Gayle Tufts has been living and working in Berlin as a singer,
comedian and writer. Drawing on her experiences as a foreigner
in the city -she's originally from the U.S.-, Gayle has written
and performed several wildly popular shows, and in 1998 published
the book Absolutely Unterwegs: An American in Berlin. That same
year she received the Berlin Critics' Prize for her contributions
to the city's cultural landscape.
a few minutes to answer several questions posed by our always-inquisitive
Associate Producer Linda Fahey.
up in Brockton, Massachusetts - how did you get interested in
acting/singing/performing as a kid? Was your family musical or
involved with acting or performance art?
I think I
started out the same way a lot of kids I know did - I saw The
Ed Sullivan Show every Sunday and saw The Supremes or Lulu or
Petula Clarke and thought what they were doing on TV was much
more real than whatever I was experiencing in Brockton. The seeds
of my dreams of show biz were planted there. I also had a cousin
who had her own dance studio, so I started tap-dancing at the
age of 4...classic. It also really helped that my high school
(4000 students and no windows that opened) had a really fantastic
drama club which did a giant musical every year and basically
gave me my raison d'etre and survival strategy in high school.
(It also helped to get me a scholarship to New York University,
so I am still very thankful about that.)
like you had an interesting career going in the US - what was
it that led you to leave NYC and move to Berlin in 1990?
I had an offer from a dance company here (Tanzfabrik Berlin) to
work with them for two years and have a chance to make my living
as a full-time performer - including benefits! That was music to
my ears at the time because although I was working with great companies
(Yoshiko Chuma, David Gordon) in New York - I was still working
day jobs to pay the rent in-between gigs. Thirteen years in Manhattan
does tend to burn one out, but I had really only intended to stay
here for two years...life moves in mysterious and wondrous ways...I
had no idea there would be a market here for funny women who sing.
it that you ended up being such a multifaceted performer: 2 languages,
several different artistic mediums (writing, song, stage performance,
I went to the
Experimental Theatre Wing at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. The
training we received there placed huge emphasis on doing it yourself.
We learned not only how to work as actors (speaking, singing, moving),
we also learned to think conceptually and as our own producers.
They taught us not to sit around and wait for a break to happen,
but rather to create a happening for ourselves. Sometimes I think
of my entire career here in Germany as one long, involved site-specific
you choose Germany as opposed to another European country? And,
why did you move to Berlin, as opposed to other German cities:
Hamburg, Cologne, or Munich?
of all Berlin is to Germany as New York is to America - there's
no place like it in the rest of the country. I had met some young
actors from Berlin while I was working with director Anne Bogart
in New York, and eventually I found myself visiting them. That
was in 1985 when the Wall was still here. Needless to say, I was
fascinated. I still am - this city is in a constant state of flux,
it's sort of a never-ending work-in-progress. I couldn't live
fluent in German when you arrived in Berlin?
I spoke absolutely
no German when I first got here except "kindergarten", "Volkswagen",
and "Fassbinder". My first year and a half here was like a long
bizarre conceptual silent film. After 13 years of loud, chaotic
Manhattan, it was kind of nice to just watch everything go by
from a distance. (Although, it has to be said nearly everyone
speaks at least some English). After a while, though, that approach
gets rather lonely and one has to learn the lingo to really feel
involved in real life here.
describe your first year in Berlin -- things that you had to adjust
to, noteworthy surprises, welcomed changes, interesting observations,
etc... It must have been a very exciting time to be there.
I think any
time one moves to a new city the first year is a kind of state
of shock. All the fundamentals need to get sorted out. Where do
you buy your milk, who makes the best Milchkaffee, why can't I
get this heater to work - never mind the big questions like how
do I pay my taxes and where's the man of my dreams? It actually
took me about five years to really get myself settled in.
Is it difficult
being an "auslanderin" in Berlin or Germany generally? Are there
things you miss from life in the US that you don't have in Berlin?
Being a white
American in Berlin I have never had any difficulty being an Auslšnderin
here - Berlin is the melting pot city of Germany. Having said
that, in all honesty, I would not want to be an African migrant
worker in the East - and as long as that is the situation, I'll
stay here and let them know my views on it and be a vocal critic
of any kind of nationalistic or right-wing violence.
is a different experience being the "outsider" - that's basically
what I've based my career on here. I couldn't speak the language
properly, so I mixed enough German into my English so that I could
be understood. Now I'm kind of the resident American Girl here
- I make observations about the Germans, but also about the Americans.
I always explain to them that we in America come from a nation
of immigrants - that they have to understand us in that context.
When they see us as "superficial"(always a critique of the "typisch
Amerikaner") I explain to them that we're just being polite -
we're trying to just get along with each other. Of course, that's
what I miss about the States - a certain friendliness, the optimism,
waitresses who ask you if you "want another cuppa coffee, honey..."
As an observer
of Berliners, how would you describe them to Americans?
Much warmer than
I ever expected them to be...and funny and hip.
would you describe Americans to Berliners?
I always say
that when there's an American in the room you'll hear him...we
do tend to be loud.
released three CD with your accompanist and songwriting partner,
Rainer Bielfeldt. Can you provide a title and brief description
Unterwegs - Live CD from our first tour. Songs and monologues
about the true story of an "Amerikanerin In Berlin". Rainer is
a truly great composer, pianist and onstage-partner from Hamburg.
Meeting him really turned my life around here. He's my total opposite
-a blond, slight, gay German man and a real yang to my yin.
Delight - Four song EP written and produced from Rainer & me including
three songs we wrote for a dance piece for the Rotterdam Dance Group
The Big Show
- Live recording from the Bar jeder Vernunft in Berlin -all our
own compositions including gospel number with gospel back ups and
a cover version of Annie Lennox's "Love Song for a Vampire"
through Megaphon Music, Berlin- www.megaphon.com
you describe your book "Absolutely Unterwegs"?
Unterwegs" is a (if I do say so myself) delightful little collection
of monologues, songtexts and autobiographical material about my
first years here in Berlin and my struggle to get my career (and
life) moving . Lots of photos. It's in Dinglish, so a little German
knowledge helps (if not you can just enjoy the pictures). It's
available from Ullstein publishing and is available through Amazon.
your current projects?
I'm finishing up a run of our latest show "Miss Amerika", which
features two fantastic American gospel singers - Ingrid Arthur
and Ardell Johnson. We'll be touring that in the spring and at
the same time Rainer and I are busily at work on a new show that
will premiere in Berlin in December. (We're also looking for a
new record company so if anyone out there has an uncle in the
business let us know!) I'm also writing a new book for Ullstein
("The Wahre Wahrheit: Further Adventures of an Amerikanerin in
Berlin"), which will come out in spring 2002.