Stanislavski, Brecht and Beyond: An Integrated Approach to Actor Training in Berlin is a one-semester program in theatre and actor training for advanced drama students. It is offered by NYU Berlin in conjunction with the Tisch Department of Drama, in affiliation with faculty from the world-renowned Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts, the Berlin University of the Arts, and the internationally acclaimed Berlin Schaubuhne.
The program encourages students to create and perform realistic and devised theater, to strengthen and deepen their presence on stage and to craft performances that are intellectually informed, viscerally exciting, and theatrically courageous.
Students are able to experience a cosmopolitan city that holds a complex and crucial place in modern European history. Youthful, artistic, and hip, Berlin has traveled a path that led from the defining cultural avant-garde of the Weimar Republic to the devastation of World War II, from a divided city symbolizing the Cold War to today’s reunified and renewed capital.
A trailer video of the final performances form Spring 2017 is available here.
Today we are in conversation with Arjun Appadurai, Goddard Professor in Media, Culture and Communication at NYU Steinhardt, where he is also Senior Fellow at the Institute for Public Knowledge. He is currently in Berlin for a year and in this interview discusses how being there has informed his scholarship and vice versa.
How did you first come to NYU? What drew you to the institution?
I came to NYU in 2009 from the New School. So I was not physically very far away, but institutionally NYU is quite different. I had previously been provost at the New School for couple of years so was engaged with the large issues related to educational institutions. For various reasons I stepped down from that role to focus on my professorial work, but the transition was hard. I was not unhappy but it was a challenge, so when I received an offer from the Media, Culture, and Communication department at NYU Steinhardt, that seemed compelling. It offered a good opportunity to fully reenter the academic world in a very appealing department. NYU was just entering to its global phase so that was an added appeal for someone with my interests. The department seemed interesting, NYU’s global moves also seemed interesting. So NYU was a good place to shift to in 2009. I have not been disappointed.
How did you come to NYU Berlin? I understand that you received support from the Provost’s Global Research Initiatives program. I also understand that you are now a visiting professor at Humboldt University in Berlin. What work have you been focusing on while in Berlin?
I am on sabbatical for this year and was additionally supported with a GRI stipend for the autumn. I am here for the whole academic year – at Humboldt for the full year as a sabbatical and I remained linked to NYU through the GRI last term. My affiliation with NYU Berlin technically ended in December so I am now a just visiting professor at Humboldt. Throughout the year and with the various affiliations, I have been working on the same things: two very short book projects and one other project that has grown out of my time here. Starting with the latter, in response to news and recent current events in Europe, I was asked to a contribute to an edited book with eleven other authors about “the great regression’ – the global swing to right wing leaders. The book will be published in German and simultaneously translated into twelve other languages. This affiliation has lead to other contributions to the European media. I was recently interviewed by the French paper Journal du Dimanche. I also appeared on a German television program, Kulturzeit, which airs on an educational channel comparable to PBS in the United States. Because of the engagement with this book project, I have been able to participatee in a most interesting, unplanned public engagement while in Europe. My essay for that book is entitled “Democracy Fatigue.” I wrote it during the fall and finished it about three weeks after Trump’s victory in the US election. It has considerably broadcast my interests and arguments in the German and European press. In general over the eight months that I have been here, including during my time at NYU Berlin, I have had a considerable engagement not just in the academic world in Berlin but also outside Berlin, with quasi-public institutions, cultural institutions, and academic institutions concerned about my interests. Some of my long-term areas of interest – migration, refugees, globalization, the future of Europe, the future of nation states – are of great interest in Europe at the moment. So I find myself discovering and becoming part of the very wide flow of ideas and events that straddle academia and public institutions.
In terms of the two books I have been working on, one is related to this set of topics, the other less so. The one less related is a short book on failure – in design, technology, states, markets but also in life – careers, marriages, and such. What do we learn from failure that we do not learn from success? I raise that question and also consider how failure is historically and culturally defined. I ask what is failure and what is not; what parts of thinking about failure are interconnected and what are more idiosyncratic and particular to a particular place or moment in time.
The other book seeks to explore the prima facie contradiction between the ideals of enlightenment entitlement – freedom, equality, humanity – that took hold precisely as Europe went about mass colonialist projects that were racist, exploitative, and seemingly trampled the universalist values of the Enlightenment. Entitled Enlightenment and Empire, this work is a deeper historical look at how Europe has for a very long time had internal debates about itself and a certain measure of volatility about its identity or essence. I consider whether current concerns might be just a recent chapter in this history as opposed to a crisis in an otherwise settled European project.
How have you found the experience at NYU Berlin and at Humboldt University? How has researching Germany influenced your scholarship? What has been most challenging and what has been most rewarding?
I find that my stay in Berlin is particularly timely in relation to how my interests have evolved over a long time. I have come to be very interested in the European story itself – in terms of ideas, politics, the nation state, the economy. Earlier I saw this from an Indian or South Asian or “Third World” perspective which pre-disposed me not to look very carefully inside Europe. I saw Europe broadly and without nuance. Then I began to question how Europe made itself and to wonder what were and are the stresses or uncertainties of that enterprise. I had been doing this for a few years so when I had the opportunity to come here I had some hopes that the interest would find fertile ground. It has been much more fruitful than I had anticipated. In Berlin perhaps especially there is an active search for the hidden histories of Europe and a focus on Europe’s entanglements with the rest of the world. There is lots of active research at universities, think tanks, and other places exploring the histories that have been marginalized and seeking to bring them back to light in part to offer different alternatives for the present. So my timing in being here and my experience has been better than I had hoped.
Your last book, The Future as a Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition (2013), was the product of many years’ worth of research and writing and an important contribution to globalization studies. It has been described as laying the foundation for “a revitalized, and urgent, anthropology of the future.” Can you tell us more about this book? How do you see the future of higher education, and NYU’s global presence, in the context of globalization?
The book is indeed a collection of essays with some highly connected themes and it is in part a manifesto to say that anthropology has not paid sufficient attention to what is coming next. We usually look to custom, tradition, habit – the past – but all societies also have views about what is coming next – how to ensure it, realize it, achieve it. But the book also asks what are the lightest and darkest sides of current global horizons. It takes a generally hopeful view of the future, and for the anthropology of the future, focusing on ideas like design and research that need to be pursued in a global, cosmopolitan way that involves egalitarian transactions and interactions between institutions in other countries and the West. It is within our powers to put ourselves on the same plane. Although I am not an expert, having only been to Abu Dhabi and Berlin, my view is that NYU global has the potential for helping to create an egalitarian, mutually recognizing and affirmative climate for research, teaching, and learning. This requires a great deal of of commitment and value-driven institution building. This is happening at a time when the countries or regions that drove us in the past will not necessarily drive us tomorrow. China and India are powerful, as are Brazil, Russia, and Turkey. All are now facing some form of political dampening, but they will are major powers. But the idea of a university in which in undergrads, graduates students, and faculty are in different orbits but are circling the same globe while remaining connected vertically through interactions between research and teaching, is exciting. This is a most hopeful idea. NYU’s global locations can play an important role in trying to forge connections perhaps not so easily made at the home campus because it is so large and established. For example, getting US scholars to meet local scholars, having students meet local students. Having the single global umbrella is a terrific opportunity with a powerful potential. What makes NYU special is experimenting with how the university could or should work.
You are an acclaimed author and scholar who has not only lived a globalized life but thought critically about globalization and the serious issues of our time – design, planning, finance, and poverty. You have been described as embracing the “politics of hope.” Can you tell us what that means about what you are currently working on?
The idea of the politics of hope is tied up with another phrase I have coined – the capacity to aspire. That concept was my effort to intervene or contribute to a debate among scholars about inequality and how to rectify it. Some thinkers, for example Charles Taylor, focus on recognition, while others focus on redistribution.
To me, if you look at the capacity to think optimistically, to look ahead, to aspire, no one lacks that, but poorer populations lack the experiences upon which to build robust ideas about where they would like to go or what they would like to do or be. This is not an inequality of the mind, but of experience. They simply have a smaller stock of experiences to draw on in thinking about their own future. They lack, but need, the capacity to aspire and that is where we should focus our attention.
The capacity to aspire sets the foundation for the politics of hope, which endeavors to find methods to look for better solutions to our biggest problems. Problems like inequality, racism, exclusionary politics, and climate. And solutions that that include poorer populations and so are not merely solving them for the few. Such an approach emphasizes the capacity to look ahead, design, and plan in the long run. The politics of hope is made up of whatever methods can strengthen the capacity to aspire – the capacity to research, to design, to make your world more as you would like it to be – for all people.
Do you think that time abroad is valuable for students’ academic and personal development? If so, how do you think that value manifests?
I think it is not only valuable, but vital. However, the structure is very important which is why the nature of NYU Berlin and the other NYU programs is consequential. How you help students see their new situation and do your teaching and relating is vital. Having the best of human talent engaged in that really helps, and this is true at the NYU global sites. In our world this kind of education is urgent and indispensable because today time studying abroad has the capacity to do something that the cosmopolitan urge in earlier times did not. Earlier this was only a self- broadening endeavor – you become a fuller person. But today you develop the capacity to live with, recognize and address harsh realities for other people. Now the global study experience is about collective horizon expansion, not only about US students becoming more mature or wise. It builds their capacity to be global thinkers and doers. That is the gold standard and NYU is a part of it.
Radha Hegde, Professor, Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University
Arjun Appadurai, Professor, Media, Culture and Communication, New York University & Visiting Professor, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
What is your school affiliation and what year are you? What is your major?
I am a student at The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music in Tisch majoring in Recorded Music as a Junior.
What inspired you to study in Berlin?
My program was moving to make Berlin mandatory for all students. I always wanted to study abroad in either Prague or London, so I decided this was the best fit for me as a transfer because it was giving me both the experience of studying away while maintaining my the push of my curriculum.
How was your experience? What was most inspiring, surprising, or moving about your time there? What did you find challenging?
My experience was every bit inspiring, surprising and moving. The history is what really did it for me. Every day, Germans walk on the street and are faced with their history– A constant reminder of a really troubled past and how it shaped who they are today. The ability to experiment out of this is incredible. It’s the idea that the abundance of cheap space and abandoned space gives. Like after the wall fell, everyone was on a search for interesting spaces to express themselves without judgement. “Oh there is an abandoned Nazi bunker…let’s turn it into queer night club.” Now that bunker holds the most incredible private art collection I’ve ever seen, while still maintaining its history as one can see the graffiti inside from the bunkers club era. The mentality of creation is invaluable there. It is truly priceless. It’s a constant search to make somethings and everythings and to make a place where you can loose yourself, or find yourself, or be yourself. It’s a special mentality.
It was challenging for me to do music in Berlin because of the varying genre popularity. In New York, I can pretty much go everywhere with my guitar and I and be fine. The majority of people aren’t seeking out singer-songwriters in Berlin, they’re seeking out techno, which is wholeheartedly fine. That was genre the city was built on and I am not trying to change the places I go, just try to hold hands with the places I’m with. But I did grow incredibly found of the folks I met in the open mic circuit in Berlin. I will never forget them, they have given me some of the best nights of my life.
Absolutely. I absorbed as much as I could while I was there. Both feeling submerged in one culture and isolated from my own. It’s a polarizing feeling that contributed to a lot of creative moments. I got to experience spaces I never thought I would like attending music festivals and recording sessions at Funkhaus, to recording at Red Bull Music Studios to going to a concert at my favorite artists house since I was 12 years old. These things change you and the way you work and create. I write about people, places, and things– nouns if you will, and when all of that changes, so does all of the vocabulary around those things. So it becomes an entirely new vernacular to work with.
Were you able to perform while in Berlin? How did being there influence your development as an artist?
I was. I was truly lucky to be able to perform in Berlin. I had a couple of solo shows. I played a Sofar Sounds while I was out there and got to perform in other countries in Europe.
Well for Germany in particular, I was able to experiment more. It turned from, I am Kate the girl with an acoustic guitar to, let’s try these electronics and this effect on my instrumentation here. Let’s really see how to make this music mine. It pushes you and its accessible there. Time away makes you find a different part of yourself and your artistry.
Do you feel as though you were able to engage with Berlin’s artistic community, explore the city’s cultural landscape, and connect with local artists?
Yes and no. I was such a lucky person to as submerged as I was in the local community and cultural landscape. When I entered the open mic circuit, they truly welcomed me with open arms as they literal brought me into their homes and hearts. I drank whiskey with people from 5 different countries and a couple of locals as we talked about queerness and politics and art. We all wound up in Berlin for the creative prospects. Berlin is a hub for artistic people and being welcomed into that environment by people who have been there far longer than I have was so special.
No, because that was a very specific subculture of Berlin’s landscape. I am not an electronic artist and that is such a big part of the culture there, that I didn’t get to connect with local artists involved in that world on the same level as I did with other non-electronic musicians.
I was really lucky that sometimes the two over lapped. I was able to perform at places like Machinenhaus and the Hamburgerbanhof because of Recorded Music performance workshops. Hamburgerbanhof is such an iconic place in Berlin and I would have never thought to play there if not for the NYU Berlin team.
Has your time studying at NYU Berlin, your experiences there, or the content you developed there informed your thinking about your future plans? If so, how?
When I was gone I travelled to over 14 cities and 10 countries. The most important take away from traveling and living that much in other areas of the world, is how vital the music culture is to me when picking a future place to live. I can’t be in a place that doesn’t embrace music. It’s so vital in locations like Berlin and Dublin, that when I go there I feel the pulse of the city through the music. I can’t really say if its effect my future plans. My google calendar only goes so far, but it definitely has and will inform my choices in the future. To be in a completely different music industry, however, made me realize how different cultures care for music. That will inform the way I carry myself back in the states always.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your time in Berlin or while at NYU?
I grew up on a tree farm, so never in my life did I think I was going to live in Berlin. It is a time in my life where I learned a new level of creativity, responsibility, and independence and I am really excited to let that come through all the new music and projects coming up this year.
1. What is your school affiliation and what year are you? What is your major?
I am a rising senior at NYU in the Global Liberal Studies school. I am set to graduate in the spring of 2017. I am a Global Liberal Studies major concentrating in Politics, Rights, and Development. I also have declared a double major in German language.
2. What inspired you to study in Berlin?
It was multiple reasons. I already had some good German language experience as I attended Kindergarden in Basel, Switzerland (German speaking part of Switzerland). I also loved that Berlin was located very centrally in Europe. This would allow me to meet people from all over the continent and allow for easier travel to other countries. The biggest inspiration for my choice was the current world refugee crisis. I had been reading reports on Germany’s record breaking in take of people in need and was fascinated by how they were able to accomplish this where other countries shied away from the challenge (The US included).
3. How was your experience? What was most inspiring, surprising, or moving about your time there? What did you find challenging?
The experience cannot be described as anything short of incredible. I owe a big thank you to the truly amazing NYU Berlin staff and professors. They really take into account an individual students interested and go out of their way to connect you with resources in and around Berlin. It was surprising to see how different and yet similar it was to NYC. You have the same melting pot of people aspect and your surrounded by amazing art and culture. However, it feels a bit more relaxed and slower than NYC. People take their time and sit out side at cafes for coffee rather than running around with Starbucks to-go cups!
I had a very moving experience with the family of a close friend. He was German-Polish and his family essentially adopted me for the year allowing me to do laundry at their home as well as never letting me leave without a full bag of groceries from their grocery store in Poland. I even went with them one weekend in January to visit their family farm in Jutrosin (6 hour car ride from Berlin). That was my first contact with the Berlin migrant community.
The most challenging aspect was trying to adjust to the framework of the EU political system. I had always had an interest in human rights but had really only approached in in previous classes from a US perspective. My first months in Berlin I was overwhelmed with the dynamics involved in EU legislation and how various member states worked together to address humanitarian issues and crisis.
4. I understand that you worked with an organization, FreeArtus: Artists and Refugees United for Freedom, while in Berlin during your second semester in Berlin (Spring, 2016). How did you come to intern with FreeArtus? What did the work involve?
I came to work for FREEARTUS artists and refugees united for freedom as part of my coursework. For Global Liberal Studies majors we perform an internship in the second semester of our junior year in our study abroad site. I had expressed interest in working in some capacity with the many refugees that were flooding in to the city.
The work involved research for fundraising opportunities, event planning and executing, some light translation work, writing grant proposals, and special project monitoring. FREEARTUS has many wonderful programs that bring together refugees and Berlin artists through the universal language of the arts. I was able to sit in on meetings with the German government as well as aid first hand in the implementation of integration programs.
5. Do you feel as though the work you did as an intern was valuable and did you see its impact? Did the experience change your understanding of issues of migration, integration, and community? If so, can you describe how?
I felt that the work I was doing was incredibly powerful. We would see newcomers come to a workshop, such as our acting workshop, and really be able to express themselves, despite not speaking perfect German or English. It was a place where they could be heard and not judged. The key to the program is that it was ‘for and with refugees’. Frank Alva Buecheler, one of the CEOs would always take in to account what the newcomers were asking for and made sure their needs would always be heard. He was an excellent supervisor because he really showed me what it looked like to go over and beyond for people in need. One evening I went with Herr Buecheler and one of our newcomers to a meeting with Amnesty International to try and locate a friend of his who had gone missing along the refugee route. It was not part of one of FREEARTUS’ integration programs, it was just a small gesture of compassion and solidarity with one of our program’s users.
Integration is a two way street. I realised that you cannot expect all the work and effort to come from new comers. Members of established communities have a responsibility and even the privilege of meeting these people half way and showing that they are supported, respected, and cared for.
6. Did you feel as thought the NYU Berlin community was generally aware of or engaged in thinking about the refugee crisis?
The NYU Berlin community was very engaged in thinking about the refugee crisis. Various students would lead volunteer groups to play soccer with refugee children or help out in other small ways. The NYU Berlin housing staff set up a clothing/food drive at the end of the semester to use anything students wanted to part with at the end of the semester before they returned home. I had a lovely conversation with Gabriella Etmektsoglou, Director of NYU Berlin, shortly before leaving Berlin about the work that NYU Berlin has been doing with teachers in order to support refugees. I would say that the NYU Berlin community is discreet in their support for refugees but strong. They realise the value and potential that each of these people has just as they value the potential of all of their students.
6. I also understand that this summer you interned in Washington, DC at the CWS Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Program. Can you describe the work involved? Did your experience in Berlin inspire you to continue working on issues involving refugee?
This policy internship threw me right back into the the American political system and forced me to brush up on my government knowledge! I assist in tracking state and federal legislation that is or might be anti-migrant. When a bill is detected our branch formulates action alerts and sign on letters in order to stop the bill in its tracks and hopefully keep it from being adopted into law. CWS is also one of the six resettlement agencies that the United States government uses to resettle all refugees in the United States. I have met some of the most hardworking and inspiring colleagues at this organisation and truly aspire to have their moral and dedication to this humanitarian cause. My experience in Berlin defiantly inspired me to continue working on refugee issues. The global climate demands a better response to the 60 million people around the globe that are displaced because of persecution. Working first hand with refugees in Berlin really grounded me and made me connect with people on a human level. It is on this level that it really hits you that these are people just like your friends or neighbours.
7. How would you compare these two internship experiences and what do you feel you’ve gained from each?
The FREEARTUS internship was much more hands on and on the ground work. The CWS internship is totally in the policy world and research realm. It all worked out perfectly for me because I really have a great perspective on policy because I had the opportunity to work on the ground with refugees. Hearing staring from the source what could be changed or improved is incredibly powerful.
8. Have these experiences informed your thinking about your future plans? If so, how?
My experiences have greatly informed what I want to do with my future. I am currently in the process of studying for the LSAT and think of which law schools to apply to. I would love to steer my law studies toward international human rights. Hopefully one day I will be able to work for an organisation such as UNHCR, US Department of State, or a non-governmental organisation dealing with human rights.
9. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your time in Berlin or while at NYU?
My time in Berlin has been the most valuable and enriching experience of my undergraduate education so far. I look forward to one day returning to Berlin while pursuing my work in human rights.