The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Mary Ann DeVlieg
Mary-Ann DeVlieg
IETM’s Secretary General.

Informal European Theatre Meetings (IETM)
Informal European Theatre MeetingsiIETMj
*IETM Future Meetings
IETM Autumn Plenary Meeting
Date: November 6-9, 2008
Zurich, Switzerland

IETM’s Autumn Plenary Meeting 2008 will take place in Zurich from November 6 to 9. Since the Geneva meeting held in 1992, Switzerland’s economic, political and cultural relationships with its European neighbors have gained importance. The meeting in Zurich will make a contribution to the “European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008” by focusing on the theme of “Misunderstanding.” On ten stages in Zurich, an up-to-date overview of the creativity in Switzerland's independent theatre and dance scene will be provided. Between 400 and 600 IETM members and Swiss performing arts professionals are expected to participate.

Programs and details:
Registration for IETM Meeting Zurich under
Arts Organization of the Month
Presenter Interview
The IETM network, contributing to the promotion of collaborative commissioned works and tours in Europe 
The International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts (IETM) was established with head offices in Brussels, Belgium, in 1981 for the purpose of creating an international network for producers in the performing arts field. Today it has a membership of over 450 professional producers, directors, arts managers and presenter organizations from 45 countries and holds biannual “Plenary Meetings” and regional “Satellite Meetings” around the world. This network contributes greatly to the promotion of collaborative productions and tours in Europe. We spoke to IETM’s Secretary General, Mary-Ann DeVlieg about the organization’s activities.
(Interview: Yoko Shioya, Artistic Director, Japan Society)

The shortest description of “what the IETM is” would probably be “a network-building organization.” But “network” is a kind of a vague term. Would you elaborate on it?
    IETM first called itself the “Informal European Theatre Meeting,” and was founded in 1981 in Italy. It was the first ‘European cultural network’ as such, to be founded. At that time, six people from France, Croatia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy came together at the Festival of Polverigi in Italy. They said, “This is great. We came here to see performances, and we speak to each other about artists that we are producing.” At that time Polverigi was one of the few small or middle-scale festivals involved in international contemporary performance. So they had the idea to start co-producing young European artists, and to give them a bigger public by presenting them in other European countries. Later that year, the six people invited about 100 more professional colleagues and got together in Paris, at the invitation of Philippe Tiry, founder/director of ONDA (Office National de Diffusion Artistique) and one of IETM’s founders. For the first eight years IETM functioned by word-of-month: no structure, no constitution, no statute, and no membership fees; it was run on a volunteer basis. But those first eight years gave the organization a strong basis for existence, because what people were doing then, and what we are still doing now, is to bring people together who are interested in the same type of arts, artists and issues.
    Today we have 450 member organizations from 45 countries. Although we currently organize many different initiatives, the main aim is still to bring people together and to put them in a situation where they can find people who are interested in the same artists and the same themes, to encourage them to collaborate, co-produce, organize tours and exchanges. IETM members are arts centers, theatre spaces, performing arts companies, festivals, independent producers and presenters, also local authorities from cities, regions or at the ministry level who are in positions responsible for performing arts. Their encounters happen naturally.

Before they started IETM meetings, was there no such organized tour or co-commissioning system in Europe?
    People were certainly touring, but a lot of the touring was on a national basis. And not all the countries at that time had set up national touring systems, depending on the policies of the country. Germany, for example, still is based on regions rather than national organization – though this has changed to some extent. And of course there were co-productions but mostly on a large scale like opera - not so much on the small and medium scale, or with experimental productions. This developed strongly in Europe because of IETM.

Suppose I am an IETM member and decided to commission an artist to create a new piece. Do you introduce someone who may be interested in joining this project in such a case?
    Sometimes we help people like that. But you can imagine that since there are about 2,000 active people in the network – it’s become too big to know everyone personally – what we do is to organize an environment: network meetings, working sessions. In that way people can find each other much more easily. We also have presentation sessions, which aren’t pitching sessions, but rather presentations of projects-in-progress or ideas which are just taking form. A colleague can say, “I’m working with this theme and we are looking for other presenters interested in the theme.” Or, “The theme of our next festival is this and we are looking for companies who are making works on this theme.” These sessions are informal and aim to help people find eventual partners.

Do those sessions take place as a part of the biannual IETM meetings?
    Yes, we call our official meetings “Plenary Meetings.” They are held twice a year, and include 450-600 participants, 15-40 performances over a period of 4 days with around 45 working sessions and/or training sessions each time. Those include possibilities to present ideas or work-in-progress, rather than products to be sold. We also organize “Satellite Meetings,” which are smaller IETM meetings organized 2-6 times per year on specific themes. Activities at the Satellite Meetings may include working sessions, workshops, and performance programs.

Would you elaborate more about how people can meet and discuss?
    Well, a bit ironically, we say that we try to arrange a “bar” experience. At a bar you can quite easily meet somebody you need to. But some people can be shy and they just standing at the bar counter (laughs). So we organize “working sessions” on different themes to stimulate discussion among the people attending who are interested in the same themes. That’s how you get to know your future colleagues.
    Of course, many people make their appointments before the conference. Another reason IETM was founded was to be pragmatically useful. If I am going to make a co-production or tour in Europe, I have the option to meet my partners by flying to five cities; or by flying to one city to attend the IETM meeting and to meet them all there…

I basically understand that function very well because we American presenters do the same at the annual APAP conference in New York. But APAP has been growing and the number of people attending and performances during the conference period are too overwhelming. We are trying to make several appointments for your own agenda – at the same time we are being requested to have meetings with several different people who also want to discuss their own agendas or future projects. Many of my presenter colleagues get insanely busy. So my point is, when the “meeting point” is so large, the whole thing becomes chaos. Aren’t you also facing to that kind of problem?
    Yes, but IETM is one-forth the size of APAP. And we really operate on a word-of-mouth basis – we don’t do much publicity. Having said that, though, in the 15 years I’ve been working for IETM, it has certainly become bigger. We are concerned to safeguard a certain quality of communication and also the spirit of generosity and solidarity which characterized the network in the early days. And as it gets bigger, there has been a tendency among our members to think, “IETM is a ‘conference’: we just go and they will give us something.” If they come and think everything will be given to them, they are disappointed in IETM, because it’s much more about people building something by themselves. This is the difference between a conference and a network. We want people who are willing to take advantage of the opportunity and help construct a nourishing environment for everyone – so we ask our members to be active. For that reason we don’t call ourselves a “service organization” though we suspect that we really are. Over the coming years we want to really try to make IETM a “members’ organization” again, strongly guided by the members’ initiatives.
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