The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the most dramatic events of the 20th century. It happened suddenly on the evening of November 9, 1989 when thousands of East Germans decided to take history into their own hands and pour over the border into the West. Although the Soviet Union wouldn’t disintegrate for another two years, the fall of the Wall effectively spelled the end of the Cold War.
Before/After follows the stories of a dozen remarkable people from East-Central Europe who fought for human rights before 1989, celebrated the victories of that magical year, and then wrestled with a new set of challenges after 1989.The fall of the Wall lies at the center of my new playBefore/After, a multimedia portrait of the transformation of East-Central Europe told by the people who made it happen. It will be the first dramatic offering in the European Month of Culture here in Washington, DC. Sponsored by the European Union delegation to the United States, the festival is in its third year of showcasing the achievements of EU member states.
Directed by Natalia Gleason, the play draws on the nearly 300 interviews I conducted in the region in 2012-2013. I had lived and travelled in East-Central Europe between 1989 and 1993. With the help of the Open Society Foundation, I tracked down many of the people I interviewed 25 years ago to see what had changed in their lives and in the lives of their countries. I have made all of these interviews available online.
To create a play from this material, I chose the dozen most vivid stories on the theme of human rights. Although the changes that took place in the region involved elite politics, economic reforms, and social upheavals, one dramatic story can be traced across all those years and all those countries: the battle to secure the human rights of the disenfranchised.
In Before/After, you’ll meet some very courageous people. There’s Vihar, a Bulgarian journalist who was forced out of his job because of his reporting, took a job fixing trolley car brakes, and then led a transportation strike that helped bring down the government in 1989. Hieronym was a Polish Politburo member who tried to change the system from within. Marina was a peace activist and educator who, to her surprise, suddenly became a government minister in the newly democratic East German government in 1990. Rita is a Roma rights campaigner who is now the UN’s top minority rights rapporteur. Irfan, one of the Erased, had to fight to regain his citizenship. And Michael, who fled his birthplace in West Africa on an overcrowded ship, ended up in a refugee camp in Hungary where he began to organize his fellow migrants.
The cast of Before/After will include Ashley Amidon, Michael Crowley, Judit Csonka, Karen Elle, John Feffer, Stuart Fischer, Mario Font, Tony Hacsi, Don Hensley, Joseph Mariano, Matt Neufeld, Karin Rosnizeck, Scott Sedar, and Carol Spring.
With music, images, and video, Before/After brings history alive. You’ve seen the pictures of the Berlin Wall falling. Now come out to experience the rest of the story.
Before/After will have three performances, all free and open to the public. On May 6, it will be at the NYU campus in DCat 6:30 pm (with a panel discussion preceding the show). On May 14, it will appear at the Atlas Performing Arts Center at 7:30 pm. And on May 20, it will appear at the Goethe Institut at 7 pm.