PHOTO: NG participants saying goodbye, but stay back in Stuttgart as miniatures. Photo by: Frédéric Lilje
THE recently-concluded Bright View Festival, in Stuttgart, Germany, an international theatre festival which focuses on children and young audiences, was not just about spectacular performances and awe-inspiring shows by the local and international theatre companies that participated. It was about laying foundation for the future of leadership in the cultural sector.
In the last decade or so, the International Association of Theatre for Young Audiences, otherwise known by its French acronym, ASSITEJ, has been at the forefront of artistic development, targeted at young theatre and art practitioners under the age of 35. Whether at its three-yearly congresses, or the annual Assitej Artistic gatherings in collaboration with international theatre festivals around the world, it is called the Assitej Next Generation.
However, the Schone Aussicht Festival, in its 2022 edition, brought a different ideology to this initiative, which it tagged ‘New Generation’. Christian Schonëfelder, a German dramaturg and co-Artistic Director of Junges Essemble Stuttgart (JES), in explaining the reason for the switch from ‘Next Generation’ to ‘New Generation’, argued that the time is now! “Next sound more like something that needs to happen in years to come. It could be 5, 10 or even more, whereas we believe that whatever foundation that needed to be built should happen now, and not later. The future is now!”
While the festival is a theatre for young audience (TYA) festival, JES invited 10 young artists – playwright, actors, dancers, directors, puppeteers and producers, from around the world to participate in the festival. The participants include Ball Mark (Ireland), Cucuta Felicia (Romania), Dale-Jones Josie (UK), Elnebishy Islam (Egypt), Enders Billie (Germany), Gubrij Tania (Ukraine), Davidson Pete (Australia), Legaspy Gallardo Armando (México), Salmerón Sanchis Carmen (Spain), Unušić Irma Bjelovar (Croatia), and of course, Nigeria’s Kaosisochukwu Egbo Joseph, who, however, missed this golden chance due to visa issues.
For the entire length of the festival, the participants watched, discussed, analysed and reviewed as many of the productions as possible, especially the international shows; with post-show conversations intended to deepen their understanding, considering their various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. In between, the group, had other artistic engagements during which they shared experiences on their artistic activities back in their respective countries, and developed ideas for co-creation. Of more importance would be the relationship that was built among these young practitioners.
These include two series of ‘Blind Dates’, where each participant got a chance to meet with at least one seasoned professional for an hour, to ask any question of their choices about these experts and their works, as well as other issues of interest. The second was a match-up with a group of 10 other participants between the engages of 10 and 16 called the Festival Philosophers, another layer of the cultural leadership incubation. These set were selected from only within Germany.
Happenings around the world did not escape the attention of the NG participants, discussions also trailed issues in the participant’s home countries. Gubrij Tania from Ukraine narrated the ordeals of artists in her country, shortly before and during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis which broke out on February 24. This provided room for other participants to discuss how artists are expected to deal with issues that challenge them and their works.
Dale-Jones Josie, the British representative, shared her experience on the issue of censorship; narrating how a recent show she produced and directed was stopped from showing. And she asked some questions which obviously would deserve some golden answers whenever any of the participants plan to make a new show: What can we show? What can we not show? Who should determine what we show or don’t show? We as theatre makers? Our audience, or the state?
SPEAKING on his experience, Mexico’s Legaspy Gallardo Armando, a theatre for young audience practitioner from Mexico, said, “This is exciting to me because I am having the opportunity to meet with other young practitioners from around the world, helping me to understand other contexts and perspectives other than what I have known and work with within Mexico. This is a rare opportunity, and I am sure to make good use of this.” He added that the festival itself has been a great learning opportunity.
For the Romanian playwright and Harvard University student, Cucuta Felicia, it was a case of curiosity which gives way to excitement. “…this is a good incubation lab. Whether we call it next or new generation, the fact remains that the ideology behind this initiative is to stimulate idea and promote cultural exchange, and that it has achieved,” she said.
“I have met other young people who are passionate about what they do and who have had the opportunity to look at things from other people’s perspective, through the performances we have seen and the conversations we have had among the New Generation participants and of course, with other more established participants at the festival,” Felicia concluded.
Spain’s representative on the New Generation programme, a freelance theatre maker, Salmerón Sanchis Carmen is of the opinion that there could never been a better opportunity to learn than this, at the point of registration. “And I was right. After what we were taken through, I agree with myself that there couldn’t have been a better way to pass on the baton of cultural leadership than this. I came with no expectation but with an open mind, to learn and to share, and I must confess that we had a wonderful group, and this opportunity has left me with many things to ponder about and many issues to explore.” She added that the idea of creating bound, connecting people, and sharing ideas, is something very beautiful and special. More especially as it is geared towards finding solution, not just to issues in the cultural sector, but in our society generally. “There are things I could never thought of that this opportunity has opened my eyes to, and to that I say bravo to the JES team.
There could probably not have been a better way to sum up the impact of the New Generation programme, than the opinion of Frederic Lilje who said he was surprised at the reception the idea received from the participants. He said, “Surprised in the sense that all those who applied were excited at the opportunity to meet with other people whom they have no previous knowledge of. And, of course, the level of openness with which the group related and discussed for eight days, especially at a time like this, with all that is going on around the world.”
Lilje, however, bemoaned the fact that a week was enough because there were many issues to deal with and hoped that in subsequent edition, participants of the New Generation programme would have more time to work together apart from seeing shows.
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