Friday, 19 April 2013 13:51

ETC Spring Tour, day 1: under the spotlight

Written by Ioana Burtea

The European Theatre Convention’s (ETC) first ever Spring Tour is in full bloom across the continent. For seven days, a caravan of five young artists, several journalists and ETC members are travelling east to west and north to south in a tour bus, aiming to examine the role of theatre in a time of uncertainty and crisis in Europe. Day one in lovely Stuttgart is already over and opened up discussions on the role of politics in supporting the arts and on theatre as a tool for promoting debate and change in society. E&M will keep you up to date with all the talks, productions and interesting people met along the way.

First stop: Staatstheater Stuttgart, the largest triple branch theatre in Europe. Housed in two buildings dating back in the early 1900s, it hosts opera, ballet and theatre. Our tour guide was dramaturge Christian Holtzhauer, who showed everyone around the impressive performance halls, the busy backstage and the painting rooms where the sets are put together. The theatre is not only a centrepiece of German architecture – it holds six Opera of the Year awards from the magazine Opernwelt and won Theatre of the Year 2006. Its role is heightened by its directors’ involvement in social and political debates, which are an important focus of the city of Stuttgart and its citizens.

Next on the agenda was a debate on the interdependencies between theatre and politics in Stuttgart, hosted at the Nord venue, where the rehearsal stage of the Staatstheater is. The four participants - artistic director of Staasttheater Hasko Weber, managing director of the Robert Bosch Foundation Ingrid Hamm, graphic designer Jochen Radeker, stage director Volker Losch – discussed a wide range of issues, from the role of foundations in creating platforms for culture to the building of a new train station in town.

Photo: Ioana Burtea
A view behind the scenes in Stuttgart

Stuttgart 21, the 6.5 billion Euros transport project meant to redefine infrastructure in the city, is a controversial initiative that sparked a lot of reactions from citizens. Worried about spending taxpayers’ money and on the environmental effects of the project, the people of Stuttgart began organising demonstrations, participating in debates and becoming more active in city life. Theatre makers in the area thrive from this new-found social awareness and have managed to bring audiences closer to the arts by addressing such themes.

Why is theatre so important to society? Besides creating social awareness, it makes people more curios and even “intelligent”, according to Ingrid Hamm, and it reduces social differences by bringing together cultures and classes. Essentially, theatre is a meeting place and thus it must be competitive in order to attract audiences. The speakers highlighted the need of state theatres to be more than cultural places – they should become intellectual places and host spaces in which people can exchange ideas outside the performance rooms. This is what the Staatstheater Stuttgart does, understanding the importance of architecture: it hosts lounges, bars, elegant lobbies and rooms in which spectators and artists can interact. The idea is to bring everybody to one table to see how they can cooperate more closely to integrate culture in everyday life and politics.

Photo: Ioana Burtea
Discourse? Theatre? Or Discourse Theatre?

The time is perfect for this, because people are more interested than ever to become involved in policy-making and to find solutions to overcome the current crisis. It is also a good time for theatre to take more risks and, in the words of mighty Shakespeare, to “hold a mirror up to society.” However, problems remain – racism in theatre is still prominent (black or Asian actors not being cast in roles known as belonging to white people), the funding is dropping and, as the speakers put it, “Europe is too large to be brave.” This latter idea seems to be true for much more than just theatre if we look at the uncertainty in the EU area since the financial crisis began in 2008.

The day ended with a new play by writer and director Rene Pollesch, Die Revolver Der Uberschusse, at venue Nord. Rene Pollesch is one of Germany’s most unconventional stage experts and creates “discourse theatre”. His plays have no narrative and the actors only recite texts inspired by modern society, philosophy and political issues. The Stuttgart performance took place on a revolving stage and discussed matters of love, abandonment, the philosophy of German 20th century thinker Theodor W. Adorno and death. While the play certainly raises interesting ideas about modern society and alienation, the question raised by many is whether Pollesch’s approach has the depth it claims to have and if it’s more than just a display of artistic rebellion. Its undeniable value, though, is bringing high ideas on modern stages and challenging the audiences’ intellect.

On that note, the ETC caravan is on its way to Liege in Belgium, where more interesting ideas are waiting to be debated. Keep an eye on Sixth Sense these days to find out where European theatre is going and what performances you can’t miss. Alles Gute!

Last modified on Friday, 19 April 2013 14:44

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