|*1 Nippon Connection is a Japanese film festival held each May for about a week with Mousonturm as the main venue and other venues around the city. It is the largest film festival in Europe that focuses solely on Japanese films, showing many different varieties of films. Each holding attracts a total audience of about 16,000, not only from Germany but other countries around Europe. One distinctive aspect of the festival is the fact that most of the staff involved are volunteers.
Frankfurt Book Fair is held each year in October at Messe Frankfurt as one of the world’s largest book fairs, attracting representative of the publishing industry and media from around the world.
|*3 Frank Castorf
Born in East Berlin in 1951. He was active in the West from before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in 1992 he was appointed as artistic director of the Volksbuehne Berlin. Today, he is known as one of Germany’s leading directors. He is known for his radical directing based on drastic re-writings of texts of classic plays and adaptations of novels, and he is acclaimed for his numerous works presenting scathing criticism of Western capitalism and contemporary society. In 2005, he came to Japan to present a production of Endstation Amerika. In 2017 he will retire from his position as artistic director of Volksbuehne Berlin.
Born in Hamburg in 1968. He is known and praised for his post-drama style productions of classic plays and plays of writers like Elfriede Jelinek in productions performed at theaters such as Staatsoper Hannover, Thalia Theater Hamburg, Deutsche Theater Berlin, etc. He won the 3sat Prize in 2012 for his production of Faust I+II
(Thalia Theater) in the Theatertreffen (Berlin Theater Festival) that presents ten noted works premiered in the German-speaking world. The same year, he received the “Outstanding Director of the Year Award” (Theater Heute magazine). He served s resident director of the Burgtheater Vienna from 2004 to 2007 and from 2015 at Münchner Kammerspielen. In 2014, he presented a production of Faust Part I
at the Shizuoka Performing Arts Centre (SPAC) in Shizuoka, Japan.
*5 Christoph Schlingensief
Born in Oberhausen in 1960. In 1984 he debuted as a full-length film scriptwriter. From 1989 to 1992, he won acclaim for his German trilogy (100 Jahre Adolf Hitler – Die letzte Stunde im Führerbunker, Das deutsche Kettensägenmassaker and Terror 2000 – Intensivstation Deutschland). In 1993, he began activities as a stage director at Volksbuehne, and has since directed many plays at theaters in the German-speaking realm. In addition to staging plays often making use of people with disabilities an people from the general public and making abundant use of video art, he conducts socially provocative projects as an arts activist that always provoke media attention. In 2010, he passed away at the age 49. In 2011, the German Pavilion with its displays of his works won the Leone d’Oro award of the Venice Biennale. In 2014, a feature presentation of his works was shown at Festival / Tokyo. Representative works include Ausländer raus! (2000 / Vienna Festival) among others.
|*6 Theater am Turm (TAT)
Founded in Frankfurt in 1953. In the 1970s, there was a period when Rainer Werner Fassbinder served as artistic director. In 1980, it reopened under a new concept of a theater without a resident theater company, and until 1986 it presented experimental works by free scene artists and foreign artists. It closed permanently in 2004.
*8 Rhizome is a metaphorical term and philosophical term for a concept put forward by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus. In opposition to the model of tree-like outgrowth of branches as the prime depiction of development of varieties in traditional Western metaphysics, the rhizome model allows for ceaselessly established multi-directional connections that have no center and no ends like a botanical rhizome or rhizome-like growth.
|*9 Complete Shelter Manual, Frankfurt Edition “EVAKUIEREN”
A project created by Akira Takayama (Port B) in collaboration with Mousonturm that ran for a about a month in September 2014. With the cooperation of other artists from 15 artist groups, 40 “Shelters” were created around Frankfurt and neighboring areas for audience to download maps of from the project’s website and then visit using public transportation, etc. The critic site Nachtkritik nominated the project as a “Most Important German-language Work in 2014” and the ensuing open voting selected it as 8th most important.
A platform for progressive artists working crossover creation that transcends the boundaries of theater, performance, live art, contemporary art, music, film and media art, etc. Works selected from open applications are then produced at one of the participating theaters including Sophiensæle (Berlin), FFT Dusseldorf, Mousonturm, brut (Vienna) and Gessnerallee (Zurich) and then performed at all the theaters as part of the FREISCHWIMMER Festival. The meaning of FREISCHWIMMER is one who swims.
|*11 Paula Rosolen
Born 1983. Frankfurt-based choreographer and dancer. The work referred to here is her new work Puppets s (premiered Mousonturm July 2016) based on research on Bunraku and Shishimai during a residency at Goethe Institute Kyoto’s Villa Kamogawa, and research on Malaysian puppet theater.
*12 Words of Lithuanian anarchist, Emma Goldman who was known for her political activism in the US.
|One of the theaters that has drawn attention alongside Berlin’s HAU, Hamburg’s Kampnagel and others in leading the “free scene” of artists in Germany is Frankfurt’s Mousonturm (Künstlerhaus Mousonturm). It opened in 1988 in a renovated facility in Frankfurt’s first high-rise building constructed back in the 1920s to serve as an alternative creative base for artists. Mousonturm’s artistic director (intendant) since 2013, Matthias Pees, boasts an interesting and varied career that includes working as dramaturge for leading public theaters and festivals in the German-speaking world, such as Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and the Vienna Festival (Wiener Festwochen), as well as working originally as a journalist and emigrating to Brazil. At Mousonturm, Pees has introduced new programs with an increased emphasis on working with the artists. In this interview we ask Pees about his approach to the state of today’s “production houses” and the so-called “free scene” that is making Germany an international meeting place for the performing arts by not retaining resident theater companies and instead working with a variety of artists of different genres and different countries, and how he is spreading Mousonturm’s activities beyond Frankfurt to Land Hessen and Rhine Main, as well as his vision for the future.
Interviewer, interview composition: Akiko Okamoto, Masashi Nomura
I would like to begin by asking about the history of Mousonturm from its founding to the present.
Today, Mousonturm is an international production house. Originally, at the end of the 1970s, the artist group Omnibus led by Dieter Buroch was receiving support from the chief of the Frankfurt Arts Council, and everything started from a three-day festival that they held at what was already the abandoned old Mouson Soap Works factory. Then, after ten years of political, financial preparations and renovation of the facility, Künstlerhaus Mousonturm (Artists’ House Mousonturm) was opened in 1988.
The basic idea from the beginning was to make it an alternative artist house. It was also a place that would provide the possibilities of all types of crossover arts and the necessary infrastructure to enable artists to live and create independently of their own initiative, thus serving as a creative base for Frankfurt’s free artists. There have been a number of changes along the way, but the original basic concept of having a full-time technical staff and a team including program directors, publicity and maintenance people but no permament resident artists has remained the same. Artists are brought in for each different project. For this reason, it is called a “production house.” This system makes it different from the usual German public theater, which has a permament ensemble of certain directors and actors who are normally the ones directing and performing the theaters’ productions.
Would you tell us about the Mousonturm facilities and staff?
Originally, Mousonturm (Mouson Tower) was Frankfurt’s first high-rise building. The present theater hall was added on to the facility as a theater with a maximum seating capacity of 280, but it is normally used with seating for 160 to 200. There are three rehearsal studios, two work studios (atelier) and there is a residence facility with five rooms where artists can stay. There is also a carpentry workshop and facilities and equipment for lighting, sound and technical operations. The permanent staff consists of some 30 people, including stage technicians, business management, publicity, dramaturges and programmers, a production office team and workshop chief. Also, some 30 stage technical people are involved on a freelance basis, and around the same number of people in the front house staff. Furthermore, we share the Frankfurt LAB facility in the city with four other organizations, and we sometimes conduct theater and dance programs there as well.
I believe that in recent years there is increasing diversity in the way theaters go about the creation of independent (original) productions and co-productions with other groups or organizations. Would you tell us what your theater’s annual program of performances consists of?
Our theater does very few original productions, in the past only about one or two a year; we are actually increasing this number already preparing five original productions for 2017. The fact that we mainly coproduce is related to developments in Germany’s “free scene” over roughly the past 15 years. We are not a performance facility that creates our own productions usually. Instead, it is a system where the productions are created by the artist groups, who receive co-production funding and infrastructure from the theater. So, this makes the artist groups the managers and producers of their own works. And so, they have to find other theaters they can tour their productions to, plus they have to secure the overall production funding themselves. This is the direction that Germany’s artist support structure has developed in and changed over time.
At Mousonturm we do about 30 of this type of co-production a year. In addition to providing production funding, we provide the artists with rehearsal studio space and technical support, as well as providing dramaturgy type support. The largest number of performances we program in the course of a year are not these co-productions, however, it is touring productions, which make up more than half of our program each year.
Another form of program is those like the Nippon Connection (*1)
and the Lichter Filmfest Frankfurt International that are done in tie-ups with other organizers. As a partner we provide the building and infrastructure. With the Frankfurter Buchmesse (Frankfurt Book Fair) (*2)
we decide the form of tie-up depending on what the guest country is each year.
Regarding your co-productions with artist groups, what are the percentages of co-productions with German artists and international co-productions with artists from other countries?
The boundary between international and domestic co-productions is disappearing. Especially with dance today, there are few cases that can really be called “domestic productions”. Although there are boundaries of language in performance or theater, nonetheless even then it is most common to have numerous countries involved in joint productions. Rather, the more common distinction we make in programming for our theater is whether it is dance or performance or theater. That is not because we believe in making artistic distinctions but because we are programming for the audience that comes to the theater.
About one-third of the dance works we program are co-productions with local artists like the ones that practice at Mousonturm. Another third are dance works produced in the same way in other parts of Germany, and the final third are foreign productions. Two-thirds of the latter are mixtures, so it is hard to classify them. With our theater programming, we make about half the program of foreign works.
What is your budget like at Mousonturm? Are there any particular issues you face with funding?
From the start, Mousonturm was a municipal facility, and it is operated as a limited company (GmbH) financed 100% by the City of Frankfurt. Our annual budget is between 5.5 and 6 million euro, of which 3.9 million is funding from the city, from which we operate the house, pay the staff , finance PR and program a part of the performances. . The rest of the budget we have to raise ourselves. Ticket sales comes to about 350,000 to 400,000 euro, which represents about 8% of the total budget. We raise the remaining approximately one to one and a half million euro, and if we are unable to we have to cut expenses by reducing the number of productions we finance. The overall annual budget varies depending on how much we are able to raise in funding each year.
There are two problems involved in this. One is that our structure requires a lot of work. A large number of staff members have to work on promoting productions, doing the paperwork involved in accounting of income and expenses involved in our financial transactions. Another problem is that most funding from other organizations is not for general theater programming but is tied to specific projects. So, we have to convince the officials of the grant foundations or the auditors that the money is being used in the true spirit of the project it is allotted for, and in fact they each have different concepts and rules. This is a very complex issue, and since it means that many projects have to be tailored to the conditions required by the funding organization, we have to be aware to not weaken our own programming aims.
In the case of a common municipal theater in Germany, sufficient budget is provided to produce about ten new plays, ten operas and conduct theater educational programs, and since it is just a matter of how the budget is distributed internally, there is no real need to solicit other funding. That is what’s different in our case.
I would like to ask you next about your personal career. Prior to your appointment of artistic director of Mousonturm in August 2013, you had experience working with many artists in a variety of jobs. How did you first become involved in theater, and what kinds of experiences influenced your activities?
I went to university in Hamburg, but I was never an academic. My intensive period of study was the five years I spent working as a journalist and theater critic. I studied and learned by job independently as I worked in the field, by seeing many performances and reading many scripts and analyzing and critiquing them. I would travel for hours to other cities to see a performance, then return the same night and wake up at 6:00 to write my review and have it to the editors by 10:00 a.m. It was a life that required a lot of discipline. At the time I was in my early 20s, so I could do it, but it is unthinkable for me now, from a physical standpoint and all. Within the given word limit I tried to write a review that would be interesting to the reader, give them knowledge about the performance and also describe my own experience and maybe insight with the show I had seen.. In the process of experimenting with what I wanted to say and do in my writing, I came to develop a positive relationship with the arts and the artists. Instead of citing the things that failed to function in a work, I wrote about what approach the artists might or could have taken to get to what they were aiming for in their work. That is being positive and affirmative. In other words, it is meaningless just to write that a performance was not interesting. I believe it was this experience that eventually led me to begin working on the production side rather than the critic side.
Hearing this, it seems that your switching from a journalist and theater critic to a dramaturge was a logical progression.
A dramaturge has the ability to describe things from a number of perspectives and approaches. It is possible to see the dramaturge as a work’s first audience. For example, introducing the opinions of a dramaturge in the rehearsal stage is an effective way to change the process of a work’s development. If there is a part that the actors and director naturally think is going well but the dramaturge doesn’t, he or she can tell them that it isn’t understandable or it isn’t communicating and suggest that they should either cut it or find some way to make it stronger.
After your career as a journalist, in 1995 you began work as a dramaturge at the Volksbühne theater where Frank Castorf (*3) was artistic director.
In my career, the experiences of the five years I worked at Volksbühne were very important in all aspects. Especially, the experience of working with Castorf completely overturned a part of my views of theater until that point. From that point on I could no longer believe what I saw in ordinary theater. His work was so extremely paradoxical and multilayed and full of vitality. He had ideas that were previously unknown and difficult to be imitated by others. He could be rash and, like a go-player capable of reading 20 moves ahead, he had the ability to foresee the meaning of an artist’s experiment, where it was headed and what depths or heights it could potentially reach. He is a genius. I was very much influenced by the unique way of working that he developed and established.
After that I worked at the Hannover State Theater (Staatstheater Hannover). It was a common and regular kind of [dramaturge] job working with the directors there. With the younger directors, especially Nicolas Stemann (*4)
, they were of the same generation as me, so we were able to approach things from similar perspectives. You see, Castorf had been two generations older than me and Christoph Schlingensief (*5)
was one generation older.
After that, I worked for the Recklinghausen Festival (Ruhrfestspiele), but at that time I had already decided to move to Brazil, so I was going back and forth between the two. Although I only worked there for a short time, but the change to responsibilities as a program dramaturge and production work as a [festival] curator that involved budget-related issues was an important experience for me. In contrast, the job of a dramaturge at a public theater, where you can be involved without worrying about money, is a very privileged job.
So, you were able to put your experience at Recklinghausen to good use in the work that you would then do in Sao Paulo, couldn’t you?
That is certainly true. It was there that I first got the idea that I could work as a producer. At the time, there was no word for “dramaturge” in the Portuguese language, so it was impossible to think of making a living as a dramaturge in Sao Paulo. So after I moved there, I started a production company with the Brazilian Ricardo Muniz Fernandez and produced many cultural exchange projects by planning the projects like a curator and then proposing them to investors and theaters. In that capacity, I worked with artists like Schlingensief, whom I had worked with in Germany, and a variety of artists from other countries. Ricardo Muniz also had connection with artists in Japan like Tadashi Suzuki-san, dumb type, Kazuo Ono-san and Yoshito Ono-san. He had his connections and I had mine, so we made a good working pair.
It is a very unique aspect of your career that you moved to Brazil and spent six years working there from 2004, which is indeed rare in this industry, isn’t it? What influence did this period have on you?
Simply the fact that I was living in a country on a different continent from the one where I grew up was a big thing for me. The way I looked at myself and my home country and also the cultural, historical and social context changed completely. The relative difference can give you new perspectives. I can’t really talk seriously with people who haven’t experienced this kind of culture change. It is difficult, if you don’t have actual experience of it to reflect on it purely on a theoretical basis. Because many people think that the place where they live is absolute. I believe that the opposed perspectives that are born from a culture change is essential and fundamental for our work and our themes. That is why I would say that my experience in Brazil and the new perspectives that resulted from it has had a big effect in my own life.
So, there were big changes in a number of areas between the time before Sao Paulo and the time after it, weren’t there?
That is true from a number of perspectives. It was a very important time away.
After Sao Paulo, I worked for the Vienna Festival from 2010. Austria is quite a different country from Germany. The people are passionate about culture and the arts, and almost every night there are numerous cultural events, and all of them with full audiences. There are some tourists at these events but a lot of the audience is citizens of Vienna, which is a wonderful thing. It was a good experience working in a festival in that kind of city. I was able to think about festivals in a whole different light.
Then, at Mousonturm I arrived at yet another, a third type of structure. From the municipal theater I had gone to festivals and then I came to the free scene.
I imagine that there are not many people who have experienced working in those three different fields, are there?
Probably that is true! And I do feel fortunate in that respect.
Would you please tell us about how you came to become the artistic director of Mousonturm?
[Dieter] Buroch was Mousonturm’s artistic director for 23 years, and then Niels Ewerbeck, who had become his successor, passed away suddenly. Mousonturm is a very important institution for everyone involved in the free scene. So, many people, including myself were wondering who would step in to fill the gap. Amidst this I received a direct request, and after thinking about it considerably, I had long talks with the head of the city’s bureau of cultural affairs, and in the process it was decided that I would be the next artistic director.
What was it that attracted you to the position?
I was attracted to the idea of working within the structure surrounding Mousonturm. It just happened that the time was right, and I felt that with my career and experience up to that point, I could handle the task. The role and mission of the program and the municipal organization that supports it are wonderful. My position in the scheme is always keep the staff motivated and to lead them as much as possible. Calculations and tactics aren’t effective. What is necessary is that I share the same goals and everyone believes in them.
Is your role as artistic and managing director of Mousonturm something completely different from the various types of work you have experienced in the past?
It is not completely different, but the responsibilities are a bit different. In Brazil, we had just one or two employees and 30 to 40 staff members performing a variety of roles. It is a country with very loose regulations protecting workers and they can be exploited, so I was very intent about the responsibility of asking myself if I was exploiting or not. Anything could happen. Should we have insurance for them, should we give them vacations, should we do things that aren’t necessarily required? It becomes a test of character. Because in a private business these things come out of your own pocket.
In Brazil I was running and managing my own company, but now that is done by my administration department and I am only the final person responsible. In the end it is also a matter of not going into the red. In that respect my experience running a company has been helpful. A dramaturge thinks about a program mainly from the standpoint of contents, but as an artistic director it becomes a question that includes factors like the workload on the employees and the practicality and communicability of the work in the program you present.
With the advance of today’s global capitalistic society with its rapidly increasing flow of goods, people and information, in the world of performing arts as well, there is a growing flow of works and collaborations across borders and regions and, at the same time, I believe there is an increasingly intense questioning of the role of the arts in each country and region. In light of this, we are seeing a re-questioning of the existing state of the performing arts and the boundaries of artistic genres, and this resulting in a variety of new experiments and developments.
In regard to these changes, Germany’s free scene seems to me to be responding most directly. Within this context, I would like to ask you about the approach Mousonturm is taking as an international production house.
It is a question of how much potential character the arts have to change the realities of our lives. It is our point of departure for choosing individual projects and the make-up of our annual programs and how we communicate with the world around us. And in fact, I believe that this approach involves more difficulties than approach taken by many other institutions.
In the contemporary arts, it is the reflection and provocation and definition of problems related to the realities of life in contemporary society that is more important than the beauty of harmonious physical motion or the allure of poetic words. It is our views of the political and social mechanisms of the society we live in, our worldview and historical perspective and our vision of a future where we can live in harmony and prosperity that become important. This is something we have to deal with on the individual, organizational, national and ethnic levels, and at the same time that is the credo we must apply in artistic creation and it is what makes artistic creation a pursuit worthy of the name. And this is what gives birth to works of art with contemporary relevance by artists living in the contemporary world.
In this sense, we are constantly in a process of self-examination and self-questioning with regard to our activities and programming and the state of our institution. And this is a part of our concept. There is no time to put our feet up and relax. It is difficult to keep going in this way. But, it is only through constant activity, constant motion that we can get our mission through. Doing art without worry about the results. People going to the theater because some good actor is performing a good role in a different play, or because they want to keep in touch with what is happening by following the works of a director who puts out a new one each year. That is not the level that we are trying to reach the world on. We are working in an environment where the artists and subject matter and forms of expression are changing constantly, so it is sometimes difficult to keep the audience following us. That is the big issue we deal with.
Ours is a different environment from Berlin, where there is large contemporary art scene and community, where there are lots of theaters and artists and plenty of audience to create a constantly developing discourse and critique. In Frankfurt, most of the contemporary performing artists are constantly working with us. And the Frankfurt audience is made up of people who want to enjoy and be convinced by what they see. In Frankfurt there is abundant funding and the number of culture and arts events is large in proportion to the size of the city. Of course, it is an audience that can also choose from a variety of options, like going out to eat or staying home to watch television.
Do you feel that Frankfurt is a good city for the contemporary arts?
Yes. Frankfurt has a strong tradition in the contemporary arts. It is the home of one of the most important contemporary music ensembles, the Ensemble Modern, as well as one of Germany’s most important composers and directors in Heiner Goebbels, and there is also the theater, film and media science departments of Goethe University Frankfurt. Nearby is also Germany’s first and still leading applied theater department at the University of Giessen. Both are universities where Dr. Hans -Thies Lehmann taught. And, Frankfurt was also the home of William Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet Company that was long an important presence in contemporary dance. Furthermore, until the end of the 1990s, Theater am Turm (TAT *6
) was always a self-governing institution. That is one of the reasons I often came to Frankfurt when I was working as a journalist.
In the past, Frankfurt was quite avant-garde. At that time, Berlin’s HAU was not the prominent presence it is now, so Frankfurt was the center of the avant-garde. The city’s smaller size was just right for it.
After that there were some bad political decisions made in the field of arts governance, like the treatment of Forsythe and ballet and the closing of TAT, but still, Frankfurt is a good city. The city is quite capitalist and commercial, but the people of Frankfurt are open. Because its [arts and culture] scene is small, there are always people moving here, beyond the boundaries of genres, and that is a good thing. Mousonturm can be what it is today only because it is in Frankfurt.
Mousonturm is involved in co-productions with foreign festivals, and you also have tie-ups with a variety of institutions and organizations like universities and theaters, etc., not only in Frankfurt but also in the neighboring Rhine Main and the state of Land Hessen, don’t you? And with the Tanzplattform 2016 (*7) dance festival in March, you expanded the performance venues to other neighboring cities. What is your intention of these activities?
With Tanzplattform, one aspect was that we wanted to have performances in as many venues as possible, but a fundamental principle of our collaborations is the concept of “rhizome” (*8)
proposed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. We are indeed connected in net-like form to a large number of other platforms, institutions and initiatives, geographically and in terms of content, in the different fields of arts as well as in social, civil and political reality. Our working with other cultural institutions and academic institutions and with private-sector groups and institution involved in the issues of refugees and minorities and environmental issues, etc., is an attempt to establish relationships of mutual cooperation for various reasons as the interests or needs arise. It is also to expand the realm of influence of our activities.
A good example is our tie-up with a film festival. In the space of a week, the festival brings 15,000 to Mousonturm who would not otherwise be coming to our facility. And by holding the festival on a continuing basis, this new audience begins to recognize Mousonturm as their facility. By my way of thinking, it is important to spread the scope recognition in society of the legitimacy of our creative activities as much as possible by cooperation to produce good results. And this also expands our perspectives and our profile.
This is especially true with our international and domestic co-productions. Rather than starting each project from scratch, we can try to build on bases that have already been created elsewhere. It allows us to share in and exchange the specific questions that have been raised, and through cooperation we should be able to add to their development.
There are also benefits to tie-ups and cooperation on the financial side. Because projects are often more than a single group or institution can handle financially. But when we do give financial assistance, it is more than just a simple addition of funds, because it can multiply the institutions mutual potential. When that happens, it can lead to the birth of new manifestations.
How is the programming of performances conducted at your theater?
I do the final approval of the programs, but that process is rather flat (non-hierarchical). I trust our dramaturges. We don’t always agree on all choices, but we have a quite practical approach to programming. It is more interesting when all four of us are thinking together, and it expands the scope.
I assume the four you are talking about are Marcus Dross, Anna Wagner, Elisa Liepsch and yourself. Can you say that all four of you are doing the programming?
We can be called a program group. With some of the international theatre works, there are times when I make the decision to invite them without the other three dramaturges seeing it beforehand, but on the other hand there are times when I haven’t seen a work but we include it in the program based on one of the others’ intuition I do have the final responsibility for our program. But in any event we all consult with each other about the program.
Do your three dramaturges have a respective genre they are responsible for?
We don’t divide up their fields like many other theaters do. On the other hand, each of them do have their own special character and interests. For Marcus it is performance, for Anna it is dance and the Asia Pacific region, and since Elisa comes (like myself) more from theater then the other two, and particularly focusses on the African continent since she is with us. But they all offer their opinions and listen to each other.
Mousonturm works with Akira Takayama and Dieudonné Niangouna as “associated artists.” Previously you described the role of these associated artists as doing a variety of projects at Mousonturm over an extended period of time. And, in doing so, they should not only be realizing their own artistic images but also creating a place in the program that doesn’t rely on other parts of it. They should also join in the curating process. They should interact with and leave their imprint on the Mousonturm image and help decide it.
This is quite different from the normal positioning of associate artists and the like, isn’t it?
As of yet, it hasn’t really come to full fruition, but the long-term aim behind it is the principle of an “artists’ house.” Inherently, is the form a theater takes something that should be defined by the ideas of artistic directors and curators? An important question for us is whether or not it shouldn’t inherently be possible to shape a theater together with the artists, based on their ideas about how a theater should be organized and function and what kinds of partnership and exchanges there should be with other artists.
For example, the joint project we are doing with YRD.works for 2017 and 2018 is very interesting from that standpoint. It deals with the question of how artists can open up new possibilities for the ways in which spaces and the physicality of a theater are defined and used. This is indeed a fundamental question involved in the name “artists’ house.”
Akira Takayama is an inveterate director and a conceptual artist. He now rejects the classical format of theater performed on stage and instead creates conceptual works out in the real world. The work “EVAKUIEREN” (*9)
that we worked into our opening program for the 2014/15 season included an overall image of how Mousonturm could function. This project had a big effect, with people getting a sense of a strong connection between us and Takayama-san’s activities and in the process it gained us a new aspect. Partly it was because this was a site-specific piece that didn’t involve buying tickets and going to the theater. We were very satisfied with the way his project succeeded, as a performer using public spaces, as an activist, as an intermediary for social groups working together or a particular theme. By having not a German or Syrian but a Japanese thinking about the refugee issue, it contributed a new perspective that was somehow different from the existing ones we already know.
In principle this is something that should be ongoing long-term. Beginning from this season, we are working with Takayama-san on a 3-year project titled “European Potteries’ Thinkbelt.” When we were thinking about the issue of how Germany should change through integrating our influx of immigrants into the society, Takayama-san conceived of this project based on an eventually unrealized project by the British architect Cedric Price named “Potteries Thinkbelt” that had inspired him.
In addition, at Mousonturm you are seriously involved in nurturing new artists, aren’t you? What kinds of processes are you using to educate and nurture free-scene artists?
The nurturing of artists is an important foundation of our artistic stance, and it is also something that our audience is interested in. Aspiring artists who have either taught themselves or studied at university must first of all approach an environment where they can grow within a professional framework. In the Frankfurt area there are a good number of departments where young people can study the contemporary forms of performing art our facility presents, such as dance, performance and applied theater, etc. We are a place where such students can come for consultations and recommendations. We also work in close cooperation with those educational departments. In addition, we have a network of connections both in Germany and abroad. One example is the FREISCHWIMMER festival (*10)
that specializes in the pursuit of professional possibilities for new artists in the German-language world.
The conditions young artists in the free scene face are harsh to a degree that can’t be compared with the conditions enjoyed by young actors or director assistants working at the municipal theaters, and I see this as a very important issue. They can’t expect to get a chance to sign an employment contract and they can’t get a start in their career unless they show themselves to be outstanding from the beginning. Therefore, we actively involve ourselves in helping them make a budget, raise funds and put a team together to work with.
In addition, we believe that what we have to work more actively to expand, improve and develop is our network for artists who are no longer young but are only known locally and haven’t won international recognition. Compared to the number of these artists who deserve attention, the chances to have their works seen and to be invited to perform and to participate in artist collaboration projects are very limited. There are too few people who can make it possible for them to take the important steps they need to advance and develop. The free-scene theaters of other cities are also full of such mid-career artists, but there is no system for exchange to help them. This is not a problem of budget, but a problem of too few performance venues compared to the size of the scene and too little interest. We have to think more about creating the mechanism necessary to tour their works.
Free-scene theaters and production houses like HAU in Berlin and Dusseldorf’s tanzhaus nrw in other parts of Germany are connected with a strong network, aren’t they?
It turns out that they were not. When I started working at Mousonturm, Bettina Masuch
had just begun as director at tanzhaus nrw and Annemie Vanackere had only been at HAU for one year, so all three theaters had new directors, so we met once and got to start exchanges. That was when we found out that until then there had been no system under which the directors would meet together to talk about structure, operation and the like. It seems that there was a period when they considered themselves rivals, so I believe it took time before the theaters could step beyond the history of their founding and identity and begin to build connections with each other.
Are there free scenes in other European countries?
We have strong relationships with a number of groups in the Netherlands and France. But, I believe that each place has differences in structure that would make it hard to refer to them as the same type of “free scene” as we have in Germany. Also, there are virtually no equivalents to Germany’s municipal theaters in the countries west of us.
Also, the companies of Austria and Switzerland are integrated into our scene. The companies in these German-speaking countries really see themselves as part of one national scene and there is active exchange between us.
Would you say that it is easier to do international co-productions within Europe than to do them with countries outside Europe?
We do not yet know if our sector will develop under the EU’s new support system. Support is being strengthened for popular sectors like children’s theater. Meanwhile, a strong European co-production network has become established. Big productions are being produced at a variety of European theaters and festivals and they are eligible for grants from the EU to cover 50% of production costs. This is one thing that makes co-productions with non-European countries different.
Lately we have seen developments like the former HAU artistic director Matthias Lilienthal moving to the post of a artistic director at a municipal theater (Münchner Kammerspiele) and free-scene artists having their productions performed at municipal theaters. What is the relationship now between the municipal theaters and the free scene?
Under the current system, so much more funds were allocated to the municipal theaters that competition over where the lines of allocation would be drawn came to define the free scene as one in an antagonistic relationship with the municipal theaters. But, although the structure hasn’t changed much, depending on the project, there is less antagonism now.
I feel it is a good thing that the self-definition and the approach of the production houses have become different from that of the municipal theaters. The question is whether the process of artistic work and the course of thought that guides it can serve as a model for society. It depends on the research and the way the questions are presented. Structurally, the municipal theaters can’t compete with us. We have a different kind of flexibility. Also, the audience expects different things from us, and the openness of our stance is another difference. We are quite free to try out new things.
At Mousonturm you do cooperate with municipal theaters, don’t you?
We cooperate with the The Hessian State Ballet. This is the result of a search for a working model for collaboration between a production house like us and a ballet company within a traditional state theater structure (resident ballet company for two Hessian state theaters, Wiesbaden / Darmstadt). Within a certain framework, we joint a project team to take work of young artists and local production and connect it to international venues. Paula Rosolen did a co-production with a state theater in this way (*11)
. It is still in its nascent stage, but it is amazing that people at a state ballet company have taken interest in working with local dancers and choreographers.
With last year’s refugee problem and terror and then the plebiscite victory of the faction in favor of Great Britain leaving the EU, there have been dramatic changes in the world in recent years. In light of these changes in the global society and in the societies of Europe and Germany, what do you see in store for the future of German and European performance arts?
Like other people, we are the ones immediately involved in these changes. When things like this happen we can’t use the arts to prevent them or actually influence them. Our role is to humbly offer our reaction in the form of artistic expression. Perhaps we can examine the elements involved from the standpoint of culture, ethnicity, upbringing, the trauma inflicted on the heart, the communication between different human beings, or the inability of communication. However, it is only in the form of a model. If it is true human beings who perform on the stage or in the theater, human beings are completely reality. No matter if they are dancing choreographed pieces or whatever you do. Things don’t happen that way in the real world.
I believe that this is our challenge as people who see what we are doing as an experimental laboratory for society. Our role is to pose appropriate questions and create the forms of experimentation and platforms for the discussion to take place. And a further challenge is that our mission is not to create the platform for discussion in the social respect. It is to create it as a model and as an artistic process. If we can do that it become a clue to ways to grasp the problem. It can serve as an example of how we can begin to interact with each other within the mass of humanity, how we can stand face to face, how we can come closer together, how we can see our boundaries as a subject for consideration and talk with each other. We are not searching for social consensus through art. We are facing our differences and disparity.
This is not because we think it is all right for all people to be different, to not be the same but because we believe it is important that we have a base from which we can talk and act things out. People don’t have to solve all problems by talking them out. Probably a lot can be done through dance. “If I can’t dance it, it’s not my revolution.” (*12)
Thank you for being so generous with your time for this interview and for sharing such deep and valuable thoughts with us.