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Seraphin Flassig

On the road at SPIELART

Searching for home in the theatre

Theatre. As the saying goes, theatre is made up of the boards that mean the world. Whereby these boards mean something different everywhere in the world. You can only gain a small insight into this enormous diversity of theatre if you travel a lot. Alternatively, if you are very attached to your home, you can visit the SPIELART Theatre Festival in Munich. Here, the theatre of the world comes to us so that we can marvel at it. But does the theatre itself have a home?

At first, the question of the theatre's home seems childish. Of course, it comes from Greece, some would probably answer. But if you take a closer look at human behaviour, and not just from an institutionalised, Eurocentric perspective, you quickly realise that theatre has been and still is performed all over the world. As Schiller already recognised: “Man is only fully human where he plays.” And yet, during my visits to the theatre, there was hardly any feeling of international well-being.

It began with THE DIVINE CYPHER and the dancer, who balanceda litre of water on her head, dancing to the sounds that were first recorded in her home country. After this pre-opening, a wrestling match with impressive cinematography dealt with the housing problems of the modern city. Very superficially, of course, it was the little people who were deprived of their homes.

But even after these two performances, a pattern formed in my head that influenced my view of the entire festival. Sure, the two productions had completely different approaches and themes. But they both had one thing in common.

A non-existent home. The feeling of homelessness and the longing to find it again. This theme was repeated over and over again in almost all of SPIELART plays attended. From time to time, the emotional homelessness took on different traits, but it remained present. Primarily in performances that had to do directly with a place. In THE VOICE OF FINGERS, we accompanied the barely bearable yet real story of refugees trying to find a new home in Europe. The GGGNHM, that eye-catching construct in front of the Bavarian State Opera, focussed solely on this field, migration, in workshops and performances. For example, refugees described their situation in LIFE ON THE OFFSIDE. They could not call a refugee centre, whose permanent building is a disused army bunker kilometres away from the nearest settlement, their new home. Home is not just the place, but also the people. But how can integration succeed if these facilities are located in the middle of nowhere for reasons of social pacification?

People need other people in order to feel at home with them. This concept of home is somewhat more abstract, but it is an elementary part of being human. The production THE MAKING OF PINOCCHIO took a lighter approach to this theme, which was dedicated to the topic of transpersonality in a stylishly appropriate, equally funny and serious way with many technical tricks and subtleties of media design. Two people were portrayed who had hardly had a home all their lives due to their sexuality, their lifestyles or other things and had now found their home in their personal idiosyncrasies and in each other.

Not quite as aesthetic, but no less interesting, were the pieces that dealt with political homelessness. For example, A NOTIONAL HISTORY was able to deal with the events following the Malaysian independence movement. This was possible because the authorities considered the theatre to be too small to pose a threat to the government. The power of historiography was demonstrated in a kind of lecture performance using various parallels. How many pages in a history book were dedicated to the endeavours of other actors for the same goal was a twisting of history that could be understood in all languages.

 You could compare this historiography with the way the RAF is taught in Germany. I was surprised myself when I realised that I knew the names of the units set up to contain them, the tactics of the attacks or the faces of the terrorists on wanted posters, but hardly anything about their original goals and demands. On the same theme of political persecution, there was also a performance in which a Belarusian artist in exile held the stress position imposed on prisoners in his homeland. A kind of homelessness that is completely unknown to us, who live in a functioning democracy.

However, there were not only negative aspects of homelessness to be recognised; RHAPSODY IN YELLOW shows how international music can be. A piece by a German composer, played by an English orchestra, together with the music of abducted slaves, inspires an American, whose work in turn leads to far-reaching developments in China. Nevertheless, the music is ultimately instrumentalised for national interests.

Also very fascinating are not only the pieces, but also the life situations of the people who create them. I asked a much-travelled and often relocated director how he coped with never having fully arrived anywhere in his life. Sankar Venkateswaran just smiled and replied that you get used to being "the other" over time and that this doesn't stop him from taking the next risk. Risks that we can only dream of, like when he opened a new theatre on the roof of a house in the middle of the Indian jungle.

Towards the end of the festival, whose perspectives were as numerous and dazzling as all the artists who came to Munich, I ask myself two questions: Where were you and your friends when the world was our guest? And the far more important question: Is this homelessness due to the zeitgeist or the theatre? Can we even find a home in this fast-moving world or do we still need one?

Well, I don't have an answer to that, but maybe, just maybe, I'll come up with one in two years' time, when SPIELART takes place again.