Female directors, but not textbook examples

MA Theatre students: Annika Schäfer and Calendal Klose. Photograph: Regula Bearth © ZHdK

On the MA Theatre, directing students experiment with and create forward-looking theatre formats. They discover innovative forms of presentation and transdisciplinary connections and rethink the interaction between audience and scenic space. Calendal Klose and Annika Schäfer, two directing students, discuss institutional critique, necessary structural changes in theatre and an audience that has become important by being physically absent.


What issues are you currently engaging with in your programme?
Annika Schäfer: As a student and as a freelance theatre director, I am exploring how theatres are managed and which management models are keeping pace with the times. In this context, I attended a seminar titled “Overwriting Institutions: Swiss Theatre Directing,” organized by ZHdK in cooperation with Schauspielhaus Zurich. This involved small groups developing projects that dealt artistically with institutional critique. The fundamental question was which structures need changing at today’s theatres. I don’t believe that those holding positions of power are fundamentally evil, but that the problem is systemic. And that needs to change.

What structures need to change at theatres?
Calendal Klose: The most exciting thing about working in theatre is that many things that used to be the norm are now being prized open. People are thinking out loud about how theatre institutions can be run. Power has always been abused in the theatre, but this now is being talked about. Precisely that discussion can lead to the necessary structural changes.

Haven’t things changed yet?
Schäfer: Well, certain viewing habits persist. I must admit that I too have grown used to this particular aesthetic. Time and again, I pinch myself to be open to other modes and formats as well. We can only stop pigeonholing if we keep reminding ourselves to tell audiences new, different stories. So that we can give people something to think about.

How important is the audience?
Klose: Covid has made the audience disappear. But paradoxically, it has become important by being absent. I can now more clearly see the limits of what is possible. I believe we, and ZHdK as an institution, also need to consider who our audience is in the first place. In my view, the attempt to “embrace” marginalized groups usually comes to nothing. It is important to create a safe environment where, for example, those affected by racism are not forced to call out institutional racism. As artists, though, we also need to think about these marginalized groups. That’s why ZHdK students have created action groups.

WUNDERLAND by the “apokalyptische tänzerin*nen” at Stuttgart’s Theater Rampe. From left to right: Jasmin Schädler, Calendal Klose, Mona Louisa-Melinka Hempel. Photo: Dominique Brewing

What brought you to ZHdK?
Klose: Annika and I are both studying part-time. Our desire to exchange ideas and experiences brought us to ZHdK. Our programme allows us to question our own practice.   — Schäfer: We both did our bachelor’s degrees at other universities. What also brought me to Zurich is that its three well-known theatres — Theater Neumarkt, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee and Schauspielhaus Zürich — are managed collectively. That is extraordinary and an opportunity for theatre institutions.

What should and can you contribute to ensuring that theatre at ZHdK and in Zurich keeps pace with the times?
Schäfer: I see my strengths in bringing people together and in being open to their issues and concerns. I enjoy leading groups and questioning processes together. As a director, I explicitly don’t want to develop a signature, because theatre is always co-created, by teams, while developing a signature is informed by the notion of a mostly male “directing genius.”   — Klose: For me, too, it’s less about a signature. I find it important to further develop a working mode that helps us collaboratively think about possible futures. The process is at least as important as the result. In my experience, the working mode also manifests in productions. Our team wants to ask itself the same questions as our audience does when it sees our productions.

Project WUNDERLAND at the Theater Rampe, Stuttgart
Lea Dahinden was a project manager at ZHdK University Communications.
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