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The Nature Theater of Oklahoma

Category: Portrait 22. October 2008

In Amerika, Kafka’s unfinished novel, the sixteen-year-old Karl, after being seduced by a housemaid who then becomes pregnant by him, is sent to America, according to his parents’ wish. In New York, the boy, who has been cast out by his parents, begins his social downslide. In search of belonging, he experiences a world in which one only looks after oneself and which is calculated towards one’s emotional needs.

He can only gain social acknowledgment and emotional intimacy at the price of subjugation and self-exploitation. In the last chapter of the never-completed novel, Karl discovers a poster for the Nature Theater of Oklahoma on the streets of New York, which promises work and a home for everyone. Karl signs up and heads west with the theater. According to Max Brod, who published the novel after Kafka’s death, the theater was planned as a place where Karl could participate and thereby find a home and himself.

"All welcome! Anyone who wants to be an artist, step forward! We are the theater that has a place for everyone, everyone in his place!" It is the obvious generosity that was communicated by the theater poster — in contrast to the calculating world of warped humanity that Karl experienced — that incites the spirit of the Nature Theater of Oklahoma theater group, led by Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska, and which inspired its name. Their theater is a place which invites participation, a place in which the scenes develop right in front of the audience. In Kafka’s Amerika, it is this inviting moment of the theater which increases the awareness of social indifference in everyday human interaction. The repertoire of the New York theater group also addresses everyday occurrences which are taken for granted, in order to direct attention towards them once again. The actors play out these scenarios. From these everyday movements, which are combined anew according to a random tossing of dice or dealing of cards, they create dances and new meanings and convert telephone calls into theater dialogues, as in the piece, “No Dice”.

These approaches of the theater group result in a completely unusual and humorous theater experience. In addition, they expand the meaning of and curiosity about the everyday gestures to which we have grown accustomed, but actually notice very rarely. The Nature Theater of Oklahoma was awarded the Young Directors Award at the Salzburger Festspiele 2008. (wh/jn)

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