A universal stageThe 32nd International Theatre Festival has offered momentum for international theatre scenario to grow
The 32nd International Theatre Festival (March 14-20, 2016) held in Friedrichshafen, Germany succeeded in creating a collaborative and interactive conclave for many artists around the world. The festival was able to bring numerous theatre cultures, principles and practices under a single roof. The four-day long event witnessed plays from countries like Germany, Switzerland, Gambia, Nepal and the UK. Mukti, a play directed by Ashesh Malla and performed by the artists of Sarwanam Theatre, represented Nepal. The play, through a mute performance and physical movements, helped the audience connect to the content despite linguistic barriers. Similarly, the pathos projected by the play, mostly in critical and sensitive areas like domestic violence, gender-based violence and women empowerment, transpired a common sense of empathy amongst the audience. On the other hand, plays like Picknick im Felde (German), Journeys (British), Die Frauen von Troja (German), to name a few, also brought issues of violence, tragedy and religious dichotomy into the limelight. All in all, the festival opened up avenues for theatre artists to study and observe the global theatre phenomenon.
Since its inception, the art of theatre has been considered a universal medium to showcase the reflections of societies. Continuing this idea, a majority of the plays in the festival dealt with matters of war and its impact on society. The topic of war was served as a common denomination by theatre groups in order to shed light on the pertinent global-war-on-terror scenario. Regardless of the forms and interpretational dimensions, which varied in terms of genres, delivery methods and cultural context, most of the dramas depicted the historical and present effects of war driven by political interests, religious conflicts and authoritarian desires. Sad but true reflections on war-ridden nations like Syria, Iraq, Turkey, among others, were made through slightly symbolic yet unanimously understandable gestures.
In a modernised adaptation and interpretation of the Greek mythology ‘Helen from Troy’, the German theatre group Layertruppe intimately staged the animosity, barbarism and suffering of women in war-torn cities. The amount of detail, onstage absorption and process of characterisation shown by the artists of the group depicted an extent of absurdity and extreme dedication to the art they practice. A scene in the play where an imprisoned girl gets battered and bruised by the guards was enacted so realistically that it compelled the audience to cringe and suffer from the brutality displayed onstage.
Another interesting performance during the festival was the humorous, satirical play called ‘Train to Paradise’ by the group Stage Divers and United Unicorns. The play threw a strong satirical hit on the bureaucratic hassles and pessimistic thinking in various nations. Conceptualised and presented by a group of forced refugees (from Gambia, Iran and Syria), the performance pinpointed the mistreatment suffered by asylum seekers and the unnecessary red tape in host countries.
Similarities and differences
The gathering of 42 groups undoubtedly created a window to look into each other’s current theatre and its modules. In a country like Germany, where there is state-of-art theatre infrastructure, the stride that the theatre culture has made in the past 50 years is remarkable. An enduring and effective bond between the state and various independent theatre groups is responsible for this progress to a great extent. Under the independent theatre group association, there are more than 2,500 theatre groups actively working for the development of theatre in various parts of Germany. The working arrangement of most of the theatre artists, however, resembles Nepal’s theatre scenario. People doing theatre voluntarily or by balancing other professions are legion. The theatrical approach under frugal concepts is another commonality between independent theatre groups in Germany. On the contrary, European approach on artistic (facial) expressions and physical mimes were a bit subdued and plain compared to South Asian histrionics. In a discussion with Britta Lutz, vice-president of the organising committee, we came to know that physical theatre in Germany was practiced on a comparatively smaller scale and on topics that are much jovial and light-hearted.
Remake and response
The staging of each play was later followed by an interesting session called ‘Remake of the play’. This session focused on responses and interpretations of various theatre groups on each other’s plays. However, these reactions were not merely confined to verbal remarks but rather were conducted through performances as a representation of the group’s understanding and appreciation. The session was able to create a constructive atmosphere for dialogues and critical examination of different plays. Out of many topics for discussion, the major elements revolved around exploring each other theatre art forms, contextual relation of the projected content and the overall construct and choreography of the play.
Looking back at the outcomes of the week-long festival and all these creative amenities incorporated by the organising team, I believe that the 32nd International Theatre Festival has offered a lot of space and momentum for the international theatre scenario to grow in the days ahead.
Paudel is associated with Sarwanam Theatre as a theatre artist and director. He can be contacted at [email protected]