The 10 Remarkable Comments to Theatertreffen

Statement of the Participants of Theatertreffen’s 2023 International Forum*

Lina Akif, Joshua Alabi, Nina Bade, Janine Bürkli, Luke Casserly, Jenny Pérez Chibuque, Tyler Cunningham, James Harvey Estrada, Caroline Froelich, Marietheres Jesse, Iliyana Kancheva, Akanchha Karki, Kristóf Kelemen, Giuliana Kiersz, Laura Kutkaitė, Tubi Malcharzik, Maryna Mikhalchuk, Frederik Müller, Maike Müller, Viktoriya Myronyuk, Eneas Nikolai Prawdzic, Cintia Rangel, Bingo Regis, Teresa Lucia Rosenkrantz, Parvin Saljoughi, Nadir Sönmez, Katharina Wisotzki, Hoda Zahedi, Andrei Zavalei

(*This does not reflect the views of everyone that participated in the International Forum. These are the views of only the authors that are named here.)

We are international theater makers from 4 continents. We are professionals working in acting, dance, dramaturgy, directing, educating, festival making, media art, music, producing, and scenography spanning from our mid-twenties to early forties. We grew up in Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Germany, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Lithuania, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, Slovenia, Switzerland, Rwanda, Turkey, Ukraine, Uganda, and the USA. Some of us work in the German speaking theater context, some are connected to it, and some had their first contact with it at Theatertreffen. We met at Theatertreffen’s International Forum, where we were given the opportunity to look at the entire programme of the 60th edition of the Berlin Theatertreffen. We represent different perspectives, and yet we share the following in reflection of this year’s Theatertreffen.

Prior to the following comments, we want to express our gratitude for being part of this year’s International Forum at Theatertreffen. Although it has been a valuable and insightful experience, we recognize its shortcomings. We believe that change is possible and hope these next reflections might contribute to the future of Theatertreffen. These criticisms stem from our genuine conviction that the organizers of Theatertreffen truly want to do better.

1.) The German speaking world is incredibly diverse in terms of race, gender, sexuality, class, cultures, language, (dis)ability, education, socioeconomic status. We feel that the selected plays barely represent the robust and varied backgrounds of those living in German speaking contexts. For those of us who came into contact with German speaking theater for the first time, we were surprised at how homogeneous the theater world presented here seemed to us. This edition of Theatertreffen celebrated a theater world that excluded large sections of society due to a lack of representation and only made marginal mention of post-migrant reality.

2.) Underrepresented perspectives, those full of potential in redefining majoritarian assumptions and narratives, easily become stereotypes and reductive, tired, and even violent reproductions when told by those who have historically held power in the institution of theater. Rather than refiguring colonial structures of theater making, many of the selected plays at Theatertreffen told stories of the disenfranchised in ways we found fraught, imprecise, and unproductive.

3.) In this edition of Theatertreffen, there were four classics, two play developments, one novel adaptation, one international drama, one new play. While these are understandably part of long held theater traditions, the voice of contemporary drama, which is more young, queer and diverse, was missing. The abolition of the Stückemarkt, what used to be a component of Theatertreffen that showcased new authors of theater, deprived these voices of further visibility. Overall, this contributed to a lack of horizontality in the relevance and scope of topics introduced at this year’s festival.

4.) The voice and aesthetics of the rich free theater scene was missing from this year’s Theatertreffen; with the exception of Anhaltisches Theater Dessau, only the established, large institutions were invited. Additionally, Burgtheater and Schauspiel Bochum each had two plays selected, meaning that four of the ten selected pieces were from two state theaters. Can this selection, limited to eight theaters, earnestly reflect the breadth of the German-speaking theater landscape? Aside from the ambiguous qualifications of exceptionality in regards to the selected pieces, we urge for 1.) the limiting of how many productions are selected from one theater and 2.) a more robust assessment of theater originating in the free scene to assure a more comprehensive picture of the German speaking theater landscape.

5. ) Theatertreffen, or any major theater festival for that matter, influences what agendas and topics matter in the context of its theater landscape. Inviting shows that address topics, aesthetics, and even normative performing bodies that have long held the spotlight in the context of German speaking theater writes out the opportunity for a theater meant for horizontality, horizon broadening, and those that might not fit the profile of an upper-middle class, white Theatertreffen patron. After seeing each of the selected plays, we feel that there must be a reckoning regarding what structures, topics, performing bodies, and aesthetics are spotlighted.

6.) The barriers to show up to theater are manifold: high ticket prices, partially obscured views for those with cheap tickets and those with accessible seating, inconsistent subtitle arrangements, and the lack of audio descriptions are only some of the barriers present at Theatertreffen in addition to an overwhelmingly white, able-bodied, non-queer, non-migrant patronage that perpetuates the molding and maintaining of what bodies can and should be an audience at Theatertreffen.

7.) We appreciate the Theatertreffen leaders’ attempt to offset a seemingly lack of urgency in the ‘ten remarkable productions’ by featuring a parallel program that mainly focuses on performances from artists exiled/coming from Ukraine, Belarus, and generally Eastern Europe. It contributed not only to the acknowledgement of fundamental political narratives but also the emotional implications of the current emergency state. We hope that in the following years the parallel programs will continue to showcase these perspectives while also including works of socio-political struggles in other countries usually obscured by eurocentrism.

8.) Theatrical reproduction of violence needs utmost precision, and failure to prepare an audience for such is as harmful as it shows lack of commitment to tend to more sensitive viewers. Some of the selected plays reproduced violence that offered little dramaturgical value to itself aside from images of sexual assault, abuse, mutilation, and genocide, often times even straddling a line between reproduction and mockery. Whether through memory or lived experience, these forms of violence are interwoven into the lives of millions in German speaking countries; as theater makers, it is critical we reject theater that reduces and aestheticizes such realities.

9.) Consider that out of the seven jury members for the 2023 Theatertreffen: seven have degrees from Universities, seven were born in Germany, seven are professional theater critics. They selected ten productions with ten directors: eight were born in a German speaking country, ten were born in mainland Europe, nine have degrees in the performing arts, four have been previously invited to Theatertreffen (one director has been invited three times before). A diverse team of jury members (particularly one that does away with a notion of a jury of solely critics) from all walks of theater is needed for an adequate and multifaceted view on German speaking theater.

10.) Cultural institutions tend to consume institutional critique and make it part of their institution, without actually changing oppressive structures and practices. In conversations between the International Forum and the leaders of Theatertreffen, the director of the Berliner Festspiele, and even the jury, accountability was deflected by making such critique into their own. In Theatertreffen’s Rules of Procedures, clearly enumerated among other points are those responsible for 1.) selecting jury members and 2.) the selection procedure: the artistic director of the Berliner Festspiele, the leaders of the Theatertreffen, and the artistic directors of the German Federal Cultural Foundation. To these leaders, we call for the reform of jury selection procedures to offer a more holistic assessment of German speaking theater and we ask who Theatertreffen is really for. We anticipate a Theatertreffen ready to turn towards the future and give space to intersectional, decolonial, anti-racist, queer, anti- ableist, class-conscious, and post-migrant practices and communities.

We acknowledge that the Berliner Festspiele and Theatertreffen want to move in the direction proposed by us above. We have seen their efforts to do this during our stay in Berlin. We deeply appreciate this and would like to encourage those with decision-making power to do what is necessary to create a more up-to-date Theatertreffen.


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