What is the essence of theater? With its contents it does not solely mirror, criticize, and challenge society. Already its particular form is always an expression of its time: The Greek Polis met at the Dionysus-Theater, to negotiate their values. During the Baroque period, the play too was totally dedicated to the absolute monarch. And it is not a coincidence that the enlightenment of the European bourgeoisie went hand in hand with the formation of the bourgeois theater as aesthetic and also concrete cultural political phenomenon.
Particularly the avant gardes of the 20th century saw theater as a tool to change society, and not only to reflect or at best challenge it. Brecht wanted a theater as a moral institution of class struggle that does not divide in actor and spectator. In contrast his antipode Artaud imagined pushing this boundary as subversive rush.
Although this structural similarity between politics and theater often remained more radical on paper than in its practice, performance artists always saw theater as a medium that enabled them to try out social and political methods, in which societies in their different varieties – existing or imagined – can be performed, thought ahead, expanded, verified or even invented in the first place.
The Impulse Theater Festival invites ten works from the German-speaking world and initiates three projects of international artists in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mülheim, that do not only picture society, but that seriously challenge the conditions of how we live together or that directly intervene in social processes. Independent theater still is a political and social laboratory of the present that shows, how the performative arts can unfold their agonistic, provoking potential – a potential that precisely is not just integrable and merely conceals social dysfunctions, ruptures and sore spots, but that addresses them and acts them out. Because that’s what it’s about at a time of an unexpected renaissance of the slogan: “Who is not with us is against us”: To open spaces for negotiation and debate, in which contradictions are not merely tolerated, but where they can be articulated in the first place.
How are we represented? Who do we represent, by what right and how? These questions aim at the core of every society and they are raised more and more insistently in politics, media and art in the last years in light of a crisis of democracy. And last but not least at the theater -the artistic medium of the representation of human beings and stories: Who and what can and should be represented on stage?
Impulse 2015 does not only raise these questions at its own conference, but above all within the artistic contributions themselves. “The Civil Wars” for example can be seen as a turning point in Milo Rau’s work: Instead of representing others, the actors reflect on themselves and search in their own lives for possible explanations, why young people from Europe suddenly go to Syria as warriors. Gob Squads work has always questioned their own lives – but with “Western Society” they expand their vision and draw a nostalgic view of a society, that ceased to exist in that way, that cannot exist, that must not exist anymore. Whereas Gintersdorfer/Klaßen did make room for other forms of representation since years: “Chefferie” is not only an old African assembly principle of many equal chiefs, but also the vision of Gintersdorfer/Klaßen’s artistic practice. andcompany&Co also speak with many tongues, when they ask, what language still can do, but also how to end wars that have never been declared.
“Ibsen: Ghosts” by the young theater makers Markus&Markus is a theatrical monument for a person who isn’t alive anymore and for a confrontation with an existing suicide: What can be shown at the theater, how true, how close, how serious, how voyeuristic is it allowed to be? Are we voyeurs or witnesses? It is as personal as it is political when Rabih Mroué lets his brother perform in “Riding on a Cloud“, for whom representation actually does not have a meaning anymore: As a child, he lost the ability to recognize reality in words and pictures, after he was seriously wounded in the Lebanese civil war.
But theater does not only represent things, it also is a real space with real people negotiating with each other. Herbordt/Mohrens “The Performance” is the performance of an institution, representation and the thing itself at the same time, a game with categories and attributions, where the spectators keep a maximum of freedom of choice, where they’re allowed a lot, but not forced to do anything. In a disturbing way, this freedom of choice has already been taken from us in “Anonymous P.” by Chris Kondek & Christiane Kühl: Our data are sold by secret services and commercial companies with the aim to predict every single one of our steps. When we gather around the German oak, with difficulty rebuilt by Hendrik Quast & Maika Knoblich, then we realize: The utopia of a self-determined identity is fragile.
Two productions which are as well exemplary in the context of agonism and representation in theater, indirectly find their way into the Impulse program: In Milo Rau’s film documentation “Moscow Trials”, artists, curators, radically orthodox persons and reactionary journalists negotiate the freedom of art. And the radio play on Rimini Protokoll’s “Situation Rooms” follows the devious routes of weapons all over the world.
Real spaces Impulse also opens up with three international coproductions:
The “Silent University” initiated by the Kurdish artist Ahmet Öğüt settles in Mülheim/Ruhr, an autonomous platform for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. The Dutch director Lotte van den Berg’s “Building Conversation” at the FFT in Düsseldorf realizes theater as something that is left, when everything that’s unnecessary is taken away: A date to a conversation with defined rules of the game. Talking to each other as theater. The conversation space the British artist and film maker Phil Collins develops together with students from Cologne and Ramallah at “Our Position Vanishes“ are mobile: The buses that connect our partner venues, the studiobühne in Cologne and the FFT in Düsseldorf with the festival center at the Ringlokschuppen Ruhr, become collective spaces of experience, in which geographies and sounds are overlapping, political theories and concrete actions are mixed.
For the first time in its history, the Impulse Theater Festival is focused on one city: The Ringlokschuppen Ruhr in Mülheim will be the center of independent theater for ten days, while Düsseldorf and Cologne are on board as associated partners. In the future, Impulse will take place annually, the participating cities will alternately be center of the festival.
We cordially invite you to participate with us in outstanding artistic works, that were developed beyond the structures of city theaters and that understand theater as political space for experiments. Travel with us from Cologne and Düsseldorf to Mülheim, to the heart of the changing Western Society, discuss, drink a beer to the German forest at the festival center designed by raumlaborberlin, to death, to survival, new spaces to think, independent theater.