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Life after Dürrenmatt

"Kick and Rush" was one of three Antischublade productions at Zurich's Theatre Spectacle (swissinfo/SRI) ledsom

Theatre critics in Switzerland have long complained that home-grown playwrights appear to be a vanishing breed.

This content was published on September 19, 2002 - 16:51

Ever since the deaths of Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt in the early 1990s, the Swiss have looked in vain for likely successors.

Now, though, a Basel-based group of directors and producers is taking a more proactive approach in the search for new talent and their work is already beginning to bear fruit.

Started in 1999, the "Antischublade" project offers undiscovered playwrights the chance to see their work brought to life by professional directors and actors.

Last month the group made its debut at Zurich's Theatre Spectacle - performing three productions at the prestigious annual event.

Out of the drawer

Translated roughly as "out of the drawer," the Antischublade project dares new writers to dust down their dramatic efforts and send them in for appraisal.

The thinking is that the next Frisch or Dürrenmatt might already be out there, desperately seeking an avenue for his or her talent.

"I had no idea at all it would come this far," budding Swiss playwright Andri Beyeler told swissinfo after watching his play, "Kick and Rush" performed at the Theatre Spectacle.

"I had heard a little about Antischublade before I wrote the play but I hadn't thought at first that I would send my work to them.

"When I did and they read it and said it would be good to produce - well, of course I didn't say no!"

Unembellished

Beyeler's play follows the occasional ups and many downs of two wannabe footballers whose Saturday afternoons are spent almost entirely on the substitutes' bench. The minimalist scenery and unembellished performances are typical of the Antischublade stable.

It's a bareness of style that sprang originally from the project's tight finances, but has since been turned into a selling point.

"We always wanted to work with professional directors and actors because that is the best way to help the playwright learn his craft," Ursina Greuel, co-founder of Antischublade, told swissinfo.

"But the cost of hiring professionals forced us to limit our rehearsal time to around two or three weeks, as well as sticking to a minimal budget for scenery.

"Soon we noticed that this was actually a good way of doing things because the actors didn't have time to agonise over how to play particular scenes.

"They just had to concentrate on the essentials. A lot of audience members have since said that they find that less polished style to be refreshing."

Prize-winning

The unusual production methods appear to be paying off. In only the second year of its existence, the Antischublade project was awarded a SFr20,000 prize by a jury of regional critics.

With further help from sponsors the group has celebrated further successes including the publication of two of its plays and the invitation to this year's Theatre Spectacle.

Greuel thinks that she and her colleagues have already gone a long way towards showcasing the potential of Switzerland's latest generation of playwrights.

But she also insists that no-one should compare these debut works with the masterpieces produced by Switzerland's two greatest writers - after all, even Frisch and Dürrenmatt had to start somewhere.

"People are always talking about Frisch and Dürrenmatt, but they had theatres screaming out for them to have a go at writing plays," Greuel argues.

"And what people also forget is that both of them wrote some really bad stuff in the beginning!

"That just goes to show that even the best playwrights need the chance to work at their art and to have somewhere to practise - that's exactly what we're trying to give our writers."

Budding Swiss playwrights who think their work might be of interest to the Antischublade project can send their texts to Ursina Greuel at Saumstrasse 16, 8003 Zurich.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich

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