Writing Ensemble at the Filmhouse on May 14, 2017

Former Stasi prison at Hohenschönhausen. Film still: SK

Filmed in Berlin, Edinburgh and Glasgow in 2015/16, Writing Ensemble: An Experiment in Theatre is a feature documentary following the collaborative processes of playwright Peter Arnott and Professor Laura Bradley as they test an idea of how research can be deployed creatively.

In following Arnott’s struggle to translate Bradley’s research (on the recent, fascinating history of the former GDR and theatre censorship) into a dramatic narrative, the film, by Susan Kemp, took many unexpected twists and turns and the end result has much to tell us about current political concerns if we look closely enough. In a time when even the Prime Minister suggests the sort of disagreement which lies at the heart of democracy ‘jeopardises’  Brexit, and Remainers are labelled ‘Saboteurs’ by the Daily Mail, it is important to remember the impact and actual processes and consequence of ‘silencing’ dissent. As Kemp described in a recent interview for the Herald:

“…the issues we explored in GDR have resonance today. If people risk prison for what they believe in or what they say, then what sort of world are we living in? We must be aware of this in contemporary society.

“Of course officially there was no censorship [in the former GDR],” Kemp adds. “It wasn’t acknowledged. There was more of an understanding that if you go to certain places in your work and do certain things there may be consequences. And so the artists had to be very clever.

Jessica Alcazar, who showed us round the former Stasi prison at Hohenschönhausen. Film still: SK

“For example, Helene Weigel, Brecht’s wife, who ran the Berliner Ensemble, was very clever in how she dealt with the authorities. As we outline in the film, she would talk to the censors as if they were all experts – ‘Of course, you must know this Greek drama we’re doing’. They knew nothing but didn’t want to be seen to know nothing, so it very difficult for them to tell her what she could or couldn’t do. Weigel was a master at getting things through the system.”

At the heart of the film is also a story of a wall, the Berlin Wall and how people and artists alike lived and experienced it.

The film will screen as part of a double bill with Andreas Dresen’s Stilles Land on May 14, 2017 at the Filmhouse Edinburgh.

13:10 WRITING ENSEMBLE: AN EXPERIMENT IN THEATRE (1hr42mins) Dir Susan Kemp 2016
The very recent history of the former GDR (East Germany) has much to tell us about how to understand the world we live in today, if we look closely enough. In this closed, authoritarian society, theatre played a significant role. It was more popular than any other form of entertainment, and filtering the potentially explosive ideas it contained through a network of Stasi spies and official state control was as complicated and strategic as any game of chess. This documentary follows Scottish playwright Peter Arnott as he tackles the subject of East German theatre censorship for a commissioned play. Shown as part of a double bill with Stilles Land.
Introduced by Susan Kemp, director. Q&A with Susan Kemp, Professor Laura Bradley of the University of Edinburgh and Peter Arnott, playwright.
16:05 STILLES LAND (1hr 38mins) Dir Andreas Dresen 1992
Director Andreas Dresen grew up as part of a theatrical family in the former GDR (East Germany) and so it is no surprise then that the theatre is the setting for this, his first feature, made shortly after the fall of the wall and which is set during that tumultuous time.  The film was commended for its nuanced portrayal of everyday life and won the Hessian Film Prize and the German Film Critics’ Prize in the year of release. Shown as part of a double bill with Writing Ensemble: An Experiment in Theatre, 
Introduced by Professor Laura Bradley of the University of Edinburgh