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Theatertreffen finale: Three questions

In the wake of the Theatertreffen, stage editor Nathalie Frank was left with plenty of questions about the state of German theatre today. Here are three.

Theatertreffen 2014 is over! Was it “interesting as never before”, as predicted Berliner Festspiele’s director Thomas Oberender on the first evening? Having lived in Berlin for not even three years, I cannot judge how “as never before” applies for this 51st festival, but it was for sure an exciting edition that raised crucial theatrical issues and also left me with plenty of questions. Here are three:

How far can theatre and Internet work together?

Parallel to the opening weekend of the Theatertreffen, a conference on “Theater and the Net” took place at the Heinrich Böll Stiftung. An opportunity to discuss the possible crossovers between the living theatre and the virtual world wide web. How can one respond to the other, or can they reflect on each other? And, as concerns precisely this blog adventure: what kind of opportunities can theatre criticism use within the web platform? In that sense, this blog can be seen as an experiment, a try, within a small team, to respond to a theatre festival not only with texts, but with multimedia formats: videos, sketches, graphical responses or soundtracks. Your feedback on these tries or inputs concerning the possible relationship between the web and the theatre are welcomed at [email protected].

Who copies who and is that relevant?

Plagiarism was a highly discussed issue at this year’s Theatertreffen. It started with journalist Wolfgang Behrens who found out that jury member Daniele Muscionico, instead of writing her “justification” for the choice of Journey to the End of the Night by herself, had copied it for a large part from the Residenztheater’s advertising material. This raises obviously the question of the credibility of a choice that cannot even be justified by a jury’s own words. Wolfgang Behrens published his discovery on the portal nachtkritik.de and as an answer came official excuses from both the festival and Muscionico. But a few days later nachtkritik.de went further in investigation and found out that the same jury member had copied another text to justify another choice last year. This was too much for the Theatertreffen. Muscionico resigned from her position in the TT jury immediately to preserve the festival’s credibility. How that could happen in such a big organisation with many controlling instances remains a mystery.

On May 11, one day after the first Muscionico’s case was made public, Alain Platel’s production tauberbach had to face similar accusations. Before the performance began, the dance collective Grupo Oito from the Ballhaus Naunynstr. demonstrated in front of the house and distributed leaflets stating that Platel’s work was inspired by Ricardo de Paula’s piece Sight that premiered a year before tauberbach in Berlin. It turned out that this accusation – later denied both by Platel and de Paula – was more of a way to discuss Platel’s “post-colonial” view on Estamira, both pieces’ central character living in a Brazilian favela.

Although the plagiarism accusation is a shameless way to start a debate, these questions belong to contemporary Western theatre and you might want to make your own opinion on that case: by waiting until the Ballhaus Naunynstr. plays Sight again (appetiser in the trailer), and by making a trip to Munich or Frankfurt to catch tauberbach, my personal TT14 highlight (at the Münchner Kammerspiele on June 9-12, at the Künstlerhaus Mousonturm on June 17-18).

What kind of theatre deserves to be presented as “remarkable”?

The ongoing burning question at the Theatertreffen since many years never seems to find a proper, clear answer. As a background: since the 1970s the German state and municipal theatres cohabit with a flourishing independent scene that differs a lot in terms of size, production and financing structure. However relevance and quality are well represented in both scenes. So why should the choice of the “10 most remarkable works” of the year systematically heavily advantage the state and municipal theatres?

The question is as simple as the answers are multiple and contradictory. The audience couldn’t take independent experiments? Small productions couldn’t compete with the giant masters who can afford huge stages? They would only look ridiculous?

It could be a structural problem, as stated by jury member Barbara Burckhardt during the jury’s final talk: the independent productions are usually performed three or four times in a row and sometimes never again. Even if one jury member likes a piece, the other members might never get to see it. The state and municipal theatre system, playing repertoire pieces repeatedly month after month with a permanent ensemble, is thus advantaged: if a jury member sees a good show, the others can travel and see it a month later. But shouldn’t the festival be able to rethink its structure and selection process in order to adapt to a flourishing and diverse theatrical landscape?

As if a statement had to be made, the only selected piece from the independent scene, Rimini Protokoll’s “Situation Rooms”, could not attend the festival – the project is co-produced internationally and was already booked for Paris and Athens in May. (Berliners, the piece is coming to the HAU in December.)

Yet a promising step toward aesthetic diversification was made this year, although to the detriment of young authors whose yearly competition was cancelled: the Stückemarkt, traditionally a selection of fresh texts, was transformed into a platform featuring and discussing new kinds of authorship and theatrical forms (for more information see my overview article on the Stückemarkt as well as interviews with the three invited artists, Miet Warlop, Chris Thorpe and Mona el Gammal). Interesting forms were represented and one can only hope they deserve to be presented next to the blockbusters as part of the “remarkable” German theatre landscape.

What can we expect for 2015? Three jury members out of seven are being replaced – apart from the specific case of Daniele Muscionico, two more jury members, Anke Dürr and Christoph Leibold, have finished their three-year service. With almost half of it composed of fresh blood, the new jury has a good excuse to rethink its politic and have the courage to really reflect on the fabulous diversity of the German theatre landscape.

Read more at the Theatertreffen Blog!