A common project of the Swiss Coalition for Cultural Diversity and the Swiss Commission for UNESCO
Theatre, as the most public of all arts, has undergone several dynamic transformation processes in its history. The various forms of theatre are today subsumed into such diverse forms as the municipal theatre with its three branches, the production of musicals, obeying the global market laws, and the avant-garde forms mixing theatre and dance. Given the historical polysemy of the term “theatre”, the group of experts has defined a material frame of reference. This framework takes into account the social environment of the theatre and turns its functional definition based on a democratic approach into the starting point for reflections.
In terms of narrowing down the scope of theatre to concerns for protecting and promoting cultural diversity, the expert group has focused on some aspects of theatrical life. This represents mainly the situation in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, but it is pointed out that the issue must also be looked at from the political and cultural consciousness of French and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland.
Creation in theatre is usually understood as a means for social and political self-reflection, as a socially cohesive drive, providing a strong impulse towards enlightenment. The theatre offers a fascinating benchmark with respect to local conditions due both to the immediacy and the spatial constraints of its communication. This critical consciousness and this linking to specific sites are both central to the cultural and political legitimacy of public support to theatre as well as the basis for the largest diversity in Swiss-based theatre life.
In recent years, trends can be observed – economically and politically motivated – to transfer the theatrical “dramaturgy” to other social areas of action (“events” as a marketing tool, the “dramatization” of policy-making, etc.). Theatre is thus increasingly perceived as a calculated effect, through directing, which contradicts the principle of reciprocal communication. If the public perception of theatre continues to develop in this direction, it threatens to erode the very legitimacy of theatre.
The theoretic-cultural considerations are of interest with respect to the diversity of cultural expressions in the field of theatre in three ways:
In examining in a superficial manner Switzerland’s theatre life, it seems that the principle of diversity of theatrical expression is largely satisfied: municipal theatre, independent stage and other programmes provide an extensive range – from “safeguarding of heritage” to the most advanced forms of theatre. In addition, Switzerland has a rich amateur experience in all language regions that maintains popular cultural heritage and is open to innovative forms of theatre.
However, recent developments show that the diversity of theatrical forms of expression isnevertheless under pressure. Three examples:
Bern: The example of the debate over the future of the theatrical landscape of the Swiss capital and, in this respect, the proposed shutting down of the ballet as a division of the municipal theatre in favour of independent contemporary dance has made it clear that the diverse forms, genres and branches in the theatre have different functions and different audiences, and that they are complementary in the sense of a living diversity.
Basel: The same applies in the nine-year long debate about the future of the Kulturwerkstatt Kaserne Basel, one of the most important institutions for independent theatre and dance professionals in Switzerland. The local theatrical history of the last twenty years is striking in that the content and aesthetic development of the municipal theatre was decidedly affected by the impulse from the innovations of the independent theatre activities. Without an affirmatively formulated performance mandate at the Kaserne Basel and some adequate funding, the whole of Basel theatrical life would be threatened with impoverishment.
Luzern: The structure of cultural promotion has substantially changed due to the financial and local government reform of 2008. The responsibility for culture has been passed on from the Canton to the municipalities, most of which do not have the required experience with the procedures and criteria linked to the new duties, nor have sufficient resources.
There is a risk that the traditionally diverse and active folk and amateur theatre landscape could sustain damage due to this structural overload.
In addition, one can notice a tendency to emphasize economic cultural aspects in Luzern’s cultural promotion. Tourism-oriented culture is favoured here at the expense of the exciting friction between folk and amateur theatre, municipal theatre and the local independent venues. This example clearly shows that cultural diversity is a crosscutting theme that embraces cultural, economic and social policy and should, therefore, be widely discussed:
In the present diversity of the theatre scene, there are gaps in terms of the perception and reflection of demographic changes. On the one hand, one sees a higher diversity of forms of cultural expression causedespecially, by migration. On the other hand, such influences do not have the importance in theatre programmes that would reflect the active cultural participation of the population in the life of the theatre.
To put it bluntly: the perception of foreign theatre cultures is limited to a few encouraging festivals and the less encouraging performances of commercial troupe tours in which “folklorism” of theatre cultures reflects a neo-colonial culture.
The reasons for this deficiency lie notably, in the widely specialised understanding of a high culture theatre that has its origins in the institutionalization of the theatre as a bourgeois (educational) expression of culture. To fully take advantage of the possibilities of theatrical variety and include the participation of the currently excluded population groups, the expert group recommends that:
For the purposes of developing the vibrant diversity of cultural expressions, the expert group welcomes efforts on the part of institutionalized theatres to encourage the participation in its programmes of populations of all origin, education and age groups. This includes the institutionalized theatre education for children and adolescents.
“Education” projects, some of which are interdisciplinary, initiated at the municipal theatres in Zurich and Basel, in collaboration with academic institutions are an approach worth following. However, the question arises whether they fall foul to too much self-promotion and too little the development of young people’s creativity. The exploitation of the participating children and adolescents as cultural-political figureheads can be avoided only if the participatory projects are an integral part of the professional institutions, i.e. with substantial access to the resources (workshops, technical departments, budgets).
Cultural education has its most important basis in the readiness of educational institutions to put culture and theatre as part of their curricula. “Reforming” the educational institutions and implementing cost-cutting measures – including budget cuts that prevent theatre projects, courses and attendance to theatre – puts cultural education in schools at high risk. These developments not only deprive the theatres of an important audience but also cut back the possibility of attracting young people to theatrical confrontations with life and social issues.
Theatre professionals should, therefore, like politicians dealing with culture, actively become involve in the pursuit of the following objectives:
Children’s and and youth theatres have gained an artistically specific profile and nowadays are seen as an independent branch. Until the 1990s, the Swiss children’s and youth theatre was regarded as one of the most original and innovative in Europe and was present at all the major international festivals. In recent years, however, there has been a striking loss of importance of this branch. The recent shutting down of the children’s and youth theatre department of the Zurich University of the Arts is the latest and most visible indication of that. To help the children’s and youth theatre return to significance for the preservation and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions, the following actions are required:
Folk and amateur theatre is important, especially in rural areas as a central element of the theatre diversity. They also express local self-understanding and civil society self-organization. Therefore it is necessary to:
As in other areas of culture, the multilingualism of Switzerland is still not sufficiently reflected in the programmes nor in the exchange between the theatrical institutions existing in the various parts of the country. Because the various theatre cultures are oriented to the content, form, and institutionalization of the large neighbouring country (i.e. Germany), there is broad mutual lack of interest amongst theatre professionals as well as amongst the public. The theatrical cultures of the various parts of the country. are widely divergent. This is clearly reflected in the unique “Transhelvetia” theatre exchange project funded by several foundations.
Only in the area of the contemporary dance scene is the nation-wide initiative “Reso. Tanznetzwerk Schweiz” (Reso. Swiss Dancing Network). It offers transversal and systematic promotion and coordination. There is a blatant need for action at the national cultural exchange level:
The venues of the “independent theatre” should be encouraged to take greater account of the diversity of theatrical forms of expression. A concept of international cultural exchange based on the principle of equal cooperation should be reformulated; performances and coproductions in particular should more often refer to the culturally diverse populations living in Switzerland. It is recommended:
Original text: German
Hans J. Ammann. Dramaturg and director. Former Director of the Municipal theatre Biel/Solothurn.
Brigitte Heusinger. Opera dramaturg in Basel Theatre. email@example.com
Peter-Jakob Kelting (Commissioner). Dramaturg and director of production. firstname.lastname@example.org
Stefan Koslowski. Expert in theatre and culture studies. email@example.com
Walter Küng. Performing Arts/Theatrical Interpretation. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandro Lunin. Artistic Director Zurich Theatre Spectacle. email@example.com
Louis Naef. Dramaturg and director. firstname.lastname@example.org
Salome Schneebeli. Choreographer and dancer. email@example.com