Written by Adam Reger
A nervous-looking squirrel follows a pair of German hikers. The critter is desperate for any junk food they might leave behind. “I’ve lost my fear of humans!” the squirrel shouts to a nearby raven. The raven also is trailing the hikers—but for their stories, not their junk food. The bird hops off a log and crosses over a stream.
Except the stream is actually a long roll of fabric. And the setting is not an enchanted forest, but the studio space in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning. The squirrel and the raven are performing in a new German-American theater project.
The project, Yinzerspielen, is a series of two plays: “You Can’t Get Lost in America,” written by Pitt alumnus Cory Tamler (A&S ’09), and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?,” written by Nora Schuessler, a student at the University of Augsburg in Germany. The show debuted in Augsburg this past June and arrived in Pittsburgh in September.
The project developed last summer after Tamler and fellow Pitt alumnus Christina Kruise (A&S ’09) earned Pitt Research Abroad Project Grants to travel to Germany and work on a production of Neil LaBute’s Autobahn. There, they befriended Schuessler, who also was involved in the production, and the three conceived their own collaborative project.
“We knew that we wanted to produce our own original work,” Tamler says. “We wanted our project to be bilingual, and we wanted to include both Germans and Americans.” They began calling it “Yinzerspielen,” a fusion of the Pittsburghese word Yinzer, usually meaning a Pittsburgher, and the German word Spielen for “play.”
The project has posed challenges for the collaborators because they’ve had to handle very different acting styles. “Americans are taught to approach a character from the inside out,” says Tamler. “They ask questions like: ‘Why does my character do this? What’s his motivation?’” Germans, by contrast, take “an ‘outside in’ approach. German actors ask: ‘What should this look like?’ ‘What do you want me to show?’”
During rehearsals, the actress who plays the squirrel—Pitt alumnus Mary Heyne (A&S ’08)—practiced her role by focusing on her character’s intense love of junk food. By contrast, Simon Karrer, an Augsburg student who plays the raven, spent his time practicing how to twitch his head like a bird and walk with a raven’s quick, jerky steps.
At the performance in the Cathedral basement, the raven and the squirrel catch up to the hikers. They find the brother begging his sister to speak English. She answers him in fluent German. Her arms are crossed and the siblings stand on opposite sides of the stream. Despite being challenged by culture, language, and even species, the characters are nevertheless drawn together. Aww, Yinzers …