Theatertreffen Aspiration versus Reality

Participants in the panel “In Between Power Structures”
Participants in the panel “In Between Power Structures” | Photo: Piero Chiussi

What influence do power structures have on worldwide cultural scenes? At the Goethe reception held on the second weekend of the Berlin Theatertreffen, the discussion panel “In Between Power Structures” attracted more than one hundred guests from around forty countries and numerous members of the local and national theatre and dance scenes to the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. Four protagonists and experts from the international and German theatre scenes discussed the prerequisites for equality and co-determination.

Most recently, it was the mass protests in Cairo in 2011 that reaffirmed Abdelsamee Abdallah Abouelhamd’s role as a cultural activist. “The function goes far beyond organising cultural events,” the Jordanian theatre maker said at the plenary session when asked how he interpreted the role. “If you motivate people to become part of an artistic project, you can also give them a fundamental sense of social responsibility.”

Johannes Ebert opens the event Johannes Ebert opens the event | Photo: Piero Chiussi

Power and shame

The question of how power is exercised in the cultural context was at the centre of the panel discussion entitled “In Between Power Structures” held by the Goethe-Institut and the Berliner Festspiele at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele during the Theatertreffen. In the foyer, the discussion under the direction of the author and poet Max Czollek included Abouelhamd, Sonja Anders, head dramaturge at the Deutsches Theater Berlin and future director of the Schauspiel Hannover, Berlin-based Brazilian director Mirah Laline and cultural journalist Till Briegleb.

The central theme of the panel, to which Secretary-General Johannes Ebert welcomed over one hundred listeners from all over the world, was the question of what power structures shape the hierarchies, role models and work processes in the cultural industry. Briegleb first referred to the close intermeshing of power and shame: power structures regularly become entrenched in institutions through fear and shame that strategically degrades and marginalises people. “Until they finally become convinced of their inferiority, feel smaller than they are and thus stop making demands.” On the other hand, the author observed “widespread schizophrenia” among leaders and discrepancies between self-image, aspirations and reality. He noted the big contradiction between what the cultural scene claims or aspires to negotiate for emancipation and equal rights and its actual structures.

The Kassenhalle in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele The Kassenhalle in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele | Photo: Piero Chiussi

A strong inclination to romanticise

From her own experience as a director Mirah Laline knows that reality is far from this scenario. “How can I handle my role as the ‘boss’ in such a way that we can achieve a free, open discussion during rehearsals?” she asked. Her ideal scenario would see everyone involved, from the actors to the playwright and the dramaturge to the director’s assistant, more equally having their say in the creative process. In fact, in Germany she observes a “strong inclination to romanticise” when it comes to the real working conditions. Ever since she began her career in southern Brazil, she worked almost exclusively with women directors for many years and learned that as a woman, she had do achieve more per se.

“But when I came to Germany, the reality here was a bit disappointing for me,” recalls Laline. Much to her surprise, even in democratic Germany women earn less than their male counterparts. In her homeland, there may not have been any state theatres with permanent positions, which radiate a certain stability, she noted, “But for that, they have an independent scene where theatre groups develop their aesthetics collectively and according to their own rules.” She recognises that European theatres, by contrast, are characterised by a hierarchy of responsibilities and functions that is difficult to comprehend. “The only thing that’s clear is that on a German stage it’s not cooperation that comes first, but the handwriting of the director that must be adhered to.”