The International Shakespeare Projects of the Folkwang University of the Arts

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I. What has been and what is to come: Previous History and Future Outlook

For many years now the Drama Course offered by the Folkwang University of the Arts has enjoyed a wide-range of experience with international co-productions between renowned schools the whole world over. For example, the first multilingual projects with Poland and Israel already came about at the end of the 1980s.

The highlights of the multilingual productions so far have been the Shakespeare projects "Love’s Labour’s Lost” (2001 together with Seattle, Tashkent/Uzbekistan and Tel Aviv), "Twelfth Night “ (2004 with New York and Amsterdam), "The Comedy of Errors" (2006 with New York and Brno/Czech Republic), "The Tempest” (2008 with New York and Glasgow) and "Richard III" (2010 with Glasgow and Sibiu/Rumania), performed at the “Ruhrfestspiele” (Ruhr Festival) in Recklinghausen (until 2004) and the Schauspiel (Theatre) Essen (2006-2010). “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was performed in the year 2011. For the first time, four international partners were involved: The Columbia University New York, the Drama Academy Ramallah, the Theatre Academy Shanghai and the Lucian Blaga University in Sibiu. Moreover, the festival took place for the first time on the premises of the Folkwang University of the Arts. The seventh edition of the Shakespeare-Festival in April 2013 focused on the play "Romeo and Juliet” and involved four partners again: the Ludwik Solski Drama School Cracow, the Drama Academy Ramallah, the Theatre Academy Shanghai and the Lucian Blaga University in Sibiu.

In the Shakespeare year 2016 the focus was on "Much Ado About Nothing". The participating schools were the PWST National Academy of Theatre Arts in Kraków (Poland), the Durban University of Technology (South Africa), the University of Melbourne (Australia) and the Folkwang University of the Arts (Germany).

For the ninth edition of the Folkwang Shakespeare Festival in 2018, Folkwang and the Durban University of Technology (South Africa), the Theatre Academy Helsinki (Finland) as well as the Drama Academy Ramallah (Palestine) dealt with the play "The Taming of the Shrew".

Along with the enormous successes that this particular form of artistic confrontation and encounter has enjoyed with both the audiences and those involved, there sprang the idea of holding this exemplary form of international cooperation between young performers regularly.

The preparation and implementation of such a complicated project presupposes a common basis of trust and a high degree of communication ability and willingness to cooperate on the part of all partners involved.

II. What is happening when and where: Concept and Flow of this International Project

There are a number of ways in which a multilingual, international production may be conceived. In our Shakespeare projects we have found a modus, unique to this day, which is also regarded as exemplary by the press and the general public:
Each one of the schools involved rehearses the chosen play with its own director in its own native tongue in its own native country, right the way through to being ready for its premiere, maybe even producing it locally. The director should be a professor or lecturer of the university in question, in any case experienced in working with students and on no account a student of directing.

About a year prior to the event, the group in charge shall have agreed upon a common denominator. Each group shall design and also make its own costumes, small props, masks (if required) for its own performances. The groups then bring these items with them to Germany.

The foreign groups travel to the festival in Germany and first of all perform their own production in their own costumes on the available stage. After this, in a short rehearsal phase, the common international production, in which all are involved, comes into being.

English as a working language during the stay in Germany has not so far presented any of those involved with any problems. After the end of the run in Germany, each school may continue to perform its own version in its own country.

For understandable reasons, technical expenditure and décor are to be kept down to the minimum. The setting is also modest with respect to lighting and sound (music from tape, possibly microphones, etc.)

Each of the partners is the independent producer of its own stage version. All the costumes etc. that it brings with it remain its property and are taken back home with it after the run in Germany has come to an end, also in order to be able to continue to perform its own production in its own country.

From a legal perspective this is a co-production of the Folkwang University of the Arts and its partner schools in other countries, with which the university concludes cooperation agreements. Each of the partners guarantees and is liable for the realisation of its own production.

III. Why go to all this trouble? Vision and Utopia

The growing number of multilingual international projects in established theatres has almost become a fashion. The reasons for this are obvious: on the one hand the world is apparently becoming smaller and smaller due to globalisation and increasingly rapid communication paths. On the other hand, the growing sense of nationalism intensifies the question of the value and importance of cultural identities. The unknown "Alien Nature" of a different culture is combated or fashionably assimilated. It is only seldom that a more in-depth study, also in the artistic field, takes place. It is within this field of tension that the theatre can and must discover new issues.

In contrast, however, to the much-invoked (permanent) identity crisis of the established German municipal theatre system that absorbs and sucks dry all that is new, standardising it but with no consequences, the international cooperation between universities of the arts could really bring forth a change in our ways of thinking and innovative forms of acting and production. It is inasmuch a significant characteristic of the Shakespeare projects that they do indeed have their origins away from the world of traditional theatre with its cumbersomeness and its production constraints. Orgies of décor are not indulged in. It is the performer with his very own means and possibilities who is at the focus of attention. The intention is to retain the greatest possible amount of leeway allowing room for the imagination, developments and creative processes. Furthermore those involved are not merely a motley ensemble thrown together from a number of various countries but groups of young, learning and committed performing artists who are endeavouring to find a new and frank way of dealing with the old texts. In addition, the working results of the individual partners in from their concentration upon one play remain intact in the "final product" and yet there is still a common "solution". The idea of making one’s own contribution to a new common "product" is more than just a theatrical procedure. The assessment and evaluation of one’s own work and that of the other groups, the establishment of references, the confrontation with similarities and the irreconcilable on the basis of an experience made with identical "material" (the play), demands an unprejudiced, independent and at the same time tolerant manner of dealing with one another.

The idea behind the international Shakespeare projects thus does not merely consist of arranging an encounter between the peculiarities of cultural, linguistic and national identities. The “Utopian" aim thereof is that they should enrich one another by way of openness and confrontation without merging together so as to leave no contours. It is therefore a question of a much further-reaching definition of what theatre and the art of acting might signify in such a rapidly changing world.

It has been our experience that this concept is more than simply the "creation" of yet another international, multilingual co-production. It is a question of a common vision: the confrontation with historical material by the different ways of working of different cultural circles is intended to lay the foundation for the development of a theatrical language of its very own which, beyond all linguistic barriers and national crises and problems, redefines the "Theatre" as a Utopian place.

"Love’s Labour’s Lost", "Twelfth Night ", "The Comedy of Errors“, "The Tempest", "Richard III","A Midsummer Night’s Dream", "Romeo and Juliet", "Much Ado About Nothing" and "The Taming of the Shrew" have achieved much along this path. These were defining "life experiences" for all participants, extraordinary experiences for the audiences and a true enrichment for the organiser, also due to the circumstance of being able to show one play in a variety of different interpretations within an extremely short period of time.

This tried and trusted model on the basis of such experiences will be continued and further developed for the next edition of the festival in 2020.