German theater troupe is turning the living room into the stage | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 04.01.2011
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German theater troupe is turning the living room into the stage

Whether in a living room, a garden or a hotel room, the Theater at Home group can perform classic plays for anyone who orders them. Flexibility and creativity have allowed them to succeed in their unique business.

Theater at Home's performance of 'Dracula'

Proving that "Dracula" can be tackled with just two actors

Somehow, this Dracula looks rather young. "He" has a high-pitched voice, wears a black cape and has just been accused of bloodthirsty murder.

The location of the crime is a small, ordinary conference room in a Cologne hotel. The props are equally unextraordinary: a table, a chair and a clothes stand on which some hats, garments and a woolen blanket are hanging. And there are two floodlights that illuminate the whole cast of this classic vampire drama - the frightening Count Dracula, the cocky Professor Van Helsing and the naive Lucy and her fiance Jonathan.

All the characters are played by just two female actors.

Birthday fun with Dracula

Anne Scherliess and Eva Kraiss slip in and out of the four roles, alter their voices accordingly and change their costumes at lightning speed in front of the audience, which happens to be a woman celebrating her 70th birthday and her guests. She says she admires the "verve and enthusiasm" with which the characters are played and points out that she did not need to go to the theater since it came to her.

Scherliess and Kraiss' theater group, which also includes two other women, regularly performs at cabaret festivals and in bars - but also in hotels, private residences and gardens. Whether in rain or shine, indoors or outdoors, nothing stops them from doing what they love.

A Theater at Home performance

The women play many different characters - including male ones

Theater on demand

Scherliess - the group's manager - and her colleagues have classical dramatic arts training and experience in performing in normal city theaters. In 2009 they formed Theater at Home - a traveling theater group. They pack their props into a few suitcases and perform wherever they have been called to.

Scherliess writes all the scripts herself - often reworked versions of classic novel-based films. Her biggest hits are "Dracula," "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." These are well-known stories that can be transformed into entertaining productions that combine slapstick comedy and suspense.

The group also has children's plays and Christmas stories in its repertoire - all performed by no more than two of the actresses at a time.

Room for self-expression

The four members of the group radiate excitement when they talk about their work.

"There's a real proximity to the audience - you feel every emotion," said Kraiss. "We look at the audience members to see if they are enjoying it or feeling bored.

"As actresses, we can really let off steam," added Scherliess. "Each one of us plays so many roles - nobody is bound to one kind."

A Theater at Home performance

Costumes and props are simple and portable

For a single performance, they charge 600 euros ($804). A portion of that goes into their shared account, which is also supplemented by earnings from performances at schools and festivals. The money collected in this common account is used for new props and costumes - unless, of course, a friendly relative helps them out by sewing something at home.

The actresses' ultimate goal is "to be able to live from the troupe," according to Scherliess. But they still need more regular performances to achieve this aim, so in the meantime they support themselves on the side with other acting jobs.

Never in a rut

Despite the financial shortcomings, Scherliess and her colleagues cannot imagine returning to traditional theater. They relish the creative freedom that the Theater at Home concept gives them and value their friendship and team spirit.

At the moment, the group is busily working on a classics project: pieces by renowned German playwrights Lessing, Schiller and Goethe - two plays from each, all compressed into a one-and-a-half-hour performance.

"You don't get rich with all of this - but happy," added Scherliess.

Author: Cornelia Rabitz (ew)
Editor: Greg Wiser

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