The American Drama Group, a touring theatre company based in Munich, Germany, has faced many challenges during this time. In a recent interview with Grantley Marshall, the founder and director of the American Drama Group, he shared his experiences of navigating the pandemic as a theatre producer and director.
Marshall expressed the difficulties that producers faced during the pandemic when it came to certainty. “Theatre is an uncertain environment, and producers rely on a certain level of predictability to plan their shows and tours.”, he says. During the pandemic, many of their shows were cancelled or postponed due to the uncertainty surrounding the situation. As a touring company, the pandemic was a crippling blow to ADG's operations as they waited for the situation to improve and work their way around lockdowns.
Marshall said he had to get back into producing after two years of being shut down in order to get things really back on track, and it took him some time to remember how to do it. He had to relearn the nuts and bolts of theatre production and get back to what he felt would work as a play post the pandemic, something that might bring audiences back into the room.
The American Drama Group Europe was established by Marshall, a native of Ohio, in 1978 in Munich. Initially connected to the University of Munich, the group's performances quickly expanded to other theaters in Munich and the group began giving guest performances in other German cities. Over time, the group expanded to include many countries in Europe and Asia, with actors coming from New York, London, and Paris.
Today, the group performs a range of classic and modern dramas from American, British, and French literature. When asked about the future of the American Drama Group, Marshall said his five-year goal was simply to survive the next five years. He said he had taken some insane chances in the past, but he was more cautious now. The pandemic also provided an opportunity to step back and gain a larger perspective on artistic strategy, which Marshall says he is trying to imbibe in his five-year goal. In 1994, the ADGE began touring European Castles and palaces. This soon became a unique event, spanning the continent and taking in some 50 castles and palaces from Southern France to northern Norway, from the Isle of Man to Austria; making this the largest open air theatre tour in Europe.
Despite the challenges, Marshall remains committed to theatre and the American Drama Group. He said he is holding onto the impossibility of ever doing anything else and is determined to see how far he can go, how long he can last, and how long he can keep the intensive workload of 80 hours a week going. He also emphasized the importance of the audience, saying that he is much more aware of what's going on now and takes feedback from the audience seriously. Marshall shared an example of matching audience expectations and sensibilities when they did a performance of "The Little Prince" in French. While it was artistically done, audience members found it difficult to understand the speech and core ideas, and that's where Marshall realized the importance of balancing audience understanding and production values. This balance is an exceedingly important consideration for post-pandemic touring. He emphasizes “Theatre is a live form that you can't just stream or throw in all kinds of new technical gadgets and play, and still call it the same. It’s different.”
A big part of the American Drama Group is its educational program through performances in schools and colleges. On the other hand, they have a comprehensive rural touring program with specially curated performances and cultural experiences in castles, which received appreciation from the late Queen Elizabeth herself.
In the end, Marshall's driving forces are to see how long he can continue, to see how long he can beat the odds, and to prove that what he's doing is possible. Despite the challenges, the American Drama Group is still putting up shows and touring all over Germany. Marshall said that the physical touring environment has not changed that much, but the fear factor still plays a huge role. Sudden cast illnesses, show cancellations and low audience numbers call for a more dynamic approach to touring and production. Earlier, there was less anxiety around confirmation of shows and tours, now one needs to follow up until the last minute to confirm the show is indeed going ahead. Marshall believes that art and finance are intricately intertwined, and you can't separate them, especially considering the financial shock the arts and cultural industry is still recovering from.
In conclusion, the survival of the American Drama Group during the pandemic is a testament to the resilience of theatre and the people who make it happen. Grantley Marshall's determination and commitment to theatre and the American Drama Group are inspiring. Marshall re-emphasizes that despite everything, theatre will survive because people love this form of art.
The research project 'Hier, Jetzt (und Dann?)' is supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung and Rimini Protokoll, under the framework of the Bundeskanzlerstipendium / German Chancellor Fellowship. Read more about the project at www.hierjetztdann.org