Creative Nonfiction: Cardigan Spy

by Kim Peter Kovac

She’s very proper, warm yet reserved; well dressed, though in faded colors. In Cold War East Berlin grey seems the official color of those hewing the line, so any hues buzz. Her hairstyle is decades out of date and she is be-cardiganed; perhaps someone thinks the 50s sitcom-mom aura will put her young American charge at ease. She is good and attentive at both her jobs: translator and spy. She translates well, sometimes idiomatically, and knows enough of the local culture of theater and children to add insight. She weaves her assigned questions casually, probing deeply because he is from the Capital of the Other: what do you think of the peace process, do you approve of your country’s foreign policy, what about disarmament? Her young charge waffles about her level on the spy-ladder, but knows she lives on one of the rungs, so he dances the questions. When he is trotted way too many times for TV cameras he is slyly amused that more questions are asked about peace than the purpose of the visit. Is she alert enough to sounds spoken in the US to note that for the reporters he sneaks in a thick and clichéd southern drawl, saying that he sure knows nuttin’ about that politics stuff and is just here for the children? He wonders what she will report to her spymasters and what kind of grade they will give her. He is so amused by the drawl that he trots it out once more at Checkpoint Charlie, flashpoint of the Cold War, on the way out to the colors of the West. Just before leaving the humorless guardhouse, he turns to bid a silent farewell to his spy and her faded yellow sweater.

Kim Peter Kovac works nationally and internationally in theater for young audiences, with a focus on new play development and international networking ,and is one of the founding editors of the international TYA playwrights network, Write Local. Play Global. He’s had articles and op-ed essays published in national and international TYA small-circulation publications, an op-ed piece on HowlRound.com, and a prose poem published in The Vine Leaves Literary Journal.

What an interesting creative nonfiction piece! What else can you tell us about Cardigan Spy?

    Cardigan Spy comes from experiences at a 1986 seminar for theater directors, sponsored by the East German national center of ASSITEJ, the international association of theaters for young audiences, and held, as you might imagine, behind the Wall in East Berlin at the classically communistically named Theater der Freundschaft (theater of friendship).

    My next visit to Berlin was in 2011, for a TYA festival, and I found myself experiencing some odd déjà vu in the theater hosting the festival, the Theater an der Parkaue, which made no sense because I’d never been there before. When I mentioned this feeling to a German colleague, he said, well of course you would feel déjà vu – it’s the same theater, renovated, re-painted, and re-named.

    So I was able to wander around this multi-floor theater and, in a way, re-experience my time there in 1986 – the colors, the feel of the TV lights, the not-very bright guard at Checkpoint Charlie who thought I would be selling the Kermit the Frog pins I’d brought as gifts on the black market. And the yellow cardigan.

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