Festival accompanying encounter platforms
Exhilaration and imagination shots

IMPACT 2014 at PACT Zollverein: workshop with Kate McIntosh;
IMPACT 2014 at PACT Zollverein: workshop with Kate McIntosh; | © Jana Mila Lippitz

The Forum of Young Theatremakers was started at the Berlin Theatre Meeting in 1965. In the meantime, festival accompanying encounter platforms for directors, actors, dramaturges and students of artistic disciplines are widely seen as success models. They promise hierarchy-free discourse, work practice and ideal opportunities for networking.

“It was exhilarating”, rhapsodises the director of the Stuttgart Staatsoper, Jossi Wieler, about two inspiring weeks in Berlin in May 1981. As the holder of a grant from the Forum of Young Theatremakers, the then thirty-year-old Wieler not only saw the complete selection of productions at the Berlin Theatre Meeting, but above all also enjoyed exchanges with the other participants. The theatre director and dramaturge Hermann Beil, then twenty-years-old, was also present, and took away with him, in addition to a good dose of an “imagination shot”, the “proud certainty” that theatre is “the most beautiful thing in the world”.

Different emphases

No question about it: festival accompanying encounter platforms for young directors, actors, dramaturges and students of artistic disciplines are success models. They are valued as places of hierarchy-free professional discourse and as protected areas for practical experience, while at the same time offering ideal opportunities for networking. The Forum of Young Theatremakers of the Berlin Theatre Meeting, launched in 1965 and of course often modified over the years, is therefore by no means not the only institution of its kind, but rather only the oldest. Festivals such as the Ruhrtriennale and performative arts centres such as the PACT Zollverein in Essen also have long-established and successful encounter platforms.

As a rule, they comprise two aspects. First, the invited festival productions or artists provide specialized points of discussion, which, in the ideal case, go beyond the specific production and broach fundamental debates about contemporary theatre. Then the participants bring with them their own questions from their work or study practice. Differences exist among the various platforms with respect to substantive emphases and organizational and financial frameworks.

Thematic practical workshops at the International Forum

Thus, for example, the “International Forum”, the now re-named encounter format of the Berlin Theatre Meeting, which is also supported by the Goethe-Institut, addresses itself to a global clientele of theatre newcomers. The Forum’s grants are among the most generous in Germany: in addition to defraying complete travel and accommodation costs and the price of tickets for all the productions of the Theatre Meeting, they include a daily allowance. Applications for the grants can be made via public calls issued by the organizers, the Berlin Festspiele. In addition to discussions of the ten productions invited to the Theatre Meeting, an essential component of the Forum’s programme is various workshops with renowned directors or artist collectives on an overarching theme, new every year and geared to current issues in theatre such as “Staging the Public” or “Imagining Realities”.

Focus on “communication platform” at the Ruhrtriennale

Another approach is taken by the Festival Campus of the Ruhrtriennale. It was launched in 2012 by the dramaturge Philipp Schulte together with the then director of the Ruhrtriennale Heiner Goebbels, and Schulte continued to head it until the 2014 edition. Since his Campus was mainly attended by international students of artistic subjects, its emphasis lay less on a platform for artistic works as on one for “communication”. Although it includes practice-oriented events along with theoretical seminars, its purpose is first and foremost, as Schulte puts it, “to make possible broad experiences of seeing” and so to complement the “artistic production” that is taught at universities of the arts with meaningful discourse rich in perspectives.

Fruitful consternation

“When, for instance, young theatremakers from Oslo meet theatermakers from Tel Aviv”, Schulte observes, “categories that before seemed quite natural begin very productively to totter and unravel”. At the Festival Campus there are also focal points that are more or less explicitly derived from the themes of the programme but that seek to get an overarching view of theatrical phenomena. Titles of some of the workshops and seminars designed by Schulte and often led by various luminaries include “Phenomena of Absence”, “Weakness as Aesthetic Possibility” and “Animals on Stage”. The selection of participants takes place largely through universities. The Ruhrtriennale defrays the costs of tickets for the festival events and for room and board. The change of directors – beginning with the 2015 edition, Johan Simons will head the Ruhrtriennale – will bring with it new personnel and a new substantive orientation. In 2015, there will also be changes at the International Forum of the Berlin Theatre Meeting.

Getting to know working methods at PACT Zollverein

That not only festivals but also steady venues with communication and encounter platforms are successful may be seen in the case of the performing arts centre PACT Zollverein in Essen. The relevant “research and development formats”, which are aimed equally at students, artists, practitioners and scholars, are so diverse that it would require an entire article to describe them. Here I therefore focus on the “Impact” format, which is most closely comparable in clientele and content to the International Forum and the Festival Campus.

Impact has existed since 2004 and annually presents in autumn three very distinctive artistic positions. The spectrum ranges from media artists and documentary theatremakers to architects. Blast Theory has been a guest at Impact as well as Rimini Protokoll, Tino Sehgal and Romeo Castellucci. For the director of PACT Zollverein, Stefan Hilterhaus, it is important that the guest is an artist “who is challenges the boundaries of his or her metier”.

Reciprocal learning process

Hilterhaus describes the Impact programmes as a “reciprocal learning process“: in the first part of the first day, the 30 to 35 workshop participants, who are generally recruited through calls issued by universities and the Goethe-Institut, get a “very specific and, in this form, really rare glimpse into the working methods” of the invited artist. In the second part of the day they can then test themselves by means of particular tasks. The symposium always begins with a public programme that presents the invited positions. Those interested in the Impact project, which is funded by the Art Foundation of North Rhine-Westphalia, can apply for grants at the various organizers. But Impact is also affordable for those who pay for their participation themselves: for the complete programme they pay only € 100 compensation for expenses, including meals. A worthwhile investment: the “working relationships” that arise among the participants, says Hilterhaus, cannot be valued highly enough.