30.05.2023 | Porträts und Geschichten

Where Shakespeare got his plays...

This summer, the “Red Brick Company” is bringing old classics back to the stage. And the audience is not the only one to benefit.

You can hear the sound of hysterical laughter even in the hallway. Strange, twisted voices and dialects emerge from the rehearsal room. I step inside – ah, the witches are already assembling. "Will Shakespeare is a lying, cheating thief!" – hear, hear.

The rehearsal has already begun. Three are performing a scene, texts still in hand, yet ready to give it their all. Three others are watching and exchanging meaningful glances. A jury? Close, they are the directors.

The good mood in the room is infectious; I hear a lot of laughter and sense the positive energy. So this is them, the "Red Bricks". This summer, their project is an ambitious one: "Shakespeare – Cut and in One Piece" is the name of the current undertaking of the Red Brick Company, the English-language student theatre of the University of Kassel directed by Lars Heiler. Rehearsals start today. Performing all of Shakespeare's plays (there are in fact 38) in one evening – how can that be done?

"CUT and again!" The scene ends abruptly and the roles are swapped: "You're the clever witch this time, you're the neutral one - and you're the stupid one," Elisa, who joined the company only last semester, shouts from the director's table. So here we go again. The three actors on stage (which on this evening is a freed-up space in a seminar room in KW 5) creep around the witch's cauldron – disguised as a garden waste sack – once again, yet entirely differently. The line "a certain...... William Shakespeare!" is answered by loud shudders - an unusual reaction, some would surely say.

Lars Heiler briefly explains the play's basic plot to me: the three witches are trying to get back their plays that William Shakespeare has stolen from them. "This makes them the connecting element between the many dramas that we have taken up," he says. The script written by the five-strong creative team seems to be more freely than faithfully based on Shakespeare then.

And what exactly motivated this decision? "Athletic ambition," Heiler jokes. But the decision also came down to financial considerations, as the group has performed many contemporary plays in recent semesters and the royalties for these are quite high. The group's initial reaction to his proposal was a good mix of interest and scepticism. In the meantime, however, the script has been finalised and enthusiasm has clearly triumphed.

However, the most important criterion when selecting plays is generally a different one, he continues: "It should always be something that creates a bond among the group – but also provides good entertainment for the audience." For this reason, they usually – though not always – prefer comedies. The theatre group's sense of humour, he adds, moves somewhere between the bizarre and the macabre (at this point, it is worth noting that everyone in the room laughed and enthusiastically agreed with this statement).

A whopping 15 actors and actresses are involved in the current production. Add to that a four-person directing team. This is, however, an above-average number of participants for the Red Bricks. The cast usually consists of eight to ten people at the most. "This semester, we finally experienced a big rush of new prospective members," Josef, who has been involved in the theatre group since 2015, is happy to report; after the Covid years, the appetite for culture has now been rekindled.

One thing must not be forgotten: This is an English student drama group. So the actors are not only challenged by the stage, but also (in most cases) by performing in a foreign language." This is a nice challenge though, it gives us a great opportunity to really practice the English language intensively and to experiment with it," Raphaela points out. It may come as less of a surprise, then, that most of the members either study English or American Studies or are international students and native speakers themselves. Nevertheless, acting enthusiasts from completely unrelated fields and with a variety of backgrounds also come to the auditions every now and again – of course, everyone is welcome, whether they are studying to receive a bachelor's or a master's degree or to become a teacher, whether they are 18 or 28, a computer scientist or a sociologist.

The drama group was founded back in 2007, by none other than Lars Heiler. He explains his ongoing motivation to lead it, which has lasted for 15 years and continues to this day, as follows: "The interpersonal relationships are a huge factor. Theatre keeps you young. And it's like a form of therapy; it really is the icing on the cake of every semester for me." No wonder he has rarely missed a performance in all these years. Again, I hear affirmation from all around the room. Acting is a way of letting go, immersing oneself in another world and of living out one's creativity. No one wants to do without it.

And just what is it that characterises the Red Brick Company? Once again, the members agree unanimously: community. Having fun, supporting each other and sharing a sense of humour ensure the necessary level of energy and motivation among the members, even during rehearsals late in the evening. The group also enjoys spending time together in private, especially in the summer; for example, they may go out for dinner together after rehearsals. I can sense that there are no strict hierarchies here. Everyone contributes their ideas, and everyone is heard. Or as Heiler comments on his role: "Well... I am the one who has the key to the rehearsal room."

But back to the rehearsal. Although the play is based on old classics, I soon realise that it is generously embellished by contemporary references. The occasional musical interlude is, of course, also a must. And so, as I walk out into the evening, three witches' voices accompany me, united in song: "The Tempest almost never fails, and Antony will never ever kiss ol' Cleopatra - weee didn't start the fire, it was always burning..."


Text: Lisa-Maxine Klein

Fotos: Andreas Fischer

"Shakespeare - Cut and in One Piece"

Performances: June 27 (premiere) / June 28 / July 2 / July 5 / July 9
at 8 pm at the Kulturzentrum Färberei

Admission: 5€ (students), 10€ (regular)

You can find the "Red Bricks”
... on Instagram: @redbrickcompany
... on their website: redbrickcompany.weebly.com
... at the university: just approach them in person