Festival Theaterformen has celebrated its 30th anniversary with a pandemic-appropriate special edition entitled “A Sea of Islands”. From 2 to 12 July, we ran the following programme: six art installations, eight online contributions, postal items sent by two theatre groups, eight concerts, the participatory programme “Perform at Home” for school groups and audiences at home, and live talks with the international theatremakers every evening. This edition of the festival, which was Martine Dennewald’s final edition as curator, came to an end on Sunday evening. The outcome of the festival has been very positive: 1455 visitors came to see the installations in Braunschweig. The online programme – free of charge and specifically conceived for this special edition of the festival – was also well received: overall, the festival recorded 285 page views on its Vimeo channel, which is where the online contributions were uploaded, between 2 and 12 July.
The pandemic-appropriate special edition 2020
In April 2020, with the backing of the festival advisory board, the artistic director Martine Dennewald shifted the festival away from the one that had originally been planned, which usually takes just under two years to prepare, and turned it into a pandemic-appropriate edition. Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Festival Theaterformen had planned to present, in Braunschweig’s theatres, 18 international productions connected with the same number of different islands across the world.
The special edition of the festival remained true to its originally invited artists and its thematic focus. The Faroe Islands, the Comoros and the Caribbean, Nauru, Timor and Sri Lanka: the focus was on islands – each of these with their own political peculiarities, geostrategic problems and projection screens for a different and a better life. In the face of the coronavirus crisis, the focus on the supposed periphery, on spatially isolated but nonetheless globally connected places, had taken on an unforeseen timeliness.
“For myself and the festival team, this task was a big risk: under very uncertain circumstances, we and our artists took a chance with an untested festival format, developed new artistic projects and premiered these, and geared our communications strategy and communications programme towards these unprecedented times. Thanks to the trust the artists and visitors placed in us, we were able to get the maximum value out of the festival and also reach an online audience far beyond Germany’s borders”, says Martine Dennewald.
The first online works to be published – which were shown for just under 52 hours on demand on the festival website – included Ogutu Muraya’s The Ocean Will Always Try to Pull You In, which achieved the highest number of clicks, with around 2190 page views. This was followed by salt. A Talk, the pre-produced conversation between the British theatremaker Selina Thompson and the US-American author Saidiya Hartman, with 2042 page views. Two contributions were shown from Indonesia by the choreography star Eko Supriyanto: Ibuibu Belu: Daily Life, a documentary play about the traces left behind by the COVID-19 virus in Belu, and Salt, a video dance piece. According to Vimeo, these two pages were viewed 1107 times altogether.
Setting up the installations in Braunschweig required extraordinary modes of operation
In Braunschweig, the festival opened up six installations to the public from 2 July. The works, which were on display at the Staatstheater Braunschweig’s performance venues, at the LOT Theater, in the Theaterpark and in Braunschweig’s city centre, required special modes of operation. For example, the New York artistic duo 600 HIGHWAYMEN conceived its installation A Thousand Ways from a long distance away and sent the festival team meticulous instructions for how to implement it across the Atlantic. Likewise, the Egyptian theatremaker Laila Soliman trusted the festival team with the first-time implementation of her new work Wanaset Yodit. In addition, the Latvian artist Voldemārs Johansons from Riga installed his storm installation Thirst by remote control – logged in to a mini robot, Johansons adapted the image and sound of his artwork to the performance space. By contrast, because they live in Lisbon, Ibiza and Hanover, Marlene Monteiro Freitas (Cattivo), Laura Liz Gil Echenique (Los Sobrevidentes) and Lotte Lindner & Till Steinbrenner (Ihr) were able to travel to Braunschweig to set up their installations.
Six festival editions under the direction of Martine Dennewald
The special edition 2020, entitled “A Sea Of Islands”, was Martine Dennewald’s final festival edition as curator. She has directed the festival since September 2014. For her first edition in the jubilee year 2015, she extended invitations to, among others, Rimini Protokoll, Tiago Rodrigues, Xavier Le Roy and 600 HIGHWAYMEN, presenting two productions by each of these. This curatorial concept of the double invitation gave the audience the opportunity to get to know the artists’ styles even better. Dennewald found clear ways of focusing the content for each further edition. After the 2016 festival in Braunschweig placed the focus on guest performances from East and South East Asia with “Our Common Futures”, the festival in Hanover in 2017 exclusively presented works by female directors and choreographers – this was an attempt to balance out structural inequality, not in the sense of a quota but in the sense of completely reversing inequality by way of a subversive gesture. In 2018 the festival dedicated itself to the effects and after-effects of colonialism from different perspectives. In 2019, a few months in advance of the festival, around half of the invited directors travelled to Hanover from all over the world with project ideas, text templates and an interest in Hanover and its people. They came to research and rehearse. The life stories of around 200 citizens from Lower Saxony were integrated into the theatrical pieces.
Dennewald’s curatorial works cannot be separated from her engagement with postcolonialism and work that takes a critical approach to discrimination. In 2018 and 2019 the festival team participated in a five-part continuous professional development training programme funded by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes [German Federal Cultural Foundation]. The work with the Institut für diskriminierungsfreie Bildung / IDB [Institute for Non-Discriminatory Education] involved reflecting on working processes within the institution as well as analysing our public relations work, how to deal with discrimination in the work of the festival, and how to formulate possible anti-racist strategies. Monthly awareness meetings, a new hiring policy, anti-discriminatory guidelines, cooperation with other institutions, and appointing external advisors for production-related feedback and continual professional development opportunities are only a few examples of the internal changes that were made on the basis of this process consultation.
The final word goes to, Martine Dennewald: “Over the past six years, we at the Festival Theaterformen have not only brought 80 productions from all over the world to Lower Saxony and given our audience unforgettable theatrical experiences; we have also put our mode of operation to the test, challenged aspects of the culture industry that are taken for granted, and deconstructed, expanded and differentiated established perspectives on the world. I am grateful to the artists who have shown us new pathways into the future, as well as to the audience and the supporters of the festival who have accompanied us on this journey. And I would like to wish Anna Mülter all the best for the coming years!”
Martine Dennewald will be succeeded in the autumn of 2020 by Anna Mülter, who will present her first Festival Theaterformen in the summer of 2021 from 8 to 18 July.