International Forum 2014

Dealing with insecurities

The 50th edition of the International Forum at the Theatertreffen gathered together 35 theatre-makers from 19 countries. For two weeks, they worked on themes, ideas and issues that each one of them had brought from their home country to Berlin. From the very beginning, it became clear how the diverse realities of life in Kabul, Zurich, Berlin or Lima led to a range of very different aesthetics. “Insecurity”, “risk” and “crisis” were terms that repeatedly surfaced during the discussions. In their lectures, the theatre-makers illustrated vividly how current conflicts shaped their image of themselves as theatre-makers and that this was reflected in new aesthetic forms: diarist docu-theatre about Maidan Square in Kiev, street performances about social gulfs against the backdrop of the World Cup championships in São Paulo, theatre festivals in Egypt to counter its increasing international isolation or theatre projects in the environs of Kabul. At its extreme, being a theatre-maker in this context means consciously putting one’s own existence in danger as Nasir Formuli put it, describing the risk he runs as a theatre-maker of being attacked by Islamists in the Afghan province where schoolchildren are told stories using puppets.

Artistic strategies were tested out in workshops with directors, playwrights or actors from the Theatertreffen and Forum in whose respective theatres a world of increasing complexity is negotiated. Daniel Wetzel and Helgard Haug from Rimini Protokoll made drama experiments with the bursary-holders reflecting their differing perspectives of the construct of “Europe”. In Susanne Kennedy’s workshop, the issue arose of how to set theatre in relation to (realpolitik) social situations. This applied as much to “safe” locations such as Switzerland or Frankfurt as to others. What position should a municipal theatre take if police surround Occupy activists on its forecourt? How does a young ensemble member break through the age-old fossilisation of municipal theatre beyond city borders? Other issues were the compatibility of theatre and family, or the dwindling integrity of chief directors and cultural politicians.

The Forum was a platform for exchange, not only for bursary-holders, but also open to students, artists from other disciplines and bursary-holders from past years. The new Camp format used the Kassenhalle in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele as a space for discourse. Artistic practice in the Uferstudios in Berlin Wedding sometimes ran on late into in the night. Over forty video clips offer insights into the most diverse themes and perspectives, the Theatertreffen productions, or the theatre scene of the bursary-holders. (

As the Forum celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, former bursary-holders offered their own forums. Over 150 theatre-makers gathered for a meeting about the future at the Festspielhaus: Laila Soliman, a director from Cairo, asked about the consequences of major social and political changes outside of Europe for local theatre work, for example. “Zwölf Thesen von zwei weißen männlichen Dramaturgen-Heten auf der Suche nach der utopischen Gemeinschaft“ (Twelve hypotheses by two white male hetero dramaturges in search of a utopian community) was the tongue-in-cheek title of Aljoscha Begrich and Tarun Kade’s talk about the changes needed in municipal theatre. And Barrie Kosky, a young Australian director and Forum participant, described the helpfulness of his view as an outsider to the German cultural scene in his job as Chief Director of the Komische Oper.

The International Forum has been a platform for professional theatre-makers for 50 years. Its aim is to help artists to spur on, debate with and inspire each other through artistic practice and discourse. 2,162 bursary-holders have taken part in the Theatertreffen Forum since 1964. Many of them report back on how positive and momentous their participation was for their artistic career. Nevertheless, participation is much more than a feature on a CV. The deeper meaning of the Forum is much less a public and much more a personal one. The Forum does not focus on the representation of the participants, nor is it a showcase. At its core is the opportunity to contrast and exchange the bursary-holders’ artistic approaches and those of all the other Theatertreffen artists. This form of support is only possible in close cooperation with its partners. A huge thank you is due here to the Goethe Institutes, Pro Helvetia, the German Cultural Minister and the Deutsche Bühnenverein (German Stage Association). These and many others have supported the concept of the Forum for decades: to give theatre-makers the opportunity to communicate as artists beyond productions, beyond language and borders, and in a world that is increasingly full of insecurity. The International Forum has continued to change throughout its five decades of existence, including its anniversary edition, at which point I take my leave after nine years of work within this vital engine for theatre and global inspiration in the framework of the Berlin Theatertreffen.

Uwe Gössel
Director of the International Forum