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  • Postcards from the East: National histories collide at the Schaubühne


Postcards from the East: National histories collide at the Schaubühne

We spoke to Pavlo Arie and Martín Valdés-Stauber, the writers of Postkarten aus dem Osten (“Postcards from the East”), which recently premiered at the Schaubühne.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Set in January 2024, the same month it opened, Postkarten aus dem Osten (“Postcards from the East”) – a fictional work developed from real experience – is the tale of four friends who met studying in Ukraine in 2014. The two Germans and two Ukrainians reunite in a Berlin Altbau, where their personal and national histories collide. Pavlo Arie, who until the 2022 war was chief dramaturg at Kyiv’s Left Bank Theatre, and Martin Valdés-Stauber, a house dramaturg at the Schaubühne, share the personal histories, process and challenges behind their new joint work.

What brought you to theatre?

Pavlo Aries: I was born in Lviv. I studied there, went to school. I fell in love – which is an entire story – and that brought me to Germany, as I could only realise my love somewhere in Europe. I slowly understood that I didn’t have anything to do at that moment. As a child my favourite thing was theatre, but I grew disappointed with theatre as I grew older because our theatre in Ukraine was then, you could say, outdated. It just wasn’t contemporary for me. And then I saw theatre in Germany and that was something new. In Germany, I encountered the work of Sarah Kane, the British playwright. It destroyed me. It totally destroyed me. I even tried to translate it with my terrible English into Ukrainian. And then I understood why theatre needed to continue to exist. It really gave me this feeling to continue doing something with theatre, that it’s important for theatre to speak about certain subjects and be so honest about them. And that made me a dramatist. 

Still from a performance of Postcards from the East. Photo: Gianmarco Bresadola / Schaubühne.

Martín Valdés-Stauber: I myself was born here in Germany, but in a Spanish-speaking family. I travelled internationally, as an academic – a sociologist. I was in Berkeley, Cambridge, and then I switched to theatre in Munich. Part of the reason was that the people with whom I studied were absolutely shocked by the election of Trump. We sat in Queen’s College in Cambridge and we were all shocked. I decided I had to go back to where I was trustworthy. That meant for me that I’ll go back to Germany, where I am credible, and engaged politically and artistically – and, if possible, academically. 

How did you end up collaborating? 

MVS: I wanted to establish a strategic partnership – a big project between Ukrainian and German artists. And then it was pure coincidence – in 2019 came an email from Pascha in German. Do you remember?

PA: Didn’t we meet at the theatre? 

MVS: No, first there was an email! Later I received a big grant from the Foreign Office that provided significant support to set up this exchange of German and Ukrainian artists under the name ‘Sisterhood’. And I created this partnership with different Ukrainian groups across the country. The founding event was in Mariupol because we wanted to draw attention to the fact that the war was already there. And then we worked together. We did a really cool festival in December 2021 in Munich under the title, ‘Distant Neighbours’. And nobody understood why we named it that. Everyone in Munich said, “What a strange title, Martin.” And then, two months later everyone understood.

How are you approaching this project in the Schaubühne Studio? 

MVS: The Schaubühne Studio has a very particular curatorial vision, namely that you can rehearse for a long time in the actual room, and then a block of 10 shows follows. Right now, the process is we write and then we rehearse with the actors and then the text becomes more real. You have to then adapt it so that it sits right in the mouth and the actors can really work with it. And then we see costumes and the stage design. In this case, the development of the stage has been important because we will truly live in this apartment. We will discover on stage what it means as a theatre performance. All of us will work with certain subjects that they hadn’t before, or find new themes. New text might develop with the actors, who might say, “I’m concerned about this and this,” or, of course, because the present reality changes. The premiere is on January 30. If the reality of January 30 looks different, the piece will also have to look different. It has to be totally current. 

Still from a performance of Postcards from the East. Photo: Gianmarco Bresadola / Schaubühne.

Isn’t that really difficult to achieve?

PA: Yes. For example, on October 7, I spoke with Martin and that was my first question for him – our first question for each other. We cannot ignore it. We have to talk about it. Our piece has to reflect on this new reality. 

MVS: But the question is also, on what level? It’s the question of, how safe is Germany for Jewish life? And that will definitely be a subject.

PA: I have asked myself this question. For me, coming to Germany was difficult for my parents. My mother said to me when I was going to go to Germany twenty years ago, “How can you go to Germany?” Germany did so much to us and our family. My grandmother was perhaps the only one who survived – she worked in a factory. She was lucky. She was young and strong then. And my mom asked me, “How can you go to Germany?” “With the bus,” I joked. And now, 2022. We came on the bus with my mother and stepfather and our pets to Germany. And, on the bus, my mother couldn’t speak, she couldn’t eat. She was so hurt. I remember this older woman on the bus who spoke with my mother. Germany is now a place of safety for us. And earlier, Germany was for us death. After the situation of October 7 and this situation in Europe, I’ve asked myself, what if this situation changes again? Where is there safety for us?

MVS: Perhaps that is also the closing monologue – a closing monologue of a Jewish Ukrainian in Germany.

  • Postkarten aus dem Osten, performed Jan 30, Feb 2-7 and 9-11, Schaubühne. Get more information here.