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All the lonely expats

The annual Expat Expo takes place now through June 5 to unite the major players in Berlin's English-speaking theater scene. We investigate exactly what that scene looks like.

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Lauren Hart in “This is Mine. What’s Yours”. Photo © Nisa Ojalvo 2016

Through June 5, the English Theatre’s Expat Expo puts Berlin’s English-speaking Freie Szene contingent front and centre.

This year, their fourth, they’ve added “Immigrant Invasion” to the title as a (symbolic) corrective to the whiteness of most Wahlberliners. They’ve also added a day explicitly for newcomers and works in progress. We wondered: who are the expats of the Expat Expo? Who’s an expat and who gets called an immigrant? Who are the newbies and who’s been here a while? Berlin’s English-speaking “free scene” is hungry, smart, and still – even with the Expo bringing people together in June – almost totally decentralised.

Lauren Hart, who arrived here from Sheffield, UK in 2015, is hungry for community. “Obviously there’s a big independent scene, but I don’t think there’s a network for people who are expats inside that scene. I think it’s important to network. How are people living? How are they making money? What works and what doesn’t work? If I share what I know rather than being protective, that comes back, and it creates community for everyone.”

Meeting with the team at the English Theatre and Theaterhaus Mitte helped Hart find her footing when she arrived – now that she is performing her solo work regularly, the next step is finding collaborators. It’s not an easy task to find people with complementary skills and an interest in the same working process.

Her dream? A co-working rehearsal space where solo artists and small companies can pop into each others’ rehearsals and discuss ideas over lunch. Utopian? Maybe… but hey, it’s Berlin. In the meantime, she’ll connect with English speakers individually in This is Mine. What’s Yours (Jun 5), a series of one-on-one performances. 

Alissa Rubinstein has been in Berlin a bit longer, but is producing her first work here in June: The 614th Commandment (Jun 2), a documentary theatre project about American Jews’ feelings on the Holocaust (at least it bodes to be funny). The piece will also serve as her master’s thesis in Public History: her official occupation is student at the FU. She met her international team of collaborators at a previous Expat Expo info session, but – sense a theme? – also craves more community from the English-language free scene.

Like Hart, she is willing to work to make it happen: she’s founded the networking hub, Berlin Playwrights Collective, which will help arrange table reads of new plays in English. What was the allure of Berlin for the young, English-speaking theatre artist? “I got to college and registered for Spanish out of habit, but the room was in the basement and I really wanted to take another language. The German classroom was on the fourth floor, lots of windows, the teacher brought her dog to class – the dog’s name was Lager, he would sit on a chair and listen. It just snowballed from there in a really intense way.” 

Money, of course, is a big question. For those trying to make a theatrical home in Berlin for the first time or struggling to make a name as an emerging English-speaking artist, the “day job” question is very real. The struggle to find external funding leads to conversations about teaching theatre classes, copywriting and making coffee.

Rubinstein explains, “I like my lifestyle here. I have a nice, tiny apartment, I bike everywhere, I go out for coffee, I travel. I’ve been writing plays since I was six or seven. It’s always what I wanted to do. And if I have to work at a coffee shop to do it… I mean [shrugs], okay.”

English Theatre Berlin, Kreuzberg; full programme at www.etberlin.de