The city theatre of the future – Ghent Manifesto
Every institution has rules, including the theatre, but they are hardly ever made public. For example, it is an unspoken rule at almost all German city theatres that productions (if at all) are not toured across language borders – for cost reasons or because it is impossible to schedule technicians and actors accordingly. This also applies to the content: The classics of the bourgeois era are always the same, from Schnitzler to Ibsen to Dostojewski and Chekhov. Newly developed or even non-European plays, such as non-professional or foreign-language actors, activists or free groups, only appear in side programmes and on studio stages. You have to make a choice: Independent scene or city theatre, production or distribution, classic adaptations for a middle-class audience or international tour circus for the global elite.
But even if you choose the local model: The city itself is consistently excluded from the work of the “Stadttheater” by a set of implicit rules. It only takes part in the intellectual and artistic work of the theatre through the media and within the framework of discourse formats or premieres. At the most by a few of the so-called “citizens’ stages”. All attempts to open up the model of the city theatre, to combine urban, national and international modes of production, a continuously cooperating ensemble with openness for guests, have failed because of the implicit limits of the “city theatre” system. Matthias Lilienthal’s attempt at the Munich Kammerspiele has now been abandoned by politicians.
The first step towards the “city theatre of the future” is therefore to turn implicit explicit rules – and ideological debates into concrete decisions. What does a city theatre of the future really look like? Who works in it, how do you rehearse in it, how is it produced and toured? How can the desire for free modes of production, for collective and contemporary authorship, for an ensemble theatre that not only discusses a globalised world, but reflects it and influences it, be brought into a set of rules? How do you force an institution that has grown old to free itself and become again the boards that “mean the world”?
Of course: paper is patient. There is no factual criticism outside the practice, or as Godard once said: “You can criticize a film that you think is bad only with another, perhaps better film. As of the 2018/19 season, we will therefore take over the artistic direction of NTGent, a medium-sized Belgian city theatre with three venues. In the first season, in addition to an artist-in-residence programme and a series of political actions, we will develop eight new theatre and dance productions and invite or co-produce 41 further productions. All productions produced at NTGent are subject to the GHENT MANIFESTO, a set of 10 rules created in the past year as part of the development of the program. These rules apply to all areas of our “City Theatre of the Future” project, from questions of authorship to questions of diversity and inclusion to questions of touring. Apart from the first rule, these are exclusively technical requirements, not unlike the “Purity Law” of DOGMA95, which was published over 20 years ago. And of course this set of rules, which is limited to the production and distribution process, will have to be supplemented by other areas based on future experience – for example with regard to the place of non-European classics in the programme or the composition of the theatre’s non-artistic staff.
Be that as it may, why would a Frenchman, a Brazilian or a German – or even a Brussels or Oslo man – be interested in the way films are made in Ghent Theatre or Denmark? Aren’t manifestos and dogmas always an imposition? That’s right. The GHENT MANIFESTO is an imposition – for the theatre, but above all for us who work in it. It is not pleasant to wake up with a multilingual ensemble without text on the first rehearsal day, not with a carving line version on the fully equipped rehearsal stage, but in northern Iraq. From a purely technical and purely organisational point of view, it will mean a constant overload of our forces to follow these rules. And like DOGMA95, there may not be a single NTGent production that meets all ten rules.
But it is always better if we argue about new, and above all: about known rules, than that we, everyone in silence, continue to follow the unwritten and thus all the more effective rules. And above all, it is better that we do it concretely, on the basis of a real city theatre, on the basis of our real work. Together, open, vulnerable. And, we hope, with every step a little better and a little more constructively failing.
One: It’s not just about portraying the world anymore. It’s about changing it. The aim is not to depict the real, but to make the representation itself real.
Seven: At least two of the actors on stage must not be professional actors. Animals don’t count, but they are welcome.
Ghent, May 1, 2018