< SWITCH ME >

When we saw the programme of the theatre tour – the eight cities, seven days deal – we started thinking about a deadline when everyone would explode. Most of us thought day three was a sensible day to explode on as it was the hardest: the group attended two plays in two different countries (Germany and Switzerland). However, we turned out to be unexpectedly disciplined and the exhaustion only took over on day five. And even then, we managed to turn it into something creative and positive. Here's what happened.

On the way to Maribor (Slovenia), two of our travel buddies staged a short play on the bus. Anne, who is a playwright in Berlin, wrote the script and Gina, an actress from Romania, performed as one of the characters. The moment was particularly inspiring because it was the first time that a part of the group came together to create something after witnessing all the big talks and seeing all the different plays. The topic of the play was borders and how they influence people's lives – especially when borders separate a family. This is something quite common nowadays in Europe, with free movement enabling people to go from one place to the other. However, what does this do to the individual? How does it influence his/her ties to family and origins in general? This is one of the social realities that European theatre could and should address. Everyone on the bus felt quite strongly that the moment Anne and Gina created was one of the most relevant and debate-prompting of the whole tour. Everyone was also left speechless for a number of minutes as we thought about what we should do or say next.

And on the fourth day they staged a play on the bus and it was good.

The ETC group left Zurich early in the morning and had a long drive to the Tuscan town of Prato. Given that the members of the caravan already feel like family after travelling together for several days, the bus activities on Sunday became more dynamic. Therefore, after our Italian friend Gherardo – a theatre critic – gave us a few details about the play we were about to see that evening, The Belle Vue directed by Paolo Magelli, part of the group decided to have a dramatic reading of the English version of the text. The impromptu play brought everyone to life and channelled the team's focus, making us forget about the sleep deprivation and the long distances we covered. Later that evening, we saw the show at the Teatro Metastasio di Prato – as lovely as it was, we were better.

Another special moment during our journey to Prato was spoken-word poetess Deborah Stevenson's performance for the group (you already know Deborah from the interview E&M published on Day 2). Deborah performed two poems - one in which she brilliantly impersonated an American pastor - and showed us clips from her earlier artistic experiences in London. The mini-show made us fall in awe with the talented poet and ended in tears and applause. We strongly recommend you keep an eye on Deobrah and her passionate work.

I don't know about your weekend, but we on the ETC Spring Tour managed to see two plays in two different countries in just a few hours. Day 3 was exhausting, but then again it gives us many tales to share with you.

After leaving Liege, we went back to Germany in the small town of Karlsruhe, near the border with France. There we visited the Badisches Staatstheater and saw an endearing short play for toddlers at the Children's Theatre. All I can say is that I never thought plays for under five year olds could be so lovely – the two actors on stage used body movement and dance to take us on a meteorological journey, from cold lands to warm beaches. Us grownups might have been more excited than the target audience, I'll admit.

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.

Sunday, 26 February 2012 09:08

Statues Also Die

France's biggest Mediterranean city - Marseilles - is going to become European Capital of Culture in 2013. For this occasion, a new museum of European and Mediterranean culture (MuCEM) is being built. The project follows a long history of museum initiatives on the part of French presidents. French politicians know best that apart from being places for people to spend their free time, the primary role of museums is to act as ideological platforms for political discourses, and centres for collective memory. Recently, French Minister of the Interior Claude Gueant said in a meeting with students that all civilisations are "not of equal value." Seems like a good moment to ask ourselves how different cultures are represented in European museums and what that tell us about our perception of our countries' identities and values.

Chris Marker and Alain Resnais approached this subject in their classic documentary Les statues meurent aussi (Statues Also Die) (1953), in which they proposed a critical look at the "primitive art" exhibitions of the no longer existing Parisian Musée de l’Homme, the Musée du Congo Belge in Belgium and the British Museum. Marker's and Resnais' critique is directed at the modes of exhibiting and perceiving non-western art, which keeps their documentary relevant even today. Their film was an early step towards modern post-colonial studies.

"When men die, they enter into history, when statues die they enter art history."

The symbolic and political value of museums has been visible in Europe since the French revolution triggered the creation of national museums by turning the Louvre into a national museum. After that, many countries followed the trend of opening private collections to the public. From the beginning, they faced the challenge of creating sites for a common and unifying understanding of history, which was especially urgent for instance in the cases of German and Italian unification in the 1800s. As powerful political instruments, national museums were and still are often initiated by country leaders and France is a perfect example of a country that has systematically followed this tradition for centuries. Just take the most recent French history: the Centre Pompidou was initiated by Georges Pompidou. Valery Giscard d’Estaing committed himself to the development of Musée d’Orsay. Jacques Chirac opened the Musée du Quai Branly and now it appears to be Sarkozy's turn to build up the MuCEM as his project.

Published in Cafe Cinema

A handful of artists make enough money to live solely off their art, but most can barely survive. And in an economic climate that has led almost all EU member states to cut back on arts funding, volunteers in cultural activities are left high and dry. The financial struggle is exacerbated by a problem with public image - volunteering in the arts is often not seen as "worthy" as, say, caring for the elderly. Delegates expressed their frustration at this lack of recognition, arguing that people volunteer in the arts with the same motives as those who volunteer in other areas of society.

The overwhelming consensus, though, was that creative pursuits are good for the individual and good for society as a whole, and they are likely to rely more and more on the third sector for support. So the group's report left volunteers with a desperate plea: "keep creativity alive".

What do you think? Should artists and not-for-profit cultural organisations get state support? Do they deserve the same financial contributions that we might give to charities? And can volunteering carry European arts through an economic downturn? 

Volunteering and Integration: Building Bridges From Below?

Published in Live from Landau
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