Students from GMST 488, a class in UVic’s Germanic and Slavic Studies department, will be performing Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play Der Besuch der alten Dame (“The Visit”). Both tragic and comedic, the 1956 play is set in a post-Second World War context littered with themes of greed and justice. The drama class will be performing two shows on Dec. 5 and 6 at Merlin’s Sun Home Theatre.
Der Besuch der alten Dame follows the visit of an old woman returning to her home after years of exile. The play’s two central characters, Claire Zachanassian and Alfred Ill, have a love affair, but Alfred betrays Claire and banishes her from town. Claire returns years later as a millionaire motivated by revenge against her former lover. I spoke with Stephanie Kates, who plays Claire, a robotic woman worlds away from Kates’s outgoing personality.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get out of my comfort zone and try and play someone who’s totally unlike myself. I try to dig deeper, so I put myself in [Claire’s] shoes and think about everything that has happened to her and say, ‘Gee, how would I act in this situation? How would another person act?’ I think about it more objectively,” said Kates.
Kates speaks fluent German, but some of her classmates are not so fortunate. However, the class is open to anyone, even if they can’t speak a word of German. Resources like language coaching are available and the class becomes a community throughout the process.
Sarah Corey, the stage manager and a co-director of Der Besuch der alten Dame, does not speak fluent German, and found the experience both challenging and rewarding. Corey understands how other non-German speakers in the class feel and that commonality has created lasting relationships.
“It’s really helped me communicate with people at different levels and of different learning abilities,” said Corey in a phone interview. “That way I can get used to the ideas of directing people and teaching them and guiding them to be the best that they can be.”
The class is a collective of merging minds in which helping hands are always available. Everyone is graded based on their contribution to the play. Some act, and others are behind the scenes, but it takes support from everyone to run the production.
The play is performed in German but you don’t have to be fluent to go and enjoy the experience. Kates said, “[You can] see the dynamics through the acting. [You] may not get all the intricacies of the language and the jokes, but it’s still something interesting to see. It’s like going to an opera without the music.”
Unlike the scorned lovers, the students show their commitment to the production and each other. Dedicated to different roles and responsibilities, the class works as a collective, supporting one another for the ultimate success of the play.
Support UVic’s Performing German Drama class 488 and see them perform on Dec. 5-–6, 8 p.m. at Merlin’s Sun Home Theatre, 1983 Fairfield Rd. Tickets are $5 and available for purchase before the show at 7:30 p.m.