Now more than ever – theatre from quarantine

Bernhard Bub – artistic director – antagon TheaterAKTion on the current situation

Dear friends of antagon TheaterAKTion, to all who are interested in our work and follow our process as free theatre in public space

For the first time this year, here is some official information about us, how we have proceeded as a theatre collective and how we are currently doing.

You will probably have wondered about the silence and hardly anything has been said about what antagon is doing in this time of pandemic of restrictions of the really drastic confinement under which we all have to live and work now.

As an “antagonistic group” we were initially unsure how a system that suddenly takes restrictive measures will deal with our reality of a collective that has often led to incomprehension, strange reactions, attack and exclusion. For in the structures of society our implementation of common life and work forms are not conceived in this way and are difficult to integrate into the existing shelfs and even some of the ideas of some officials in the crisis management sounded threatening. On the other side we see the solidarity and sympathy that surrounds us nevertheless, unfortunately only virtually and via image conference, as a reaction to our artistic and social work, which after 30 years “untiringly and seemingly intrepidly” seeks its free implementation in the performing arts and has reached many people, not only here, with its performance in all these past 30 years.

In a time in which almost everyone is talking about isolation and loneliness and is reorienting towards virtual forms in artistic work and is now using the Internet for coming together, producing and performing, we did not want to present our “radiant situation”, which is now in a strong contrast to this live reality, even though for us the perspective is also slipping away financially and in terms of when presenting and how.

In a way an ambivalent situation, therefore first our silence, which perhaps becomes clearer in the course of our presentation.

So what happens with antagon ….here is a short report

Maybe we start where this whole Corona situation started to be present in Europe. At the end of February, that was a moment when we escaped to work, with the whole group and many who want to participate in Antagon this year. We went to Andalusia to “Hambre y Vida” to work there with our theatre, to realize our laboratory, as we have done every year. Especially now, it’s 30 years of antagon, a special year is coming up and we reflect and think about where we come from, what we wanted, questioning ourselves after all this time. We wanted to get back to the core, our vision, the collective, the group, the energy that we are making theater out of and the point we have reached, where we are now with our practice.

This was the focus of our work camp in the middle of the mountains of southern Spain, isolated without internet.


And so we started to work and research together with all the new people there, while from a distance the first assessments of the virus slowly came to us.

It was about Corona and what it means now and what has to happen.

antagon Hambre y Vida Workshop Andalusien

That was the beginning of March and it was partly very hair-raising what came, but for us, who work day and night in nature with our bodies, feelings and spirits, it was only peripherally present. On March 13th there was a 3 hour final performance… the regional audience saw and followed us in the terrain by far… no final party in the camp with everybody… we stayed among ourselves that evening.


When we set off on March 14th, everyone got into the tour bus to drive back to Germany, wildly determined to start the season, it was suddenly clear that something really crass was going on.

In the news we could now hear that the closing of the borders is being discussed while we were on the way to the Spanish/French border. And this actually happened, because on the 16th in the early morning, almost shortly after midnight, we crossed the border to Germany and exactly on this morning the borders were closed hours later. That means that we arrived in Frankfurt with our tour bus, with 25 people, drove to our cultural area, closed the gate and hung up a sign, that the public access to our artists’ area is closed for the time being.

We immediately understood that it is now a matter of dealing with the situation of a pandemic, in which we have to organize ourselves as a group and as theater that lives together.

Since we virtually came out of an isolated living situation for more than 2 weeks, we were able to rule out an illness quite well and went into a group quarantine.

Nevertheless, we wanted to be prepared for everything under these circumstances, including that one of us who falls ill or shows the symptoms, e.g. can be isolated in the group in order to be able to stay together in any case.

We were immediately determined to protect ourselves as a group, even if many of the measures that were demanded seemed excessive.  But the decision was first to be clarified for all those, who were with us in Spain and who in the future, in this situation, want to work with us here. And of course, stays together with the ensemble antagon on our territory, works, lives and organizes itself in a collective…also for an indefinite future. And that’s exactly how we did it, because those who wanted to leave could do so. It led to very clear decisions between us and in the end we were 20 people in the ensemble plus our children, plus all those who also belong to it and live here … and what did we do? … what we would have done anyway in that time, namely started working with theatre and dance.

So far, there hasn’t been a big change for our reality, only that we realized step by step that we are probably one of the only theatres in Germany that can exist together as a complete theatre ensemble in this form. It suddenly became visible and very clear to us that we are an ensemble which, out of an artistic collective claim after 30 years and out of a life working context, can now make and perform theatre with this vision, … that this is now actually the life and work form which can best deal with such a situation, because we were together and we were absolutely capable of working. And even in contrast to the past years, now we can start rehearsing together very intensively, because nobody could leave this area. We were in training completely over whole days, i.e. 20 people were in the room training, with live music, because that is part of the theatre work at antagon, in a very intensive and fruitful process. We have decided that no matter what this year brings, no matter when we can play together and when we can present, we will use the time to record our plays and production processes, also to work on our historical plays in the 30th year of our existence. To record again what has to do with our history and where we come from.

Besides the bodywork and the training and research, TIME OUT seemed to us to be the production that now has a current reference and has to be played, also and especially because it is almost 20 years old. A production which came out in 2002, and now we want to bring it to its first reproduction premiere in the Corona year 2020 on May 8th, 75 years after the victory and the end of fascism.

On this day we will perform this piece here on our culture space, because even though the public space is closed at the moment, we use our performance area under the open sky on our outdoor scenery, just like we do every year at this time of the year, and we have set up our stage, our technical equipment, the light and sound.

For days now, rehearsals have been taking place in which this year’s new ensemble, i.e. antagon together with the new members, brings the successful TIME OUT production (2002 – 2016 over 150 performances) back to life.

On May 8th at about 21.30 the live sound will be played on our spaces here, with a new band, with old acquaintances and as our premises are still closed, we will perform in front of 4 cameras that will be running along. The idea is to record the whole thing as good as possible live and also cut it live and broadcast it on the internet via a LIVESTREAM, so that all those who can’t be here and are interested can watch.

It is of course also a premiere for us on the internet, with which we want to explore whether this is a possibility at all, with which we can continue working in the future.

We see the contradiction for a theatre that performs without an audience, reduced to the dimension of a screen, without the true moment that connects us with the audience just as it should touch the audience*.

It is and remains an experiment with which we can be present, even far beyond the borders of our Region and into the world in which antagon was on tour and is also partly quite well-known. Of course we are curious what will happen, what the reactions will be like and can certainly show one thing: That we are there and that we really work together, as a group, as theater, and that we can transform our ideas one-to-one into a performative result.

 

Even if the question of the financial perspective arises for us, and also when we will be able to perform again in public space that is accessible for everyone, we ourselves are in a very positive mode, because we rehearse and perform together.

 

We are in solidarity with all the colleagues, who are mostly isolated at home, away from their theatres, their colleagues, the stages and work spaces and all the other areas that are connected to them.

We demand existential solutions for all in the cultural sector, which is also a risk patient with pre-existing conditions, because most of us, especially the independent cultural workers, have already suffered existentially before the outbreak of the pandemic. The “cultural sector”, all the people behind it, must not become further victims of this epidemic and its effects. All of them have played an important role in society and are now clearly visible in their creativity, which even in its limitation continues to try to appeal to people. They will also play an even more important role in the dramaturgy of this socially challenging reality in the end, in coming to terms with it, in reflection and for the hope of a dignified life together.

We are aware of all this, even if we ourselves are experiencing a very intense time in artistic but also in collective terms. Somehow the saying with which antagon set off 30 years ago proves to us that “only groups and tribes will survive”. For us, this is the basis from which we wanted to start working with theatre back then, as part of the artistic process that should consciously influence the production of our plays. A unique, special and successful form of practice has emerged, a path that has shown over the 30 years of our existence that our artistic quality has been able to convince our audience and cultural organizers far beyond national borders.

Especially now we feel very connected to all the people who are connected to us and were part of this process. We thank above all those who have contributed to our project. All the comrades who have made antagon possible are present here. Not only the old antagonists, but all the “newcomers”, the young and the young-at-heart are deeply connected in their daily work with the project, the plays and the vision… with all the struggles and people who have brought antagon to the point where we are today.

Despite all the uncertainty, the antagon ensemble is at the good point of being able to start at any time and to fill the streets and squares again, with our theatre productions, performances, art actions and all the other projects.

antagon is involved in, such as the Sommerwerft and all the other festivals of our association Protagon Freunde und Förderer Freier Theateraktionen e.V.

….even here the last word has not been spoken and not the last dance has been danced.

 

04.May 2020 Bernhard Bub – artistic director antagon