Eastern Europe and Central Asia Hinter der Bühne – behind the scenes

Group in rehearsal room
© Johannes Ebert

The Visitors Programme on the theme of Inclusion, Diversity and Art initiated by the Goethe-Institut in St. Petersburg gave some 20 artists, culture professionals and inclusive project managers from Central and Eastern Europe the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes at the Thikwa Theatre and its associated art workshop.

The successful career of an idea 

When the Thikwa Theatre in Berlin celebrated its first premiere in 1991, in which actors with and without disabilities appeared together on stage, the word “inclusion” had yet to be invented. But an idea had been born. The aim was not to carry out a charitable social project, but to stage furiously experimental, explosively barrier-breaking, provocative theatre that matches up to anything else the cultural scene can offer. Meanwhile, the model of inclusion has had a successful career in the culture business and is a subject of public discussion in Russia and many Central and Eastern European countries. 

Inclusion on stage

Gerd Hartmann, Director and Founder of the Thikwa Workshop for Theatre and Art © Johannes Ebert A bright, high-ceilinged rehearsal room, a circle of stools, on which are sitting men and women from the Thikwa Ensemble, one of the first theatres in Germany where people with and without disabilities perform together. Visitors have arrived from Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. It takes them only a few moments to overcome their shyness and join in. Breathing exercises, hands move to diaphragms, vertebral columns are straightened. This is about taking up a posture, not only on stage, but also in everyday life, where people with disabilities still face many barriers and prejudices. The Visitors Programme’s guests are no longer merely observers, but have become participants. There is a lot of laughter during the joint physical training session for Thikwa performers and their guests. Says Gerd Hartmann, founder and theatrical director of Thikwa, which means “hope” in Hebrew: “Instead of therapy, we prefer to create art. That’s our idea “. 

Award-winning theatre 

The visitors have many questions about the social experiment of inclusive theatre. Hartmann says: “The discussion about inclusion that we have been engaged in for 25 years has now nun reached even Russia and other Central European countries“. The theatre manager and director has visited Russia about a dozen times and knows the country well. He has worked there on several occasions and recently won the Golden Mask, Russia’s top theatre award, for a production for the inclusive Moscow theatre studio Kroog II. He sees an exchange of ideas about inclusive work as being very important. “That is when you say goodbye to the concept of invalid theatre. There is a lot going on in that area right now.“

Workshop visit

Group in the workshop; in the foreground: Michail Mokeiev, Theatre Director from Moscow © Johannes Ebert Berlin’s Thikwa Theatre has its own ateliers. The guests are invited to visit the workshop where some of the 40 employees are painting and working on artworks made of rope and wire. This is the birthplace of the model enabling people with disabilities to work and be recognised as full-time artists. Michail Mokeiev, a theatre director from Moscow, is very enthusiastic: “I have hardly any experience of inclusive theatre and have never seen such a creative place.“ He sees Thikwa as a pioneering enterprise which, hopefully, will set a precedent for others to follow.