Saturday 8 October 2016

Postcards from Vilnius – the papers

[(re)Fresh – 6th Annual Conference for Young Theatre Critics 29/09 – 01/10]

Short intro: alongside watching all the shows detailed in the last two posts (link, link), Ott and myself also moderated a young critics/dramaturgs/etc. conference. Shared below are the abstracts for the papers given. They were REALLY GOOD. Anyone who’s interested in reading a specific paper, I think they’re being published – in English – soon, but I can pass on requests via email if anyone wants one. The Russian and Belarusian papers in particular might be of interest to those of you currently looking for new foreign plays to put on in translation? Elsewhere, the close similarities and vast differences between the theatre cultures in different (European/European-ish) countries are continually fascinating to me, and hopefully you too.

[Oh, and SOMEONE BRITISH PLEASE APPLY NEXT YEAR? It looks bad when it seems we’re never interested. Especially now.]

Rugilė Pukštytė (Vilnius, Lithuania) – To Be Continued (?)

If you‘re a thirty-year-old director, who has created more than 10 performances and has been nominated at least three times for the Golden Cross of the stage awards, does this mean that you have to have your own style, without the possibility of changing your aesthetic or making mistake?

Theatre has its own rules, but now we see, that the “lords” of this world loose their way and forget the rules they had created at the start of their theatrical journey. The word “lord” is used not for nothing; sometimes it appears that the directors of the new generation wear crowns, live in their own kingdoms, and pretend that they don‘t have any contact with past, not paying any attention to those who do not live in their land. In other words, the biggest part of new generation of Lithuanian theatre we could define as “me/ myself/ I”. I am speaking about those who mostly take classical drama works (those who still trust in words more than in other forms) and speak loud that they are changing the look at it, while just quoting the ideas of other directors; or, even worse, earlier works by themselves. The disappointing fact is, their wish to change something mostly isn‘t reached and all we feel seeing their creations is déjà vu.

It is important to note is that we do have a new generation of theatre directors that were interesting at the start of their careers. But now they look like researches of themselves, sometimes reflecting the past or the present, but mostly ignoring it. Of course we can‘t deny the fact that they are different between each other, noticeable and having the potential to change those who could be called as fathers of their theatrical life. But if they want to be loud or reach it, they should deeply think which is their true way and their performances shouldn‘t leave the feeling called „To Be Continued“. In other words, „Maybe Next Time“.

Ksenia Yarosh and Olga Markarian (Saint Petersburg, Russia) – Re-thinking the mythologisation of history in the post-Soviet theatre space: the conflict of the memorial and memory

A new tendency seems to have emerged in documentary theatre: while speaking of today’s history, it is not the present that is being reflected upon with the use of the document/s, but the past. One is trying to make a new sense of the Soviet myth in the post-Soviet space.

More generally speaking, the prism/space of post-Soviet thought is used to re-read this history; the same history, although in different performances and using different sources – peasants’ petitions, letters of the members of “Narodnaya Volya”, Decembrists’ confessions, memoirs of WWI soldiers, denunciations of Stalin’s young guards and their diaries – to re-read the history how a myth of opposition/resistance was created. To revisit the process of turning a document into a myth, of distorting a document.

We would like to take a number of performances presented in St. Petersburg and Moscow (“19.14”, “Rebels” by the Moscow Art Theatre; “A Life for the Tsar” and “Word and Action” by Teatro di Capua; “Young Guards” by Masterskaya [Workshop]) and discuss the conflict of the myth and the document, the memory and the monument, the irretrievable thought, the clash of sarcasm and pathos, the energy of resistance, the refusal to withdraw and the different attempts to fill a document with new energy.

On stage this instigates different theatrical languages, types of theatre, unusual doc.aesthetics. This appears to be one of the ways that allows the theatre to open up and saves the theatre from human and historical optimism.

Anastasia Vasilevitch (Minsk, Belarus) – New drama in Belarus: people and conditions of existence

In Belarus there is an interesting phenomenon of local drama; native playwrights become more popular abroad than at home. For a play to be staged in Belarus it should be first recognised and staged in other countries. The roots of this phenomenon can be found in the Soviet past when all the trends were set by Moscow. Belarusian playwrights, such as Dmitry Bogoslavski, Pavel Pryazhko, Maxim Dosko, Andrey Ivanov, Pavel Rassolko, Andrey Kureichik and Mykola Rudkovsky are very well-known outside the country. Their plays get into shortlists of prestigious drama contests and are staged not only in the neighbouring countries, but even on other continents. In their works, the playwrights touch on social and political themes. Belarusian local reality is often used as material for the plays. However, state theatres give preference to more “loyal” texts, or make a significant “corrections” – removing offensive language and violent episodes from the plays. The only way to deliver an uncensored text to an audience in Belarus is to stage plays in private theatres.

In 2007, the Belarusian Drama Centre was founded, with a mission to popularise native plays. For the last five years the centre has been organising dramatic laboratories, supervised by the leading Russian-speaking playwrights (M. Ugarov, J. Pulinovich, L. Mulmenko and others). Besides this, the centre holds readings of plays, thanks to which the authors can present their plays to the public in their original form. This year, the necessity of modern Belarusian drama was confirmed by a topical and vital performance “Opium” based on a play by V. Korolev. The financing for the staging has been gathered from different local people with help of crowdfunding. As a result, the performance was named “the most honest of the year”.

Francesco Brusa (Chișinău, Romania) – The future is not now but it’s here

Stop The Tempo is the title of a 2003 successful play by the Romanian playwright Gianina Carbunariu that denounces the hopeless condition of new generations in her home-country. At the same time, the expression “stop the tempo” could symbolically represent the battle cry for young theater-makers in the current post-Soviet bloc (and to some extent also in Western Europe).

One of the main issues that the new generations should face in order to make their voice heard is related to the “Post-modern/ism,” and to the peculiar time-space coordinates it creates. Has Postmodernism already ended? Did it ever actually exist? How can we find a way out of it?

Theater seems incapable of producing alternative and reliable “grand-narratives”. Moreover, it seems incapable of speaking about contemporary “youth” as a whole, or offering them a “fresh” political consciousness. But how it is possible to speak about our generation while we don’t even have a clear picture of the times we’re living in?

Fredric Jameson’s words resonate:
The new political art (if it is possible at all) will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism. That is to say, to its fundamental object – the world space of multinational capital – at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last.
This is one of the major challenges for young theatre-makers and perhaps part of the solution to this challenge. New theatre practices (especially in Eastern Europe) are trying to investigate the condition of new generations by describing the past they come from, the present they’re living in and the future they can possibly achieve. But maybe this is not the right dimension to look at. On the contrary, the “truth” of postmodernism lies in its space. Can (new) theatre represent the latter? Can theatre create a narrative that doesn't unfold time but develops just through a spatial dimension? Stop the tempo, make the space speak out.

Simten Demirkol (Eskişehir, Turkey) – Being a part of this drama

In my country, 20 to 30 years ago the National Theatre was the dream of many actors and a heaven for directors, with big stages, steady pay cheques, staff, crew and reputation. Then, Generation Y came… Fearless, bold yet, impatient, independent. According to research, Generation Y has a free spirit. They are also very sensitive about human rights, racism, gender equality, environment etc. So when they don’t feel good somewhere, they leave. In the last couple of years, I have seen students saying – students of a prestigious [theatre] school, which is very hard to get in to – “I am not going to make theatre, I will go to the countryside. I will grow tomatoes and beans. I will be a part of the nature. I will not be a part of this drama.

Other new graduates form little theatre groups by themselves. Most of them with zero funding from the government. Starving themselves. Forming and deforming. They are angry. In my country young people are still not heard, although they are very loud and very eager to express themselves. Language is coming back. Stories are coming back. But it is time to tell them in a different way. And there are independent stages all over. Mostly in İstanbul, but also in other cities too. And they criticize the traditionalism harshly. But I also wonder, how successful their connection with the audience is. Sometimes I hear the older theatre makers saying, “I know what it is to be young, but you don’t know what it is to be old.”


Teresa Fazan (Warszaw, Poland) – Political themes in young Polish choreography

My paper looks at political themes in Polish modern choreography and performance. Firstly by talking about how creating outside of the mainstream and tackling economic difficulties is a chance to create independent art. Secondly by acknowledging that performance and dance, which usually operate outside linguistic and literal meaning, can paradoxically be more political. By covering those topics, I would like to try to answer the question: are young Polish artists are ready to take an artistic and political stand?

In Poland, many dance projects continue to be under-financed. We are witnessing a shift in popularity of performance, which seem to be gathering more and more interest, but many artists still struggle with poor labour conditions. Paradoxically, this leads to them seeking other means of expression and gives a chance to create strong artistic community. In this way the pieces they create are political at the level of production. When artists create outside the mainstream and tackle economical difficulties, the art they create is truly independent. They not only make a point with the theme of their pieces, but on a higher level; just by the way they produce it, they are taking a stand.

The concept of choreography is expanding beyond the traditional meaning: the boundaries between visual and performance arts are disappearing, creating wide and intriguing space for solo and collective creation. Choreography is expanding to new locations – art galleries, public spaces – which gives it a chance to speak about new topics in new ways. It is often thought that political art has to be very tightly connected to a current context, to speak of and for certain people or groups of people. However taking stand in political discussion is always advocating one side of the conflict and by that, accepting the conflict itself. Art can be political in other way too – it can consciously choose to speak of something else, to give meaning to the life outside of the conflict. And I believe this is what young polish choreographers are successfully pursuing.

Niklas Fullner (Bochum, Germany) – The depiction of humanist acting in Philipp Löhle’s Wir sind keine Barbaren! (Engl.: We're No Barbarians!)

The new generation of theatre makers in Germany cannot be called revolutionary as it mostly follows the theatrical conventions that have been set up by the previous generation. Holding on to these conventions, which are still dominated by the concept of postdramatic theatre, makes it difficult to create a theatre that is rebellious or that takes a stand in the societal discourse. However, the new generation of theatre makers is not homogenous and some are trying to break out of the theatrical traditions which were set down by others. This is true, for example, for the young playwright Philipp Löhle and the plays he has written in the last ten years. In his trilogy of dreamers, as he calls it himself, Löhle tells stories about individuals that oppose the hypocritical ethics of today’s affluent society and develop their own humanist visions. Löhle shows a gap that opens between these individuals and the society they live in which evokes tragedy. But in Löhle’s plays tragedy always appears comical at the same time, which makes it possible to follow his plays without being moralised.

In his newest play Wir sind keine Barbaren! (engl.: We're No Barbarians!), which was premièred at the beginning of the so-called refugee crisis in 2014 and which was shown in many theatres all over Germany in the past two years, Löhle addresses the fear of foreigners in today’s society. In the play the petit bourgeois world of two neighbouring couples falls to pieces when one of the women decides to grant asylum to a foreigner who suddenly appears at night. The narrow-minded world view of our society is revealed in the following arguments of the couples, while the foreigner never appears on stage and his identity stays unclear. Again, Löhle depicts how an individual acts humanistically against the resistance of the society. This aspect of Löhle’s work is highly political and a much needed signal for resistance in today’s societal discourse.

Isabel Gatzke (Hildesheim, Germany) – Being in limbo: how do we (want to) rehearse? 

The proposed work points out, contextualizes and reflects the various positive and negative aspects young theatre-makers have to face during their rehearsal. Reflecting my own artistic work with the theatre collective Roda/Born at the Ruhrtriennale Masterclass, I will take a closer look at the conditions under which theatre collectives on the line between studying and professionalism develop new artistic forms.

In the first part I will give a short introduction to theoretical publications dealing with the process of rehearsing and different ways of creating material for the stage. For this reason I will set out some approaches from Mieke Matzke’s work with SheShePop and how these artists generate content based on their own experience and Rimini Protokoll and their specific ways of doing research during their rehearsals.

After that I will contextualize my own experiences as a theatre-maker during the rehearsals for the Ruhrtriennale Masterclass 2016. For this reason I’m going to describe the structure of how we rehearsed in connection with the different (study)backgrounds we have. This includes external circumstances, time and money difficulties and various approaches to our concept. The main focus of this explanation lies on the question how we produced, wrote and spoke text and, on the other hand, how we tried to pass on content while avoiding text.

At the end I want to draw a conclusion from our experience and the theoretical background to summarize the development of rehearsing up to now but also to show what will change with a new generation of theater-makers and what needs to be optimized to let the rehearsal room the safe place it should be. My aim of this lecture is to share my questions with the other participants to collect ideas and wishes and to develop a new vision of rehearsing.

Maryna Strapko (Poznan, Poland) – Theatre Curator: the artist or the theatre manager? Voices of curators in a theatrical discourse

In my essay I would like to talk about the figure of the theatre curator in various contexts, as well as about the structure and impact of curators on certain Polish projects. [For a useful English equivalent, perhaps read “curator” as creative producer + festival director + building dramaturg]

When speaking about the new generation, it is impossible to ignore the “new” generation in its truest sense, especially in relation to young members of the theatre community – curators. Every year in Poland, in addition to students of various theatrical faculties, young people graduate from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan with a major of „Interdisciplinary curator projects”. Young curators work with topics that concern them personally; they develop project concepts, concentrating on a specific issue or problem, and then seek support and cooperation both with well-known and aspiring directors, actors, performers who have to confront, in creative sense, with these topics.

However, apart from projects that are directly related to theatre or art, curators create new formats of theater festivals today, as well as unique, from ideological and artistic point of view, curatorial projects on sensitive historical and social topics such as: feminism, the Holocaust, the Polish Roma community, LGBTQ+ and others. The degree of importance and influence of current interdisciplinary projects is evident: people write and talk about it more and more, and they cause no less interest than premières in leading theatres of Poland.

Young theatre curators demolish the ossified hierarchy of theatrical sphere and raise new questions about cross-, inter-, transdisciplinarity of the theatre. Nowadays’ curators explore topics of taboos quite differently. Curators include people and history in the theatrical discourse, and thereby cause incredible local discoveries. Curators are people who think about theatre with non-dogmatic intentions.


Kristina Steiblytė (Lithuania) – New Generations = New Identities

Twenty six years of independence brought a lot of changes in Lithuania. Not only have policies changed, but also culture. Some major theatre directors from Soviet period are still active and relevant, but there are also a lot of young people coming into theatre. Every year there are Music and Theatre Academy graduates hoping to succeed in theatre world. There are new acting, directing, and theatre teaching programs opening. Do these produce young people with new ideas, representing changing aesthetic and ideological identities, or are changes impossible with the same old people teaching, leading most of the important theatres, and distributing the money for new performances?

The end of recent theatre season makes one question the possibility of change. Especially when looking at main stages of the country: young directors presenting replicas of their teachers’ works; socially engaged theatre without thorough investigation of the social issue at hand; and great actors of different generations waiting patiently for THE DIRECTOR.

On the other hand, away from the main stages, there are some intriguing things happening. Klaipėda Youth Theatre is showing how a collaborative form of theatre can work. Puppeteers from Klaipėda are experimenting with materials and forms of expression. Could this be the beginning of more decentralised, democratic theatre making, or are we bound to stay in the same comfort zone, replicating the same aesthetic and ideological identities?

This can be tied to a broader theme of identity in Lithuania. On one hand, being members of EU and NATO makes us more cosmopolitan and open to global problems, topics, and aesthetic experiments. On the other, the right turn in politics across Europe cannot be ignored and is also obvious here – in theatre too, with national branding (instead of nation building, important in the interwar period and at least in part during the Soviet occupation) becoming an important part of performances or even theatre’s repertoire.

Karolina Matuszewska (Poland) – The young and talented women of Polish and Lithuanian theatre

They are unruly, expressive, charismatic, and in only a few years have given the theatre a new rhythm and tempo. In last few years there has been a real rash of young and talented theatre directors who consistently demand a place for themselves on the Polish and Lithuanian theatre stage. What interests them? What topics touch them the most? What forms of artistic expression they use?

In my report I’ll present a subjective selection of the most interesting theatre directors, whose performances can be seen today in Poland and Lithuania. I'll try to think about what they have in common and what divides them, and answer the question whether we can talk about a new, wider phenomenon in the theatre, based on a bold mixing of different styles and forms of art.

Ewa Uniejewska (Warszaw, Poland) – “Living Classics” or reanimating a corpse?

The Staging of The Old-time Polish Literature Competition “Living Classics” (“Klasyka Żywa”) was organized to celebrate 250th anniversary of the Polish Theatre. Polish artists were encouraged to look for the old texts written before 1969, i.e. before Witold Gombrowicz’s death, and to stage them. As a result, there were 83 spectacles directed in 56 theatres located in 31 Polish cities. These created a discussion about “classics” as a some kind of a canon or a pattern. Re: staging – on one hand, directors tried to reconstruct the old scenic conventions and to stage the whole play without any shortcuts. On the other hand, they contemporized the old works by using the brand new means of scenic expression and using various dramatic treatments. In the latter case it was apparently easy to replace a Polish cultural code with pop culture (for example in Grażyna directed by Radosław Rychcik the Lithuanian-Teutonic battle was played out as a basketball match accompanied by a gospel chorus).

In my paper I would like to analyse the ways in which young Polish directors tried to re-read classics and answer the recurring question of whether they managed to reanimate the old pieces or just to translate them into much more simpler language of social and cultural communication (basing on the plays presented during the “Living Classics” Competition).

[cover photo: Laura Vansevičienė]

1 comment:

pashers said...

Hi Andrew. It sounds like it was an interesting event. Do you know if any of the papers have been published yet? I keep checking the Conference's website. Is that where they'll appear when they're available? Many thanks, Jon