Die Presse - Feb. 04, 2004

High Time for a Truly Free Scene!

Plea for an Exit from Self-Inflicted Captivity in Theater
By Warren Rosenzweig

On the subject of independent theater, a few key words are diversity, freedom, cooperation. We who make theater are a diverse lot, with widely diverse skills, ideas, and backgrounds. We reflect and address the diversity in the world around us and in the public with whom we share our work.

I don’t understand what’s meant in Vienna with the phrase “freies Theater,” but it’s obviously a misnomer. A negative definition such as “group without a theater” – may say something about what it isn’t, but not what it is, and fails to explain what, if anything, is “free” about it. In English, “free theater” only means that you don’t have to pay for your ticket.

Perhaps “freies Theater” is merely a tag for a “culture-political” phenomenon, in which case it’s doublethink and nothing more (“DEPENDENCE MAKES YOU FREE”). But whenever I hear “free group,” I get an uneasy feeling. There is no “freies” theater in Vienna. At best, theater in Vienna can be described as “dependent”; at worst, as “enslaved” by a system of political centralization of arts funding. So, instead of indulging in delusions about “freedom”, let’s ask ourselves whether freedom is important for our work and if it is, let’s consider how we might secure a little freedom for a change.

Community should decide

In the arts, “creativity” is a given. Through imagination, we produce things that weren’t there before. The problem with the cultural-politically loaded term “innovation” is that it implies that something has never been done before, and everyone knows that that’s almost never the case. When it is, it’s hard to identify because no one really knows. When one goes to the theater, one expects to see something creative. Innovation is only a possible dividend that even the artists themselves are unlikely to ascertain in their own work. The good news is that theatrical “innovation” defies authentication and is therefore an vain and unnecessary goal.

It’s also unnecessary to point out the cooperative nature of making theater. In a “free” theater environment, it would be natural to cooperate with one another. In the dependent environment that we subscribe to, we sometimes feel that we must jealously guard even the illusion of political favoritism, so that we tend to avoid cooperation with our peers. Whether or not one enjoys the blessings of favoritism, one respects the machinery that determines what may or may not be seen on the Austrian stage, if for no other reason than to protect one’s theoretical eligibility for such privilege.

The people of a community have a right to decide what they should be able to see on stage. Community is everyone we live with, our audience, our neighbors. The time has come to let the community – and even to expect the community – to take care of its own cultural interests and needs. This can only be accomplished, however, by putting the community in the position to invest in the arts on a direct and voluntary basis, with tax incentives and without political intervention. It’s high time we begin developing a truly free theater environment, where diversity, creativity, cooperation, and community will be free to thrive.

The Author is the Founder and Director of the Jewish Theater of Austria.

Copyright © 2004 Die Presse