Future Conference
Perspectives on Training in the Performing Arts

Future Conference of the Dramaturgical Society and the Baden-Württemberg Academy of Performing Arts
Future Conference of the Dramaturgical Society and the Baden-Württemberg Academy of Performing Arts | Photo (detail): © Christoph Awe

In Ludwigsburg from October 4 to 6, 2012, teachers and theater professionals discussed developments in training and contemporary theater.

At the Baden-Württemberg Academy of Performing Arts, founded in 2008, German-language educational institutions for acting, directing and dramaturgy met with representatives from the theater and the Dramaturgical Society. For two days, they considered the question of what the response of educational institutions should be to the changed conditions in the German theater world. Alone the many different modes of performing and directing can no longer find a basis in the sureties of Stanislawski and Brecht. Then there is the repeatedly conducted debate about whether the actor should embody an assigned role or rather himself as a performer.

In addition to the aesthetic developments of the past decade, there have also been drastic institutional changes: municipal theaters are threatened by budgetary constraints and the creeping loss of their audiences. In the day-to-day business, productions are increasing, fees decreasing and ensembles shrinking. The independent scene offers an artistic alternative, but by no means an economic one. Hardly anyone in Germany can live from it. Film and radio can offer the lure of only short-term employment opportunities. How can educational institutions respond to this situation so as to ensure the future of the performing arts?

New training concepts

The traditional fields of instruction in theater are theory, scene, voice and body. They are today being supplemented by new learning programs and formats. The Ludwigsburg Academy under the direction of Jürgen Drescher promotes close cooperation with the successful local film school. The Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts has expanded its media competence through cooperation with the Hessian Broadcasting Corporation. The Hanover Drama School has reduced the study of role acting to a minimum in favor of scenic projects. The University of Bern attaches great importance to individual work. Students choose, develop and present their own role, theme and mode of performance, guided by the idea of gaining experience in artistic authorship.

Many educational institutions in the dramatic arts now also promote interdisciplinary programs so that students of directing, acting, stage design and dramaturgy can form artistic bonds during their studies. Personal responsibility and self-organization, says Jean-Baptiste Joly, Director of the Akademie Schloss Solitude, are key abilities, which in addition to the specific craft must be taught as fundamental skills. The Karlsruhe General Director Peter Spuhler wanted more practical orientation in training. The relevant institutions are also working purposefully to achieve this. They offer their directing students a dense network of professional theater artists and production opportunities at subsidized stages. The Hessian Theater Academy, for example, has a cooperative alliance with nine municipal and state theaters and ten training areas for the promotion of joint projects.

The State Drama School in Stuttgart has developed an apprentice program in which it sends future graduates to work at one of the many state theaters as temporary ensemble actors. In the last few years much has changed at educational institutions for the dramatic arts. The new directors of the schools are often themselves still active as theater artists. At Ludwigsburg, the teachers come exclusively from the world of practice and teach here only in week blocks – for example, the theater director Christiane Pohle, who since this year has headed the drama program.

The tasks ahead

On one thing all participants agreed: to cover the diversity of the future labor market is hardly possible in the strictly limited time for training. If not everything can be learned through practice, then it can be conveyed at least through theory. This applies not only to individual directing styles, but also to individual audiences: for what audience is what being performed, why, when and how? Our institutions no longer vouch for any certainties. For example, occupational placement will have to be more strongly integrated into training programs so as to inform students about potential job opportunities, employers, workplaces and even professional profiles.

Moreover, there remains the large issue of continuing education. What should we do with young artists who are laid off after three to five years? Or where can theater artists carry on artistic research without always having to direct it toward productions? The graduate program at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK), which Marion Hirte presented, is a unique achievement in Germany. Here highly qualified international graduates from scholarly and artistic disciplines can conduct interdisciplinary work. They receive a two-year grant, funded by the Einstein Foundation in Berlin.

The future of theater

Yet what use are these changes and ideas if the theater continues to be eaten away by neo-liberal and capitalist strategies? The future of theater lies in the hands of those who are now being trained. They can make of Germany’s unique theater landscape a laboratory for social imagination that can set something against the contemporary social reality. Let us hope they can do this before the subsidy culture of Germany has been bled to death.