50 Years of the International Forum
In Theatre Cockaigne

The fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014
The fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014 | Photo: Piero Chiussi

The International Forum is considered one of the most important platforms for young stage artists: every year during the Berlin Theatre Meeting 36 young professionals gather here to view and discuss ten of the “most remarkable productions” of the season selected by a jury of critics, and to gain valuable professional experience in workshops. Now the institution, which has been headed since 2006 by the cultural studies scholar and dramaturge Uwe Gössel, has turned fifty years old – and will in future be continued under new guidelines.

“For me, the Forum was a kind of initiation, which bound me more to the theatre than anything else I’d experienced up to then.” So recalls the dramaturge and writer Carl Hegemann, who later made a career at the Berlin Volksbühne, his time as a fellow of the International Forum of the Berlin Theatre Meeting in 1985. “I believe”, he sums up, “that the Forum is one of the most important institutions in the German theatre scene.” And in fact hardly a scene insider can be found who contradicts this conviction. Barrie Kosky, today intendant of the Comic Opera in Berlin, Rita Thiele, chief dramaturge of the Hamburg Schauspielhaus, and multi-award-winning director and head of the Stuttgart Opera Jossi Wieler: all of them, like Hegemann, gained experience as young professionals at the International Forum.

History of the International Forum

The continuing training programme for young theatre professionals, which was launched in 1965 as part of the Berlin Theatre Meeting, is the oldest continuously operating institution of its kind. Initially conceived as a discussion platform for young stage professionals from the Federal Republic of Germany and, in 1970, extended to include participants from Austria and Switzerland, the Forum began in 1980, in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut, to internationalise itself. Its fellows now come from all over the world. At the same time, the focus has shifted more and more to work practice: along with discussions about the ten productions invited to the Theatre Meeting, workshops have become an integral component of the programme. In addition to travel and accommodations expenses, the fellowship covers tickets for all Theatre Meeting productions and pays a daily allowance. How rare such support is in the international theatre scene is illustrated by this remark of Jossi Wieler’s, who was a fellow in 1981: “The most incredible thing for me was the fact that you didn’t have to pay for either travel or accommodations. On the contrary, you even got pocket money!”
 
  • Uwe Gössel, head of the International Forum 2006-2014 Photo: Piero Chiussi/Agentur StandArt

    Uwe Gössel, head of the International Forum 2006-2014

  • Uwe Gössel (front centre), Christoph Leibold, jury member of the Berlin Theatre Festival 2014 (front right) and fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014; Photo: Piero Chiussi/Agentur StandArt

    Uwe Gössel (front centre), Christoph Leibold, jury member of the Berlin Theatre Festival 2014 (front right) and fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014;

  • Fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014 Photo: Piero Chiussi/Agentur StandArt

    Fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014

  • Fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014 Photo: Piero Chiussi/Agentur StandArt

    Fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014

  • Four fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014 Photo: Piero Chiussi/Agentur StandArt

    Four fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014

  • Fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014 Photo: Piero Chiussi/Agentur StandArt

    Fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014

  • Christoph Leibold, jury member of Berlin Theatre Festival 2014 and Uwe Gössel, head of the International Forums 2006-2014; Photo: Piero Chiussi/Agentur StandArt

    Christoph Leibold, jury member of Berlin Theatre Festival 2014 and Uwe Gössel, head of the International Forums 2006-2014;

  • Fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014 Photo: Piero Chiussi/Agentur StandArt

    Fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014

  • Fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014 Photo: Piero Chiussi/Agentur StandArt

    Fellows of the 50th International Forum 2014

  • Booklet: 50th Years International Forum Photo: Piero Chiussi/Agentur StandArt

    Booklet: 50th Years International Forum

Innovations under the direction of Uwe Gössel

Of course, this “Theatre Cockaigne” has in the course of its fifty-year history always kept changing, parallel with the changing conditions of theatre. There were important modernisations in 2006, when Uwe Gössel assumed the directorship of the International Forum from Manfred Linke, its head since 1967. “Uwe Gössel has introduced meaningful innovations to the Forum not only as a dramaturge”, says the Director of the Berlin Theatre Meeting, Yvonne Büdenhölzer. “Under his directorship the Forum has also changed to meet the changed conditions of the theatre, by, for example, also inviting freelance artists, that is, not only permanent members of ensembles.” Another important innovation brought about by Gössel, who as a young dramaturge at the Rostock Theatre himself took part in the International Forum in 2001, consisted in inviting only autonomous artists, no assistants. For whereas the directing assistant lives in the subjunctive, as Gössel puts it, his own programme aims decidedly at “practitioners, who must be personally responsible for what they do”.

The Three Pillars

Gössel’s Forum programme rests on three thematic pillars: “The first consists in the contents, which spill over from the Theatre Meeting and the jury selection; the second in the themes which the Forum participants bring with them” and which can range from directly practical work issues to debates about aesthetics; and the third in “the themes and discourses that are currently on everyone’s mind”. Every year Gössel puts his ear to the ground of the theatre scene to catch new developments and tendencies – in 2010, for instance, the penchant for documentary works, or in 2011 an increased preoccupation with body and space – and pours these into a working motto, according to which then up to four workshops run parallel under the guidance of a renowned theatre-maker.

The qualities of the International Forum

Gössel sees the Forum as a protected “utopian space in which you can experiment and sometimes go astray without being distracted by the market conditions of reality”. Participants can work and discuss together free of competition and the pressure of production and applicability because, in the end, no finished, presentable artistic work needs to be delivered. Instead the results are not only valuable, global work collectives and networks, but also the lasting encouragement of young artists. Gössel tells, for example, of the Japanese director Akira Takayama, whose documentary approach was “long exposed to very negative criticism in Tokyo. What went on in his head when he came to the International Forum in 2004, met Rimini Protokoll and noted that their work is in principle very similar to his, was incredible”, says Gössel. Takayama travelled back to Japan with this “tailwind”, which has since carried him as far as the Vienna Festival.

Innovations in 2015

Now, fifty years after its founding, the Forum is again to be reformed a bit and especially even more strongly linked with the real heart of the Theatre Meeting: the selection of the ten most remarkable productions of the season in Germany, Austria and Switzerland by a jury of professional critics. The change, however, affects not only the International Forum but generally all programme segments of the Theatre Meeting which, like the Play Market, have over the years actually become almost independent sub-festivals with their own mottos, directors and target areas. “That it’s organically grown in this way”, says Yvonne Büdenhölzer, “doesn’t correspond to my idea of the festival fifty years after or how I’d like to see it continue to develop. Moreover, the budget has unfortunately not become any bigger, and we’ll have to see how we can manage to realise our ideas.”

Focus: selection of the ten

Beginning with the 2015 Theatre Meeting, therefore, Büdenhölzer will have at her side a dramaturge who will have the overall responsibility for the conceptual combination of the individual programme formats and overall content, whereby the selection of the ten plays by the jury of critics serves as the overarching focus. For the International Forum this means that the themes of the workshops and the discussion points will be more strongly derived from this selection and also more clearly integrated into the structure of the “Camp” programme, the new accompanying debate format of the Theatre Meeting. In addition, Büdenhölzer wants to put the potential of the participants “more forcefully before the public” – for example, “by incorporating performances they have developed into Camp”. This is meant less as a draconian obligation than as an offer.

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