Wilfried Eckstein, former director of the Goethe-Institut Washington, speaks with Karla Mäder, Head Dramaturge at the Schauspielhaus Graz, about their Dramatists' Festival and the role of the festival.
WE: What is the goal of the Dramatists’ Festival? What does it mean to the Schauspielhaus Graz?
KM: Graz is located on the very edge of the German-speaking theater region, but it is right in the heart of Europe. We harness this geographic advantage by celebrating Graz’s long-standing reputation as “Austria’s unofficial capital of literature” with an end-of-season theater festival – together with our partners: uniT, a Graz-based association for the promotion of young talent, and the German Literature Fund in Darmstadt. The festival caters to both authors and other theater professionals. Dramatists write for a medium that is socially highly complex, but as many other authors, they often work in isolation. The festival gives them the opportunity to meet and network with other theater professionals. These encounters can help spark new ideas and make us appreciate the great variety of possible topics and artistic approaches to theater. We currently have 65 writers here who spend varying amounts of time in Graz during the festival. Some are well known, a few are international celebrities, others are just starting out. There is also a large group of foreign authors who do not even speak German, in particular the European authors in the P3M5 project (“Private Matter”).
WE: How do you tie in the work from the P3M5 project with your other selection of plays and authors?
KM: The motto of this year’s festival is “Private Matter”. To me, there are two aspects to this, the ‘public’ private matter, and the ‘private’ private matter. We try to combine the two aspects. In terms of our festival format, for instance, we opened with 50 author readings held in private spaces, in living rooms. The venues were spread all across the Steiermark region. We had private readings on farms, in shared student apartments, in bourgeois villas, in German as well as in our authors’ many other European languages; Swedish, Belgian, Hungarian etc. In terms of the plays themselves, we addressed the topic of privacy in all our productions (all by contemporary authors, many of whom were present in person), by asking, in some way or another: What is private? What is public? Is privacy worth protecting, and to what extent?
WE: For the authors, the festival certainly is a welcome opportunity to share and see each other’s work. But who is the target audience of this festival?
KM: The festival primarily caters to a professional audience, such as authors, theater professionals, publicists, publishers. They use the festival as a forum to meet and interact. It is a space of encounter where they can discuss a specific, concrete topic. If we achieve that, we have attained an essential objective of this festival: Planting ideas that can then grow. Last night, most of the P3M5 authors sat down together and talked about their plays and their experiences in this project. That was an important element of the festival. They did more than just spend a pleasant evening, they also shared their views on certain incidents [WE: i.e. the incidents involving Rachida Lamrabet] that are painful to some. There was a show of solidarity and support that is very valuable.
WE: What does the festival mean for the Schauspielhaus Graz, for its selections and its work with stage writers? Did you make any discoveries?
KM: It is very enriching for us to meet the writers behind the plays. We were able to introduce some authors, whom we previously only knew from their texts, to publishers or to other established authors, which helps them gain more visibility on the German theater market. I personally discovered some authors I would like to stay in touch with and follow. But I also want to appreciate the value of inefficiency. By that, I mean that we don’t even know what kinds of opportunities our encounters might bring – next year, or in five years, or whenever. Or perhaps they will lead to a totally different, unexpected outcome. Perhaps something will come out of it for our Belgian or Hungarian guests. That is a very beautiful aspect.
WE: How will you proceed with the project P3M5?
KM: The day the new season opens, we will show six of the plays that are available in German in the functional rooms of our theater. We plan to do this like in the films, which are not set on stage, but in an office, in a bathroom, or some other specific site. The audience can tour these plays by visiting the different sites. Other than these dramaturgic considerations, P3M5 has been an important part of our lives for a while now – one and a half years, really – and its importance confirms that we must continue to address this topic. We don’t know yet how exactly we are going to do this, but I am sure we will come up with something…
WE: Thank you for this conversation.