9 – 19 June 2022 in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Düsseldorf, Cologne + Essen

Academy #1 – Un/Safe Spaces

On Safeness and Confrontation in Theatre Spaces

Language: German (a few events are in English – these are noted in the programme)
Programme Lead: Tobias Herzberg
Production Manager: Susanne Berthold

Independent theatre has created many insecurities: both in aesthetic and institutional terms. It has exploded boundaries between art forms, catapulted audiences into new roles and broken with routine hierarchies and ways of working. Undermining the security of what is old and familiar has led to the new. But for many people, such insecurity is not just a provocative strategy, but an existential threat. Accordingly, more and more calls are made for safe spaces for artists and audiences so that everyone can participate securely. Safe can mean one refrains from using exclusionary or derogatory terms. Safe can also mean giving people the option to protect themselves from encounters with wounding content through the use of content or trigger warnings. Safe can also mean that spatial structures are changed – this includes not only ramps for wheelchairs but also all-gender toilets. Safe means respecting people’s boundaries and approaching them cautiously as vulnerable creatures.

But, as a public place, can theatre ever be a safe space? What contradictions arise from this concept with artistic strategies of disconcertion, with provocation and transgression as principles of artistic freedom? Are artistic freedom and safety ultimately mutually exclusive?

The two-day ACADEMY opens these questions to discussion. Expert artistic practitioners provide controversial input articulating their positions, and offer opportunities for shared experiences and debates in workshops and round table discussions. What will independent theatre give up, and what can it gain, if it is to become safer?

The ACADEMY #1 – UN/SAFE SPACES is funded by the NRW Landesbüro Freie Darstellende Künste.

10.06.22 10:00–17:00 Day Pass Schedule 11.06.22 10:00–17:00 Day Pass Schedule

ACADEMY #1 is open to all visitors. Both days can be booked individually with a day ticket. The ticket price includes lunch and a shuttle service to the SHOWCASE in Mülheim an der Ruhr and back. Individual programme points can also be visited with the day ticket.

© Anthea Petermann/ Illustration: Lelya Sehar
© Anthea Petermann/ Illustration: Lelya Sehar
© Anthea Petermann/ Illustration: Lelya Sehar


10:00–10:30 Whose freedom, whose bodies, whose spaces?

Welcome and introduction by Tobias Herzberg (Programme Lead ACADEMY #1)

What kind of safety is meant when we talk about safe spaces? What needs stand beside or against each other? Tobias Herzberg explains the themes of the ACADEMY, defines the terminological framework and introduces the contributors.

10:30–11:00 (Un)safe space public place? On isolation and pluralism in media and theatre

Keynote by Miriam Walther (theatre maker, Managing Director Republik, Zurich)

In a diverse society both theatres and the media have the duty to provide a stage for diverse views. Yet how should they react when a public forum is demanded for discriminatory or violent views? Should there be (no) tolerance for the intolerant? And what can theatre learn from other platforms that create a public sphere?

11:00–11:30 Safer Spaces – How utopia can open out into artistic practice

An endorsement by Antigone Akgün (freelance performer, dramaturg and writer, Frankfurt am Main)

The fact that utopias cannot be achieved instantly and without resistance is no longer a secret. However, German-speaking theatre institutions have made numerous efforts to become safer and to facilitate discrimination-free spaces for fragile artistic processes. What form do these efforts take? What adversities and what support do they encounter? And: what potential does art that has been produced under safer conditions have?

11:45–12:15 Safe Spaces – Unsafe Art. A rejoinder from practice

By Sahar Rahimi (director, performer, Munich)

If we understand theatre to be a space in which we can be both productively confused and watch with crystal-clear understanding, with astonishment and critical distance, with repulsion and analytical rigour, with intoxication and self-reflection, then it needs to contain an (artistic) freedom that the world does not provide. This is a plea not to apply the same standards to the parameters of producing art that we apply to artistic outcomes.

12:15–12:45 Q&A on the lectures

12:35–13:45 Lunch break

13:45–16:45 Workshops

In three workshops held in parallel, theatremakers present how they create security or insecurity in their work. and invite participants in the ACADEMY to take part in practical exercises. Assignment to the workshops will take place at the beginning of the first day of the ACADEMY.

Workshop 1:

From immersion to inclusion: how theatre spaces empower or inhibit actors and audiences
Led by: Yulia Yáñez Schmidt (actor, Cologne)Immersion means to “dive in”. Immersive performances allow the audience to dive into playful settings where the performers often appear indistinguishable from their characters. The classic separation between audience and performers is blurred – uncertainty is built in! Best-known examples are the site-specific works of the Danish-Austrian performance group SIGNA, with whom Yulia Yáñez Schmidt toured to several European cities. As an actor with a physical disability she has been a permanent member of the Inclusive Acting Studio at Schauspiel Wuppertal since 2019/20: a model project that is the only one of its kind in Germany. Working on roles and the repertoires system in a civic theatre versus immersive site-specific performance: out of a direct comparison between her experiences of immersion and inclusion, Yulia Yáñez Schmidt develops an inventory of staircases and theatrical traditions and will animate others to immerse themselves in theatrical architecture.

Workshop 2:
Showing solidarity without trying to be liked. Unsettling white privilege.
Led by: Iggy Malmborg, Johannes Maria Schmit (WHITE ON WHITE, Malmö/Stockholm)
Language: English

Between 2009 and 2016 White on White made a series of six theatre pieces, all with the explicit objective of producing an unsafe space for people holding white privilege, eroding the self-evident way that white audiences identify with the two white performers. During the workshop, the duo will give insight into the strategies used in the series and why these turned obsolete after the inauguration of Trump. They will also bring a sequence of dilemmas emerging in the present time, with which to entangle the participants, their most urgent question being: can we find a dialectical relation between safe processes and confrontational aesthetics?

Workshop 3: Escape routes from heteronormativity. A safe space for heteras
Led by: Sibylle Peters (performance artist and cultural researcher, Hamburg)

The heteronormative world is unsafe for women. It casts a veil over how frequently heterasexual women feel compelled to perform against their own interests and desires in intimate encounters. This fundamental imbalance creates mistrust and can quickly poison love, pleasure and flirtation. This is why there needs to be a safe space for heteras. The HETERACLUB (15.– 18.06. in the Impulse SHOWCASE) achieves this through the character of thefemale pimp. Under her direction, the participating men train themselves to be guided in their encounters with the heteras by their desires, and to be aware of and respect boundaries. This takes weeks. Is it possible to transfer procedures from the heteraclub to a workshop setting where heteras and heteros search together for escape routes from heteronormativity? No guarantees, only an experiment.

17:00 Bus shuttle

The bus shuttle goes directly to the CITY PROJECT in Düsseldorf and carries on to the SHOWCASE in Mülheim an der Ruhr. Estimated arrival time in Mülheim an der Ruhr: 20:00. Return journey around 23:30.


Antigone Akgün, born in Frankfurt am Main in 1993, studied Theatre, Film and Media Studies there along with Philosophy and Dramaturgy. As a performer she has worked together with artists including Rosana Cade and Laurie Brown, Martina Droste and Boris Nikitin, as well as composing texts for Julia Wissert and others, and her own play IN HER FACE oder die autorin ist tot at the Frankfurter Landungsbrücken. She has participated in the Hans Gratzer Stipendium (Schauspielhaus Vienna, 2021), running the Theatertreffen Blog 2022 and directing the city-wide project Der Brotladen after Brecht (Theater Bremen 2022).

Tobias Herzberg is a dramaturg and lecturer at the Institute of Language Arts at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. As Artistic Director of Studio Я at Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theater he produced the queer week PUGS IN LOVE and other intersectional community festivals, discussion series and themed weekends on topics such as freedom of the press, of art and of opinion. He was Dramaturg at the Vienna Burgtheater from 2019 to 2021.

Iggy Malmborg was born in Malmö in 1987 and is a freelance actor and director. His artistic interest lies in the performative situation and the politics of theatre as machinery. He has worked together with Johannes Maria Schmit under the label WHITE ON WHITE since 2009. In 2020/21 he devised the sound installation ‘No More’ at the Contemporary Art Museum in Estonia. His new work ‘Iris, pupil, retina, etc.’ premiered at the Rosendal Teater in Trondheim in January 2022.

Sibylle Peters is a performance artist and cultural researcher. She is the Artistic Director of the research theatre FUNDUS THEATER in Hamburg and co-founder of the graduate college Performing Citizenship. Matters of importance to her include the theory and practice of assembly, participatory research processes. social intimacy, the lecture as performance, performance art for children, the impulse towards improbability and feminist seafaring. Her most recent works are: ‘Women of the Seven Seas’, geheimagentur Hamburg 2021, QUEENS. DER HETERACLUB (Impulse SHOWCASE 2022).

Sahar Rahimi, born in Tehran, is a director, writer and performer and currently lives in Munich. She studied at the Institute of Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen and is a co-founder of the performance group Monster Truck. She works in the independent sector and in civic theatres in the fields of theatre, performance, installation and video. At the centre of her work lies her interest in the ambivalent border areas between power and impotence.

Yulia Yáñez Schmidt has worked as an actor since 2009. Her first experiences of working as a performer came in the immersive performance installations of the Danish-Austrian collective SIGNA, with which she appeared at various theatres in Europe. She has been a member of the Inclusive Theatre Studio at Schauspiel Wuppertal since 2019/20. An inventory of her work spans stairwells and traditional theatre.

Johannes Maria Schmit was born in Trier in 1981. He studied Directing at the HfS Ernst Busch, Berlin. Schmit subsequently worked as Resident Director at the Centraltheater Leipzig. He has worked freelance in the German-speaking theatre since 2011, as well as in Sweden, where he founded the due WHITE ON WHITE with Iggy Malmborg. In 2020 Schmit’s debut as a film director ‘Neubau’ (screenplay by Tucké Royale) received its world premiere at the Filmfestival Max Ophüls Preis, where it won the prize for Best Film and was particularly praised by the jury for its “ability to create empathy.”

Miriam Walther is a director and culture and media manager. After growing up in Brazil and Switzerland, she studied dance and Theatre Directing in New York and Zurich. She is a co-founder of the transdisciplinary artistic collective Neue Dringlichkeit and the Zurich production platform for independent theatre ArtFAQ. She has been Managing Director of the digital magazine Republik since 2018.


10:00–11:30 Who did Enjoy Racism?

A re-enactment of audience reactions to ‘Enjoy Racism’ by and with Monika Truong (theatremaker and sociologist, Zurich). Co-Facilitator: Marque Pham
Language: English

Monika Truong looks back at her production ‘Enjoy Racism’ (created in collaboration with Thom Reinhard, and presented, among other places, at the Impulse SHOWCASE in 2018). During the performance, the audience was divided into two groups on the basis of eye colour. One group experienced privileges, the other discrimination. The interactive production made it painfully evident how capricious structuring the allocation and withholding of privileges on the basis of physical characteristics is. In this re-enactment, Monika Truong offers insights into the documented reactions of the audience to the original production. Together with participants in the ACADEMY, the artist will read out comments that were made during the performances and examines the effects the production has had on her own position regarding safeness and vulnerability.

11:45–13:15 Round table discussions with Elisabeth Bernroitner, Denice Bourbon, Simone Dede Ayivi, Mable Preach, Sophia Stepf und Abishek Thapar

The round table discussions offer the opportunity to discuss specific questions in a small group with one or two experts. These discussions all take place in parallel, so the participants have to choose one of the topics on offer. Each round table discussion begins with a brief introduction to the topic by the experts: afterwards the conversation is open to all.

Round table discussion 1: Theatre in a glass house. How is art created in a transcultural protective space?

Discussion led by: Elisabeth Bernroitner (Brunnenpassage, Vienna)
The Brunnenpassage has operated as a transcultural art laboratory since 2007, based in a former market hall built of glass in one of the outer districts of Vienna. Elisabeth Bernroitner runs its theatre programme. She explains how a safe, diversity-aware framework facilitates collective artistic creation and will initiate a conversation about the imponderables of producing art in a transparent protective space.

Round table discussion 2: Queer comedy. How can political humour be done without stereotyping or excluding anyone?
Discussion led by: Denice Bourbon (PCCC* – Vienna's First Queer Comedy Club, Vienna)
Language: German
Denice Bourbon’s golden rule of comedy is: Don’t kick down! Laughter is a defence mechanism, at times from yourself. When you’re dishing it out, do so sideways, upwards, and of course, always with a twinkle in your eye. The Viennese personification of lesbian-queer entertainment initiates a discussion about jokes that are empowering and subversive fun in the name of political correctness.

Round table discussion 3: Sharing experiences: What spaces for conversation do marginalized communities need?
Discussion led by: Simone Dede Ayivi (writer, director, Berlin)
Language: German
In her documentary installation ‘The Kids Are Alright’ (which can be seen in this year’s Impulse SHOWCASE) Simone Dede Ayivi explores family histories, generational conflicts, political struggles and visions for the future in families with migrant heritage. Together with the participants in this round table conversation, she will reflect on her working method and talk about interviewing witnesses who have often been affected by racism and violence. How do we talk to each other? And how do we define responsibility in making art from the results of research?

Round table discussion 4: We for us. What opportunities are contained by working in an all BIPOC ensemble?
Discussion led by: Mable Preach (director, activist, Lukulule e.V., Hamburg)
Language: German
Together with her team of BIPOC performers, Mable Preach embarked on a bio-fictional enquiry into female actors within the anti-colonial resistance. In this round table discussion, the Hamburg-based director will discuss the challenges and limits of a safe space as a condition of rehearsal and invite reflection on the evolution of anti-racist strategies in the arts from a young, female perspective.

Round table discussion 5: White Money. How are global power relations reflected in the performing arts?
Discussion led by: Sophia Stepf (Flinn Works, Berlin) and Abhishek Thapar (theatremaker and researcher, Amsterdam)
Language: English
In 2021, the group Flinn Works organised the festival "White Money" as an attempt to expand and interrogate the boundaries of cultural funding structures. 'White Money' means cultural funding from Europe which flows towards the global south and dominates the global performing arts market. To what extent do global hierarchies through funding distribution influence artistic processes, content and aesthetics? What could be creative ways out of these dependencies?

13:15–14:15 Lunch Break

14:15–15:15 Speed dating

The participants exchange the experiences and expertise that they have gained from the various ACADEMY formats in a one-to-one setting. Questions and a duration for the conversations will be supplied. The aim is to encounter multiple perspectives in a short time.

15:30–16:45 Concluding discussion

Chaired by: Tobias Herzberg (Programme Lead ACADEMY #1)

Antigone Akgün and Sahar Rahimi, who took up opposing positions at the beginning of the first day of the ACADEMY, reflect on the different viewpoints and impressions and potential shifts of perspective that have arisen during the ACADEMY. In a fishbowl format, everyone who wishes to is invited to take part in the discussion.

17:00 Bus shuttle

The bus shuttle goes directly to the SHOWCASE in Mülheim an der Ruhr. Return journey around 24:00.


Elisabeth Bernroitner curates transcultural, (post-)migrant, contemporary art and information projects. Since 2011 she has curated and run the theatre and performance programme at the ArtSocialSpace Brunnenpassage in Vienna and has been actively involved in international projects and museum co-operations. From 2016 to 2019 she was a member of the executive of IG Kultur in Vienna, and from 2016 to 2018 Artistic and Managing Director of PANGEA | Workshop of World Cultures in Linz. She had previously worked as Project Co-ordinator at Tanzquartier Wien. She studied Theatre Studies and Cultural Anthropology as well as Visual Culture and Performance Art Practices in Vienna and Madrid. Elisabeth Bernroitner also works as a freelance diversity trainer specialising in the arts and culture.

Denice Bourbon is a lesbian/queer-feminist performance artist, singer, writer, show host, curator, and stand-up comedian. She uses humour and entertainment as activist tools to draw attention to political issues. For a number of years, she has been working as a freelance artist in both theatre and film. Denice Bourbon has worked with artists such as Katrina Daschner, Gin Müller, Veza Fernández, Sabine Marte, Stefanie Sourial, Stefanie Sargnagel, Amina Handke, and Nesterval at venues such as brut, WUK, WERK X, Ateliertheater, Kosmos Theater, Spektakel, and many more. Denice Bourbon was a co-curator of Vienna’s first queer performance festival, Straight to Hell (2015, with Denise Kottlett) and co-founder of the queer stand-up comedy club PCCC*. In 2018, she was part of the cast for Nesterval’s acclaimed immersive production The Village.

Simone Dede Ayivi studied Cultural Studies and Aesthetic Practice at the University of Hildesheim. In 2016 as part of the akademie der autodidakten at Ballhaus Naunynstraße she devised the theatre project ‘JETZT BIN ICH HIER!’ together with post-migrant young people, in which they examined their current situation of living in Germany. As part of FIRST BLACK WOMAN IN SPACE Ayivi spent three weeks with the entire production as Artist in Residence at Künstlerhaus Mousonturm. She has been working with a range of different Accomplices since 2012.

Mable Preach has been a regular presence on the Hamburg art scene for many years – as a director and choreographer, and as a curator and networker. She is the initiator of the festival for urban BIPoC youth culture FORMATION**NOW and Director of the cultural and youth association Lukulule. She recently presented EMB*RACE YOUR CROWN**, which she directed, as part of the season opening at Kampnagel, Hamburg. In her works, she engages in critical studies of racism and (neo-)colonialism, demands empowerment and produces alternative images and narratives to the white mainstream.

Sophia Stepf is Artistic Director of the company Flinn Works (Berlin) and works as a director, curator and lecturer. After studying Dramaturgy in Leipzig and Toronto, she worked as an Assistant and Dramaturg for Theater der Welt and the Wiener Festwochen. She has conceived and curated theatre projects and training in India on a regular basis since 2001, for institutions including the Goethe Institut and the National School of Drama. She curated the independent theatre festival Schwindelfrei in Mannheim from 2014 -2018. With Flinn Works she has won the ZKB Förderpreis (Zürich), four Meta Awards (Delhi) and the Fonds Darstellende Künste’s Tabori Award in 2021. She lives with her family in Berlin.

Abhishek Thapar was born in Moga, India, in 1985 and is a theatre maker, performer, puppeteer and artist. He lives in Amsterdam. Abhishek Thapar has a postgraduate qualification in Physical Theatre from the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA) and completed the masters programme DAS Theatre at the Amsterdam University of the Arts.

Monika Truong, a sociologist, Sinologist and theatre maker, works alongside the ambivalences of our social norms in the contradictory experiential space of socialisation in small town Switzerland, a Chinese-Vietnamese background, academic training and freelance work in the independent theatre sector. Her piece ‘Enjoy Racism’ (together with Thom Reinhard) was presented at the IMPULSE Showcase 2018 and also won the Festival Prize at the festival ‘Politik im Freien Theater’ in the same year.