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The placement experience

Georgina Saggiante Montero, October 2016

A report on a Next Generation Placement realized at the National Theater Festival of Croatia

Hello! My name is Gina Saggiante and on the next paragraphs I am going to talk about my experience at the National Theater Festival of Croatia as a part of the ASSITEJ Placement Program hosted by the Hause of Culture of ?akovec

From my perspective a placement is an oportunity to be in the middle of an artistic experience, where you will get the chance to see several plays a day, take workshops on your free time in between those plays, get to know other artists as you walk towards the theater, engage in discussion tables on certain topics of TYA and on your free time get voluntarily lost around the town.

The benefits are quite obvious, you make great connections with artists from other parts of the world and perhaps future cooperations, learn how other cultures see and do TYA and get tons of inspiration.

So this placement at the NTFC, in which I had the privilege to be part of, took place in Croatia, ?akovec to be more specific and as its name explains it was a teather festival that gathered the best performances for children and young audiences from this country. In return for this experience I made an everyday report of what was going on during the festival on their facebook page (Report that you will find under the title “The placement experience”)

For a week I got to see up to 3 plays a day for children and teenagers, take a workshop about the relationship between schools and theater, facilitated by Prof. Taube from Germany, see an exhibition of costume design, scenography and puppetry from the very talented bachelor students of the Art Akademy of Osijeck, and see how ASSITEJ Croatia organizes itself to improve and grow.

In this report I will not go in so much detail of the plays that I saw, since you may anyway find that on my reports on facebook, with lots  but I would like to mention some of the plays that made an impression on me during and after the festival like “Pumpkin Soup” that remind me of how powerful the element of magic on stage is, and this by the way was the winner of the first  place as best play for children in this festival, and “Jonathanov flies” that inspired me to seek for  interdisciplinary work experiences.

One of the great surprises of this placement was to run into a lot of theater pedagogs that took the workshop with Prof. Taube. One, because it’s no secret I am a German enthusiast (since I am currently based there as a master student of Theaterpaedagogik) but also because he offered a very meaningful overview of the history of the school system in Germany, an analysis of the relationship (or divorce) of schools and theatre and what we as drama pedagogs can do about it.

We also got a chance to compare and analyze the school-theater system of Croatia. I must say that this workshop was really helpful, now that I am starting this master, because I have a much better understanding of   different ideas and approaches to this topic. There is still so much work to do to enrich this relationship and create future audiences but hearing the problematics that other professionals encounter as they try to do this makes me believe that we are on the right way to make it happen.

This workshop still lingers on me and I hope I get chance to talk with Dr Taube again in Frankfurt.

So me of you wonder in what language this festival was, well croatian, but yes I still enjoyed the experience, why? Because theater is obviously not all about the language and luckly there is always so much to see on the stage, that the whole experience was understandable and aprecciatable and I dont mean to get very “Boalic” here, but it is so instersting to see how a culture sees themself seeing, how they perceive themselfs as an audience and as creators. Sometimes I even forgot I don’t speak croatian! Plus on the way one gets to make  express friendships that are there to make the experience  smoother, in my case like Tanja or Davrock or Leo, who always gave me a little preview on the story of the plays, a background check on the group that performed, and  told me where to buy coffee (very important). All those little details that make you feel welcome. For one moment I though that perhaps  language or cultural barriers would be on the but as long as one speak english and have an open mind, in this net you will find open people ready to learn from you and to teach you also something in return.

Like every theater festival they also organize a closure party in which I got to sing, by popular demand, “Besame Mucho”, and after my brief-untalented singing performance I walked back to the hotel thinking,that getting involve with this network gave me the chance to expand my idea of TYA, to make great connections  and to have a better view of who I actually am and where I stand on this field.

If you are in any way involved with young audiences I recomend you to get active on this network, because we have so much to develope, to talk about and to include.

Just to conclude I would like to thank Marissa from ASSITEJ Mexico, for the guidance, Mr Frabetti for answering very patientally all of my questions, Leo for receiving me and opening this oportunity for exchange which they care to continue and all the people from and previous to the festival that were more than lovely and helpful in their own way. Good day!

Inclusion Through Learning and Working

Sandra Nikač, 2015

Although the Next Generation Placements programme primarily involves international exchange, two young artists from Serbia received the invitations to become observers at The 46th Meeting of Professional Puppet Theatre of Serbia from Puppet Theatre in Niš.

One of them is Sandra Nikač, a young artist who has just obtained her MA in Puppetry in the UK. She wishes to practice her profession in Serbia and in the region, which, in these times of brain drain, is a real rarity. Here is what she says about the experience.

I have spent the first four days of December attending the 46th Meeting of Professional Puppet Theatre of Serbia as an observer, within the Next Generation Placements Program.

Thanks to ASSITEJ Serbia and Puppet Theatre Nis, two young people, artists with an interest in children’s or puppet theatre (the two art forms often almost marginalised) have been given an opportunity to attend this festival. This year those were the playwright Jelena Paligoric and I.

The Meeting in a way represents a layout of the best shows Serbian (puppet) theatres have to offer at the moment. The theatres themselves select the plays from the previous season, which are going to be performed at the festival and compete for different prizes. There were eight shows in the official selection, and they come from all seven professional puppet theatres in Serbia, from six different cities (Subotica, Zrenjanin, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Kragujevac and Nis). There were another three productions in the accompanying programme, from Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria.

Also in the accompanying programme was a lecture held by the director Darko Kovacovski, which focused on different types of puppets and their characteristics (construction, movement and otherwise). On the first day of the festival the exhibition Wizards from Nis was opened to the public. There were posters, photographs, costumes, masks and of course puppets from various productions form different periods of Puppet Theatre Nis’ history. It was very interesting to encounter these puppets outside their original context – as a part of a show. This is where we can begin to see all the influences, trends, and we can finally begin to analyze, from a broader perspective, the aesthetics.

This was a great opportunity for me to see different theatres’ productions in one place; otherwise, it would have been a lot more complicated. Also, in the past couple of years, since I’ve been studying abroad, I’ve been more in touch with what’s going on in puppetry internationally, especially in the UK. So, this was a fantastic way to get acquainted with contemporary Serbian puppetry, especially from a point of view of someone who is looking to develop as a professional puppet designer and maker right here, in Serbia.

The festival was also a great opportunity for networking, and from that a new collaboration developed: I’ve written an article about The Meeting which is going to be published by the end of the year in the magazine Threads, the only publication that specialises in puppetry.

Being part of the round-table discussion at the end of the festival was another significant involvement for me. I spoke about my experiences from studying abroad, and about possible ways of implementing the benefits into local current practices. The very creation of this kind of space, for young people to participate and not only to observe, is the very example of what I think is the most rewarding about NGP – inclusion through learning and working.

Thank you ASSITEJ Serbia, and Puppet Theatre Nis.

Bitef Polyphony experience

Nina Horvat – September  2015

Nina Horvat drama writer and  theatre pedagogue from Croatia  writes her impressions after spending a week in Belgrade as a member of the Social media managers team on the 16th Bitef Polyphony program (17th – 25th  September). Bitef Poliphony  has participated in the NG Placements program  on  the invitation of ASSITEJ Serbia.

Thanks to the Next Generation Placements, I had the opportunity to observe the Bitef Polyphony festival in Belgrade, Serbia. Through watching performances and listening to lectures on the “THEATRE WITHIN CONTEXT… and not just theatre” symposium that was organized within Polyphony, I learned about different forms of socially engaged theatre and I was able to see how theatre practitioners approach taboo themes in Serbia.

I was impressed with the successful collaboration between theatre professionals and amateurs on some performances because that is not very common in my country. In most performances the performers were young people who were dealing with very important themes, such as tolerance. Through working on such a performance, not only are they learning about theatre, they are also learning how to think for themselves and how to speak their mind. The Bitef Polyphony program mainly consisted of socially engaged performances that mostly dealt with consequences of wars and interethnic intolerance. There were also Community Theatre, Applied Theatre and Inclusive Theatre projects who dealt with other themes and with integration of often marginalized groups. Having said that, I wasn’t clear on how two or three performances fit into the repertory politics of the festival.

The symposium “THEATRE WITHIN CONTEXT… and not just theatre” lasted for three days and consisted of six dialogues and three workshops. The themes of the dialogues were very interesting, but the problem was there was often no time left for questions and discussions with the audience, so the dialogues were mostly turned into monologues of the lecturers.

My assignment within the NG Placements program was to observe the festival and help out with the social media managing. I wrote short reports after programs and posted them on social media so it would fulfill one of it’s main goals – immediate communication.

The event that affected me the most happened during the conversation with the audience after one of the performances. The performance was “Concrete Hood” in which eight young people from their own experience talk about intolerance and hatred in their own town very directly. During the conversation, a gentlemen said that those eight young people are not enough to make a change, a critical mass is needed. True, eight people can’t change society all by themselves. But they can help create that much needed critical mass by performing and loudly speaking their mind. The performance was forbidden in their home town and the performers and their families were under a lot of pressure. But if the politicians who run the city didn’t think there were like-minded people in their town and that there was a chance things could change for the better, they wouldn’t obstruct and forbid the performance. This only means that eight young people really can change something. And that theatre has power. This is something I sometimes forget, but I won’t be forgetting it any time soon.

Next Generation Placement gave me an opportunity to learn new things about socially engaged theatre, to meet colleagues who think about theatre in a similar way and to maybe realize some collaborations in the futures. And last but not least, I spent a week in a country that I visited only once before, even though it borders mine. There were no borders between those two countries not so long ago. I was born in a large country but grew up in a much smaller one, a fragment of a bigger whole. By spending time in the nearby “fragment”, I realized how similar these fragments really are and how they functioned as a whole.

Why Placements?

Diana Kržanic Tepavac, 2015

Why do we urge ASSITEJ members to find ways to open up new opportunities for young artists and theatre makers, to look for fresh flow, to participate in this great and exciting global exchange?

NG Placements is in many ways a very specific programme: it is a platform that offers a variety of possibilities for individual residencies for young and emerging artists. Each and every NG Placements offer is created as a unique opportunity, different from the previous ones, as an artistic and experiential challenge for both the host and the participant, in which their biggest investment is their personal commitment. It is particularly this multiplicity of specific opportunities that makes the results of the programme almost unpredictable. Nevertheless, previous participants’ feedback reveals splendid experiences almost without exception, reassuring us that encountering colleagues and individuals willing to share and commit to one common purpose – a good theatre for all children, is something that is of special value regardless of generational, geographical or artistic background.

In NG Placement program, ASSITEJ has the role of a mediator who is inviting and encouraging its large membership to create and open these unique opportunities intended for young artists, administrators or producers. Moreover, ASSITEJ aims to make these opportunities more visible and accessible to as many interested seekers as possible, as well as to learn from the experiences of previous participants in order to enhance the program for future generations. The questions popping up after the realization of all of the placement are of special interest for us: were both the host and the participant satisfied? Were there any new ideas created amid a flow of freshly shared energy? Was the match successful from the perspective of mutual, artistic understanding and recognition? Did the presence of a new, young face refresh the memories of experienced theatre makers on their beginnings, reminding them on the defining moment in their careers and strengthening their commitment to the theatre for children and young people? And did the newly established collaboration bring them to rediscover their long- fostered work and professional knowledge and pass it on to an emerging artist eager to learn? That is why we are asking all of the hosts as well as selected participants to write a report after ending their placement and share their impressions and experiences. Let us see what some of them have told us!

“I can say that PLACEMENTS is a project that can help to increase the exchange between cultures and forms of arts, and as well, to open the international perspective to create new ways of artistic work”, said Elena Manzo from Mexico. Elena has spent one week of February 2015 at Theatre an der Parkaue in Berlin. “The week I worked with the Winterakademie was very interesting, intense and full of creativity. I could develop my capacities as an artist and learn from the theatre team and from the work with the kids. The chance to get to know new people in theatre and to work with children and teenagers in Berlin, made bigger the point of view in my work as an artist, and helped me to develop new ways of working.”

Charlotte Loriot from France , who has recently spent nearly two months in South Africa, added “ It was another benefit for me of this experience in South Africa, where the history of the country makes many persons being very engaged about political issues or rights, and sometimes developing other conceptions about the goals of artists than the one I am more used to”. Charlotte was invited by Eliot Moleba to work as a dramaturg on the theatre play “ The Orphan of Gaza” that has realersal proces in Johannesburg, its premier in Joburg followed with tour to Cape Town and The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. In her report, she says that “ …the opportunity to meet very interesting, engaged and challenging artists has been very inspiring. One of my greatest experiences have been the people that I’ve met, and also the ability to tour and create with very simple tools (giving me a change to the big opera houses I’m used to…), focusing on our audience and the message. To put it in a nutshell, I really enjoyed it!”

“I was surprised at the extent to which we, the young artists, were involved in the festival program and ASSITEJ gathering”, highlighted Bojana Babi? from Serbia after her first NG residency experience this springtime in Berlin. “We have received much attention, and at the end of the festival at a joint gathering with tea and cakes, we have been told that festival is grateful to us for “refreshing” the whole festival. I visited several film festivals who have had a similar program for young artists, but I never felt as a serious and equal member of the team fighting for the same goal – for the theatre for children to be the best theatre”.

Reading the reports from our participants, it becomes clear that mentorship and support to a young generation of new talents is and should be at the core of our program. It is the simple yet crucial task: creating a bond between the experienced, established theatre makers and young emerging talents, and thus enabling them to share their skills and techniques, as well as their vision of a world that could be possible if we believe in it, and commit to it in our work. Transferring our knowledge to the new generations and developing our common vision together with them is priceless for all of us in TYA, as well as for the future of ASSITEJ.

Dramaturgy of « The Orphan of Gaza », with Eliot Moleba & ASSITEJ South Africa

Charlotte Loriot, May – July 2015.

Two month of dramaturgy in South Africa. A very interesting experience – not to mention the opportunity to discover such a country!

Our journey began before I arrived in South Africa – via Skype and emails – Eliot and I had the traditional exchanges between the writer & dramaturg about the writing process: I read the first drafts of the play and offered advice, proposed new ideas and possibilities, or questioned some aspects of the writing. It was not easy to write about a complicated, intricate and politicized conflict (Gaza)! But Eliot and I tried to focus on the human lives affected; how can a little boy react in a war situation, especially when he is too young to understand the politics? What are his dreams, his habits? We wanted to find a very simple story, to which every child could simply relate.

Dramaturg is a flexible job, but I’ve definitely discover other aspects during this exchange once in South Africa. Helping and giving advice during the rehearsal process, but soon, as we didn’t have any set or costume designer, offering input on these aspects too, or helping promoting the show, or monitoring the sound during the performances. This was new for me and very interesting!

Some organization difficulties, too. The National School of Arts (NSA), where we were supposed to perform in Johannesburg, cancelled our venue 10 days before the premier – they discovered that the space did not meet the basic safety standards, according to a recent test. An alarming situation, but I was surprised by the flexibility of my team, within this short time limit, to find other venues: at the Hillbrow Theatre and PopArt. The latter is based in Maboneng where I had been living in the vibrant Curiocity Backpackers, one of our sponsors in collaboration with Eliot, and it was nice being able to play nearby!

But while trying to find another venue we lost some of our rehearsal time in organizational matters, this was time we could have used in the artistic process instead: getting deeper in the layers of interpretation or looking for more subtleties and nuances. We sometimes really lacked organization.

Eliot’s directing style was more writing-focused, trying to give life to the lines and exploring their possibilities. No Regietheater like in Germany, where I’ve been living for the past two years! We followed the piece, but also created other dimensions, for example with some puppetry moments for the dreams and nightmares of the child – which was made possible by the ability of one of our actresses, Megan van Wyk. In another hand, Nidaa Husain, playing the kid, developed a complex system of interaction with Mo, the friend pet (Eliot’s old sock), letting Mo express the emotions, playing with him, babbling with him… And it was really important because it helped our young audiences to connect with the main character: after the performances, they always wanted to say hello or play with Mo!

Some people also asked me during my weeks here, if there were some specificities for me to have a “South African experience”. Well, it’s really difficult to tell, and I find the comparisons uneasy, if not awkward, because it was a creation, and besides, each writer or director has his own way of working. What’s African? What’s personal? “The Orphan of Gaza” wasn’t a “traditional” show, related to some ethnical or local culture, or in one of the other 9 indigenous South African languages (apart from English): the subject was international, and we didn’t use traditional South African techniques or ways of playing.

Maybe I could observe during the process another conception of the time (the so-called “African time”…), a sometimes more relaxed way of working, not forcing the schedule, giving also much freedom to our two talented actresses. Not so many rehearsals (I would have done more?) but then a huge engagement during the tour (much work and a total engagement of the team).

In another hand, playing in different theatres and towns gave me the opportunity to discover very contrasting places. The collaborations with schools are, I think, in expansion, but it’s sometimes still difficult to collect audiences: in Cape Town, for example, we had some difficulties finding the public. But I learned a lot about South Africa from seeing how the public and the reactions were different between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Grahamstown. It was different depending on the age, but also the community. And here I learned a lot: it was a real benefit to know the country better through observing the contrasting response of the audience. The difference were huge between for example the young audience in Hillbrow (a tough neighborhood in Johannesburg), around 250 pupils, all very reactive, laughing, crying, talking aloud, and in another hand the more elderly and hipster audience in Maboneng, more serious and informed about the global issue but felt the sadness of the young orphan. Very different also to the very quiet (almost shy) young audience in Cape Town, or the mixing of schools, families and theatre-freaks attending The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

But overall, I was positively surprised by the active reaction of our public, especially the children, and how supportive they were during the play. Not as self-censored as I have experienced it many times in Europe. The children were laughing during the play (especially with Mo), when the adults were more serious (making a more “heavy” audience). Children, young audiences and adults were sometimes laughing at the same places, sometimes different, which was interesting to observe too. Trying to instill some lightness in the play, in order to make it “true” but still with hope and lightness for the young audiences, was during the rehearsals a real challenge for us, but I think we managed quite well. But with some audiences, especially the older one, it was sometime difficult not to fall into a more heavy show. It was one of the main difficulties we encountered when we were selling our performances.

And to be honest, I was afraid at the beginning when Eliot told me about his idea of a piece on Gaza, I was anxious that we couldn’t do justice to this difficult issue, and I was against the ideas of taking sides, or worst, to indoctrinate. But we just focused on the story of this little boy trying to build a toy-rocket to fetch his parents, who died during a bombing, the geographical and political context was almost absent from the play. The Orphan of Gaza might have been our title, but we just told the moving story of a child. It was interesting, by the way, to observe the reactions of people a priori against us, and then realizing that our show wasn’t an anti-Semitic talk or message, but just a story which could have been the one of any child during a bombing, no matter where it happen.

It was another benefit for me of this experience in South Africa, where the history of the country makes many persons being very engaged on political issues or activism, and sometimes developing other conceptions about the goals of artists than the one I am more used to. I’ve had the opportunity, during these weeks, to meet very interesting, engaged and challenging artists, and it has been very inspiring. One of the greatest learning of my experience, maybe, has been through the people I’ve met. And also the ability to tour and create with very simple tools (giving me a change off the big opera houses I’m used to…), focusing on our audience and the message.

To put it in a nutshell, I really enjoyed it!

Time period: May – July 2015.

Rehearsals beginning in May, and creation in Johannesburg on the 16th of June.

Tour: in Cape Town (30th June – 4th July) and Grahamstown National Arts Festival (6th July – 11th July).

One week with Theater an der Parkaue and Winterakademie program experience

Elena Manzo, Mexico – May, 2015

Theater an der Parkaue, one of the biggest theatres for young audience in Berlin, Germany has opened its doors for NG Placements Program and invited Elena Manzo, actress and theater teacher from Mexico to work as an assistant for theater educators and directors in programs of Winterakademie during February 2015, which represents one of the flagship projects in theater education at Theater an der Parkaue.

The week I worked by the Winterakademie was very interesting. The chance to get to know new people in theater and to work with children and teen agers in Berlin, made bigger the point of view in my work as an artist, and helped me to develop new ways of working, based on the analysis of the methods of creation and in the practice day by day during the workshop.

After this time, I can say that The Next Generation Placement programme is a project that can help to increase the exchange between cultures and forms of arts, and as well, to open the international perspective to create new ways of artistic work.

The week at the Theater an der Parkaue in Berlin was intense and full of creativity. I could develop my capacities as an artist and learn from the theater team and from the work with the kids.

The Winterakademie at theater an der Parkaue has been done for several years. They work each year with a different topic. This year was “Sagen wir, wir haben recht”. (Let’s say we have the right).

I think it is very important to talk with children and teenagers about topics such as human rights and politics, in order to express the ideas and feelings that they have, and to create conscious through arts.

Moreover, I can say that in the future, thanks to this experience, I will have the chance to work in my country with the tools I learned from the process; and I will be able to use them in order to create new projects, because with this opportunity, The Next Generation Placement programme gave me the chance to increase my knowledge in the practice of theater for children and to think in a different way about the connection between arts and people.

I think The Next Generation Placement programme could expand its boundaries in this work with international theatres and art organisations by increasing the length of the duration of the projects. In my personal experience, I found the time too short to really get the line of the Winterakademie and I think it could have been better,  if I had had the chance to stay longer and to be part of the Project since the beginning. Because so, the work with the kids could have been deeper due to the interaction and the time of work.

Nevertheless, I believe that it’s very valuable that the goal in which The Next Generation Placement programme focus is very important, because to work hand by hand with arts can always build a bridge between children, culture and a better world society.

Next Generation Placements at Starke Stücke festival (Germany)

Participant Jelena Paligoric, Serbia & Coordinator Liljan Halfen, Germany – February – March 2015

Starke Stücke Festival from Germany has offered a number of spots for festival observers & international exchange, which received a lot of interested Next Generation Placements candidates worldwide. ASSITEJ International received 25 applications for this opportunity. 

The Starke Stücke team invited four young artists from Nigeria, Iran, Ireland and Serbia. Together with a group of German-French students and young professionals, they participated in the festival, following an international Next Generation programme curated especially for them. 

Liljan Halfen, coordinator of the international project on Stark Stücke Festival and Jelena Paligoric, a young playwright from Serbia, share their thougts on this experience.

Next Generation Placements program is necessary for the young artist. When I think about myself as a playwright and as someone who works with young people, I have very little space for development in my own country. And most of the things I’m learning alone, reading and visiting workshops, seminars, watching the plays on different festivals. All the participants of NGP programme in Frankfurt agreed that all the knowledge we have in the field of theatre for children and young audience we learn out of our schools, by ourselves, exchanging information and knowledge at festivals and workshops, residential stays.

NG is characterized by its intensity of – we stood up between 7 or 8 o”clock in the morning, going to sleep around midnight. Daily, we watched three shows, with discussions and workshops between the transactions. Discussions were very brave, with clashing of the opinions, very productive. One of the dominant issues was the question of sex and gender and treatment of that in theatre for children and young audience.

Starke Stücke brought four participants in internationa NG programme – Nigeria, Iran, Ireland and Serbia. International participants were joined with a group of German-French students and young professionals. It was a great experience. In total 12 young people attended the NG placements program.

First plans for next cooperations have already made. The first contacts have already been exchanged. NG placements programme erased borders. Therefore, it is completely unique. 

Jelena Paligoric, Serbia

On 26th of February 2015 young artists from all over the world joined the International Theater Festival for Young Audience Starke Stücke for one week. The mixed group of actors, directors, dramaturges, writers, producers and performers brought their personal and specific experiences in TYA to Frankfurt, where they met young professionals of the local theatre academies. The Next Generation discovered the festival and its unique structure carried by various venues in the region of Rhine-Main. Those young professionals watched and discussed the plays from the international program and had the opportunity to meet all the other artists, local programmers and Frankfurt’s young audience. They have been welcomed at the Children’s and Young People’s Theater in the Federal Republic of Germany and discovered the mediation program of Starke Stücke through a practical workshop with one of the theater pedagogues of the team. During the discussions, meals, happenings and at the festival party the young artists were able not only to exchange their experiences and ideas of a theatre for young audience of high quality, but also to get inspired for new cooperational projects. Furthermore, the critical but constructive reflection of the Next-Generation-group on the plays and the festival itself opened up new perspectives for the team of Starke Stücke. Therefore the festival is highly motivated to continue the program by working on the international exchange as well as by developing long-term-cooperations with international and local young artists. 

Liljan Halfen, Germany

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