An interview with Sophie Klasan, the director of the GerSoc Play

Kelly Ruscoe
2 November 2014

german-playThe University’s German Society (GerSoc) are putting on the play “Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald” written byÖdön von Horváth on the 21st and 22nd November, showcasing the talents of many native German students and non-native students of German. Both performances will take place in the Buchanan Lecture Theatre accompanied by a wine reception in the interval. This event has been sponsored by the DAAD and the Goethe Institute. This week I spoke to the director, Sophie Klasan, and the Events Manager of GerSoc, Olivia Morton, about the play and what they hope for the performances in three weeks’ time.

The Interpreter: Is this the first time you’ve directed a play?

Sophie Klasan: In the way I’m directing it, yes.

TI: What do you mean?

SK: In school we acted in and directed plays at the same time, so this is the first time I have ever independently directed a play: casting, costumes, booking rooms and helping the actors with their language knowledge, etc.

TI: Why did you choose this particular play?

SK: So, basically, last year the German play didn’t happen due to organizational difficulties. I was called in towards the end of second semester, and the state in which the last play was in meant that it wasn’t ready to be put on in the next month. So instead of the making a rushed job of a play I wasn’t particularly fond of, we decided to change the play to something which I had a kind of personal connection with: I am from Vienna and read this play in school.

Olivia Morton: From the point of view of GerSoc, we are trying to increase the amount of native German speakers from all German-speaking countries who are involved with the society and so we decided on an Austrian play. We are trying to broaden the horizons of the society.

TI: What is the play about?

SK: I don’t want to give too much away…

It is a satire about contemporary society before World War 2 began, written in 1931 by a German-writing, Hungarian-born playwright, Ödön von Horváth. It is also a critique of society after the great depression, and this provides the backdrop of the play as a whole. The characters are all based on some form of negative stereotype.

More specifically, it is about a young girl who is engaged to her neighbour who is a butcher and a good friend of her fathers. Instead she falls in love with a more elegant young man and decides to run away with him, and from there her life goes downhill. There are also many side-storylines in the play which make it very funny.

For those who understand German, there are also a lot of one-liners and innuendos, which make you giggle despite the serious nature of the play. A lot of it is very typical Viennese humour.

TI: How are rehearsals going?

SK: Rehearsals are going really well. We just took the week off so that everybody could learn their lines, and tonight we are meeting for the first time in a week to run through the first act without scripts. I will also be able to see what needs some more work and work out staging. I’m looking forward to that, to see how well they’re all doing and just generally getting back into it without scripts.

OM: I also just want to say thank you to the German department and the senior committee members of GerSoc for helping and tutoring actors with their lines, for coming along to rehearsals and giving us feedback as we go. They have really helped a lot.

TI: How did you choose the cast? For example, was acting ability assessed more than German-speaking ability?

SK: As it’s a play run by GerSoc and the German department, German speaking ability has to be considered. Before casting, I wanted certain roles to be non-native speakers of German, however during the auditions I wasn’t specifically taking their German-speaking ability into consideration. I chose each actor because I thought they fit the role of the character they have now been cast as, and as it turned out, there is only one native speaker in the main six speaking roles. It wasn’t a conscious effort to make this happen.

OM: From the perspective of GerSoc and the German department, it is important to have non-native speakers of German involved in the play. It was Gersoc’s role in the casting of this play to support non-native German speakers and encourage them to get involved in the first place.

TI: Have you added lots of your own ideas or have you stuck quite strictly to the script?

SK: We stuck to the version of the script we have, although some parts will spark controversy as it is a reflection of the time in which it was written. It’s a satire of society before World War 2 and so we deliberately kept as close to the script as possible.

Having said that, we have changed a few stage directions because the script includes quite a few characters kissing. As some of our actors weren’t comfortable with it, we cut out the kissing but the physicality and body language is still there, so the meaning is not lost.

TI: What are you most proud of so far?

SK: I am so proud of all the time and energy the cast have invested in the play so far. I can see improvements from the very beginning, when many students simply read the script without actually understanding it, but now they do understand what they are saying. They are also working incredibly hard on intonation and each cast member has met with a member of the German department or GerSoc to practice their lines. Everyone seems just as dedicated as we [Sophie and Olivia] are and it’s really nice to know it’s appreciated.

OM: We have a student who is a complete beginner in German in an important speaking role and we are so proud of them because they have put so much effort in. The play literally takes over your life so it is so rewarding to have people working so hard on learning their lines. I have also had quite a few people email me with little suggestions about the play, which I really appreciate.

TI: Will non-German speakers enjoy the play?

SK: Yes, not only will there be English subtitles but there is also enough implied in the body language for non-German speakers to understand what’s happening. There is so much crude humour but also lots of accidental humour: the cast just make it funny. I’m not going to give anything away but non-German speakers will definitely understand it just from the way it is set up.

OM: Some of it is just funny.

TI: Why should the students of the university come and see the play?

SK: The cast have put so much time and effort into the play I would really love for their friends to come to have a laugh with them and support them. Also people who are not students here are welcome to attend. The more the merrier. We are making it 16+ though…

In the first act, there is a strip tease. I’m not going to say anything about the second act but in the third act there are naked dancing girls (a stage direction which may have been changed a little).

If you study German I would recommend you coming along to see how much you understand, and if you’re a native speaker come along and see what you’ve been missing. It’s a fun play, it has humour, culture, music, romance, tragedy, and the ups and downs of human life.

OM: It is the biggest event of the year for GerSoc, so it’s not one to miss. It is an exciting event which involves the School of Modern Languages so people should come along to see what we do with languages at St Andrews, and you don’t have to speak German because there will be subtitles. Oh, and there is also a free wine reception.

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Image credit: GerSoc play photographer

GerSoc will be selling tickets from 7th November at the price of £4 for members and £6 for non-members (but at ticket sales you can also ask any member of the GerSoc committee about membership). Look out for details online but in the meantime here are the links to the Facebook events for the first and second night with all the details you need.

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