Theatertreffen final: three questions to follow-up

A final note by Nathalie Frank, stage editor by our partner magazine Exberliner

TT14 is over! Was it „interesting as never before”, as predicted Berliner Festspiele’s director Thomas Oberender on the first evening? Being in Berlin for not even three years I cannot judge whereas “as never before” applies for this 51st festival, but it was for sure an exciting edition that raised crucial theatrical issues. To finish my blogging contribution I would like to examine three questions to follow-up:

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 cross-overs between two a priori antinomic media, the living theater and the virtual world wide web. How can one respond to the other, or can they reflect on each other? And, what concerns precisely the Theatertreffen-Blog adventure: what kind of opportunities can theatre criticism use within the web platform? In that sense, the 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. As an experiment it can and should be discussed further. Your feedback on these tries or inputs concerning the possible relationship between the Web and the Theatre are welcomed at stage@exberliner.com.

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 the “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 became official excuses from both the festival and Daniele Muscionico. But a few days later nachtkritik.de went further in investigation and found out that the same jury member copied another text to justify another choice last year already. This was too much for the Theatertreffen. Daniele Muscionico resigned from her position in the TT- Jury immediately. This was also necessary  to preserve the festival’s credibility. How that could happen in such a big organization 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 raise up 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 (appetizer in the trailer). And by making a trip to Munich or Frankfurt to catch “tauberbach”, my personal TT14’s 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 information: since the 1970s the German states-and municipal theaters landscape cohabit with a flourishing independent scene, that differs a lot with big stages 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 states-and municipal theaters? 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?
Or is it 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.  If one jury member likes it, this makes it difficult for the other jury’s members 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. The argument is clear thus questionable: shouldn’t a festival that pretends to select the “10 most remarkable plays of the year” 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 at 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 forms of authorships 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 would deserve to be presented next to the blockbusters are part of the “remarkable” German theatre landscape.
What can we expect for 2015? Three jury-member out of seven are being replaced – apart from the specific case of Daniele Muscionico, two more jury members, Anke Dürr and Christoph Leibold, finished their three-years-service. With almost half of fresh blood, the new jury have a good excuse to rethink its politic and have the courage to really reflect on the fabulous diversity of the German theatre landscape.

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