My summer in Berlin at the International Exchange for Directors

My summer in Berlin at the International Exchange for Directors

Theatre PhD student Kerryn Palmer reflects on the highlights of her summer in Berlin at the ASSITEJ International Exchange for TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) Directors.

Directors and hosts of the ASSITEJ Germany Directors in TYA Exchange 2019.

Berlin was a sweltering 30 degrees. The locals told us that the heat, unusual for early June, had been increasing annually, and where they had once never needed air conditioning, hotel rooms were now crying out for it. This discussion around climate change was one of a multitude of conversations between 27 directors gathered from 22 countries for the bi-annual ASSITEJ International Exchange for TYA Directors.

This year the capital of Germany hosted the week-long event. Mid-career theatre directors specialising in TYA were selected from applications from around the world. I felt lucky to be only the third New Zealander selected to attend this prestigious workshop. There were only three native English speakers in the group, but thankfully and crucially for me, the language of the workshop was English. The week was intense. Six full days were scheduled with excellent German precision. They were a combination of eating together, visiting tourist spots, seeing TYA plays, and intense devising workshops.

2019 marks 30 years since the Berlin Wall fell. We visited the remains and get a full spiel on the rise and fall of the infamous border and heard stories of the many people that were affected by the erection of a giant concrete wall through the middle of their city.

Graffiti on the Berlin Wall.

We saw a variety of TYA shows. The polarising views of the directors, all trained and working in the same field, reminded me of how subjective theatre is—what is edgy and ground-breaking for some is tedious and pretentious for others. This naturally led to robust debate and lively discussion, which of course goes to the heart of what theatre can and should do.

We travelled via Berlin’s excellent public transport network. Blindly following the organised and delightful project co-ordinator, Katja, we debated in depth with different participants about theatre, politics, and the intersect between art and politics. Conversations included: the political situations in Turkey, Iran, and India, the extraordinary Cultural Backpack programme in Norway which sees each child attend six cultural events per year, and the government policy that makes it mandatory for every child in Israel to see two pieces of theatre per year. I learnt about the ways TYA is funded, valued, and presented around the world. All of this information is invaluable to my research. Being a director is often a lonely and isolating role, so having the chance to share the experience of directing with a group of directors was overwhelmingly satisfying and enriching. I was reminded of how important TYA is and how vital it is for each country to have a vibrant TYA sector in order for theatre and culture to thrive and grow.

On the Saturday evening we had a final beautiful BBQ on the grounds of Theatre Strahl. ASSITEJ Germany fund the workshop every two years in a different city and have done so since 1976. All meals, transport, theatre tickets, and accommodation are paid for. It is programmed superbly—an excellent mix of history, fun, work, and theatre-going. I returned home to Aotearoa absolutely exhausted, but with my brain and my heart full of friendship, ideas, inspiration, and learnings.

Kerryn Palmer is a Theatre PhD student. Her trip to Berlin was generously supported by Creative New Zealand.

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