Third day. Thursday, 17th Febuary 2017
Excerpts from the podium session: ‘Internationality: Interaction between small and medium-sized theatres’
Summary: Although many smaller and medium-sized German theatres have been working internationally as a matter of course for decades, the German theatre and funding structure complicates international work, which – despite budget cuts – is much more of a foregone conclusion in the Netherlands and Belgium. Even in Germany, though, it is the very flexibility of the smaller theatres that is their strength, a strength that can make international exchange in particular a fruitful one. Networking is also much faster and more sustainable with smaller theatres. It is very useful to internationalise the flausen+ network: because room to manoeuvre is also needed to establish outside contacts.
With Michael Freundt (ITI Deutschland) as moderator, these issues were discussed by Dirk Förster (LOFFT – DAS THEATER, Leipzig), Winfried Wrede (theater wrede+, Oldenburg), Siegmar Schröder (TOR6 Theaterhaus / Theaterlabor Bielefeld), Ewan McLaren (Alfred ve Dvorze, Prag), Piet Zeemann (Performing Arts Fund NL), Kristof Blom (CAMPO, Ghent).
Siegmar Schröder of TOR 6 Theaterhaus / Theaterlabor Bielefeld reported that Theaterlabor Bielefeld has been inviting international groups since 1986 – with great audience interest.
Today, with the aid of trans-European networks, Theaterlabor Bielefeld is investigating shared traumas, such as in the ‘Im Dschungel der Geschichte’ [‘In the Jungle of History’] project, or looking for artistic encounters in European areas in crisis in its project ‘Krise – Trauma – Hoffnung’ [‘Crisis – Trauma – Hope’]. So international elements have long been a major foundation for their artistic work.
Dirk Förster, of LOFFT – DAS THEATER in Leipzig, also reported increasing amount of international work dating back to the early 1990s when five independent groups joined forces to create LOFFT. To this day international collaboration is a matter of course, as can be seen e.g. in the performance collective ‘Westfernsehen’. ‘Particularly in the case of international influences in dance, it is no longer possible to determine whether something is a German or an international co-production’, Förster said. Another major influence is collaboration, with festivals such as ‘Off Europa’, which each year presents theatres from a country on the periphery of Europe and goes hand in hand with a deep immersion in the respective theatre scene.
Ewan Mc Laren, producer, curator, director and artistic director of the Alfred ve Dvorze Theatre in Prague, which works as a collective of artists, bears witness to the international aspect right in his own biography: He was born in Calgary, Canada. Since 1990, he has helped shape the Czech theatre scene. Alfred ve Dvorze Theatre has been in existence for 15 years and is an important part of the immensely vibrant and growing Czech scene; the theatre is open to artists from abroad and is eager to offer artist-in-residence opportunities. The theatre views itself as a space for research and innovation. ‘The contexts and topics we have in Eastern Europe are quite different to those of Central Europe’, says Mc Laren. Colonialism, for instance, is not an issue. So works from Brussels or Ghent could not be simply transplanted to Prague, and collaboration must be preceded by research and personal contact.
‘International work has been deeply rooted in our genes since the 1980s’, says Kristof Blom of the Ghent production house CAMPO, which is known worldwide for its theatre work for children and teens, not least through its recent works with Milo Rau or Gob Squad. Blom explained that CAMPO is far more than what one sees in guest performances in Germany. The work is based on four pillars: 1. Concentration on research and development in the form of residence opportunities, an ‘investment model’ in which they contribute time, money and technical assistance in order to invest in the long-term future. 2. Production: Unlike other theatres such as Kai Theatre in Belgium, Campo also serves as an ‘executive producer’, i.e. not just a co-production partner, and thus assumes responsibility on all levels: artistically and administratively – ‘but naturally we need co-producers, too.’ 3. Presentation: From September through the end of May, CAMPO is a performance venue that shows its own inhouse works as well as inviting interesting productions, thus ‘the best way to get to know someone with an eye towards future collaboration’. Sustainable cooperation is extremely important to CAMPO. The 4th pillar is post-production: ‘We very deeply believe that theatre work consists not only of creating something, but also of making it visible.’ So an intensive effort is made to organise tours, and to take our own productions to locations where they can connect up with other networks.
The drastic financial cuts of about one-third of his budget in 2013 (from approximately EUR 60 to 46 million per year) was then highlighted by Piet Zeemann of ‘Performing Arts Fund NL’, the Netherlands’ leading cultural fund for music, musical theatre, dance, and theatre. In the new reduced scope of its institute, the main focus since the cutbacks has been upon the immediate neighbouring countries. Germany has a major role to play in this regard. ‘In our institute, the aim is not only to work internationally, but to think internationally as well.’ Consequently, artists are encouraged right from the outset to devote funding grants to international co-productions. Zeemann also reported on the ‘Fast Forward’ programme, which brings together young Dutch talent with prominent international co-producers in order to subsequently present their works worldwide.
Dirk Förster of Lofft Leipzig added: ‘Often, it makes sense to start networking at smaller festivals and venues, because this is where contacts can be formed much faster and with a better overview’.
Moderator Michael Freundt asked what support would be necessary to open up the flausen+ network on an international scale, adding that this might at the same time be too large a project for the fledgling Flausen network to try to undertake.
On the contrary: international work is an essential prerequisite to the further development of flausen+, replied Winfried Wrede of theater wrede+ (Oldenburg). ‘We need a shift in perspective. Today, free, experimental research into the theatre arts must also be inspired by a perspective from a cultural outsider.’ Meanwhile, the idea that is gaining currency now is how important international exchange among artists is, particularly given the situation we are experiencing in society today. The aim is not just to exchange artistic work, but to actually work with one another, because it is only in concrete collaboration that the entirety of cultural diversity can be brought to bear: an immense artistic as well as human experiential space that cannot be initiated soon enough. ‘We need small theatres in the flausen+ network that dare to undertake international experiments, providing opportunities early on for in-depth interaction among groups and artists. Everyone benefits from this, especially the audience in the home theatre.’
But Angelika Fink, artistic director of the Pathos Festival in Munich, asked from the audience how a small theatre was to respond if a large operation such as the Kammerspiele in Munich were to also converge on co-production mechanisms with the independent scene, attracting artists and funding away from them. Kristof Blom of CAMPO did not share the same concerns: ‘We enjoy a very good and intense dialogue with the large institutions, with which we coordinate performance schedules and themes. The large operations look to us as a source of inspiration for their future’
This is difficult in the German system, however, with its strong separation into urban theatres and independent scene, as audience member Jan Deck reminded attendees. For the most part, international exchange in Germany is planned and financed by the smaller theatres. It is essential to set up initiatives such as the ‘Gastfreundschaften’ [‘Guest friendships’] programme launched in 2015 by Zwei Eulen – Büro für Kulturkonzepte (Hamburg) and the umbrella organisation Tanz Deutschland in order to permit exchange between independent theatre professionals across national borders.