September 2021 A Review of our last semester

The summer semester of 2021 was more divided for the two grades of the applied. Us, the first year students focused on collective processes, while the second year students either went on Erasmus, or spent their time preparing and presenting their master projects.

The block seminars of the first months had a different atmosphere with only five people. On one hand it brought us closer; we had more space for comments and questions of each member of the group and we could all keep in mind the aspect of channeling the new knowledge into our collective documentary theatre project. On the other hand, although  the meeting of the different experiences enriched the discourses, they also created ground for debates and constant negotiation of personal-professional needs and opinions. ‘Learning each other's languages’ and creating a space for fruitful compromises was a significant skill that we had acquired. 


Tobias Rausch from Bürgerbühne Dresden introduced us to different interview techniques. Outside of the theoretical base for research and interview-making, we learned different questioning formats and tried our methods by recording interviews with people of Salzburg, to finally have transcripted texts and analyze our methods. We dealt with the setting and psychological situalisation of talks too, by conducting a collective life-interview with a professor. We all felt that we gained a hands-on practice that can help us approach experts for any kind of documentary project. 


The blockseminar of Esther Strauß on Conception as Action invited us to use the act of collecting and curating collections as an artistic practice and we got familiar with her conceptual pieces of the past years. One of her works generated intense discourses on historical remembrance and identity politics and the following conversations highly shaped the direction of the course.


As the Labor X theatre workshop sessions couldn’t yet take place in the applied studios, we have decided to take the advantage of having participants from all over the world and reflect on the constant uncertainty that is ruling our lives in the past corona-year. We designed a series of online workshops focusing on different genres of art and investigating the joy-, the pain-, the rhythms- and perspectives of not knowing and the loss of certain futures. Although the meetings through screens weren’t our prefered ways of building communities, it striked us how many people were interested in engaging weekly in the common thinking process from their homes. We also had the chance to try out the different online gaming formats that we’d developed during the past semester. 


Unfortunately another shorter lockdown came in our way that prolonged the Easter break. However from April on, finally we’d been permanently able to return to presence education. As a reward and as the last inputs for our collective documentary project, three inspiring and intense block seminars took place with strong physical focus.


Anna Konjetzky shared a short introduction on observing the body as an archive and a document. We practiced reading objects, spaces and people from different perspectives, noticed and exaggerated our entrenched and kynetic patterns and created movement research experiments for each other. All of us look forward to her return when she’ll work with us longer next semester.


The Paper Tiger Theatre Studio from Beijing involved us in their artistic research of Kafka’s Burrow and provided us with their special approach on dramaturgy and expression through movement on stage and in public spaces. They gave us space to dig deeper in our body memories and the meaning of our bodies in improvised scenic and movement compositions. Their energy, passion, dynamics in transmitting and translating information and new philosophical approach nourished us as a collective a lot. 


Just as much as Claudia Heu, who coming from a martial art and social theatre background showed us her stunning long-term site specific and socially engaged projects in different countries, exhausted us with massive physical training, helped us connect body and mind and sent us for a guided performative walk to first observe then interact in public spaces with our broadened senses. She even provided us with personal consultation slots and her mind opening practices became a reference point for many of us. 


Susanne Litschauer’s weekly voice classes took us on a journey of settling in our bodies and channeling our voices and texts from within to space. 


The main modul of the term was a collective documentary theatre project of the first year students. The research phase started in a hybrid format. Throughout the semester break in February, all of us collected topics, ideas and material on a shared online platform and we started associating around them, rephrasing them, selecting them in sessions led by us. The walls of applied studios got filled up with pictures, articles, links, books loosely connected to each other by long thought processes and red strings. 


We received help in forming ourselves as a collective, too. 

Judith Franke’s blockseminar ‘On Collectivity’ introduced us to the work and internal structures of several collectives. We ended the seminar by defining and dividing tasks and positions while keeping in mind the strength of each person and the creative and organizational parts of artistic creation. Together with Christoph Lepschy they also provided us with readings and inputs on different types of assemblies that drew a clearer image of possible interventions, experiences and meeting spaces that we could create through the project work with the participants and audiences. 


Our two mentors helped to navigate among the gathered knowledge. Trace Polly Müller, (former directing student of Mozarteum, theatre maker, musician, researcher) gave an empowering input on archiving and documents, using body-mind practices, academic writings and films. She introduced us to important theories in postcolonial studies which gave a strong base to our further research, challenged and helped us to stay truthful, gentle, political and caring with our topics and collaborators. Prof. Ulrike Hatzer facilitated the channeling of the material into individual ideas and shared short concepts. She guided us on the journey of leading topic-searching sessions for each other and finally deciding on the final direction of our project: investigating the shadow history of the forced labor camp Maxglan, where 200–300 Rom*nja and Sinti*zze were imprisoned between 1940 and 1943.


Although narrowing down the spectrum of relevant topics and formats was a result of a long negotiation, finally everybody could find their own inputs and interests in the final project. 


In the next phase of the work (late April and May) we spent our self-organized time by finding our personal positioning and approach to our research and to fragmented biographical documents and erased histories,


Unlike in imagined theatre processes, a long time was passing by with “office work”, uncovering layers and narratives of history. The plan was to build a bridge between past and present. A performative book, a community garden, an earth procession were all considered and rejected ideas. 


Throughout late spring, several other university-related programs and projects broke the flow of the work but also gave us new methods and directions of thinking. 


The Glossary Conference Salzburg invited international professionals of performing arts in context to share and investigate dynamic practices and static terms of their work and to found a network (PAC) and working groups until the next conferences to come. Previously to that, the Applied Theatre students were also involved in the Walking Terms project where alternative ways of creating a glossary of diverse practices were established through shared online walks with professionals and students from all over the globe. 


We also got a chance to go for an excursion to the Camping Campus of Supergau Festival in the outskirts of Salzburg. The weeklong event was a meeting space for young artists doing experimental and interdisciplinary research on spatial as well as social spaces to interrogate the duality of countryside and city. There we managed to get out of our heads, listen to concerts and lectures, see the possibilities of applying theories to hands-on working methods, build and rebuild ideas and structures, to look closer to the soil as a material of remembrance, nature and historicity and we also trained our surviving skills in the cold and rain. The outdoor workshop series, Theater LaborX: Echoes of the Soil was designed here as well. 


Coming back to the city, we were left with only one month to finish our project. After so many talks, readings, meetings and workshops, the final concept of Als Alle Ohre hören konnten was born: a participatory audio installation consisting of several letters written and spoken by our collaborators, resounding from the ground of Maxglan, creating a temporary memorial and a space for discussions, marking the actual territory of the forced labor camp and defending the dead of the past by carrying their memory into the present and future. 


Alongside our mentors we spent days and nights in the institute and on the field, getting permissions to the territory in Maxglan, finding technical solutions for the installation, editing material to share, to inform, and to promote, organizing the opening of the installation, an open talk with invited guests and the vigil on midsummer night… but mostly to collect letters: to talk again one by one to our collaborators, and guide them through the process of addressing their ancestors. Devising this project wasn’t only technical but very emotional: sharing the findings of the research, the radical rethinking and rearranging of the past with care, breaking the invisibility of the events on the field and finally filling it up with fifty voices of strong and devoted people in the name of active remembrance. 


Standing there next to the Glan at the end of June, seeing hundreds of visitors leaning close to the ground to listen to forgotten histories of the soil and engage in dialogue was a huge reward of the work and of the second semester. Following the vigil and the open talk, further ideas came up from local organizations to make these stories permanently visible in different artistic, urban and social contexts. We hope and plan to elaborate the project by creating a framework that can be applied to the local context of several places, where hidden histories need to be addressed by living communities.