Stages with Wanderlust – The International Forum at the Berlin Theater Meeting
The networking of the theater scene has become increasingly important. Among the productions invited to the Berlin Theater Meeting are noticeably more international co-productions. At the International Forum, renowned theater makers handed down their experience to those starting their careers from around the world. And finally there was the symposium Achtung Transit, co-sponsored by the Goethe-Institut, where professionals discussed models of international co-operation.
The Belgian theater makers Ruud Gielens and Ivo Kuyl stand on a busy Berlin crossroads and give their workshop participants final instructions. Then the apprentices fan out. The first strikes up a song in the middle of a traffic island. The second slips on a bathing cap, jumps onto the edge of a small fountain and imitates the movements of swimmer. Still others, with eyes shut, feel their way past the swimmer and try to move forward on the pavement. Passersby with whom they come in contact stand there bewildered: Is this a spontaneous demonstration, an artistic intervention or simply average Berlin reality, which is sometimes known to have its odder elements?
The history of the International Forum
The motto of the 46th International Forum at the Berlin Theater Meeting is “The World at Eight. Presenting Realities”. In contrast to the centerpiece of the annual meeting – the ten most notable productions of the season, selected by a jury of critics – the training course for young theater professionals takes place away from the footlights. But the program, deliberately conceived by Forum director Uwe Gössel in contrast to the logic of a slavishly result and evaluation-oriented show, should not therefore be underestimated. Launched in 1965, the International Forum is the oldest continuous institution of its kind. What was initially planned as only an information and discussion event for young theater people from West Germany has over the years, through the collaboration of the Goethe-Institut, become internationalized. Now about 40 young professionals from all over the world – directors, dramaturges, stage designers and actors no older than 35 years of age – meet annually for a two-week intensive course. Travel and hotel expenses, tickets for Theater Meeting performances and a daily allowance are included in the grant. That in the list of former participants names turn up such as directors Jan-Christoph Gockel, Wojtek Klemm and Boris Nikitin, who are now at the Berlin Schaubühne, the Stary Teatr in Krakow and the prestigious independent scene festival Impulse, speaks for the quality of the International Forum.
Reality as theater theme
Small wonder – in 2010 again the four parallel workshops were led by renowned artists, who approached the theme of “reality” from wholly different perspectives, thus reflecting at a high level of discourse the diversity of current theater. While Ruud Gielens and Ivo Kuyl directly confronted performance reality with everyday reality and explored opportunities of mutual fertilization with their intervention in urban space, the leaders of the Turkish workshop, Mustafa und Övül Avkiran, sought “reality” in biographical moments of the participants and in elements of musical and movement theater. Video artist Chris Kondek and dramaturge Christiane Kühl – best known for her enigmatic didactic play about the financial market Dead Cat Bounce, in which the admission fees of the audience are used to speculate on the New York stock market – focused again on the “reality” of the global capital flow. Together with the young professionals, they immersed themselves in science fiction films of the 1960s and discovered surprising parallels between the aliens then and money today. And finally the documentary theater director Hans-Werner Kroesinger asked about “reality” in historical traditions: using texts on genocide in Armenia and Rwanda, participants in his workshop “History Counts” discussed strategies of writing history. The young Bremer dramaturge Diana Insel was not the only one to go on record as having learned a great deal about how hard realities can be represented on stage free of pathos, embarrassment and clichés.
International theater makers practice networking
Uwe Gössel, who has headed the International Forum since 2006, still keeps in touch with most of the former workshop participants. An important goal of course is that young theater professionals network with each other and carry the cultural exchange into, for example, the municipal theaters. While international co-productions have long been the order of the day in the independent scene with its comparatively flexible structures, if only because of the tight budgets, many municipal theaters are still hard put to follow the lead. At least some participants in the symposium “Attention Transit” (Achtung Transit), which, with the support of the Goethe-Institut, brought together for the first time festival guests and invited experts in workshops and discussions, complained about this. “Structurally and mentally, we are in the Middle Ages”, lamented, for instance, the Polish director and former Forum participant Wojtek Klemm, referring to the lack of modern means of communication between theaters. The director of the Federal Cultural Foundation, Hortensia Völckers, presented a possible concrete antidote in the form of a “Wanderlust” fund limited to two theater seasons: the Foundation promotes conceptually cogent theater sponsorships with up to € 150,000. This has resulted in collaborations between, for instance, the Berlin Maxim Gorki Theater and the Krakow Narodowy Stary Teatr, and the Munich Kammerspiele and the Smeds Ensemble in Helsinki.
Export or exchange?
That it is difficult to find a common denominator for international theater work between the municipal theater and independent scene, cultural export and theater exchange, could be seen in the concluding podium discussion: “Germany as a Cultural Nation – Export Hit or Obsolete Model?”. Directing member of the Impulse festival Matthias von Hartz at least wished that the German municipal theater system, which cultural manager Michael Schindhelm praised in principle, would generally become more flexible. And while Birgit Lengers, head of the Young People’s DT, sees prospects for international cultural exchange particularly in jointly developed projects, the Belgian curator and head of the 2010 Theater of the World festival, Frie Leysen, sometimes likes to be surprised by quite strange productions – because works that hover in like an “UFO” ensure productive bewilderment. So two things are clear: first, that there is no patent remedy for international networking; and second, that the debate is just beginning.
The author is a theater critic and journalist. She writes for Theater heute, the Berliner Tagesspiegel, Spiegel online and other publications.
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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