Kalaripayattu``, which i ve alwayz been a fan of and been wanting to learn;
The ``Konakhol``, which actually has opened up new avenues for me personally (Am thinking of creating poetry in a serious way now:))....
The ``Translation Line``, that can open up a world of possibilities of saying the same thing in a hundred different ways...
Cant forget the improvisation that me n Nikolai did!
It started with us having to say the same story in two different ways... But then, it took on a totally different and hilarious colour, and it ended up with me and him in each other´s arms on the floor!
They ve all been great learning experiences and great fun at the same time....

The sheer magnitude of the Mannheim National Theatre has totally bowled me over....
I witnessed the magic that a technologically advanced theatre and stage and set can weave.

Do i know me?!!.........
And my people?? No i dint!
Many things about our own culture were alien to me!
But this journey s helped me to unearth a lot of questions...
Questions that will take a long time to be answered...

But right now, am just gobbling it all up.... Not thinking too much...
I ll chew the cud some time later...


Experiences 5: Pallavi's impressions - ten days in Germany

“Is this a dream?” I ask myself. No. I am lying on a bed looking at the ceiling and it is not my house. I thought I had dreamt it – the magical evening of asparagus at Credi’s, Turandot’s voice sailing above the tenors and the sopranos that had surrounded us with their larger-than-life vocals, the suave conductor confidently creating ripples of music by the wave of his hand, ballet dancers creating a new film noir vocabulary to show us Frank Zappa’s music and Jack Kerouac’s poem, the never-ending corridors of Mannheim Schloss, Mr.Wind opening the magical opera theatre doors to us and walking us in and out of the unending rooms reserved for make-up, costumes, lights, curtains, storage and more storage, savouring the spicy Indian meal that Aru cooked for us, meeting the Schnawwl team- realistically speaking, this had to be a dream. But it was not. This is a dream that Rangashankara and Schnawwl dreamt, a dream that Aru and Andrea dreamt, a dream that two cities dreamt, a dream that two countries dreamt. I am in the dream. I am still in the dream. We meet the Schnawwl team. Dedicated and hardworking Andrea, supercool Credi, gorgeous Evi, super-efficient Anne, soft-spoken Julia, gentle and caring Anne, quicksilver Coordt, mysterious and urban David, ever-smiling Simone, charming Nikolai, full of wonder Maike, strong and rebellious Jule, beautiful Angelika and the most un-German German I have met - Sophia. Ten days ago, my life was different. I didn’t know these people. Today, I am wondering how do I leave them and go away. I also have met Shrunga, Amba, Srini and Kirtana after I come here. Now they are friends for life. Journeys influence me. I change after each journey. I doubt if the journeys of the characters of our play are as magical as this one that has just begun. That remains to be seen. As for now, more of ‘Berlin 1961’, ‘Kill the Katz’, ‘Risiko’, ‘Echoa’, ‘Open Circle’ and many more. Set the sails, we are off to wonderland.


The "Do I know U?" game and the beauty of freestyle swimming

There is an exercise that is mostly used as an Ice Breaker, where two strangers sit in front of each other, describe each other preceisely and then fantasise about the life of the other person. Within the last week this exercise has started to take up more and more workshop time and crept into leisure time, we find doing it in the tram and missing the station (which - to be honest - is mostly due to my extremely bad travel guiding in Mannheim). We have spent a week of getting to know each other, which happend while wokshopping, walking, changing hotels, dragging extremely big suitcases with saris all over the place, watching plays, and, just now, swimming. Language does play a huge role - in the workshop and in the rest of our time. Shrunga and Pallavi say "Danke" and "Leitungswasser" and we listen to the actors speak in Kannada, Russian, Spanish, Swiss German, French, Kannadised English, Russian sign language and creative Bharat Natyamised Pantomime - as of today I know what jogging looks like in Bharat Natyam. Our German brains have worked hard on rythmical patterns called Konokol and we did konokol-rap some weird stuff funky today. Which brings us to the word "Scheisse" which the Germans do not agree on how bad the word actually is - while eating "Mannheimer Dreck" (a chocolate biscuit that wants to visually resemble a heap of scheisse!) in the evening, we heard the word on stage in the Schnawwl play "Risiko" at least five times. In the audience simoultaneous whispered translations af the whole play for our Indian friends, pissed of audience members changing seats. And then we do audio plays for each other in Kannada and German and later have a discussion on the phrase "I love you" and how overused it is, we tend to all agree on that. Language is not a problem anymore, its is music, a difference of beauty I feel after we read part of our play today, simultaneously in Kannada, German and English. I am  systematic
ally relieved. We can talk and talk and we do - but Arundhati says "I know you when I eat what you eat" and so she comes fresh from the plane directly into Sandra's small kitchen where she spends the next five hours cooking for 50 people with brave Gayathri and the volunteers Lisa and Magdalena who heroically dissect the first chickens of thier lives. We all - who cooked-wonder how we will ever get that garlicgingeronion ( yes I am randomly connecting several nouns into one word, as Germans like to do) smell of our skin, which becomes an issue two days later, after partying in Casino and we all smell like ashtrays, which is not such a big problem if you are German and have no hair but if you have long Indian hair to get rid of that smell is a task. But just now we smell like new born babies because we ditched Verdi for the swimming pool where Pallavi and Shrunga learned the breast stroke and freestyle breathing in just two hours. Pure water talent in action. With wrinkeld skin and burning eyes we are all sure we will sleep like logs tonight, while the washing machine works hard on our ashtrayed gingered garlicy sweaty clothes.

A footnote on food - almost all of us people love to eat and we have to mention that excellent Black Forest Cake we all had in the Castle restaurant of beautiful Heidelberg. We know each other quite a bit better today. Tomorrow we leave for Stuttgart, more plays, more workshops and a swmimming pool?

PS: I apologize for being the officially worst travel guide through Mannheim ever!

PPS: I proudly announce the official " Do I know U?" table footall championships. The leading team Kumar / Stepf  is waiting for challengers.


Sprache - Politikum, Hürde, Geräusch

Die Lokalsprache Kannada klingt für uns, als hätten die Menschen Murmeln im Mund. Die Schrift scheint eine graphische Darstellung der Lautqualität zu sein. Unsere deutschen Ohren möchten Kannada auf der Bühne hören. Wir möchten unsere gegenseitige Fremdheit nicht über Englisch oberflächlich gleichbürsten. Aber wo fängt Exotismus an? Im ersten Satz dieses Textes, in der ersten geistigen Vorstellung der indischen Schauspielers auf der Bühne, die wir in ihrem Anderssein belassen würden, sprächen sie Kannada für Mannheimer Kinder.
Wenn Kannada sprechende Kinder in Bangalore Deutsch auf der Bühne hören, von deutschen Schauspielern gesprochen, werden sie keine lauwarm poetischen Gefühle über Murmeln empfinden, sie werden die Herrscherklasse sehen, die in einer Herrschersprache spricht, das Nicht-verstehen für sie ein internalisierter Zustand des Ausgeschlossenseins von der reichen, gebildeten Welt. In Bangalore findet derzeit ein Kulturkampf statt. Das Kannada sprechende Karnataka wehrt sich – gegen English, gegen eine entwurzelte indische Bildungselite, gegen IT, gegen Gleichmacherei, gegen gute bezahlte Call Center- Jobs ohne Zukunft. Ein lokaler Rechtsruck hat mit einer neuen Regierung alle Kneipen ab 23 Uhr geschlossen. Die kreative Elite wandert nach Bombay ab, das lebendige und vielfältige Kannada-Theater übernimmt immer mehr das Ranga Shankara, unser Partnertheater. Hier ist die Sprache eines Stückes ein Politikum, hier trifft sich das dörfliche Indien mit Volkstheater in Kannada und eine Satire über das Call Center Leben auf English. Hier wird in in der Saison über Prozente an Sprachen nachgedacht und versucht, zwei scheinbar unversönhlichen Sprach-Welten einen Ort zu geben, wo sie beide sein dürfen.
In Mannheim sitzt ein Kinder-Publikum, für die die Erfahrung einer Fremdsprache oft Deutsch heißt. Auch viele von Ihnen leben damit, dass sie Theater nicht in ihrer Sprache sehen, dass sie Dinge nicht verstehen, weil ihr Deutsch vielleicht nicht gut genug ist. Und nun, für all diese Kinder in Bangalore und Mannheim, ein Stück über eine Reise, in Sprachen, die sie verstehen sollen, damit sie sich im Theater am richtigen Ort fühlen. Ist das machbar?



"Robinson & Crusoe" premiering at Ranga Shankara

This February, the famous children's play " Robinson & Crusoe" by Nina D’Intrino and Giacomo Ravicchio has its premiere in the first Indian production at Ranga Shankara on Feb 5.
The play is directed by Gracias Devaraj, who acted in the same play in an earlier production by Schnawwl, back then directed by Andrea Gronemeyer. This production had come to Bangalore in 2006 through Goethe Institute's initiative of presenting exciting German theatre productions for children in India. 

The set for the new production was designed by Schnawwls stage designer Christian Thurm, wo spent some time in Chennai and Bangalore in 2009, learning about south Indian roofs, construction tequniques and materials.

Designed for the young (eight years and above) and old alike, Robinson & Crusoe is about two soldiers from enemy camps who are stranded together on a roof and surrounded by the nothing but a vast ocean.

The play will premier on Fri, Feb 5th at 7:30 pm and will run till Sun Feb 7th. There will be a 7:30 pm show on all days. There will be a 3:30 pm show as well on Sun, Feb 7th

Direction: Gracias Devaraj
Stage Design: Christian Thurm
Music: Praveen Rao
Fights:Krishna Prathap
Actors: Sathya and Tariq Vasudeva
Sound: Pramod
Lights: Mustafa
Production Managmement: Manjunath Gowda
Set execution: Sridhar Murthy

Tickets are available on www.indianstage.in and at Ranga Shankara.