The Dead Ladies Show is a series of entertaining and inspiring presentations on women who achieved amazing things against all odds. Every two months, the show hosts three passionate cheerleaders of too-oft forgotten women, inviting its loyal audience into a sexy séance (of sorts) celebrating these impressive icons, their turbulent lives, and deathless legacies.
Our 13th event showcases three such extraordinary ladies who pushed the boundaries of their times: a poet and Afro-German activist, a pioneering doctor who took a liberal view of female sexuality, and a silent movie star who wowed crowds in a lavish 1917 version of Cleopatra, now lost for all eternity. Our presenters are the award-winning German writer DAVID WAGNER, Dublin/Berlin-based columnist ALIX BERBER, and your beloved co-host KATY DERBYSHIRE. And of course our master of ceremonies, FLORIAN DUIJSENS, will ensure the evening’s entertainment runs smoothly. So put on your glad rags and raise a glass with us in the ACUD STUDIO on 26 September, 8pm.
Launching our year of dead Berliners is MAY AYIM, who made our fine city her home in 1984. She was a founding member of the Initiative of Black People in Germany a year later, and published the groundbreaking book Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out soon afterwards. Ayim trained as a speech therapist and taught at university level, but she’s remembered for her work on Afro-German history and her unmasking of racism – and for her moving poetry which explores her own memory and identity and those of others.
ANNA FISCHER-DÜCKELMANN was one of the first women to study medicine, running a clinic for women and children in Dresden for many years. She wrote books on reforming women’s clothing, women’s sexuality, and gynecology, plus a popular illustrated guide to medicine for women. Keeping her maiden name after marriage, Fischer-Dückelmann championed both natural remedies and women’s rights. “Women’s equality,” she wrote, “is the key to a new heavenly realm of love.”
The silent movie actress THEDA BARA rose to become Fox Studios’ biggest star prior to the 1920s, often cast as a vamp. Yet she also played Shakespearean roles like Juliet and Cleopatra. In pre-code Hollywood, she was known for her skimpy costumes and early sex-symbol status. Criticized for her dark roles – from gang moll to Princess Zara of the South Seas – she responded: “I will continue doing vampires as long as people sin.” Although she made more than 40 silent films, very few of them have survived.
Presented in a messy mixture of English and German. €5 or €3 reduced entry. Now generously supported by the Berliner Senat. Doors open 7:30 – come on time to get a good seat!
On May 30th, we’re throwing our 12th Dead Ladies Show, proudly presenting three very different 20th-century women, all of whom made waves doing things they weren’t supposed to do: a multiple medal-winning runner, a Hollywood writer, and a gun-toting suffragette socialist – brought to you by translator and adventurer Sarah Fisher, writer and dramaturge Antonia Roeller, and your beloved co-host Katy Derbyshire.
With Florian Duijsens to keep the show on track, you can look forward to a riotously riveting evening. Put on your running shorts, your diamonds, or your sturdiest boots, swing on over to the ACUD Studio, and raise a glass of our special drink to toast these three fine dead ladies.
Presented in a messy mixture of English and German. €5 or €3 reduced entry. Doors open 7:30 – come on time to get a good seat!
The athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen was 30 years old and had two kids when she won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics. The mayor of Amsterdam kindly presented her with a bicycle on her return. She held 58 Dutch titles and set or tied 12 world records during her athletic career – all while putting up with patronizing nicknames like “the flying housewife” and “the flying Dutchmam”. Treasuring her Jesse Owens autograph, which she got when she competed in the Berlin Olympics at the age of 18, she lived to the ripe age of 85 and was named Female Athlete of the Century in 1999. Fanny Blankers-Koen ran like a woman.
Dubbed “the soubrette of satire”, Anita Loos wrote hundreds of film scripts with names like A Temperamental Wife, A Virtuous Vamp, A Perfect Woman, Polly of the Follies, and Biography of a Bachelor Girl. Plus of course her most famous book, the short story collection Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and a decent handful of memoirs, novels, and non-fiction. She hung out in Paris, New York, and Hollywood with writers, actresses, and chorus girls, put up with and then divorced a hypochondriac husband, and worked incredibly hard to become one of America’s most feted screenwriters.
Constance Markievicz was an Irish revolutionary, suffragette, and socialist, and the first woman elected to the British parliament (although she never attended). From a landowning background, she became a landscape painter and socialized with Dublin’s intellectuals before joining Sinn Féin and the Daughters of Ireland, attending her first meeting in a ball-gown and tiara. Later, though, she advised women to “dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.” Markievicz fought in the 1916 Easter Rising, narrowly escaping a death sentence, and became the first woman cabinet minister in the Irish Republic.
On 28 March, our 11th Dead Ladies Show brings you a congenial constellation of shining female stars from the past millennium and a half. Revisiting the fascinating lives of a mathematical genius, a literary legend, and a star of stage, screen, and espionage will be writer and translator Karen Margolis, thespian Gabi Hift (who so wonderfully shared her love for Unica Zürn back at our 5th show), and DLS-regular Florian Duijsens, all held together by co-host Katy Derbyshire.
Back at our beloved ACUD Studio, we’ll be imbibing a special drink or two and generally enjoying ourselves – so whether you favour a toga, a pantsuit, or a slightly fruitier outfit, come along and join the feminist fun.
Presented in a messy mixture of English and German. €5 or €3 reduced entry. Doors open 7:30 – come on time to get a good seat, and please do share this invite with your friends!
In 1927, US-born activist, singer, and spy Josephine Baker was the first black person anywhere to star in a major motion picture – that same year she was Europe’s highest-earning entertainer. During WWII she used her fame to gather intelligence and her sheet music to transport secret messages for the Resistance. In France, she lived in a chateau with her 11 adopted children, while in the States she was banned by the FBI right after being named the NAACP’s “Woman of the Year” for her anti-segregation articles and campaigns. All, of course, after having brought jazz and banana-garnished dancing to Europe.
Our oldest dead lady yet, Hypatia of Alexandria was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher in Byzantine Egypt. Widely admired for her self-possession, she is considered a universal genius and headed a school of philosophy, teaching Platonist ideas to pagans, Christians, and foreigners. This being around the year 400, no one knows exactly what she wrote, but it was probably her astronomical research on the vernal equinox that got her brutally murdered in the end. A lady who lived and died for science.
Writer Harper Lee is famous the world over for To Kill A Mockingbird. After publication in 1960, she decided “it’s better to be silent than to be a fool” and withdrew from public life. Having started writing as a child on a typewriter shared with her neighbour Truman Capote, they went on to work together on his In Cold Blood and later had his-n-hers alcohol problems. Despite allowing her novel Go Set A Watchman to be published seven months before her death last year, Harper Lee maintained a strictly protected private life almost unimaginable for writers today.
With the greatest pleasure we announce that 24 January will see the 10th Dead Ladies Show, which will both explore new territory and revisit more familiar dead ladies of yore. For this august occasion, dedicated to the lives of Claire Waldoff, Lucia Berlin and Dorothy Parker, the Literary Colloquium Berlin will open its hallowed halls to celebrate three admirable women of yesteryear. PLUS our show kicks off a special exhibition by our friend Martina Minette Dreier spotlighting dead lady artists. A real special snowflake of a hum-dinging Dead Ladies Show, in other words.
Your beloved hosts will return to two of their absolute favourites, writer Dorothy Parker and singer Claire Waldoff. (Only we’ll be doing it better this time.) Then we have one of Berlin’s best writer-translators, Antje Rávic Strubel, to introduce a rediscovered mistress of the short story, Lucia Berlin. All wrapped up by a special guest performance by the wonderful Sigrid Grajek, chanteuse extraordinaire, with live piano accompaniment.
For one night only, and an entry fee of €8/€5, please join us on the shores of the Wannsee for entertainment, enlightenment, art, song, literature, socializing, food, drinks of both persuasions, and three fabulous dead dames. If ever there was an occasion that called for overdressing, this is it – but, of course, feel free to wear any old thing as long you as make the journey out west to help us celebrate!
Does DOROTHY PARKER even need an introduction? Everyone’s favourite witty woman gave us poetry, criticism, short stories, satire – and screenplays, until she made it onto everyone’s favourite blacklist for her political activities. Never out of print to this day, she was one of the original members of the board of the New Yorker in 1925. This was a lady so cool she bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King. Florian Duijsens has been studying her life for years, ready to give us all the juicy details in English.
LUCIA BERLIN has been making posthumous waves after a selection of her stories hit the New York Times bestseller list in its second week of publication two years ago. Growing up in mining camps and working as a cleaning woman and switchboard operator, among other jobs, Berlin raised four sons and struggled with her health – all the while writing eight volumes of short stories and eventually teaching creative writing. Her work garnered huge critical acclaim but little financial success, so her rediscovery is a vindication of sorts. Antje Rávic Strubel recently translated her selected stories and gives us the low-down in German.
In 1906, singer CLAIRE WALDOFF pawned her gold watch and moved to Berlin to become a star, and that’s just what she did. A truly beloved icon with her own street name, she’s still remembered for her comic songs and for appearing on stage in trousers. She coyly chronicled lesbian life in Weimar-era Berlin in her autobiography, learned the local dialect from painter Heinrich Zille, helped out a young Marlene Dietrich, and portrayed strong working-class women with a risqué sense of humour. Katy Derbyshire introduces her in English, with live renderings by Sigrid Grajek.
The show also sees the opening of an exhibition by MARTINA MINETTE DREIER, entitled “I am no bird, no net ensnares me” and depicting her ancestors from art history, portraits of women scratched out of old wood with ballpoint accents. Dreier’s sketches of writers from the LCB’s “Sensitivities” festival will be on display as well – along with one very special portrait of a living lady.
Feeling poor and powerless? On 22 November, our ninth Dead Ladies Show resurrects three awe-inspiring women who battled poverty and patriarchy to achieve great things. Join us in your finest rags at 8 pm in the ACUD Studio to hear their amazing stories (in German and English) over a drink or two (alcoholic or non-). Entry will be €5 (€3 for the financially challenged), and, as always, invite your friends!
Your beloved co-host Florian Duijsens presents artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, writer and translator Amanda DeMarco brings you director Barbara Loden, and filmmaker Marlene Pardeller shares the story of Tina Modotti. We expect you to go home feeling rebellious, riotous, righteous, and ready to change the world yourselves.
ELSA VON FREYTAG-LORINGHOVEN was one of those eccentric dames we know you just love to love. A Dada artist who married a penniless busboy baron and lived in grinding poverty in New York and Paris, she is now thought to be the real inventor of the famous “readymade” claimed by Marcel Duchamp. One of her outfits consisted of a bra made from two tomato cans and green string, a small birdcage complete with canary hung around her neck, a large number of stolen curtain rings worn as bracelets, and a hat decorated with vegetables, all worn with a red coat over the top. Elsa was art.
BARBARA LODEN was an ace movie director.
TINA MODOTTI, as a teenager, left behind the shoe factory in Udine where she had started working at the age of 8, and set off to San Francisco to become a silent-movie star. Soon the camera itself attracted her, and she ended up photographing the Mexican revolution. From there, she moved on to the Soviet Union and then the Spanish Civil War, only to mysteriously abandon photography and become a nurse and war reporter. Returning to Mexico a convinced revolutionary, Modotti died under unclear circumstances but is widely remembered both there and abroad.
Autumn’s arrival brings a fresh abundance of dead ladies to ACUD’s Studio. Join us at 8pm on Tuesday, 20 September for the eighth Dead Ladies Show – this time featuring no fewer than four fascinating women of yesteryear: a pair of American abolitionists, an English avant-garde poet, and a Franco-German photographer. All enthusiastically introduced in German and English by book blogger Sandra Höhne, translator Frances T. Provine, and co-host Katy Derbyshire, with Florian Duijsens at the hosting helm.
Come find out all kinds of things you never realized you wanted, nay, needed to know. Hang out with other dead-lady fans, enjoy the special cocktail available from the bar, show off your favourite headgear, and generally have a rollicking good time while remembering some pretty impressive dames.
We look forward to seeing you there and (in a newsletter-only exclusive) urge you to also pencil in our next edition for 22 November!
Sarah & Angelina Grimké were sisters who rebelled against their slaveholder father in South Carolina. The first female public speakers in the United States during the 1830s, they lectured and wrote against slavery and racial prejudice. In response to the criticism this provoked, the sisters became active feminists. In later life they taught at a school within a utopian community in New Jersey, passing on their principles and knowledge. “All I ask of our brethren,” Sarah Grimké wrote in 1838, “is that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God destined us to occupy.” They also both rather rocked the lace-trimmed day cap.
Edith Sitwell is known as an eccentric genius. Born to uncaring aristocratic parents who would have preferred a boy, she escaped to London and poetry during WWI. She published twenty collections of poems during her lifetime and fostered many other writers and artists, even knitting socks for Alec Guinness. Six foot tall in her own stockinged feet, Sitwell was an imposing figure with a style all her own, including some truly remarkable hats. She was fiercely criticized for her work – a series of poems set to music and recited through a megaphone from behind a mask causing particular ire – but gave as good as she got. With a penchant for gay men and VD sufferers, she may not have had a happy life – but it was certainly not uneventful.
Gisèle Freund took her earliest photos on the streets of Frankfurt as a student of sociology, snapping both Nazis and communists before emigrating to Paris in 1933. Having befriended Walter Benjamin at the Bibliothèque Nationale, she moved into portrait photography, capturing a tangible essence of each of her celebrated subjects. From Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach, to James Joyce, Sartre, and de Beauvoir, she sought out the greats of her time and place, and shot them in relaxed situations on brand-new colour film. In Britain, Latin America, then postwar Paris, she went on working and was heaped with accolades. Freund died in Paris at the age of 91. She was not known for her millinery.