In Department of Theatre and Media Arts, Students, Theatre and Media Arts

TMA student shares her inspiring learning experience of living in Germany as she prepared for dramaturgy position

Greta Gebhard, dramaturg, with Schiller and Goethe statue. Photo courtesy of Greta Gebhard.

Greta Gebhard, a German studies and TMA double major and the dramaturg for the BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts (TMA) production of Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart,” spent her summer visiting and researching the playwright’s hometown of Weimar, Germany.

When she applied to do an international internship in Berlin, Germany, last year Gebhard was not aware of the opportunities that would arise from her experience. Gebhard applied for the internship as part of her German studies major and saw an opportunity to tie in her TMA skills. 

Schiller’s residence in Weimar, Germany. Photo courtesy of Greta Gebhard.

She asked her dramaturgy professor, Shelley Graham, if she knew of any productions in the upcoming year that would be related to Germany. After initially telling Gebhard no, Graham later told Gebhard she had forgotten about one of the shows — “Mary Stuart.”

Through collaboration with Graham, Gebhard was assigned as the dramaturg for “Mary Stuart” and used her time Germany to do research on the production. 

During the day, Gebhard worked at her German studies internship with a contemporary circus company called Chamäleon Productions, a company that focuses on bringing international circus productions to their stage.

Schiller’s personal writing desk. Photo courtesy of Greta Gebhard.

“Once I got off work each day,” said Gebhard, “I would spend my free time going to museums, art galleries and plays. I saw several plays by the playwright of ‘Mary Stuart,’ Friedrich Schiller, as well as a couple from his contemporary named Goethe. ‘Mary Stuart’ director, Stephanie Breinholt told me she wanted this play to feel German so I used my experiences at the theatre in Berlin to discover what it meant to have a German feel.”

The highlight of Gebhard’s learning experience was traveling down to Weimar where Schiller lived and wrote “Mary Stuart.” She explored the town where he lived, visited his two burial locations and toured the house he built for his family.

Gebhard learned that Schiller was beloved even during his time, and “many of the original documents, furniture and effects of his life still exist and are preserved in his museum.” He was dedicated to his art form, even to the point of writing himself into a sickness that eventually caused his death. 

Gebhard said her favorite rehearsal experience was when the production had a week of dramaturgical activities and she was able to connect the cast to what she learned. “For one of these days,” said Gebhard, “I set up an ‘Amazing Race’ contest for the actors. They were divided in teams of two and had to complete several challenges that educated them about the time period and what people would have been doing in their leisure time during the Elizabethan period.

“They had to sit for portraits, compete in Elizabethan bowling and learn to dance the Volta, all while remaining in character. Watching them run around the HFAC trying to solve riddles and beat each other was one of the highlights of this experience for me.”

Gebhard describes her experience as the dramaturg for “Mary Stuart” as incredible. Working with director Stephanie Breinholt had a lot to do with it. She said Breinholt’s vision for the play transformed it into a piece of art that fits into today’s discourse.

Schiller’s honorary burial place in the Ducal Vault in Weimar, Germany. Photo courtesy of Greta Gebhard.

She appreciated how Breinholt gave Gebhard and the members of the production team opportunities for growth. When Gebhard would attend a meeting with a new idea, she said Breinholt was always excited about the idea. Breinholt helped Gebhard build the world of the play through her efforts of creating the lobby display, study guide and activities for the actors.

“This play stands apart because of the many design elements.” said Gebhard. “This is not a realism piece with castles and huge hoop skirts, but rather a piece that forces the audience to see the world through new eyes, possibly even frames. Many of these people are known only through their portraits or they have been erased from history by their lack of a portrait. So what does a portrait encapsulate about a person, and what does it miss about a person? This play explores the depth of the people behind the portraits that we see all the time.”

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