Das Headerbild zeigt sechs Personen. Auf einem blauen Hintergrund steht der Schriftzug "Wir bilden die Zukunft. We are the future".

Power and Possibility

A Monday evening in the baroque palace. Even as the last of the lights are going out across the rest of the campus, the Alte Lehrbuchsammlung is still brightly lit up. Students trickle in through the main door. Christine Heinzel greets them with a big grin as they come in. She is the University Theater director and the ensemble is meeting here for a rehearsal, just as it has every Monday since September.

Tables and chairs are quickly moved out the way, a temporary stage is marked out on the floor, props are handed out—and the 16th rehearsal of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? can get going. “We suggested three plays and then held an online vote. This play is a real treat for actors, because the roles are so extreme. I can’t think of many plays that are so brutally honest, that are so able to get under your skin,” says Heinzel, who is herself a Mannheim graduate and has been working on or behind the stage for over 20 years. The ensemble has precisely 25 term-time weeks to rehearse the 90-minute play before the premiere on 17 May. “Some of the students have acted before. But others are complete beginners, and they’re fantastic at it. There’s nothing like seeing their progress. The University Theater is like a crash course in self-confidence.”  

A kick-off event in September was followed by auditions. Those who impressed in the first round of auditions were then called back. After that, there were still 12 students left, but the play only has four parts. Heinzel decided to double up the parts, so she had to whittle the numbers down to a final eight. “In the end, it came down to a chemistry test,” she laughs. “Because the play is about two married couples, it’s important to have the right chemistry between the actors.” That chemistry is on clear display after Heinzel calls for silence and the rehearsal begins. All attention is now on the stage, where a spectacle of impassioned argument, intense suffering, and mortifying humiliation unfolds. When Felix Zimmermann, playing biology professor Nick, delivers a joke with particular panache, the tense silence in the Alte Lehrbuchsammlung is broken by floods of laughter. “That’s exactly what we want. The play is dramatic enough, so we want the audience to occasionally get to laugh away the lump in their throats,” explains Zimmermann, who studies psychology at Mannheim. 

In the play, two married couples meet for a last drink after a party and end up in a bitter row. It deals with some weighty themes, and originally premiered back in 1962. So the University Theater group thought a lot about what the play has to say to us today. They picked out two core themes: power and possibility. “What gives someone power over me? And could things have gone differently? Where is the tipping point? Those are the questions we find really compelling,” is how Heinzel sums it up. On Monday evenings, the University Theater rehearses two scenes. Besides the eight-strong cast, there is also the directorial team, the dramaturgy team, and the tech crew. Everyone collectively manages the ticketing, marketing, and Instagram account. In total, 17 students dedicate their time and energy to the University Theater project. They have just had a weekend of rehearsals and tomorrow they will be analyzing video footage at the director’s home.

Text: Jule Leger/May 2023

Dates: premiere: 17 May, 8 p.m., subsequent performances: 18 May, 8 p.m.; 19 May, 8 p.m.; 20 May, 8 p.m.; 21 May, 11 a.m., all at the Alte Lehrbuchsammlung/Schloss Mannheim. Doors open around 30 minutes before the start time.
Tickets: available from the Campus Shop or on www.eventfrog.de/tickets_werhatangst
Full details: https://www.uni-mannheim.de/en/campus/music-theater-and-art/university-theater/