Post image for Artist, Immigrant: Lucie Pohl

(To learn more about Marcy Arlin’s Artist, Immigrant blog series, click here.)

I met Lucie Pohl when she auditioned (and got the part) in a new play by Ruth Margraff, Three Graces, which we performed at the Ohio Theatre Ice Factory a couple of years ago. Since then we have worked together on readings from Eastern Europe. I am thrilled that she is developing and performing her own material!

MARCY ARLIN: What do you love about theatre in the U.S. for yourself and in general?

LUCIE POHL: I love theatre in the U.S. because naturalism has been perfected here. I love how much the process is respected and nurtured in the U.S. Before a play goes up tons of readings take place, re-writes, character work with actors etc. That is very different from Germany, for example. In the U.S. writers write what they know and that shows. They aren’t faking it. The writing is so good here and that is because so much time is spent on the text. And I love how truly original, amazing work almost always gets recognized. This is a very American trait, to love and celebrate originality.

In general, I love theatre because it is pure magic. What could be better than getting together, dressing up and telling an audience full of willing people a story? It’s live and everyone knows it is a once in a lifetime. Even if the same play is performed a million times, no two nights will ever be the same. And it will always exist, even though it is a truly ancient form. It can change lives. Everything is important on stage, every move, every breath, every blink of an eye and that is why it is so powerful.

MA: What do you miss about working in your homeland?

LP: Honestly, the financial aspect of making theatre in Germany. Most theatres are subsidized by the government, which means there is stability in the theatre artist’s life. When you are hired by a theatre you are paid 99% of the time and paid well. There is money for art in Germany. But there are cons to that as well, because this system unfortunately injects a good amount of bureaucracy into the theatre, which is pretty much the enemy of creativity. It slows down innovation.

MA: How have you combined, in your work, both country’s theatre training and culture?

LP: I come from a long line of theatre artists and performers. My mother’s aunt was Helene Weigl [who was Berltolt Brecht’s wife and muse]. My father, Klaus Pohl, is one of the most produced contemporary German playwrights and he is an actor as well. My mother is a singer, my sister a writer and actor, my cousin is an actress, my uncle is an actor etc. etc. The Brechtian sense of theatre is definitely instilled in me. I like simplicity. I like to play with the idea of verfremdung, which is basically the idea of theatrical alienation, there is no fourth wall and the audience is more of a critical spectator than completely lost in the action. I like to celebrate the theater’s make-believe qualities. Naturalism is very American and it is a true art form which has been perfected here on stage and in film, but in my own work I am more interested in playing with certain elements of naturalism combined with elements of the absurd. This is where the German and American parts of me come together.

It excites me that two performers can stab each other with imaginary knives on stage and the audience gasps, fully aware that these are actors, yet still so committed to the collective agreement to believe, that in this moment their death becomes real! That is theatre! I like playing with imagination and realism and provoking the audience to be present in both. I break the fourth wall often in my performances. In my comedy work I take a lot from the audience; I improvise and incorporate them. Every night is a once-in-a-lifetime event, which is also shaped by the people in the room, so I love using that.

I try to strip the story and the theatrical elements of my work down to their bare necessities to be left with only the important bits. Simplicity is what draws me to solo performance. It is very European to combine theatre forms, experiment and divert from naturalism.

MA: How do you see yourself/identify yourself as an artist in terms of being an immigrant? Does it matter to you?

LP: Being an immigrant matters to me greatly. It is who I am. It runs in my bloodline. I am a German-Jew.

I came up with a new ethnicity for myself: I’m Germinican. That comes from being German and having grown up in New York and from wishing I was Puerto Rican for most of my teens. It’s a joke in a way but on the other hand it is also an expression of growing up between cultures and feeling like something completely new and non-existent has sprung from that. New York is a special place to grow up and live, as most people know. There is no other place on earth where being from somewhere else is so celebrated, accepted, loved and nurtured. I also went to the United Nations International School where everyone was from all over the place and dressed in different ways, with different accents, beliefs, cultures etc. I think this is a big part of why I am so skilled at doing different accents, which I use in my work a lot. I don’t think there is a country in the world that I haven’t met a person from.  Everything I do comes from a cross-cultural place. The experience of being from one place and immigrating to another opens your mind like nothing else. My second solo show Cry Me A Liver, for example, has two German characters in it, a homeless Haitian man, and a killer from the South; and in my solo show Hi, Hitler I use the German language. Although most of my work is grounded in comedy and I am very silly, there is a political and intellectual standard to which I always hold my work and that is so UBER German!

MA: How does it affect your getting work? (accent, ethnicity, etc.)

LP: I was lucky because I came to the U.S. when I was 8 years old, so I have no accent when speaking English and the same goes for German – I am fully bilingual and native in both languages. I do a lot of work with my German skills here in the U.S. I get called in regularly for German parts in Film and Television. I also do a lot of voice-over work in German such as commercials, animation, museum audio tours and language programs. And I recently became a German on-camera travel host for Brand USA/Discover America.

MA: What are you doing now? Here and/or abroad?

LP: I will be performing my solo show Hi, Hitler – Chronicles of a German-Jew in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at the Gilded Balloon Teviot from July 30 through August 25.

Before Edinburgh I am taking the show to Hamburg, Germany for a performance at the Fleet Street Theater. In July I will perform the show as part of the East to Edinburgh Series at 59E59, July 10-13th. And in May I am playing the lead in the feature film Magi shooting in Istanbul, Turkey.

Hi, Hitler is an autobiographical solo comedy about a German-Jewish immigrant girl that is fascinated by Hitler at age 4, transplanted from Germany to downtown New York at age 8 amidst her family of über-intellectual artists and who feels like an alien wherever she is, longing to fit in.

It’s a story about immigration and being a fish out of water. When I started to look at my family history I realized the feeling of not belonging, being an outsider or an alien, runs in my bloodline. Being a European Jew is a big part of that of course, but even my father’s parents were Prussian refugees in Bavaria after the war and struggled to fit in.

Junot Diaz said something interesting, “I don’t think you ever stop being an immigrant.” I think this is very true.

I also began to develop my second solo show Cry Me A Liver, a collection of character monologues in November of 2013 and just completed a 5-week residency with the show at Stage Left Studio.

MA: Can you tell me a theatre short story/anecdote about when you first came here? A more recent story?

L{: When I was around 12 years old I started buying TimeOut Magazine and going through the off and off-off Broadway sections, marking up everything I would want to see, which usually was pretty much everything. Then I’d call the theatres and ask to usher. I saw so much theater back then, all over the city: Restaurant basements, living rooms etc. I ushered at Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and they even paid me $10 per show! I fell in love with John Cameron Mitchell and because the show was always sold out I would sit on the floor in between the aisles and sing along to all the songs. I lived for that. When I think back to my teenage years it’s theatre and hip hop that I remember most.  In my search for a home I found that I feel most at home when I am in a theatre.

MA: What is your residency/citizenship/visa status? How does it affect your life as an artist?

LP: Due to certain circumstances too boring to explain here, my family did not apply for the Green Card [permanent residency] when I was growing up in New York. I left to study in Europe after graduating high school thinking I could come back whenever I wanted to and get a Green Card. When I came back I was told it doesn’t work that way.  My only option was applying for the infamous O-1 Alien of Extraordinary Ability Visa, so that was a huge shock. There are limitations for actors on this visa. For example, my O-1 status prevents me from being able to join Actor’s Equity, which hurts because I love doing theater and many TV networks won’t work with actors on this status.

I have been frustrated by it in the past, but now I see it as a gift because it pushed me to start developing my own material and to examine my own identity. I am proud to be an immigrant and to belong to the wonderful community of artists bridging cultures and inspiring and provoking others to celebrate where they come from.

Lucie Pohl is a New York and Berlin based actor, comedian, writer and solo show performer. Her solo shows Hi, Hitler and Cry Me A Liver have been performed all over the East Coast to rave reviews and are heading to the Edinburgh Fringe in the summer of 2014. NY Theatre Guide says, “as a performer Lucie is unflappable”, and “hilarious”. says her performances are “full of quirky insights into the human experience”. Film: Not Fade Away (Paramount Vantage), El Cielo Es Azul (Vox3 Films), Rosa von Praunheim’s New York Memories, Must Love Death (Winner NY Horror Film Fest), as well as over 20 film & TV productions in Europe. Theatre: Three Graces (Immigrant’s Theater Project/3-LD), Alma Mahler: Widow of the 4 Arts (The Los Angeles Theatre), Red Flowers in the Snow (Roy Arias), Vocal Migrations (LaMaMa) Renaissance Theater Berlin, Sophiensaele Berlin a.o. She is the daughter of German playwright and actor Klaus Pohl and the Romanian singer Sanda Weigl.
MFA in Acting from the University of the Arts in Berlin.