Interfacing Parallels

The Eastern European-German festival for independent theatre in Potsdam (Or: how to write a real story..) Where the fuck is the story?"

I completely failed to understand what their complaints were, about the topic of my article, which I had just finished presenting moments ago. Why shouldn’t I write a simple reportage about this theatre festival, which I know quite well?. "Too positive", insisted my colleagues, "where are the conflicts?". Now I understood even less. Not to mention the fact that I had been conscious about the indispensable presence of "conflicts" in my article. Yet the feeling grew and kept growing, that somewhere there must be a point.

It could be, I thought, somehow scientifically, the question of objectiveness. Well, in the case of UNIDRAM I am completely unable to be objective. How could I be, having been a mere easily pleased spectator, who had joined this festival for alternative theatre for the third time running, who was in contact with artists and organizers? Everybody left Potsdam completely enthusiastic and so did I. I mean, you stay one week together: at least 14 independent theatre-ensembles from Poland, Russia, Croatia and Hungary, and from "the West"; with up to three plays per evening, followed by a chill-out for all at the "Theatre Night Caf?" with piwo, vodka and live music; every morning discussion, with translation, with the artists about the previous day’s plays; and the surroundings of the homely cultural centre "Waldschloss", the "Castle of Potsdam’s Forest", twenty city-train-minutes away from Berlin. Sorry, but it seems that I am not objective at all.

Was the point then that this experience jibed with our magazine’s title? Parallel worlds?! UNIDRAM obviously is first of all an interfacing for artistic worlds or realities. Is it, that these realities coexist in parallel – country by country as an artistic world in their own society and as similar but interculturally unconnected worlds. OK, that somehow seems to be a constructed argument. But this was the idea of the initiators, who had in 1987 founded the first off-theatre group in what was then still communist Potsdam, when in 1992 they began to offer a platform for experimentally working young theatre-ensembles from Eastern and Western Europe; it was meant to be a forum and meeting point, at which people communicated through the language of theatre, and at which artists searched together for new artistic forms and theatrical functions. To be comprehensible for the public, more and more nonverbal plays were staged, performances given, including object-theatre and happening. And you could write that for at least five years UNIDRAM made a bare living, existing "parallelwordly" until it became internationally known and the local press began supplying reviews.
To "perfect" the story, that is not really "a story"?

Certainly the quality of every single play or performance is moot. I have seen extremely good and extremely bad performances at UNIDRAM – as everywhere – but nowhere else would I ever have had the possibility to get to know, for example, the "crazy" Lithuanian object-artist Benas Sarkas, to compare Polish groups as different as the "scandalous" Porywacze Cial and the young academy-ensemble from Warsaw Teatr Terminus A Quo, or to dance at the final night’s party next to the Croatian artists of the convolving play "Confessions". Not to mention the concerts of the accordion-player Bratko Bibic or Emir Kosturica’s "Fanfare Ciocarlia".

Photo by Tom Sehrer
F", I am really better in advertising than at writing an article. OK, even if it is not "a real story", what about the conflicts to make the article at least "story-like"? [One possibility would be to argue that conflicts are always an immanent part of a human being’s social acting. So why talk about it?] But this is the point! No social science without social conflict – its core legitimation! I could indeed tell a UNIDRAM-story of conflicts, as three years ago the organizer’s ensemble "DeGater87" and the St. Petersburg Formal-Theatre co-produced "School of the Fools" according to Nikolaj Gogol in the style of Picture Theatre. Or rather, most of the time they tried to get along and balance different – unenviably, Russian and German – understandings of the same text and different "working-methods".

Nevertheless, the final result was a great success in Potsdam, as it was at their performance at the Krakow festival. Now the "Russians" are going on tour on their own. No contact – no further conflicts?!
So what? Perhaps mentioning some problems could substitute for a little convincing story of conflicts. One resolvable problem seems to be that, after the stabilising of UNIDRAM’s contact with groups from South-East-Europe, there is (independently from that) now a strange lack of participating Czech groups. Why? Nobody knows, but this could be a mission.

More crucial, it’s a logical matter for an independent festival, are the financial problems. To enable the invited groups to stay for the week of the festival as guests and to invite at least one expensive famous theatre, around DM 200,000 are needed. So UNIDRAM is in any case the story of an annual struggle for money; from the city-council, the community, foundations and private sponsors.

There is definitely no real story to write. The story is simply UNIDRAM itself, re-written every year in each of the languages, which theatre can express. So what? Potsdam is a wonderful city, close to Berlin, with plenty of parks and palaces. But if somebody feels like writing a real story about UNIDRAM or whatever, you are welcome! I for my part will withdraw my proposal and do my bit of service by informing you about the hard facts:

UNIDRAM: Potsdam Contact, 0049-331-719139 (tel) 0049-331 – 710792 (fax)

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