Starting up

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EXODUS is a joint theatre production of artists from Germany, Poland, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal and Malta and is dedicated to the foundation of a veritable European Theatre: The seven participating theatre companies from all over Europe aim to create a regular schedule under the umbrella of a common corporate identity. EXODUS is the initiative?s showcase. The international production team will be blogging on the development of the initiative on a weekly basis.
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By Björn Potulski

A father, mother and five children had been offered places on one of the last remaining ships heading west. Taking this chance meant leaving their life behind, taking with them none of their belongings except the clothes they wore and if lucky, one suitcase between them. Nonetheless they fervently awaited the moment they were to board that ship. Should they hesitate, the places they currently occupied would be taken from them in an instant by any one of the thousands of others who shared their dream. However the father did not manage to reach in time the harbour where his family awaited him. In order not to be separated from him, the family decides to wait for the father before joining the Exodus of refugees fleeing on the country way. The aforesaid ship was the Wilhelm Gustloff: on January 30th 1945, it departed from a harbour in Eastern Prussia without this particular family.

Alexander Iwanowitsch Marinesko?s career in the Soviet navy was currently unstable. A lack of discipline had attracted his superiors? attention: a shortage of officers being the only reason he had maintained his position as commander of a submarine. In the night of January 30th, 1945, Marinesko?s crew reported the sighting of a major target. Now was his chance to redeem himself. Marinesko gave order to fire four torpedoes. Three of them hit the Wilhelm Gustloff mid-ships. She sank within 50 minutes, drowning 9.000 refugees in the ice cold Baltic Sea. For sheer coincidence, one family was not on board the sinking ship: it was my family.

I am German, yet I bear a Polish surname ? I have never seen my grandparent?s house and most likely, it no longer exists. This very personal background might be part of my motivation to initiate a major theatre project about identity, questioning demarcation, asking for Promised Lands and what people are willing to sacrifice and go through in order to reach their dreams.

We have called our project ?EXODUS? and shall be keeping you informed regarding its development on a weekly basis through this blog. ?We? refers to a team of artists from Malta, Germany, France, Poland, Italy, Austria, Spain and Portugal. We shall be simultaneously working upon our project in these afore-mentioned countries. By the end of April, the whole team will assemble in Malta to combine their contributions and share them with you. EXODUS shall premiere on the island in May before going on tour to other European countries.

The basic concept of EXODUS is to find in Europe seven ?real people? whose life-history includes a form of ?Exodus?; a term which implies migration, the frequently quoted ?clash of civilizations? and inter-religious and political conflicts. In confidential interviews, our cast shall divulge their stories involving war and the suffering it brings about, being a refugee, suppressing others or being suppressed themselves for religious, political or cultural reasons and so forth. We ask for their ?Promised Land? and what they did to attain it and if they failed, why? This work will result in the seven storylines the show shall be consisting of. These autobiographical accounts will be presented on stage by those who have experienced them. We shall be focusing on the individual; the tangible and poignant presence of a real person. We are not interested in politics; we are not interested in abstract discourses.

Our casting is in progress. Recently I have met with Captain James Grixti who is Commander of the Maltese Navy?s flagship. I was fascinated by his stories of search and rescue missions, them being the first contact with arriving immigrants and the tragedies happening on the open sea. Yet even these distressing stories held moments in which pure altruistic humanity expressed itself. Our search shall lead us to Palestinian Christians who have emigrated from the Holy Land after circumstances become unbearable. We are about to cast a veteran of European colonial wars in Africa, an immigrant from Africa to Europe. A former combatant with the Albanian rebel army fighting for their Promised Land, an independent state that would be a catastrophe for Serbian people still living there. In Warsaw we established contacts with contemporary witnesses of the Uprising (1944) who then as Boy Scouts have delivered letters for an underground postal service; these boys were called ?messengers of hope?. We are interested in the fact that this postal service stood in the centre of attempts to establishing a civil democratic society in midst of occupation and terror?

We are grateful to be citizens of a unified Europe, giving us the opportunity to live and work wherever we choose to. We now want to exploit this opportunity which has been achieved through the hard work of previous generations to bring into being a veritable European Theatre. This project shall undoubtedly lead to many unique encounters, which we wish to be able to share. Thus, we will be presenting our experiences and reflections in this weekly blog. My journey to Kosovo shall be the focus of the next issue. I witnessed the declaration of independence in Pristina on February 17.

We would like to extend our thanks to the City of Munich for a generous grant in support of this project.

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Björn Potulski was born in Munich in 1976. As the initiative?s artistic director, Björn is coordinating efforts to form a veritable European Theatre and to produce EXODUS. Björn studied Drama, Literature and Political Science at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. In 1997 he founded Munich based Theater Sündenfall. Since 2006, the company is consisting of a Franco German team that is regularly performing on an international level. Björn?s international experience includes the organisation of various guest performances amongst others in Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, Vienna, Budapest and Paris.

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