Citizens conquer the stage
A new branch is developing on German municipal and state theatres: the civic theatre project.
The Dresden Staatsschauspiel gave a trend its catchy name. Its civic theatre project (or literally “citizens’ stage”, Bürgerbühne) started with the beginning of Wilfried Schulz’s general directorship in 2009. Under the direction of Miriam Tscholl, laypeople have been performing for laypeople in the Kleines Haus of the Staatsschauspiel. Their working maxim applies to all civic theatre projects, whether they are so called or not: professional theatre work with non-professional actors. In the first season alone about 400 citizens of Dresden played in 79 performances for 11,600 spectators. Each season the project mounts five productions. These are result-oriented theatre work, shown in the repertoire programme and produced under professional conditions with a team of directors. Parallel to this, there are 10 clubs in which laypeople work on certain themes with means of the performing arts. The club work is more process-oriented, the result playing a minor role.
In its full commitment to the artistic power of laypeople, the civic theatre project has been a complete success in Dresden and has already found numerous imitators at other theatres. Its founding was the next consistent and courageous step to be taken after the selective opening of the theatre to, for example, experts in everyday life which means contemporary witnesses and lay choruses. With civic theatre projects, citizens have conquered the stages of the German theatre they themselves support, far beyond the tradition of amateur dramatics.
Children’s and young people’s theatreThe widest experience in this field is enjoyed by the so-called “fourth branch” of municipal and state theatre: children’s and young people’s theatre. Since the 1980s, children and young people have been able to take advantage of a (mainly) weekly theatre education service at drama clubs at “their” theatres. Under theatrical education direction, these clubs work up two or three performances for the end of the season. For example, in 2002 the current intendant of the Schnawwl in Mannheim, Andrea Gronemeyer, founded a Young National Theatre there. At the Young National Theatre children and young people perform in many courses throughout the year and also intensively in independent theatre, in productions closely connected in content with the theme of the season. Firmly bound up with their work on the stage are presentation visits on the annual theme. Three times during its ten years’ existence there were also productions with young people carried out under professional conditions, which were shown in the Schnawwl repertoire. Theatre performance and theatre experience are the two sides of the Young National Theatre coin. With the founding of the Mannheim Civic Theatre Project at the Nationaltheater Mannheim, the Young National Theatre has been rechristened the Young Civic Theatre Project.
Since 2005, theatre-performing children and young people from Mannheim, Heidelberg and Ludwigshafen have been meeting at a regional festival. At the Youth Theatre in the Delta, which rotates annually among the three cities, the young theatre enthusiasts demonstrate their skills and carry on lively exchanges about the aesthetics and quality of their work. On the national level, the scene meets at the Youth Theatre Meeting in Berlin and at the itinerant National Meeting of Theatre Youth Clubs
Barbara Kantel, artistic director of the Düsseldorf Youth Theatre, comes from this tradition and emphasizes that her theatre stands on two equally important legs: drama for a young audience with professional actors and drama with young people for the same audience. In both areas she works with various artistically fruitful formats. Participatory theatre is of course also a marketing tool. Connoisseurship enhances pleasure, and every spectator who has him or herself once worked on stage is a sensorily educated spectator.
DanceIn dance, too, the Community Dance movement was a precursor of the civic theatre project. In 2007, for example, the Bielefeld Dance Theatre, under the direction of Gregor Zöllig and supported by Community Dance veteran Royston Maldoom, started its first participative project, Zeitsprung (i.e., Time Leap). Since then over 1,000 Bielefeld citizens have taken part in so far 15 projects. For these citizens’ dance evenings, Zöllig made available all the resources of his choreography. Every year all dancers in his troupe have to work with laypeople in Zeitsprung during the last phase of the season. In June 2014, on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the city, 800 Bielefeld citizens will premiere with musicians and dancers of the theatre the latest challenge – Bi-Motion – a City on the Move.
OperaIn music theatre the Dortmund Opera House has gained some first experience of civic theatre projects with Fan Chants. Football Hymns in Two Halftimes, in which a lay chorus works together with the opera ensemble and more than supports them. Above all, the educational departments of the Youth Opera at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and the Youth Opera in Stuttgart and Mannheim have opened themselves to citizen participation. In the 2013/14 season, the Dresden Civic Theatre Project also twice took up the challenge of music theatre. The semi-professional training of the lay musicians can stand in contradiction to the claim of lay authenticity in the stage action. Situative music-making such as Fahrt zur Hölle (i.e., Go to Hell), a youth project of the Mannheim Young Opera, may represent an exit out of this contradiction. For the self-imposed claim of all artists and educationalists working in civic theatre projects is the participative authorship of laypeople in the result.
The most recent development is that civic theatre projects for adults will have their own Civic Theatre Project Festival. Thirteen outstanding productions from eight federal states will be shown in May 2014 in Dresden; these include works by the directors Sebastian Nübling and Kristo Sagor, who have for years now been even-handedly creating theatre for both professionals and laypeople and for both young people and those who have remained young at heart.