The Whirring Motor of Contemporary Performance – the Spielart-Festival in Munich
Tilmann Broszat, you founded Spielart in 1995. What did you think was missing then in the German theatre and festival scene?
What was missing was an understanding of theatre that emanates from the originary ideas of the creators. If you look at the German-language theatre system of the time, then you see intendants yoking together a director with a given material. We, on the other hand, are interested in artists who want to put their own form language on stage. We found them in Belgium and Holland, where theatre was already being done differently twenty years ago and was strongly influenced by the visual arts and architecture. But back then there weren’t anywhere near as many international festivals where you could see this anti-municipal theatre as there are today.
Except for the Theater der Welt [i.e., Theatre of the World], for whose first edition in Munich 1993 you were co-responsible. Today many of Spielart’s discoveries in the first years are now long established performers. How do you feel about that?
Naturally it’s a confirmation of our work that artists like Stefan Kaegi, Lola Arias and Alvis Hermanis, whom we presented in Munich when they were still hardly known, have now found a home at the Munich Kammerspiele. Or that the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, which one year after its first European appearance at Spielart, has been selected as “artist in residence” at the Vienna Burgtheater. Also artists such as Forced Entertainment, the Needcompany, Romeo Castellucci, She She Pop, Rimini Protokoll, Showcase Beat le Mot, Nico & The Navigators and Gob Squad all appeared at Spielart, then under the label of “experimental theatre”, and usually for the first time in southern Germany, before years later, now almost mainstream, they “docked” at German municipal and state theatres.
Funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, Gob Squad is currently cooperating with the Comic Opera in Berlin and the Nature Theater of Oklahoma was even invited to the Berlin Theatre Meeting in 2010. And yet both, together with more recent regulars such as Cuqui Jerez from Madrid, Philippe Quesne from Paris and Gintersdorfer/Klaßen from Berlin, are again in the anniversary programme. Doesn’t this faithfulness to old discoveries create an absurd situation that threatens the contours of the festival?
No, and I think the demand for exclusivity is even counter-productive, because the network of co-producers has become increasingly important for artists. And we’re not being faithful on principle. I don’t like everything even by Castellucci. Over the years a critical discourse has developed that the artists are happy to accept. Moreover, I find a certain continuity important, so as to show how artists develop and theatre languages consolidate. The share of new productions at every festival is still always large enough.
Spielart has become more and more a festival that not only issues invitations but also itself produces performances and promotes young talents. Both these activities seem to be more intense in its eighteenth year than ever before.
Yes, we’ve expanded our co-production efforts because in other countries funding opportunities have been cut much more substantially than here. We’re now so well established internationally as a festival that we see this as our responsibility. But we’ve always tried to be a sort of catalyst especially for forms of theatre we think are too little highlighted in Germany.
How would you describe these forms of theatre?
We don’t have any aesthetic stipulations. It’s more a matter of illuminating a new aspect or opening a new perspective for the audience.
The audience was itself already once the theme of the festival. But that there should be opportunities for informal exchange and a party was from the start important. The offerings then became more and more complex.
Yes, in 2003, for example, we had a focus on Poland and invited artists who came into discussion with each other for the first time here at the festival. There was plenty of turmoil and discussions between the Kantor traditionalists and those who, after the political turnaround, felt themselves drawn to the “Berlin” theatre language of Frank Castorf. And what we began in 2009, with a multi-day discourse happening, the Woodstock of Political Thinking, was fuelled by the feeling that artists wanted again to become more political and be taken more seriously intellectually. And since our Woodstock took place during the first financial crisis, it had an incredible explosiveness. Similarly in 2011 the focus was on “Social Fictions”, and this year we’re crying “Wake Up!”.
Is the audience for the discourse events the same as for the performances? Has Spielart developed over the years?
It depends. A symposium on the role of the actor is naturally deliberately addressed to a specialist public. On the other hand, many students and people from quite different walks of life came to Woodstock. You get the feeling that there’s a need in Munich for a place where people can debate live. There used to be the “City Forum”; today only the Munich Kammerspiele still try it. Because we’re here only every two years, we can’t unfortunately maintain ourselves in the everyday life of the city, but we can develop models that others can then use.
You can do all this because behind Spielart there’s Spielmotor München e. V., the oldest public-private partnership in Germany, sponsored equally by the city of Munich and the BMW Group. Are there sometimes conflicts of interest?
No, everything works just fine. Each partner balances the other marvellously. The Munich Cultural Department has an interest, however softly spoken it may be, that the Munich scene keep on the move, while BMW has the quite confident attitude that “We’re an international player and don’t want a provincial festival”. So we have completely free rein.
“We”: since almost the beginning of Spielart that means Gottfried Hattinger and you. What does the division of labour look like?
It consists above all in the question: Who can travel where? And our dramaturge, Sophie Becker, also travels a lot for us. We meet in-between, talk about artists, trends and problems.
In conclusion: after eighteen years of Spielart and an average attendance rate of ninety per cent, what are you particularly proud of?
Above all that we’ve succeeded in gaining a marvellously open-minded and critical audience in Munich, which comes to performances by international artists whom they’ve never heard of before and so make themselves eyewitnesses of current developments. Personally, I’m particularly gratified that we’ve been able, often behind the scene of the actual festival work and throughout Europe in networked actions and mentor projects, to open testing grounds and professional networks for the next generation of artists, critics and curators, from which they still benefit today.
conducted the interview. The author is a freelance journalist and theater critic for various publications, including the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, the “taz” und “nachtkritik.de”.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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