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Photo courtesy of Annemone Taake
 
Filip and Ivana, main characters of I'm afraid that we know each other now

 

Life is a stage, they say. Whilst institutions and many associations are working on integrating Europe under several points of view, the European Theatre Convention trascendes geographical and language borders andbrings real life stories simultaneusly to Europe's stages. Philip Wallmeier attended one of these plays in Heidelberg, Germany for E&M and now wants to unveil its reflections on sex, life and memory making.

 

How can young people today live and create change when they cannot even understand how they got to where they are in the first place? This is the question around which Ivor Martinic’s most recent work, "I am afraid that we know each other now", evolves; it is being staged simultaneously in Zagreb and Heidelberg as part of the project The Art of Ageing of the European Theatre Convention (ETC).

In "I am afraid that we know each other now" the young Ivana and her ex-boyfriend Filip run into existential trouble. Not because she broke up with him; but because when she told him about her decision to end the relationship, he responded by restating what his mother once said: "You best satisfy a woman with the tongue". Ivana cannot accept this as the last words which were spoken in their relationship: "How can I tell people about how it ended?". Since Ivana cannot accept Filip's reply, she comes to see him again and again. While Ivana is looking for a way to tell the story of her life, Filip is searching for words that could describe "what really happened".

 

In this involving play, the spectators are shown this tension between Ivana’s search for a story that could be told and Filip’s soul searching for what really happend not merely through the actors' words but also through their bodies in motion. The young actors, who spend nearly two hours continuously on stage, run, shiver, are aroused, beat or caress each other, looking for ways to communicate that could transcend the tension between what happend and what can be said. Often their bodies speak a different language from that of their voices. The play is not, however, a meditation on the general impossibility of true communication through language but can be understood as a reflection on the feelings and lives of the young generation today in Zagreb and Heidelberg. When, for example, Filip is finding a way to give his experience an expression, the characters think about the particular city part of which their story is: Ivana and Filip discuss the meaning of the monument "The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" in Zagreb. The monument was originally built for the fallen soldiers of World War One, but the placard which recounts this history was erased by the communist regime – the consequence: many people believe that this is a tomb for the soldiers who fought the Nazi regime. As the young director Miriam Horwitz explains, the "piece questions the role of spoken language but also the idea of stories as memories and memory making".

Published in Beyond Europe

I put off writing about the last day of the ETC Spring Tour because I didn't want to do it. I knew it was going to be nostalgic and mushy, and it was going to confirm what has already happened – the tour is over and so is our time together in the Driving Jail. Until reaching that point of sobbing though, I'm going to take the Eastern European dignified-and-unmovable position and write about the full, productive day we had on the way to and in sunny Zagreb.

While on the bus, we gathered as we had gotten used to in the previous days, to discuss our future projects. As you might remember, a large part of the group decided to work together on an artistic project after being inspired by what we saw and talked about during our travels. Also, we had reached a point of frustration because of the packed, fast schedule that didn't fully allow us to absorb what we were going through and give something back to our wonderful hosts in the eight cities we visited. Therefore, we wrote a manifesto with the massive help of Ivor and agreed to think about concrete steps towards our goal.

Day six of the ETC Spring Tour found us working very hard on the way to Bratislava, Slovakia. After a fiery Monday, the members of our group made a commitment to each other to think about ways to work together and create an artistic product that is relevant to the issues we've been confronted with on the tour. Therefore, we gathered in the front of the bus and, for several hours, we thought and wrote down ideas and issues up for debate.

Despite our continuous exhaustion and being aware of the vagueness of our plans, we realised we needed to clarify the concept of "crisis in theatre" that we've been hearing so much about and pinpoint its symptoms – this way, we'd know what we're trying to solve. Secondly, we wanted to think about what issues are important to us individually – whether it's the transition from school to work, the outdated themes theatre addresses or the unequal representation of gender and ethnicity on European stages. We knew we wouldn't find the answers to every question we had on the tour, but we thought that we should take advantage of the time we had left on the bus to talk about the future. The matter on everyone's mind was "how do we go on?"

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.

Time flies when you’re on tour. Day 2 of the ETC Spring experience brought us to the coquette town of Liege in Belgium, discussing how young students can access the theatre industry and find work.

Nathanael Harcq, director of the ESACTA School of acting in Liege, talked about what his institution does to facilitate the transition from theatre school to work. According to him, the school is already part of the profession of acting, as the students are given the chance to stage their own productions and work. In this respect, the ESACTA functions like a workshop where rules are created collectively by the students and their teachers. The youngsters are thus encouraged to get to know themselves better and find out what conditions they need in order to flourish as professionals. They are even given electronic keys so that they can go in and out of the school at any time.

Taking this theme further, E&M spoke to one of the young artists on the ETC Spring Tour, namely spoken-word poet Deborah Stevenson. The 23 year-old wunderkind from East London is the founder and director of The Mouthy Poets in Nottingham, a group in which young people learn how to express themselves in verse. She worked with Chanel 4, The Roundhouse in London, The British Council and has been published by Louis Vuitton. Here’s a short interview with Deborah on our busy tour bus.

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.

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