These questions were brought to 12 festival and theatre directors from nine countries for Dramatic Episodes, a series of workshops created by Goethe Institute and LIFT, initiated in 2019.
Against a backdrop of global health crises, major political events and the rise of the far right, both organisations wanted to investigate how theatres and cultural spaces could continue to participate in civil society.
Throughout the series of workshops participants were invited to engage with pressing issues such as migration, solidarity in society, climate change, sustainability and protection of resources. Together, they worked on practices to enable change. Each time the group came together they engaged in talks, visits and experiences that supported their conversations about the future and the role of theatre in it.
"It was an honour to be invited by Goethe Institut to gather this group of leaders and curate our inaugural session in London and Cambridge. The peer-to-peer learning we did and conversations we held on leadership, supporting artists and taking on the vital issues of our time have had deep resonance for my practice and how I lead LIFT. Being part of this cohort also resulted in new collaborations, including inviting Kee Hong Low to be a mentor on our Concept Touring programme, a co-commission with Arctic Arts Festival for Sonia Hughes' I Am From Reykjavik and a new co-commission with Taipei Arts Festival on its way for LIFT 2024 - stay tuned."— Kris Nelson, Artistic Director & CEO, LIFT
WHO TOOK PART?
Danjel Andersson, Dansehallerne, Copenhagen, Denmark
Antonio Araujo, São Paulo International Theatre Festival, São Paulo, Brazil
Delia Barker, Freelance, London, UK
Satu Herrala, Freelance, Helsinki, Finland
Isabel Maria Hölzl, Goethe Institute
Kee Hong Low, West Kowloon Cultural Centre, Hong Kong (now Manchester International Festival, Manchester, UK)
Ismail Mahomed, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Kris Nelson, LIFT, London, UK
Carena Schlewitt, HELLERAU, Dresden, Germany
Anne-Cécile Sibué-Birkeland, Black Box Theatre, Oslo, Norway
Ragnheiður Skúladóttir, Arctic Arts Festival, Harstad, Norway
Katrin Sohns, Goethe-Institut London, UK
Fu Kuen Tang, Taipei Arts Festival, Taipei, Taiwan
Annemie Vanackere, HAU, Berlin, Germany
Katharina von Ruckteschell-Katte, Goethe-Institut London, UK
The project was supported and delivered by Francis Christeller, Martina Puchberger, Petra Hannus, Goethe Institut.
HOW DID IT WORK?
The first in-person sessions in London and Cambridge in 2019 gave participants a chance to share and reflect on the biggest challenges they were facing in their organisations. The conversation focused on themes such as migration, social cohesion, climate change, sustainability and resource conservation. And the public were invited to join the conversation at a Long Table event – a format that combines theatricality and public engagement. Conceived by Lois Weaver as an antidote to divided political discussions, at the Long Table everyone’s voice has equal power.
As circumstances changed, the project adapted. The group came together for digital sessions throughout 2020, providing peer support throughout a challenging time for arts leaders, and for us all. Topics included the climate emergency, hygiene protocols in theatres, new forms of presenting performance, new urgencies for theatres during a health crisis, systemic racism in our societies, mental health within our organisations and embodied knowledge.
In April 2022, the group were able to come together again in person, meeting in Helsinki for a programme of talks and visits centred around the topic, ‘Nurturing Change’. An informal networking event was held with 20 Finnish artists. Guest speakers included poet/researcher Helga West & artist Lada Suomenrinne as well as co-directors of Helsinki’s Baltic Circle Festival, Hanna Parry and Asta Teräväinen. Helga and Lada, both Sámi artists, spoke of contemporary Sámi cultural practice under the title ‘The Right to Be Cold’.
Participants in Dramatic Episodes gained new insights and tools for their own practices, worked with the group on solutions and strategies to address urgent issues faced by international contemporary performing arts, and connected more deeply with one another, as colleagues and friends. The workshops, both in-person and online, held space for vulnerability and questioning, offering a unique opportunity for peer-to-peer learning among the arts leaders present.
Instead of a written report about this process, which was as much about the nature of the connection it offered as the outcomes of the conversations had, participants pledged their availability to continue meeting as a group, and to share the process and learnings in a live format when needed, or with a future cohort of leaders. The impact of Dramatic Episodes can also be seen in the collaborations that will come from the connections made, including a presentation with Taipei Arts Festival for LIFT 2024. Stay tuned!
TALKING CULTURE: WHY THEATRE MATTERS MORE THAN EVER
Kris Nelson, LIFT’s Artistic Director and CEO, was the first guest on Goethe Institut’s podcast, Talking Culture. The episode includes two conversations held during the first months of lockdown in Spring 2020, and another a year later. Capturing a unique moment – when the pandemic begun – the episode is a fascinating window into that time and the preoccupations of the sector, as well as exploring how that evolved and how predictions for the future changed during that year.