2010 Balzan Prize for The History of Theatre in All Its Aspects
Interview with Manfred Brauneck 03.07.2013
The role of Independent Theatre in European contemporary drama: structural and aesthetic changes
An Interview with Manfred Brauneck, Balzan Prizewinner 2010 for The History of Theater in all its Aspects, overviewing many issues focused by his Balzan research project
Independent Theatre lies at the heart of your research. What exactly is the scope of your work?
We study the creative urges arising from this area of drama in the context of theatre cultures and structures in practically all European countries. No such comprehensive study has so far been conducted. It was made possible exclusively thanks to the funds from the International Balzan Foundation.
In addition to a country-by-country overview of the functions, work conditions, artistic and theatre policy issues in this area of drama in each single country, our study has also turned a spotlight on the following research areas: the transnational exchange of independent, theatre groups (such concepts vary from country to country); the development of this area of drama in Eastern European countries; children’s and youth theatre; artistic methods and theoretical concepts in contemporary independent dance and performance arts; drama and migration in Europe. Cross-cultural issues involving the above study areas include independent music theatre and drama and cultural policies in Europe especially in the context of independent theatre. The time frame of our study encompasses the decades from 1990 onwards.
How important is your project for European drama?
Our study will make it clear that independent theatre has long been an established component of European theatre culture and is no longer a marginal phenomenon or a mere form of underground culture. It will become clear that the understanding of theatre culture has changed, I’d say has widened, in fundamental ways through the work of independent theatre. Theatre has moved closer to people’s actual social conditions. This concerns not only the themes which independent theatre deals with, but also experimental trends and not least the forms of artistic communication, in particular vis-à-vis younger audiences.
Could you tell us about the current state of your research?
The study is virtually complete. Over the past three years we have held seminars in Hamburg, Hildesheim, Berlin and Leipzig, frequently in conjunction with festivals which have a connection to the European independent theatre scene. Both scholars and performers from the areas covered by our study participated in these seminars. At the moment work is being done on the final reports which are due in September. For the coordination, among other things, of those final reports, two more seminars will be held this year in Hamburg, one of them focusing on independent music theatre.
Which European countries and regions are the subject of your study and why were they chosen?
Researchers were left free to choose the countries which were significant for their own area fields. These countries stood out because of particularly innovative projects in their respective field of study. All researchers, however, had to include German-speaking areas, which was the initial basis to the research work, in addition to Italy and Switzerland, as a kind of homage to the International Balzan Foundation. We also made sure to give a significant overview of independent theatre in Europe. The study is based on a considerable amount of research from many individual countries.
Could you tell us more about UNESCO’s “World Observatory on the Status of the Artist”. What contribution has your research project made to it ?
UNESCO has asked all member states and artists’ associations to assist in the collection of statistical information on the status of the artist and to collaborate with the Observatory; likewise with the implementation of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. We are going to make our study available to the Observatory and to the German UNESCO-Commission when it comes out in print (German/English) at the end of 2014 as well as, if necessary, further research, interviews and special statistics from our five assistants.
What effects of globalisation on European theatre has your study highlighted?
The term globalisation belongs in my opinion to the world of economics and finance. As far as theatre is concerned, since the 1970s a similar trend has developed which could better be termed “intercultural“ or “transcultural“. In a sense the Independent Theatre scene has played a groundbreaking role in this context. Leading directors who have been at the forefront in this area of drama since its inception – Peter Brook, Ariane Mnouchkine or Eugenio Barba among others – have since the 1970s programmatically “transgressed” the borders between cultures and in the context of such transformations have developed new forms of creative expression.
Could you tell us something about the universities, institutions and assistants that took part in the study?
A network of different institutions was created for our research, which I led. Another partner is the International Theatre Institute / German Section (ITI). The ITI assumed all the administrative responsibilities connected with the study. However, the ITI representatives were also able to contribute in fundamental ways to all the research issues, in particular its director Dr. Engel. This was down to their large international network and their considerable number of significant contacts. Cooperation agreements were also signed with the drama institutes of the universities of Berlin, Leipzig and Hildesheim. Five scholars focused on particular areas: Dr. Christine Koch (Hamburg), Friederike Felbeck (Düsseldorf/Hamburg), Dr. Petra Sabisch (Berlin), Andrea Hensel (Leipzig), Dr. Azadeh Sharifi (Hildesheim/Berlin). Other scholars who were involved in mentoring were: Dr. Barbara Müller-Wesemann (Hamburg), Prof. Gabriele Brandstetter (Berlin), Prof. Wolfgang Schneider and Prof. Matthias Rebstock (both Hildesheim), Prof. Günther Heeg (Leipzig).
How significant was the award of the Balzan Prize for your area of research?
The fact that the 2010 Balzan Prize was awarded in the area of theatre studies was a decision of exceptional significance for our field, particularly in view of the general tendencies in research funding prevalent at the time.
What new openings were made possible for your research work by the Balzan Prize ?
The completion of our research study would not have been possible without the funding from the International Balzan Foundation. I have always understood the Balzan Prize funding as requiring young researchers to be in the front line so that they are enabled to carry out research long term in a significant field of study and to prove their mettle as scholars.
You have taken on an enormous task with this study at a time in your career when other scholars are moving towards their well-earned retirement. What is the significance of this study for you personally?
The idea of retiring is alien to me. Besides, I am much too taken with my field of study and quite tied up with publishing obligations. It was exciting beyond description to collaborate with young researchers and all those colleagues and artists that we invited to the seminars. My decision to focus on Independent Theatre as my research topic was also a kind of “homecoming“ , a return to the beginning of my work at Hamburg University. PR&DVienna (English translation by Fabio Di Martino)