Impressions from the International Forum Theatertreffen Berlin
The International Forum is a two-week scholarship programme organised by the Berliner Festspiele’s Theatertreffen and sponsors theatre makers from all parts of the world. As a field for creative experimentation and a space for utopian thought, it provides performative and discursive exchange in an international context and endeavours to open hybrid spaces in which the boundaries between performing arts, visual arts and science become fluid. Engaging in forms of international cooperation is a defining element of this congregation of fellows.
Raghda Mouawad is a Lebanese actress who was chosen to participate in the International Forum in 2019.
She has been part of various theatre creations and performances directed by Lebanese, Arab and international directors and teams. Along her artistic work, she has been teaching theatre for youth in Lebanon since 2009. She recently started implementing a professional alternative theatre training (YPAT) with regional and international trainers and theatre makers in Lebanon.
Ten months ago, I applied to be one of the 35 scholars of the International Forum in the Theatertreffen, a theater festival that takes place every year in May in the German capital, Berlin. I was selected and to that I am very grateful.
The whole adventure was remarkable. It was a highly intellectual and social stimulation. The human interaction, the personal relationships and friendships that came to happen in 17 days, the exchange of ideas and opinions are what makes the International Forum so special and unique. Having breakfast everyday with the others, walking together towards the Uferstudios, or the theatre, the hotel, choosing between three different workshops given by great German artists and seeing the personal outcome of each one of them by the end of it, the talks and activities during the breaks, the debates after every performance, the open-kitchen preparations, the parties, the laughs. All these brought people from different countries, cultures, ways of life, believes, professions and practices closer, in a safe environment and that is unique and precious!
In a bit more than two weeks, attending “the most outstanding performances of the year” from the German speaking countries - Dionysos Stadt and Das Große Heft were truly outstanding performances! -, having discussions with the directors of these performances, or with the head of the festival or other artists from the German art scene, questioning their work, the politics, aesthetics, doubts, concerns, strategies and more, was of a memorable richness. One of those rare experiences one wishes to have in a lifetime. Still the exchange with the other scholars seems to me as the essence of the International Forum.
I was impressed since day one by the background and artistic diversity of each participant. Our group included performers, directors, costume and set designers, playwrights, dramaturgs, puppeteers, dancers and theater makers, a total of 35 young artists from all around the globe. What each one of them achieved so far and shared with a lot of humility and generosity is remarkable and touching. Being around them for 17 days gave me a taste and a glimpse of how they think and perceive theatre, as well as their interests and practice. It was and is still very inspiring. Affinities were born and future collaborations are made possible.
The International Forum enhances intellectual and socio-political stimulation that is essential for creativity and politically engaged artists. Watching so many plays and reflecting/debating about it afterwards with people from different artistic or cultural backgrounds, matures one’s approach to performing arts. The discussions and reflections were of high importance. It nourished me intellectually, emotionally and creatively. I was inspired and challenged by the artists themselves and the other scholars. I learned a lot by listening to their questions, opinions and how they formulate things. It sharpens one’s critical sense and affects his/her perception and creativity.
Also taking part of workshops in smaller groups gives more time and space to see others at work and think out loud, thus influencing and impacting one’s perspective.
I left Berlin with clearer desires of topics I would like to be working on, and certainly with more awareness, precision and sensitivity on how to approach any topic.
While most of our debates were about gender equality and quotas, by half of our time together I was wondering where the other topics are - in the plays we saw or/and in the International Forum. Why didn’t we see or hear anything about the urgent environmental crisis? About corruption? Where are these voices? And if they are not many performing artists that reflect on these topics, why is it so?
For almost two weeks I attended a workshop that evolved around the topic of genders given by Florian Fiedler, a German stage director. We listened and discussed about gender issues and stereotypes in the countries of every participant in the workshop and their perspective of the situation. There was a lot of freedom within the workshop. We enjoyed thinking, working and creating with each other. But I realised how different our understanding of gender equality is. It differs from a region, country, an artist to another. And I couldn’t help myself but think: is art used as another form of colonialism? Are we pushed by the colonialist countries to think in a certain way and to address it artistically with a specific universal purpose? It felt as if we were talking from a German artistic perspective or concern or that I was taking part of a specific artistic political agenda. I was told that in the previous years there was something called “Shifting perspective” within the festival, a format where these kind of debates and concerns were shared and talked about. This should definitely have its space back! It would allow the scholars to exchange about their socio-political concerns and how to raise them artistically.
Would I recommend the International Forum to my fellow artists?
Yes, yes and a thousand yes! For all the reasons above! Watching high quality performances, develop one’s critical senses, learning how to debate and listen, discovering new artists, meeting new artists, building beautiful relationships, developing ideas, collaborations, understanding what speaks and what doesn’t speak to us artistically and politically, remove geographical and cultural barriers or find a way to work within them.
And I’m sure there’s a lot more!
The International Forum is a space for these “other voices” that are often absent in big institutionalised festivals to be heard and represented.
Artists with a main working focus outside German-speaking countries apply via the local Goethe Institute.
The International Forum is a Project of the Theatertreffen , division Berliner Festspiele / Kulturveranstaltungen des Bundes in Berlin GmbH. It takes place with the cooperation of the Goethe Institute and the Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia. It is supported by the German stage Association in Baden-Württemberg. Further Sponsors are the Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria (section: art), the regional Ministries of Culture of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Cultural Administration of the City of Munich and the Cultural Foundation of the Free State of Saxony.