Multilingualism on the Berlin stage: the influence of language choice, linguistic access and opacity on cultural diversity and access in contemporary theatre

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Abstract

This article analyses how language choice, linguistic access and opacity in multilingual productions influence theatre institutions’ (inter)cultural and socio-political engagement as well as audiences’ access to and encounters with linguistic and cultural diversity. It uses multilingualism, and the associated use of unfamiliar languages, as a prism for revealing how language use is deeply embedded in historical contexts as well as linked to ethical considerations and the cultural politics in linguistically diverse metropolitan societies. The analysis of recent, pre-COVID productions in Berlin shows how institutions approach the emergent technical and economic strategies and their socio-political implications when staging multilingual theatre, how the choice of performing and supertitling language(s) interrelates with existing language hierarchies and associated privileges of access and how complex dramaturgical approaches to potentially unfamiliar languages can raise broader questions about the ethics of intercultural encounter. Selected case studies illustrate how theatres that embrace the use of unfamiliar languages negotiate the ethical objective of facilitating access and smooth communication in (inter)cultural encounter versus appreciating and embracing linguistic and the associated cultural diversity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Theatre Review
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Multilingualism
  • cultural diversity
  • accessibility
  • unfamiliar languages
  • (inter)cultural encounter
  • Maxim Gorki Theater
  • Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz
  • Jens Hillje
  • Shermin Langhoff
  • Thomas Ostermeier
  • Yael Ronen
  • Christian Weise

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