Opening Speech Yvonne Büdenhölzer

What may have been lost? – we asked the theatres and companies from the German-language region this question and received 34 filmed answers on the current pandemic situation of the theatres, on the “gaps”, the “blanks” that have emerged.

A green colour field shows slight abstract contours.

Actors from DeutschesSchauSpielHaus Hamburg jumped into the river Alster at a temperature of 8 degrees, Markus & Markus set off table fireworks in their homes just to create a big bang, and a seat set out from the empty auditorium of Schauspielhaus Bochum, in search of its audience.

What may have been lost – and what may have been gained. My team and I operated permanently between these poles over the course of this preparatory year. Should we cancel? Postpone? De-centralise? Should it be in the open air? Hybrid? Streamed? We considered many different options, but none of them felt 100 percent right. And how could they?

Festivals are the opposite of lockdown and distance. Festivals are a concentration of events. Festivals create closeness, communication and encounters: between artists and audiences. The works of art also enter into correspondence with each other by being shown in one city, in a spatial and temporal context. This correspondence, this concentration within the city of Berlin will not be possible this year. Last year, Theatertreffen responded to the then acute situation and the streets were quite silent during the first lockdown. This year, the festival marks the beginning of a transformation in the context of a post-pandemic and increasingly digitalised society. A beginning that is rapidly developing into both an incredible experiment and an overextension.

As well as focusing on the topics that have long been important to us, such as gender, inclusion and ecological sustainability, we have added an interest in new formats. We first cooperated with the Academy for Theatre and Digitality and the Digital Dramaturgy in 2020 and our new showcase “Stages Unboxed” will be a continuation of this cooperation. For the first time, we will work with the Performing Arts Festival Berlin and ask ourselves: “What Are We Waiting For?” In talk rounds, we will reflect the lived realities of the performing arts and their professionals in times of the pandemic and we intend to draw attention to the current needs of the people who work in this sector. Another focus topic is an analysis of power and responsibility in the operations of city theatres. We have been dealing with the issue of ecological sustainability for some time, even beyond the actual festival period. We are working on our own footprint and hosting a forum for sustainability in the theatre, in cooperation with the network Nachhaltigkeit in Kultur und Medien (Sustainability in Culture and the Media).

What may have been gained? What characterises our (digital) Theatertreffen? Here is my answer: Of course, we all share the deeply felt wish to enjoy an analogue experience of art and theatre. But a digital festival also entails a kind of increased freedom and democratisation of watching. It is much easier to take part, we are exploring new forms of participation and interaction, present artists who are new to the festival and experience different, digital forms of storytelling. Who can be featured now? What will be the impact of these artistic developments on the criteria set by the Theatertreffen-jury in the future? How will the role of “spectating” evolve? In the digital sphere, the aspect of how politically aware an audience is and how opinions are formed are far more present. Isn’t it time to stop drawing these lines and to no longer weigh between “analogue” and “digital”? To achieve this, sustainable concepts will have to be created: by the art sector, but also by politics.

I am delighted that we will be able to show the complete selection of 10 productions, either as live streams or as recordings, as well as the works featured in Stückemarkt.

And I am sad that it has once again proven impossible for the fellows of the International Forum to travel to Berlin.

Today we begin twelve days of online Theatertreffen. We hope to give a sense of closeness in time by creating as many live moments as we can. To generate a sense of spatial togetherness, we have developed brand-new spaces: Our digital Festival Garden is already open – and we can guarantee that there will be no closing time or complaints about too much noise. We offer chats for nearly all events, our after-show talks and discussions are all live, and five productions of the selection of 10 will be streamed live. But in order to fill all these digital spaces with life and to build a festival community, we need you, our dear audience. Let me invite you! See for yourselves what might be gained! We will be here – and we hope that you will be too!

I would like to end by giving thanks to all our partners for their long-standing and reliable support, above all to the Federal Cultural Foundation, especially Hortensia Völckers and Kirsten Haß, and our media partner 3sat, who once again produced recordings of three productions from the selection of 10 productions! My heartfelt thanks go to the jury for their efforts in challenging pandemic times! And to the entire team of Berliner Festspiele, especially director Thomas Oberender and the communications and technical departments. To the developers’ team of the digital platform, Serve-u and Best Films Forever and my fantastic Theatertreffen-team. They are all working with joined forces to make this new festival a marvellous reality.

Welcome to Berliner Festspiele Digital: The 2021 Theatertreffen is open!

Yvonne Büdenhölzer
Director Theatertreffen