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Bulgarian Fringe theatre - is there such an animal? by Petar Todorov

Sixteen years after the so-called "soft revolutions" in the former Soviet bloc, the Bulgarian theatre scene still suffers from the syndrome of "fear of freedom."
After 1989, when the ideological control on the arts field suddenly disappeared and artists no longer had to hide their political and aesthetical preferences, the ecstasy of freedom quickly waned and most of the artists as well as part of Bulgarian society stumbled and froze on the general issue: 'Freedom! ... But what should we do with it now?'

There were two main options.
The first was to replace the existing socialist system of state owned theatres and repertories with a more effective and flexible one, for example, by converting the theatres into production centres without employed artists; and into venues that mainly accept touring productions.
The second option was simply to replace persons who were running the socialist theatres at that time with "democratically orientated" people, but to keep everything still within the existing frame. Unfortunately, the Bulgarian theatre scene pursued the second option, which secured minimum wages for the employed artists but nearly wiped out any kind of constructive ideas.

The present situation is similar. Broader development of a fringe scene as well as the independent initiatives in the field are still blocked. Basically, there is no market for fringe theatre productions - no accepting venues, no touring agencies and no independent production houses - and there is basically almost no money in Bulgaria to produce such projects.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Bulgaria still has no clear strategy for situating the theatre and dance scene within the new conditions of the market economy. The ministry supports only the country's state theatres on an annual basis, providing wage subsidies for the employed artistic, administrative and technical staff, and some funds for building maintenance. There is almost no support provided for production costs.
The few municiple theatres in the country are run under exactly same model as the state theatres.
The fringe/independent companies do not have direct access to state funds for maintenance and administrative costs. They can simply apply for very limited funds, and only for particular projects.

Twice per year, The National Centre for Theatre (part of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism) announces a public tender for project sponsoring. Each of the tenders states what will be given priority, and has a very limited budget. For example, the spring session held in April 2005 had a budget of approximately 56.701,- euros and priority was given to staging Bulgarian theatre plays and theatre festivals in the country in 2005, which means that other types of projects had no chance of funding. Twenty-four projects (out of 38) by state and municiple theatres were supported with a total amount of approx 41.856 euros - 75 percent of the overall sum - making an average of approximately 1.757 euros per project. The supported projects initiated by independent legal organizations were 14 with a total amount of approx. 14.536 euros - 25 percent of the overall sum - making an average of approx. 1.038 euros per project.

Over the past 15 years, the few existing Bulgarian independent/fringe theatre and dance groups became accustomed to getting support mainly from SOROS Centre for the Arts - Sofia (which stopped the programme in Bulgaria in 2001) and also a little bit from the Swiss cultural programme in Bulgaria (Pro Helvetia), which is still running an office in Sofia. Both organizations offered project-based support, not annual programming support, and ideally, they supported just one project per organization per year. The average support provided by these organizations is approx. 1.546,- euros.

At the moment, the only way for fringe companies to survive is to do either very commercial low budget projects or to cooperate with partners from abroad and do international co-productions.
In general, fringe companies in the field of drama and puppet theatre are very commercially oriented and they do small, low budget touring productions (for example, Perpetuum Mobile, Ariel, Tzvete etc). An exception is the drama theatre company La Strada, the only one of its kind which has, until now, managed to create high quality projects in cooperation with a few state theatres in Sofia.

The most interesting artistic work comes from fringe companies in the field of physical theatre and dance. There are a few companies that cooperate and tour mainly with partners from abroad (New Forms Theatre, Kontrapunkt, Den Gri X Foundation, Satores & Arepo Group etc).

The country's only event intending to focus audiences' and critics' attention on alternative performing art forms in Bulgaria is Aquarius Era festival of Bulgarian dance, visual, and physical theatre. It is organized biannually by Theatre in a Suitcase Independent Foundation in Bourgas and held in May or June.

The Bulgarian theatre and dance scene still needs radical reform to distribute state subsidies for these arts more efficiently. Bulgaria's entry into the EU in 2007 will, perhaps, help with that. At least this is the dream of the independent artists.

Petar Todorov
is Bulgarian theatre and dance director. He recently is working in the frame of the artistic partnership Satores. He is president of Pro Rodopi Foundation and manages the unique for Bulgaria and Balkans Pro Rodopi Art Centre in Bostina, homebase of Arepo Group.

reported: January 2006
by Nebojša Borojevic
The Croatian fringe theatre scene appeared mainly in the 1970s.
The leadership of the organized Croatian amateur theatres in cooperation with prominent theatre critics stimulates and encourages unique and original artistic theatre companies. It has led to the emergence of many award-winning theatres, doing especially well at BRAMS, the leading alternative theatre festival in former Yugoslavia in the 1980s.

Those theatres from the core of contemporary Croatian alternative (fringe) theatre are (Lero, Dubrovnik; Daska, Sisak; Pinklec, Cakovec; Inat, Pula; and from Zagreb Kugla glumište - today Damir Bartol Indoš), while non-institutional professional theatre groups and theatres represent another wing (Theatre Exit, Mala scena, Kufer, Bad co, Montažstroj - Zagreb; Traffic, HKD teatar -Rijeka etc.)

The International Festival of Student Theatre (Kazališta) IFSK in Zagreb in the 1960s was a precursor to festivals such as Eurokaz in Zagreb, MAK, SOS in Sisak, Male scene in Rijeka, PUF in Pula, where both Croatian and international fringe theatres perform. Theatre magazines Frakcija, Kazalište, Zarez, and Vijenac very often feature Croatian fringe theatres.
The main event in the last 10 years for the Croatian fringe theatre has been the PUF Festival (Pula Art /Umjetnicki Festival) in Pula.

The PUF festival:
The international theatre festival PUF was founded in 1994 by the leaders of the four top non-institutional theatres in Croatia: Branko Sušac from "Dr. Inat" in Pula, Davor Mojaš from "Lero" in Zagreb, Nebojša Borojevic from "Daska" in Sisak and Romano Bogdan from "Pinklec" in Cakovec. During wartime, when a large part of Croatia was occupied, while Dubrovnik and Sisak suffered the direct threat of war, the founders of the festival decided to locate this theatre manifestation in Pula, which was spared from direct wartime devastation.
PUF was born as a direct commentary on Croatian theatre reality. While wanting to show that theatres and theatre festivals do not necessarily have to have huge overhead expenses, with its choice and its concept, PUF has indicated that the existing Croatian theatre festivals have completely ignored an entire segment of the current theatre offerings-and precisely the segment that represents Croatia more at international festivals than any other Croatian theatre institution. This festival was also created as a comment on the terrible lack of terminological precision and clarity that still predominates Croatian theatre. PUF is a festival of theatre differences and openness within a sincere theatre experience. It attracts different poetics, seeks new theatre directions and rallies artists and spectators around the idea of theatre. PUF establishes and stimulates dialogue and allows polemics to arise. PUF functions as a communication channel; revealing the world from a new angle: not monologue and passive communication, but dialogue, frankness, identification, and participation. At the same time, it is obvious that PUF will be a site of encounters between artists who differ in their worldviews and inner necessities, yet not in their marginalized social position.

We hope to see you at our Croatian alternative theatre festivals in June and July.

Nebojša Borojevic
DASKA Theatre Sisak
For the PUF program's book: Dubravka Lampalov and Branko Sušac

reported: January 2006
the theatre network, its function, system of financing and support
Copied from the article written by Bohumil Nekolny & Ondrej Cerny (April 2000)/ Theatre Institute, Prague

In the 1990s, the state monopoly on theatres came to an end and most theatres were transferred to the control of local councils. Private production management began mainly in the sphere of musicals and dozens of theatre and dance companies were formed as independent, non-governmental organizations.
Czech theatre has a multifaceted theatrical network in which, thanks to tradition, there is a predominance of classical repertory theatres with permanent ensembles. Most of these theatres are administered and run by local councils (currently there are 44 such theatres). Most privately managed productions are musicals, but there are also companies founded on the "star" system. There is also a tradition of professional support for puppet theatre. Several festivals are held annually: International Festival Divadlo/Theatre in Pilsen, the Festival of European Regions in Hradec Kralove, Dance Prague, Four Days in Motion, the Prague German-Language Theatre Festival, the International Frontier Theatre Festival in Cesky Tesin, and the Fringe Festival Prague. The Prague Quadriennale continues as an international exposition of stage and costume design and theatre architecture. International companies appear more frequently, and there are close contacts with the Slovak theatre world. However, based on the number of international invitation, it seems that there is little interest abroad for hosting Czech companies.

The extensive infrastructure for theatrical activities employs a large number of artists and other professionals (in the case of the municipal and State theatres, the majority have permanent contracts). Amateur theatre activity, which in the Czech lands has a fertile, multi-faceted, and active tradition, is also supported by public funds. Czech law dictates that any legal resident or physically able person may manage/operate a theatre company. Apart from tax requirements, there are no other regulations. The basic difference between public and private theatre companies lies in access to public resources. Whereas State and municipal theatres have this access guaranteed by law, the remaining private subjects do not have guaranteed access and rely on arbitrary decision-making processes by governmental officials.

As early as the first half of the 1990s, the Ministry of Culture created a grant system designated to support civic associations (non-profit organizations). This development made it possible for a varied range of unofficial theatre activities, experimental work, festivals and workshops of smaller and newly founded companies in a wide spectrum of genres and kinds to receive grants and other financial support. In the second half of the 1990s, an additional grant system was established for legal residents and physically able persons. This system is based on "specialist decision-making" wherein quality and diversity are the basic criteria. The problem of these grants is the size of their budgets, which are proportionally much smaller than the means granted by the public budgets to contributory organizations, i.e., the clear majority of repertory theatres.

In 1999, the Czech government approved the principles of a cultural policy report: "Strategy for a more effective state support of culture."
However, in spite of this proclamation, the necessary legislative and financial changes were not made. Sources of funding in the Czech Republic, other than public funds, are extremely limited. There is the State Culture Fund, whose main source, the lottery, foundered, and for which another attempt at revival is taking place. Meanwhile, a special tax on commercial cultural activity has been established but is not used. Important assistance was provided by foreign foundations and institutions during the period of transformation. There is no large and wealthy private cultural foundation or clearly conceived donor activity.

There are professional theatres with permanent companies in twenty-two cities and towns. In a number of places there are professional theatres of various types (e.g. drama theatre and puppet theatre). In roughly the same number of places there are limited seasons, which do not have a formulated concept and ad hoc program coordination.
In the 1990s, with the liberalization of the cultural environment, a number of smaller companies and groups renovated some small spaces as studio theatres, theatre clubs, and small stages, but in small percentages. They are frequently the first pioneers to use non-theatrical spaces (halls, amphitheatres, historical monuments, public spaces) for their projects. In this sense, Czech theatre really did experience a boom.

The situation in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland has indicated the possibility of these three countries joining the European Union when their economic and social-cultural debts are on par with those of Western countries. Aiming to become part of the EU Community, Czech society should start new educational process towards an open minded, creative, cosmopolitan thinking in the arts.

An underdeveloped civil society struggles constantly with economic and socio-cultural insufficiencies and problems. Competent institutions are not solving the issue of the third sector, which is crucial for civil society. Natural movements and processes that move in this direction within social life are considered a cause of trouble rather than respectable and valuable processes that can directly report on trends in society.

Companies that are generally beneficial, civic associations and foundations struggle with problems in all possible fields (social, charitable, ecological, cultural, art, education). Our association, "mamapapa," has already faced similar problems for several years, and there are no suggestions from either the milieu or conditions we are situated in, that something will change and get better.

mamapapa is developing a strategy for its own activities to find solutions to these problems and improve conditions for the realization of projects. Main activities in this period-symposiums, seminars, workshops and unique artistic events-have focused on education, open communication, reviving and disseminating different models and examples that have already proven valuable, cultivation of mutual respect between non profit and commercial sectors, and state authorities' recognition and support of such events.

Tomáš Žižka
is artistic director of mamapapa from 1997 till now;

mamapapa o.s is an independent, non-profit initiative founded and run by artists for the artists of the performing and live arts. Its projects aim to create the conditions for communication, education, exchange of experience and knowledge. Presently, mamapapa is continuing with the development of the LightLab project. LightLab is an open interdisciplinary platform and mobile technological studio created for the purpose of hosting seminars, workshops and symposia. A place for experimentation, a piquant spot for the creation of a theatrical miracle.

reported: January 2006
by Jochen Brockstedt and Rolf Dennemann
Independent theatre still uses various forms and structures: from one-person-theatre to complex ensembles, it sometimes has its own stage, sometimes not. Independent theatre is at home in all genres: whether puppet-theatre or dance, artists play for all types of audiences - both children and adults. Productions often cross borders of different kinds of art and sometimes offer pure spoken word theatre. Increasingly, independent groups no longer work in established ensembles, but in production companies where professionals come together for one project, often at stages and venues such as Kampnagel in Hamburg or Sophiensäle in Berlin, which function as production venues and not as a form of municipal theatre with its own ensemble.

However: the theatre "scene" has changed.
The categorical separation, even irreconcilable opposition of independent and established theatres, which led to the foundation of Independent Theatre in the 1970s, no longer exists. Therefore, in terms of general structure, discussions and debates about the theatre - such as the alliance for theatre recently initiated by the German Federal President - can no longer be aimed exclusively at one of the two forms.

Not only the example of the Berlin Schaubühne, which is successfully managed by three independent producers, but also the increasing number of collaborations and of professional producers and actors who move between both forms, emphasize that the former, content-based boundaries between independent and established theatre, are becoming blurred. Many municipal and state theatres work experimentally, many independent theatres work conventionally, either continuing to do so or once again. Some independent theatres function better on the basis of experimental work; some municipal or state theatres function better with conventional work. Sometimes, however, the reverse is the case. Measured on audience demand, all forms are justified, regardless of who does what. Various forms of aesthetic ideals and work approaches can be found in independent and established theatres. What is clearly evident in both forms is that we find a wide base and a narrow peak of top quality. And, if there is a hideaway of theatre avant-garde, then it would be in the small, top quality independent theatres.

The structures of both systems, are, however, positioned irreconcilably against one another, although in Germany, independent theatre, i.e., not connected to the State, is nonetheless often supported by federal and provincial funds. On the one hand, in so-called independent structures, people work in a project-related way, without social security or permanent structures; available funds are invested in the artistic work. Artists work freelance and have no financial security between projects. Established theatres, on the other hand, invest the majority of funds in running an enterprise, which subsequently struggles to raise money for the actual production of plays, much to the chagrin of the artists engaged there.

In Germany, all independent theatres together, estimated at more than 2.000 groups, have a budget of approx. 30 million euros, whereas the state and federal theatres - about 200 - have a budget of approx. 2.000 million euros.

For more information on Independent Theatre in Germany, see:

Jochen Brockstedt and Rolf Dennemann
(BUFT - Bundesverband freier Theaterschaffender: this is the Association of Independent Theater in Germany)

reported: January 2006
Thoughts on the present situation of theatre in Greece by Nicholas Kamtsis
There are two kinds of private theatres in Greece:
1. Commercial Theatres that belong to big managers who promote firms and Stars.
2. Non-profit Repertory Theatres. Some of these are supported by the Government.

The second category of theatre is the most dynamic part of Greek theatre. Small, medium or large theatre groups create with inspiration and vision and present many performances in various spaces.
This does not include:
1. The National Theatre of Greece (based in Athens)
2. The National Theatre of Northern Greece (based in Thessalonica) and the
3. Sixteen municipality theatres all over Greece.

Theatre spaces - venues
In Athens there are approximately 150 theatres (venues). These venues host ca. 350 performances per year (winter and spring theatre seasons). Athens hosts 90 percent of the theatre productions in Greece.
In the other major cities of Greece there are roughly:
twenty theatres in Thessaloniki, three in Kalamata, six in Patras, four in Larissa, two in Volos, and approximately fifteen more theatres scattered throughout the rest of Greece.

To talk a bit more about the area of private theatres in Greece, we must stress that most of the theatre spaces mentioned were not initially designed to function as theatres. Very few were built and designed or transformed to be theatres. These few are the large theatre buildings that belong to foundations or to the Church. They are mostly managed by large commercial theatre managers with famous names and stars. The rest of the theatre spaces are old warehouses, large neo-classical buildings, old movie theatres, old factory spaces or even basements and garages that have been transformed, more or less, into theatre spaces. And this is what is most interesting. The architectural solutions developed for such spaces to be converted into multiple spaces and to host performances and audience are of great interest.

Theatre Groups
Furthermore, it is also very interesting and "healthy" to think about what to do and what the mind of theatre makers will invent in order to find a space to host their dreams, sensibilities, and imagination.
So, in Greece, we have seen high quality performances in small and tight spaces. Naturally, the gaiety and desire of the theatre makers is answered by the misery and lack of generosity (financial and ethical) of the institutional Greek State. Politicians that do not respect or appreciate art in general, do not understand theatre and underestimate it.
In the last 40 years, no government has had a cultural policy. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Culture financially supports about 50 private, non-profit, theatres. The ministry appoints a consultant commission that meets and decides to give a small amount of money to various theatre groups. But the expenses of a theatre performance are many times more than this amount and resulting debts are usually also very high.

This happens because another paradox exists in the theatre area. While creation blooms and develops in so many performances and theatres (a unique phenomenon in Europe) the audience diminishes.
In Athens, about 300 Theatre groups present their work in the above mentioned spaces. They have a very rich repertoire with plays from all over the world and performances that are experimental, vanguard, or dance-theatre.
They perform periodically for a period of ten days to three months and create high-quality professional performances with professional actors and costumes, stage design, lights, sound and everything else a performance requires such as printed programs, promotional photos, and advertisement.

Nicholas Kamtsis
theatre director of Theatre Topos Allou-Aeroplio

reported: January 2006
Rich country - poor country byJános Regös
The Hungarian theatre structure is ripe for change
The Association of Hungarian Alternative Theatre (the official name is now Association of Hungarian Alternative and Independent Theatre /AHAIT) was founded in 1994 by ten groups. Its original aim was to provide a business-like federation for those companies and institutions that had no structural base in the strictly divided Hungarian theatre scene. It was able to provide a true aid to these groups in order to emerge from the "amateur" ghetto that was always looked down upon in Hungarian professional theatre circles. Already in the first period we were able to convince the Cultural Ministry and the City Government of Budapest to provide annual funding for these groups. Along with the Soros Foundation, which was the first and previously sole supporter, we made important moves for those who joined.

New leadership facing progress
By spring 2003, the General Assembly of AHAIT elected a new presidency, partly because the former one was unable to define the kind of art to strive for, and-something that is also related-what kind of policy to pursue in inviting groups to our yearly festival/contest. We tried to put more emphasis on being progressive in our general policy and lobby work to hold together those who have a strong urge for progressive, innovative, independent creation and, ultimately, for a profound change in the Hungarian theatre regime.

At the moment we have 106 registered members from a diverse range of Hungarian independent theatres. Another important field of our work is to develop good relations with those people, institutions, and authorities that work outside the AHAIT but still agree with our goals and way of working. Our conviction is that after having integrated into the European Union, it is unacceptable that the outdated Hungarian theatre structure spends about 10 million euros on mainstream State supported theatres, while the whole range of alternatives receives only 200,000 euros.
We believe that the jewel of alternative theatre lies in the personal and unique relations that exist between the creator and creation, between the creator and the world, supposing that one considers the theatre as a form of art. The greatest problem in the operation of alternative and independent theatres is that, in spite of examples available from other countries, no importance is attached to the institutionalization of these types of theatres. In fact, the case is quite the contrary. Although it appears that these institutions resist institutionalization as they are much more mobile than traditional theatres. Mobility here means personal theatre thinking, sensitivity to the unique process of creation where training and experimentation are organic and natural parts of the creation. Our conviction is that the EU cultural market is enlivened by these decentralized, small institutions holding the right of sovereign decision making, owning fiscal strength to buy and sell productions that can contribute to the renewal of theatrical arts. Most Hungarian fringe groups work in catastrophic infrastructural conditions, yet, still, some world famous productions have recently emerged. If it becomes clear that a company's "home" is not the theatre but the rehearsal space, then it would be possible to found a few "incubator houses" to really contribute to the proliferation of the miracle of theatre in Hungary.

Protection of common interests, lobby work, promoting changes in theatre structure
The Hungarian theatre world is much more permeable today then ten years ago. There are no rigid barricades between "stone-age theatres," alternative, and amateur theatres. In fact, this is good news but almost nothing has happened to lessen the atrocious differences in financial resources. (The non-state maintained field of Hungarian theatre receives around 1 percent of the total expenditures on theatre.) We would like to achieve changes in the attitude and practice in a cautious and diplomatic way that does not directly oppose the interests of the prevailing theatre system. Eventually, artistic quality and community importance should be the scale by which support is matched. Also, alternative theatres could develop healthier conditions for deconstructing their ghetto-like existence, since for certain artists this situation is too narrow, whereas for others it is a comfortable framework for survival.

Public funds available to alternative groups in Hungary today
First, we must emphasize that in Hungary there is currently no relevant private sponsorship that would show serious interest in supporting our community. So we can only count on those funds that the state offers:

1. "Operational support" is a part of the State Budget defined yearly by the Parliament (at the present it is 1,380,000 euros). This sum is distributed by a committee appointed by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage that, besides the Ministry delegates, is composed of theatre professionals and critics. This sum was increased significantly two years ago when the success and world fame of the "homeless" Krétakör Színház /Chalk Circle Theatre enforced the decision makers to create a new category and add a surplus 40,000 euros to this expenditure, which is now called the category of "Prominent Companies." This allowed a few truly excellent groups to receive a sum sufficient to create something. The rest (145 million) was spent on the others who went on living on a day to day base like beggars. Also the receiving theatres of Budapest get support from the same fund, which means 70,000-100,000 euros per year. This sum is just enough for basic operation, in fact, they have no chance to buy, promote or produce projects henceforward. Our immediate goal now is to make authorities create one more new category with the requisite money that would be called the category of "Prominent Receiving Theatres." There are four or five "big" receiving theatres in Budapest with a season of 150-160 performances a year.

2. Theatre Fund of the Capital's Cultural Committee. As 90 percent of the alternative theatres work in Budapest, this fund is very important for them. Originally these resources could only be used for projects / productions but, roughly three years ago, the policy of the City of Budapest changed somewhat with the decision that applicants can also apply for complete theatre seasons. Actually, this fund is very little and cannot significantly aid groups and theatres. As a result of our efforts, most of this limited amount of money is now given to alternative groups and children's theatres.

3. National Cultural Fund Programme is a huge foundation promoting the widest range of arts and culture in Hungary. Its theatre section has announced competitions for productions till now and this is the first year that they will promote tours and series of the previously supported projects. This fund gets its resources from revenues from the cultural market (film distribution, press, magazines, electronic media etc.)

What is important about these funds is that we can send our own delegates to their curatorial boards.

The new leadership was given the mandate by the members to change the policy of the representative festival of AHAIT. Earlier it was held in Budapest, and everybody who wished to perform was invited and the event spread out all over the city, and there was no orientation for the audience or professionals. Rather than showcasing our talents, we discredited ourselves with this event. Two years ago we joined the well operating Szeged Theatre Festival (organized by MASZK - Hungarian Center of Alternative Theatres) and engaged three professionals to do the job of pre-selection. They have to choose those performances from the season that they think are the best, most innovative, and most interesting regardless of the theatre groups' working frame. In this way, for our festival we could regain the image that is at the center of our general policy: progressiveness. This annual festival is called: SZASZSZ. In addition, we also have good contact with the MADIAWAVE - Györ Festival and with the organizers of the Hungarian Nationwide Theatre Meeting (POSZT).

Sections, communication
A decision was made to form sections to promote a wider range of operation. Now we have sections of critics, photographers, designers, and documentation specialists. We also have a website, which is doing well, called:, where the fluency of communication is ensured for all our members.

János Regös
Vice President of AHAIT / Association of Hungarian Alternative and Independent Theatre
Based partly on thoughts of László Hudi, President of AHAIT

reported: January 2006
Entertainment and ratings OR culture and art? by Lisa Jacobson
In the state of Israel, which was founded in the year 1948, culture is still a developing matter. Most of the theatre in Israel is repertory and conventional theatre created in the well established and supported national or city/regional theatres, or commercial entertainment theatre. Independent or fringe theatre, the main concern in this report, is less popular among the performing arts than dance or music.

There is one theatre festival, "the Acco fringe festival," which is a platform, mainly for young theatre makers who want to expose their work to the public for the first time. Since the budgets are so low, professional artists find it hard to produce new shows under these conditions. The festival hosts both Israeli and Arab-Israeli productions. There is a competition that motivates people to work hard to perhaps earn a few extra shekels, and the first prize is normally divided between an Israeli production and an Arab one, in order to be politically correct. This festival was founded 25 years ago with the idea that it would be a great way to incorporate Israeli-Arab co-operation and also the idea that the city would flourish, but none of that really happened and the festival seems practically decadent. The local people in the city of Acco complain that the artists from Tel-Aviv simply arrive 2-3 days before the festival and leave on the last day, and the people of Acco can't even afford the theatre tickets. Another issue is that the title fringe might be a misnomer as most of the theatre created for this festival is conventional and the festival has never even been wise enough to integrate the outdoors and site-specific theatre as an equal to indoor theatre.

The prize productions move on to perform in Tel-Aviv, where they possibly started out anyway, at the Fringe theatre center or the Tmuna theatre space. These are the alternative homes for fringe theatre in Israel, which unfortunately, "can/ preserve" the fringe theatre scene, in sort of standard-conventional theatre spaces instead of allowing diverse theatre spaces to be chosen or created for the needs of each production. Most of the theater productions are text based, which I would define as contemporary theatre rather than fringe theatre. There are two more centers for fringe theatre in Jerusalem: Hamaabada, the laboratory, which is quite new and privately funded, and Hazira - the Arena. A few new productions are made there every year, and a very small scale festival. "The voice of the word" has also been produced there for the past three years. These are all supported by government and city money; which is mainly how they manage to survive, although the support is certainly not at the same level as that for the city/national theatres. A few theatre companies supported by public money have their own spaces, such as the Acco theatre center, Notzar theatre, Clipa, and the Arab-Jewish theatres in Jaffa and Zik, but this is very rare and mainly in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.

Most actors in Israel who wish to create or perform in fringe productions, find themselves in a difficult situation due to lack of production opportunities. The theatrical education system in Israel, educates the actors to be mainly repertory theatre actors. They are not trained to be creative, producing actors, or as we can define it- total actors- who are responsible for their own production as a comprehensive art piece. There are only two theatre schools that offer this kind of training, one of these is Hagoof, which was founded by ex Lecoq students, for example, Gil Becher, and teaches Lecoq theatre methods in Tel-Aviv. The other school is the Shlomi center for theatrical work and creation, in the north of Israel, which teaches diverse methods of acting influenced by Grotowski, Stanislavski, Butoh, and the work of the Israeli Director David Maayan. The importance and influence of independent schools such as the above could be great, but the school in Tel-Aviv is not yet financially supported, and the one in the north is supported financially, but people seem to feel that it is too far from the cultural center of Israel, which is, without a doubt, Tel-Aviv.

There have been several attempts by theatre artists to create fringe or independent theatre outside of Tel-Aviv, but as all have discovered, without proper financial support, it is impossible to survive. As a country, Israel's main agenda is still survival and security. The arts and fringe theatre, especially, are just not on the agenda. They are either luxury, or worse than that: silly, not "serious" and not worthy of proper support. Even scholars teaching theatre at major Israeli universities are not aware of and, for the most part, not interested in the independent and fringe theatre scene.

In the Israeli government, there is no office for the minister of culture; culture is just a sub-department of the ministry of education. Popular, cheap, television culture is easier to sell, the ratings have never been better, so why bother spending money on developing fringe or independent theatre if the public prefers sitting in front of the television? Many people profit from this! There is a big yearning "to be American," which is endangering Israeli culture. The country is so young, only 57 years old, immigrants are still arriving, diverse cultures are still being introduced to each other, and artistic experiences for integration are necessary. But politics, power, and money get in the way of creating genuine Israeli culture. Because artists depend on public money, only a few artists dare to put these issues on their artistic agenda. There is hardly any exchange between theatre companies and it seems to be a type of isolated creative work. But still, there is an audience in search of new and fresh art and theatre.

ARMA Theatre (the Hebrew initials of Earth, Wind, Water & Fire) was founded in 1990 by Lisa Jacobson and Gil Becher. ARMA theatre combines diverse working techniques, for example: physical theatre, street theatre, site-specific and Bouffon theatre, clown work, plastic-arts, dance, video-art, architecture, light design, and man-space-movement relations. Each project can be very different in style of work, choice of space, and media used.

We have never received regular support, only per production when participating in festivals. It is clear that maintaining a regular schedule of work in this type of situation is impossible. In our deep conviction that the artistic center is not a question of geography, but of artistic interaction and interest, we are now planning to create a center for theatre and cultural exchange where we live, in the Ein-Hod Artists' village (which was founded by Marcel Janco, one of the founders of the DADA movement). Our aim is to create a center where we and other companies from Israel and abroad, can create new productions in alternative spaces, indoors and outdoors, as well as collaborative work. Theatre workshops will be held at the center, as well as conferences, lectures, a theatre education center for youth and exhibitions.

Israel is geographically isolated, surrounded by countries who do not share cultural exchange with us (and I am not getting into politics!...) I would like to say that there is a true need for cultural exchange with artists from diverse countries, there is the talent, the curiosity and openness to work together and share views and artistic horizons. You may define Israel as the Middle-East, which it is, but many Israelis (quite a nomadic people) today, are descendants of families that came from Europe, and they absorbed European culture from day one: all spiced up with middle-east flavors, so we might be talking perhaps of Eurasia, or south-east Europe or the European middle-east? Well perhaps this too, is nonsense after all, but all I am saying is: don't cut us out, embrace Israel as part of Europe- at least for an intriguing cultural exchange!

Lisa Jacobson
ARMA theatre, Ein-Hod artists' village, Israel

reported: January 2006
Association of Independent Theatres in Iceland (SL) by Gunnar I. Gunnsteinsson
The association is a grassroots' organization, supported only by the member groups and the city of Reykjavik. Member groups of SL are around 56. Most of the groups are based in the capital Reykjavik, but there are also groups in the rural Iceland. Some are operating all the time, some are not. Like anywhere the theatre groups come and go but a strong base of around 25 groups is now in place. The problem for the groups is the lack in funding and that is the big fight of the independent theatres. The Independent groups in Iceland has only access to 5% of governmental total budget marked to stage art. But there is more.

The Independent Theatres premier between 25 and 35 plays every year. The groups have been a driving force in promoting new playwriting in Iceland and are unafraid of treading new ground in their approach to staging theatre and dance. For this SL groups, such as Vesturport/Art box, have received international acclaim for their original style of theatre. Around 250.000 people attend the performances of the SL groups every year in Iceland and abroad. That is a huge part of the overall attendance to the theatre in Iceland, a country with the total population of 300.000. This shows without doubt that the cultural life in Iceland has a fundamental need for the work of the SL groups.

In the past decade the Independent Theatres have been a growing force in the Icelandic theatre and dance scene. The Association has been fighting to let politicians and officials take notice of their hard work and successes. This has resulted in minor steps towards a better working ground and the groups have at the same time become more professional in their work.

SL is currently working by an official agenda for the Association, published in 2004. Amongst exciting projects is to open a Theatre- and Cultural Centre for the SL groups in Tjarnarbíó Theatre in the centre of Reykjavík as well as hosting an international theatre festival of the Independent Theatres.

There is more to come from the Independent Theatres in Iceland!

Contactperson: Gunnar I. Gunnsteinsson
manager for SL:
Association of Independant Theatres in Iceland
Lindargata 6 - 101 Reykjavík - Iceland
Telephone: +354 551-1400 / +354 823-4111

reported: december 2006
“Features of the Italian scene for performing arts can suggest Italian culture is not far from being destroyed…”
In our national context, art sector contributes to GDP by 2.5%, while resources allocated to the sector are around 0.4%, reaching the lowest levels in Europe. Workers are about 380,000.00 even though there is no precise investigation and companies working in the sector are 62,541 (ISTAT data).

In primis, the system of public support has proved to be quite chaotic because there is not a clear role division among people working in the sector (producers, distributors, etc.); secondly, because funding opportunities at different institutional levels tend to overlap.
This chaos creates a concentration of funding in the hands of few centralizing subjects (with no possibility to achieve generation balance) and a waste of public resources, that, given the lack of accurate monitoring, are not checked and examined.
Grants from the Ministry of Culture are small and they have almost been halved (400 million euros) in the last eight years.
The little congruence of funds and the inappropriate timing of payment helped in creating a stalemate that no longer guarantees neither the stability of historical structures or the fluidity for new entities to enter the circuit.
At this point, the eighty-eight private foundations that distributed 335 million euro in 2010 are getting more and more essential. The current law does not support private donations by cutting taxes, so this kind of donations has been gradually decreasing. However, a 9% increase of crowd-funding has been registered, although it currently doesn’t move substantial resources. The artist does not enjoy favorable working conditions such as in France , where the uniqueness of his work is recognized by the State. In Italy taxation levels and employment framework for artists are the same as those other workers submit to, making life for creative workers very difficult. The most commonly used contract is an “on call” contract, while less than 20% (and usually in administrative positions) is hired with fixed-term contracts.

Scarce is the social security system too, that forces artists pay exEnpals contributions without having later a chance to collect unemployment benefits: less than 50% of artists claims to achieve the minimum number of working days needed to access the benefits. This picture becomes even more worrying when you consider young people (under 35 years): less than 30% reaches the threshold.
From the point of view of labor regulation, Italy shares the worst job market with some countries of southern Europe: high long-term unemployment degrees, the highest level of youth unemployment, the lowest women participation and the lowest employment rate in Europe in relation to the working population.

Two elements are characterizing the labor market in Italy nowadays.
The first is a widespread black market economy that generates a difficult assessment of the unofficial economy. The arts sector is no exception because even just comparing data of the working days, productions actually carried out, contributions paid, you can notice obvious disproportions.
However, it can not really be called a black market, but we can rather define it a ”grey” one; for example, the cachet of a show is paid partly in the correct way and partly through illegal mechanisms, or the value of a picture is deliberately underestimated to create a shadow zone to be paid otherwise.
The second peculiarity of labor market in Italy is connected to regional disparities that have always been a Italian long-standing problem. Unfortunately, not even in the recent reform of labor art industry has been considered adequately, on the contrary, it is living even more, yes, hard to think it possible, rigidity. Forcing to close “fake VAT numbers” and reduce project contracts have been circumvented with practices that have proved to be even worse for workers or have moved the activity in the field of illegality.

Lending to creativity businesses is difficult to be achieved. There are two specialized banks that operate subsidized rates but do not meet the needs of businesses that can enjoy regional funds only in certain regions. Difficulties arise when enterprises have to collect debt from public institutions: these are taking advantage of their dominant position, imposing payment times that are out of any European treaty (over 60 days). Average time in Italy is about 4 months, but the range is very wide and goes by the excellence of the Lombardy region (less than 2 months) to waiting times of the Lazio region (over 9 months).
However, it is also true that such a calculation is done when grant is awarded. And calls are promulgated referring to the following or the current year, so payment is balanced a year later than business closure. The only heartening fact is that ISTAT reports that in 2010 98.9% of the associations involved in the third sector (mainly cultural ones) pays its debts, placing us among top nations in Europe. Surely the slowness of the judicial system does not help in collecting a debt. Lawsuits for debt collection in the cultural sector do not exist in Italy.

The national unions did not allow us to make a clear recognition of their members. We can only infer data from regional trade unions which we have reliable data from. It seems that the number of registered artists is very low in relation to the number of workers in the sector, probably because unions have always been focused on the defense of employed workers. For this reason, there are so many sector associations, committees and organizations. However, their fragmentation has not enabled the sector to truly influence on government policy. The collective agreement signed in 2004 (amended in 2007) is, as a matter of fact, a tool that employers usually forget to follow.

In this context we must distinguish two exceptions: visual art and “unsophisticated” music. Because of their “non profit” nature, they have developed very different mechanisms, which however do not always protect artists since in these areas there is very littler degree of awareness of contracts and social security.

Features of the Italian scene for performing arts can suggest Italian culture is not far from being destroyed: the lack of national regulations, the lack of large private funds (and those which are at disposal are hardly coordinated with the comprehensive cultural policy), the overlapping of resources at various institutional levels, the increase of the credit crunch, the lack of a statute aimed to show workers. Yet, Italy participates strongly to European culture both with top-notch artists who often move to other countries to emerge and with a huge artistic production too. The reasons are intrinsic in the Italian social fabric that, easy to say, makes creativity to be one of its more fascinating economic model.

Independent theatre in Italy: A picture of the present situation by Angelica Zanardi and Monica Morleo
At the end of the century, a new theatrical generation emerged, although a lot of professional critics probably absent-mindedly missed it. The protagonists of this new wave are theatrical companies born and raised far from the normal theatrical network, and often also far from the theaters: it is easier to see the shows produced by these young and even younger people in places where people gather, such as social centers and discotheques, and they also work in abandoned and neglected shacks and buildings.
They use a theatrical language that, as all theatrical avant-gardes assert, puts all the elements that share in the theatrical event in the same place (therefore they don't use only words, which is sometimes announced, but also the body, the music and the sounds and the scene). Crossovers between theater and other arts, and other aspects of reality are preferred.
This new levy developed by auto-pedagogy is often explicitly declared. Scenic forces of amazing and fascinating complexity are often able to establish a connection with the audience.

Fanny and Alexander, Motus, Teatrino Clandestino, Teatro del Lemming, Masque, and Scena Verticale are the most important theatrical companies working in the frame of "research theater." For these groups, as often happens in every type of avant-garde, a certain principle of representation has lost substance, and consequently, that is Ego representation. Therefore, the actors have to reform their role.
These companies investigate the reasons and modalities of the non-performable elements of the real and no longer search to automatically tune into the sensibility of the spectator; indeed, scandal and provocation become indispensable ingredients to captivate, amaze, upset; even if it happens within a mechanism of rules, spaces, and utterly rigid semiotic flows, where there is no room for distraction or the observer's reverie.
The message is the media - as Marshall McLuhan said.
Along with this trend, which arose in the 1990s, recently, it has been possible to identify a new way of making theater. This is characterized both by direct communication and an extreme simplification of the scenic installation. These performances, which can be included under the general heading of "narrative theater," are sustainable due to the presence of only one or very few actors.

Short political and economical analysis of independent theater in Italy
An independent theater not linked to political power and financed by private means does not exist in Italy.
Independent companies that have obtained a certain success due to their artistic merit have had to consolidate their role and seek institutional aid. This is a long and exhausting search.
The Italian theatrical system is, in fact, based nearly exclusively on ever-insufficient municipal, provincial, regional, and government funding. However, access to this funding is possible only when the theater company has been recognized by another official institution.
The principal ambition of research companies that follow this long procedure to become recognized by an institution is to become a "Teatro stabile di innovazione" (Innovative repertory theater). In this case, they need a theater and they have to demonstrate that they produce, program, and promote their activities.
For this reason, all the professional companies try to consolidate their positions in order to have access to state contributions. Therefore, after a long period on tour, the desire is to find a stable location for continuing with their own artistic research. This aspiration also diffused in Italy during the Italian Renaissance: in fact, Mimma Gallina speaks about "diffuse stability."
In Italy there is a demarcation line between the theatrical experiences of the center-north and those of the south, where it is even more difficult for the companies to reach a system of stability, which has been attained in the north since the 1970s.
The law regulating financial support in Italy dates from 1985. At this time, the minister Lagorio tried to put order into the complex theatrical Italian system, allocating specific funds for different kinds of shows (traveling music, cinemas, theater, circus). He instituted the Fus-Fund united for show-which on the basis of two parameters, quantitative estimate and qualitative estimate, had to finance these different kinds of performances, both live and reproduced.

The funds attributed from Fus to the category of theater, for the year 2002, was equivalent to approximately 24 % of the total, and was divided among different categories:
1. state repertory theaters (13)
2. private repertory theaters (14)
3. innovative repertory theaters for experimentation (16)
4. innovative repertory theater for young people (20)
5. production companies (154)
6. experimental production companies (190)
7. national figure theater (puppets etc.)
8. street theater
9. organizations dedicated to the promotion and the education of the audience (15)
10. theater and municipal theater (51)
11. theatrical promotion and professional training (44)
12. theatrical reviews and festivals (27)

To summarize, in Italy, "independent" companies, or rather, all theater groups that cannot be included in the complex universe of the Italian theatrical establishment, are forced to confront, with enormous effort and risky economical investments, a long and difficult bureaucratic procedure, which only in some cases ends with artistic acknowledgement and financial support. These independent companies are also forced to conceal those who work more economically, but with a smaller engagement, in the framework of artistic research.

Angelica Zanardi
artistic director CREXIDA Theatrical company
Monica Morleo
organization and press office CREXIDA

reported: January 2006
Jeton Neziraj is a Kosovo playwright, and previously served as the Artistic Director of this country’s National Theater. He is currently director of Qendra Multimedia, a Prishtina-based production company.

Here is his perspective on culture and society in Kosovo gathered from an interview that originally appeared in Kontrapress, on January 11, 2014.

“One of the goals of art is to make something which is not apparent to society visible, or to bring attention to something that society stifles, suppresses, and denies.
This dream of ours, of an art that changes the world, must carry on.
Even though, I actually believe, that art does not change the world, but instead, makes it human and makes it what it is now; with all the good and the bad.”

About “Demolition of the Eiffel Tower” and religious fanaticism…


To a foreigner, it could seem that cafeterias are the religion with the most followers in Kosovo. But Kosovo’s panorama is more multi-colored. Just take a look at Prishtina: it has an unfinished Serbian Orthodox Church which remains stuck in the mud, like a gigantic mushroom. The [politically motivated] construction of that church began during the war in Kosovo. A few amateur grenade throwers tried to blow it up afterwards, but without success. A large Catholic Cathedral has since been built below the Orthodox Church. It was conceived by Ibrahim Rugova, the now-deceased former President, who — it is rumored — converted to Catholicism. Muslims will soon have a large mosque in Prishtina; it is going to be constructed near the Main Post Office. The cynics are saying that the mosque is being built near the Post Office because of the “powerful waves” [which allow a] faster connection to Allah.

There was a kind of religious harmony in Kosovo and I think that harmony still dominates, but the rise of religious extremism should not be underestimated. About a year ago, a group of Muslim extremists seriously threatened a youth group that had gathered to promote a new magazine issue on the topic of sex. Some clerics have become noisier recently because they’ve learnt how to use the internet. They record themselves commenting on an issue, or someone else records them preaching in a mosque, and then those videos are distributed over the internet. Their remarks often include hate speech, male chauvinism, religious intolerance, as well as lots of open calls to violence.

So it was in the midst of this intriguing religious ferment that we decided to produce “Demolition of the Eiffel Tower” because it specifically addresses these sensitive topics: religious fundamentalism, terrorism and individual freedom. With that in mind, I have to say that performing this play in Kosovo was a challenge. It’s a challenge because you never know where the border of tolerance lies for these extremists. It’s an unknown border.


The problems “Demolition” deals with are almost global, it made the play’s ‘universalist’ approach absolutely essential. I don’t deal directly with Islam in Kosovo in this drama; although after the premiere in Prishtina the public reacted as if I had written the play on exactly that topic. I think the public interprets the play’s ‘universal’ references through its own local ‘lens’. The public reaction in Sarajevo in 2011 was similar, when it was performed there, and in New York, in 2011 also. It was received even better in Paris, where there were various readings of it.

Whether we like it or not, religion has a powerful influence, especially in societies which are fragile democracies like ours in this region. In Serbia, for example, the Serbian Church has been powerful enough to control the entire country. At least, that’s how it appeared from outside. I don’t know if it is still like this.
Actually, Kosovar society has been very open and liberal regarding religion. All the different faiths have co-existed well and there has been excellent inter-faith tolerance. That tolerance does still exist in fact, even if it has started to wobble a bit.
The significant break occurred in the ‘90s, especially during the war in Kosovo in ‘98 and ‘99. For many people in Kosovo, it was traumatic to see images of Serbian paramilitaries being “blessed” in Orthodox Churches before setting off for war in Kosovo. In reality, the Serbian Church throughout all these years was in essence a political church, in the sense that it served politics. The source of much of the evil that occurred during the ‘90s can, unfortunately, be found there. This is why the wave of intolerance toward the Orthodox Church in Kosovo after the war was so great. People identified it with bad things that had happened. I don’t believe they destroyed them just because they were ‘Orthodox Churches’, but because people identified those churches with the horror they experienced at the hands of paramilitaries during the war.

Religion started to be an ‘issue’ in Kosovo after the war, when different radical groups and sects started to emerge and present themselves as a serious threat. For many of these groups and organizations, Kosovo was an “easy terrain” in which to operate. Some have been working for many years now, with an official mission of “humanitarian activities,” while unofficially dealing with suspect activities. Some radical Islamist groups have been especially aggressive in this regard and they have managed to penetrate inside what is known in Kosovo as “traditional Islam”, which in practice is a liberal form of Islam, functioning on the basis of a centuries-old tradition. There have been clear confrontations between these radical religious groups and others, as well as amongst themselves.
In this sense, the religion that we know and accept is at risk from a religion that operates in the shadows, with underhanded agendas which are not in harmony with the society it is attempting to infiltrate.

About black humor in art…
One of the goals of art is to make something which is not apparent to society visible, or to bring attention to something that society stifles, suppresses and denies. In this respect, as a writer, I naturally want my work to have an impact on society. When writing about victims of war and peace, about terrorism or religion, about humiliated Roma or nationalism, naturally I hope that I can affect society’s development.

My plays contain black humor, but mostly, they are political satires. In particular, the comedy “Flight over the Kosovo Theatre” discusses Kosovo and addresses problems that are compatible with those of many other societies. As any official in Kosovo’s government could tell you: we Kosovars didn’t discover corruption. So it is entirely political satire. There are many examples of this type of creativity having some power over politics and society. Perhaps the best example is from December 2012, when Kosovo’s government used the Ministry of Culture to prevent the premiere of “One Flew Over the Theatre of Kosovo” at all costs. The subsequent debates in the media for and against this play, and for and against it going to Belgrade and then on to Kragujevc, illustrate this as well.

If I were to sum up this issue at this moment, I would say that this dream of ours, of an art that changes the world, must carry on. Even though, I actually believe, that art does not change the world, but instead, makes it human and makes it what it is now; with all the good and the bad.

About taboo topics in Kosovo today…
There is no question that every society has taboos. But a society like Kosovo’s, which is (let’s say) under construction, can naturally be expected to have more taboos. Certain topics that relate to state formation, religion, the Kosovo war, the involvement of political elites in corruption, or issues linked to Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia continue to be treated superficially. Artists mainly tiptoe around these and other topics, or when they do address them, they do it within the accepted framework. In general, the past is dealt with selectively, emphasizing only appropriate moments and events. The framework excludes any weakness, mistakes or unwitting errors in Albanian society or alternatively, it projects them as the result of something externally imposed, as “influences coming from our enemies”.

Until recently, the character of an Albanian mother could not dare to be a promiscuous woman, Serbs were always drunken soldiers swearing and killing cold bloodedly and so on. But lately things have begun to change. A new generation of artists has started to see differently and produce another form of artistic creativity, without fear of penetrating the “black holes” of Kosovar society.

About political influence in arts…
There is a tendency here of politics trying to control and use the art scene in Kosovo. This is manifested in various ways: a selective allocation of budgets for culture, installing political partisans and sycophants in public cultural institutions wherever possible, encouraging a style of “patriotic art” by directly controlling public cultural institutions, withholding support for independent cultural initiatives and even censoring the content of artistic productions. I still maintain that this is not the product of an organized government program, but more a primitive mindset that cannot conceive of the role and function of art in a democratic society.

In a way, all of this has led art in Kosovo to carry on reproducing the same boring discourse of politics. In addition to this, an entire army of “national artists” has been produced; they want to be artists, but they also want to be patriots. Above all, they want to be patriots. And so, in their artistic creations, they take great pleasure in an ugly mixture of art and patriotism. If I can express myself metaphorically: “national artists” want to paint a pretty picture, showing Skanderbeg with his sword cutting off the head of not just one Turk, but ten Turks, all at once.

About national myths in Kosovo…
It’s no surprise that national myths are prominent, now that the identity of Kosovo’s new state is being constructed. Myths are the fodder nourishing this identity’s creation. Old myths are being rediscovered and used for different political, social or national causes, but also, many new myths have been created and are being created to serve political parties, the government or other groups, which seek to win power or to keep the power they have.

Thus, in the new Kosovo myths coexist a kind of romanticism; about our “Illyrian origins” and “Dardania”, the myth of “antiquity”, the myth of “Skanderbeg”, or new myths about the heroes and commanders of war and peace… endless new myths are being, and will be, created.

There are still some untouchable myths, but even so, there are still some (a few) young artists who dare to step over “the red lines”. But let’s be clear: in a country like Kosovo, which has passed through so many dramatic events in the last 20 years, deconstructing myths is not such an easy task. It can also be quite risky.

About recent local elections in Kosovo…
The results were a pleasant surprise. Prishtina was won by Lëvizja Vetëvendosje. There were also other interesting shifts in Peja, Gjakova and Mitrovica. These were considered the best elections of the past 13 years. In former elections, it was normal for a lot of votes to be stolen. Both the dead and the living voted. When there weren’t enough ballot papers, people voted using burek-wrapping. But this time, everyone was surprised for the better. Part of this surprise was also the turn-out of Serbs in the northern part of Mitrovica.

These elections were a sign that this society, despite all its problems, has begun its emancipation.

Shpend Ahmeti, the newly elected mayor of Prishtina is really an excellent choice for the city. He is a brilliant intellectual. It is difficult to tell if his victory in Prishtina was more his own victory, or that of Vetëvendosje… but perhaps this isn’t so important. Besides Prishtina, Vetëvendosje didn’t do so well in other towns. Whether support will increase or decrease for this party in the future is difficult to say, as it depends on many factors. Prishtina is a big test for them. Their success in Prishtina could have a positive impact on the expansion of this party, though not necessarily.
Without going into too much detail, I must just point out that in contrast to many other movements and parties, Lëvizja Vetëvendosje has raised the movement for national unification to a different level by formulating it clearly and without dogma. They have set out pragmatic reasons that go beyond the empty national and historic arguments. As a result, they are credible on this issue — though not only on this. They won support because they began to ask questions that no one else had dared to pose, until then, starting with practical issues such as why Serbia could export products to Kosovo, but Kosovo could not export its products to Serbia!

About the Brussels agreement…
We as the broader public don’t know all of the details, but I consider this agreement as an important and positive step forward; above all, it relaxes bitter Serbian-Albanian relations. I don’t want to sound like an opportunist, but in truth, I don’t see any losers in this process. And let’s be clear: this agreement was made possible not thanks to the willingness of Kosovar or Serbian leadership, but as a result of the work of international actors. Sometimes I wonder how much energy and money Europe is spending to deal with our primitive problems. What if one day they were to give up and leave us in our own misery, Serbia and Kosovo? Then, there’s no doubt, we’d start to destroy each other again.

About the power of art in the “de-victimization” of victims…
I have talked about the “de-victimization of victims” as a process that enables victims to feel part of society, to feel useful and to feel equal, and as a process that recognizes and respects their suffering, but at the same time makes them conscious of the suffering of others. I am talking about the families of missing people, family members of those killed in the war and most of all, those who directly suffered from the war (most of society). Above all, art can facilitate and assist this “de-victimization” process. That’s what I believe. Art has always been thought to play this kind of role. Schiller said that the Hellenic tragedy educated the ancient Greeks because by watching the tragedies, they learned to control individual consciousness and make it part of normal life.

The Bogujevci exhibition is the best example of this. It was given in Belgrade after my performances and the theme was a family’s suffering during a massacre committed by the Serbian police. The exhibition was also followed with curiosity in Kosovo. I can’t speak for the position of the public in Prishtina toward the exhibition, but it seemed to me that in general people were quite enthusiastic.
The tragic history of the Bogujevci family is well known here. The three curators of this exhibition, especially Saranda, are very active and they have done various projects of this character, including opening the same exhibition in Prishtina. All three have proven themselves to be very brave, as are the people from Heartefakt, who made the organization of this exhibition possible.
But, the threatening atmosphere in Belgrade which emerged around this exhibition left a bad taste. It was depressing to see demonstrations against it. There are idiots everywhere, but really, this time, they had no place there at all. It was a deeply despairing image, to see them shouting against an exhibition that itself breaks your heart.
But, it is also important to mention the brave position taken by many intellectuals (of those I have read, Borka Pavicevic, Zlatko Pakovic, Vladimit Arsenijevic and others). They were really impressive and suggest a glimmer of hope for that country, which bastards like those protesters have brought so low.
Also, the presence of Serbian Prime Minister Dacic at the exhibition’s opening should not be underestimated. At least, that’s how I see it. It is a small step, but I think it is meaningful when no other high-ranking Serbian politician has dared to do something similar. Not until now. But Dacic’s vague and half-hearted “apology” to the members of the Bogujevci family who survived, must now be followed by a long-overdue major apology to the state of Kosovo. But it remains to be seen whether it will be Dacic or another leader who will take this great step. The sooner this occurs, the better it will be for us all, and above all for Serbia.

About the price of freedom and declaring to “belong to a small number of artists who are not under the control of the Kosovo authorities, and … are free to awaken peoples’ feelings towards others”…
The price was very high; the media attacks were as constant as the firing of a Kalashnikov. I lost my job, received zero public funds for my work and was given clichéd labels like “traitor” and “anti-Albanian”. In fact, I suffered so much, that [in my depression] I couldn’t stop writing plays. Only a writer could understand my misery. Every night, before going to sleep, I weep, then I write a scene of my new play. Then I curse the government for bringing me so low, and then I sleep. It’s the same every night. Isn’t that awful?

But I should stop joking because it seems the role of a victim does not suit me.

Why did I take on the role that you described? It isn’t such a mystery. I can explain with a short story. As a child, in elementary school, I had a Serbian teacher who taught us the Serbian language. We called the teacher Bora. He was a good man. He’s still alive, but I haven’t seen him for over 25 years. During the war, I often asked myself: what if I was to find myself facing my teacher, Bora? Could I kill him? No, I told myself. Could he kill me? In every variant I tried, the answer was: No. Then after the war, I made many Serbian friends, and I was sure that if, hypothetically I were to meet them in some possible circumstance of war, I would not be able to kill them. Nor would they kill me. And so, I started with these sort of naive thoughts and questions, and then later, I formulated some more sophisticated positions, on the shared sense of suffering and pain of the other; on pain which, when stripped of all its patches, is simply human pain; on suffering that has no religion, nationality or homeland, but is just suffering. It is that simple! Don’t you think?
by Jeton Neziraj
The first independent theatres in Kosova were established in the early 1990s after Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. Those were times when almost all cultural institutions, including theatres, were closed by the Serbian regime. Two or three theatres that were established then carried out their activities at locations such as coffee shops, away from police attention. This was a kind of political theatre with shows referring to violence and oppression, the Milosevic regime was being forced on Albanians. Aesthetics was not the primary concern of those involved and they worked mainly with no budget on a volunteer basis.

After the war, there was a certain euphoria in creating and establishing independent theatres, although the majority were unable to function and survive. Actually, in Prishtina there are only two independent theatres: Oda, which puts on stage plays for adults and CCTD (Center for Children Theatre Development), which focuses mainly on theatre for children and youth. The State finances only the two public theatres of Prishtina: the National Theatre and Dodona Theatre.

This lack of independent theatres is due to mainly two reasons: lack of institutional state support and lack of tradition and especially lack of management skills. Actually, the budget of the Ministry of Culture is concentrated in two institutions categorized as being "of national interest": the National Theatre and the National Arts Gallery. A lot of funding has been allocated to the restoration of historical monuments burned during the war, as well as the restoration of churches destroyed in the riots last March. At the present time, there is no support for independent theatres. Oda and CCTD, as well as other minor theatres have managed to gain donations from international institutions interested in human rights, reconciliation, democracy, and other issues. Of course, this limits the theatres' independence, but at the same time, it is the only way to continue working.

Nonetheless, these private theatres have offered a good alternative and have had an extraordinary social and political impact. CCTD has drastically changed the aesthetics that dominated children and youth theatre. It contracted some of the best Kosovar actors and changed the outlook of this kind of theatre as "a world of tales with a happy end." CCTD has put on stage plays with topics that were previously dealt with only in adult theatre. Its most recent project "The longest winter," included two groups of actors, Albanians and Serbs. There were two separate productions with the same text and the same director. The play was about the fact that people disappeared during the war and did not bear any political connotations. This is only one example of the activities of independent theatres and their role in contemporary Kosovar society. However, actual developments speak of hope in the field of theatre, of establishing more independent theatres and producing more high quality shows.

Jeton Neziraj
is playwright from Kosova.Currently he is the Executive Director of MULTIMEDIA / Center for Children's Theatre Development in Prishtina.

reported: January 2006
by Agnieszka Kochanowska
Political changes led also to changes in the life of independent theatre groups. Before 1989, independent theatre was the alternative to professional stages, which had specific obligations towards the government and the ruling political system-meant by alternative is that they had the possibility to talk outwardly about social and political life in Poland at this time. It was a risky, but also very profound role. After the political changes, which brought the abolition of censorship, alternative theatre became independent theatre, which basically meant without the financial protection of the government. This status is a basis of the structure and specific character of independent theatre in Poland.

Nowadays there is a whole range of theatre productions that are called independent:

- Performances by amateur theatre groups, which work mainly at schools or community centers, with very limited financial support

- Student theatre, which is developing very well at the moment and which organizes a lot of festivals - the most important in Gdansk, Olsztyn, Kraków and Czestochowa

- Performances prepared by experienced artists evolving from amateur theatre, whose works have been appreciated by the public and critics alike and who have their recognizable theatrical language and teaching techniques. Some, such as the director of Sopot Fringe Theatre Centre, Ewa Ignaczak, the founder and director of The Pegasus Stable Theatre, have been given their own places to work. These kinds of institutions are mainly supported by city authorities-there are only a few such places in Poland.

- Dance theatres-a vast majority of dance theatres in Poland have the status of independent theatres, mostly because there are no professional schools for modern dance for choreographers and dancers. There is an idea of founding such a school in Bytom, but at the moment there are only classical dance/ ballet schools with additional short-term training in modern dance. Dancers have to receive training by joining a more experienced and well-known dance theatre and then found their own theatre groups.

- Street theatres-most street performances are prepared by theatres that also work on stage. Some have achieved international success such as Dreams Theatre from Gdansk or Biuro Podrózy.

- Village theatres that focus on traditional and ritual culture, some are very famous like Gardzienice from Lublin, Wegajty from near Olsztyn or Piesn Kozla from Wroclaw (which won the "Best International Show" award in Edinburgh last year).

- Independent productions made by artists working on professional stages or independent theatres founded mostly by well known artists, who have been able gain a very strong position among the public.

Although the tradition of independent theatre in Poland is very strong, drawing its inspiration from the work of Jerzy Grotowski and the social centered performances of Eight Day Theatre from Poznan (which celebrated its fortieth anniversary this year), the survival struggle for fringe theatre remains. Those cases whereby city authorities give financial support and space for working are exceptional and also come with obligations that make the theatre group less independent. The theatres that get such an opportunity are those with at least 25 years of work experience, like Eight Day Theatre, Centre of Theatre Practices "Gardzienice", Theatre Kana from Szczecin, or The Pegasus Stable from the Tricity. Most became centers for fringe theatre providing opportunities for education, participating in interesting projects on the periphery of theatre, and organizing important festivals. Some of the theatres launched associations or foundations and got funds from European sources. But there is still a lot to be learned in this area.

Since the 1990s, there have been ongoing negotiations about creating an organization with a program similar to that of The Austrian Association of Independent Theatre, but the talks are still ongoing. Those who dedicate their life to independent theatre in Poland must consider that apart from being an artist, he or she must also be a good manager. And they have to keep in mind that sometimes they'll have to change their project to get any external funding-which may sound quite bitter, but what we have learned from our cultural history is that limitations inspire development.

Agnieszka Kochanowska
Sopocka Scena Off de BICZ (Sopot Fringe Theatre Centre)

reported: January 2006
by Victor Scoradet
In the late 1990s, it was almost fashionable for graduates of theatre academies to found a cultural foundation whose aim was the administration of an independent theatre. This might have helped Romania to look good - at least statistically: there were a lot of free theatres registered, but hardly any that really existed and functioned. And the one that did was called, for instance, Teatrul Inexistent -The Nonexisting Theatre. This fringe group, initiated and led by Theodora Herghelegiu, has meanwhile produced more than twenty plays, many of them very successful. But the great majority of fringe theatres existed only on paper. Some of them managed to show one or two plays before being forgotten by the founders themselves. What made those groups emerge and what made them disappear before having even tried to utter a manifesto?

On the one hand, the subsidized theatres had an offer which presented no major differences compared to the repertoires before 1989. The repertoires comprise more than 90 percent classics. And 90 percent of the classics are still directed and performed in quite an old fashioned way. But, until a few years ago, there was hardly a state theatre daring to perform Schwab or Mayenburg or Sarah Kane.
On the other hand, the number of people graduating from theatre academies kept growing. More and more cities had the ambition to create their own schools. Now, there are about 150 graduates a year, in a country with less than sixty subsidized theatres. And these theatres are hardly employing young actors, as the old ones hold lifelong contracts.

Young, daring, aggressive performances about real contemporary life were thus sorely needed on the Romanian theatre market. And this is what those few independent groups that managed to make their way through a hostile territory (at least from the legislative and financial point of view), are really doing. Although for years they were treated with condescendence or even hostility by the critics, although they had to face sponsorship regulations which were made to discourage sponsorship, some managed to create performances that are now acclaimed by both critics and audiences. Companies like Teatrul Inexistent, Teatrul fara frontiere, Teatrul Toaca or Teatrul Imposibil (Cluj) are groups that already have their own histories. Many of the young stage directors who made their debut in fringe performances are now considered to be the best of their generation and are already working in subsidized theatres. But, although they do not receive any subsidies at all (yet this seems to be changing now), they still do not have a location of their own.

In Bucharest, for instance, there are only two independent theatres with their own house: ACT, located in a basement, and ARCA, located in an attic. Others are coming up in the provinces now, like Teatrul Pi Buni in Piatra Neamt. This is why more and more cafes, bars, and clubs are hosting or even producing theatrical performances. If the new team at the Ministry of Culture keeps their promises and if some public money is made available for independent groups, Bucharest might soon have a very exciting theatrical offer.

Victor Scoradet
Theatre critic and translater, founded in December 2004 a new independent theatre - the second, in Bucharest, with a stage of its own: Teatrul ARCA.

reported: January 2006
by Jadranka Andjelic
The tradition of performing arts in Serbia, like in the whole former Yugoslavia, was mainly formed, developed, and supported by the State until the 1990s. Theatres were largely dependent on the State in terms of funding, organization and even artistic expression. The performing arts tradition is thus marked by a lack of independent theatre companies and organizations during this period.

Independent initiatives started in the 1980s, ad-hoc groups were formed (gathering artists on a project-by-project basis) and it was these groups that began to challenge the hitherto political and cultural system. (Most representative of that time is KPGT Company, led by Ljubisa Ristic-later president of JUL, the political movement initiated by Milosevic's wife!)

During the Milosevic era in Serbia, in the 1990s, institutional theatres lost much of their financial support due to the general economic crises. At the same time, they were pressured to serve the regime through the creation of false pictures of reality and of the ongoing war-mostly by presenting low level "entertainment" theatre.

Meanwhile, in contrast to that situation, independent professional theatre companies began to appear. Dah Theatre Research Centre was the first, formed in 1991 and throughout the mid 1990s, other companies followed: Ister Theatre, Blue Theatre, OMEN Theatre, ERGstatus Dance Theatre, Objective Drama Project, Svan Theatre, Chamber Theatre "Ogledalo"; INTRA Dance Company (Dalija Acin, choreographer); Ad Hoc Lom Company (Bojana Mladenovic, Isidora Stanisic dancers and choreographers), and KRAFT Company.

Today we can speak about a whole new theatre tradition that developed in our country during this time. During the Milosevic regime, these independent companies represented freedom of thought and cultural opposition to the regime with strong anti-war activities. In 1999, Ister Theatre, Blue Theatre, OMEN Theatre, ERGstatus Dance Theatre, Objective Drama Project, Svan Theatre, and Dah Theatre Research Centre formed the Association of Independent Theatres-ANET-which today represents a platform for independent companies from Serbia.

The number of independent companies continues to grow (Spleen Theatre, Bazaart, Human Theatre, "Dance, Language, Identity" Project, and others) and a few cultural centers are active in the field of performing arts: REX-Cultural Center B92; CZKD (Centre for Cultural Decontamination) and Dom Omladine Beograda.

Since 2000, and since the democratic changes occurred in Serbia, state bodies have begun to finance independent performing arts companies (although in limited amounts) for the first time in our modern history. State-supported theatres and cultural centres with their old-fashioned, non-flexible organizational structures now find themselves in an institutional crisis. They are facing reforms as they are confronted with the flexible and creative independent companies. The awareness of our common interests and the need for exchange between state and independent companies has developed. Governmental and non-governmental institutions have begun to collaborate.

Some institutional theatres have also opened their doors and programs to new works in the performing arts, such as: National Theatre (Program of 5th Floor Stage) and Belgrade Drama Theatre. BITEF Theatre, an institution of the City of Belgrade, has based its whole program on the new work of independent companies. There is a growing tendency among regional cultural centers in Serbia to open their doors for contemporary independent theatres, although financial limitations make that process very slow. Novi Sad Drama Academy post graduate program is led by an independent group of artists.

Nowadays, we are witnessing a further development of contemporary performing arts organizations in Serbia: new theatre/dance companies, movement theatres, multi-media projects, centres for promotion of contemporary performing arts, theatre research centre, cultural policy research projects, centres for drama in education and youth theatre, workshops, festivals, special projects, associations. It is all predominantly happening in the frame of independent, non-governmental organizations that show vitality and a rich source of creative energy.

Also, there is a growing need and awareness of the importance of regional collaboration and networking that has led many artists and organizations to travel abroad and collaborate internationally; usually supported by some European or international organization/ foundation. Still, generally speaking, there is a lack of more profound exchange and genuine collaborative projects between independent theatres from Serbia and their European colleagues.

Unfortunately, official cultural policies with the present old fashioned theatre laws, do not adequately follow the achievements in this field. Under present law, the independent artistic organization does not even exist. All independent companies today are formally citizens' associations, registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs! This also reflects the traditional view on theatre confronted with the independent companies, which are bringing contemporary, multi media expression of performing arts.

Anticipating a new law on performing arts in Serbia, we wished to focus our attention on the needs and demands of independent organizations in the field, to support the performing artists to participate in policy making, to define the needs and proposals and in that way to benefit to the process of creating cultural policy toward performing arts in Serbia. There have been a few attempts to influence the policy makers and the Ministry of Culture as a main body, in an effort to change the situation (like Forum of Independent Theatre 2003) but we were faced with strong resistance from the old bureaucratic system and other state institutions.

With the change of Government in 2004 and the new staff at the Ministry of Culture, the situation has become even worse. Unfortunately, we notice that much needed cultural reforms are on the bottom of the list of priorities for the present government. The city councils today represent the only safe source of support for independent theatre organizations in Serbia (in the context of limited budgets for performing arts).

Thus, the position of independent theatres in Serbia is complex and exhibits a constant lack of financial support and mechanisms for that support. The strategy for survival must be constantly reinvented based on the present obstacles. Lack of stability threatens to destroy and stop a process that has led to many good achievements (as described before).

Jadranka Andjelic
theatre director, Dah Theatre Research Centre -
Head of the Board of ANET- Association of Independent Theatres -
Contact: andjelic@EUnet.yu

reported: January 2006
by Anna Gruskova
Twenty-three "independent" groups are mentioned in the official list of the Slovak Theatre Institute (, which means, as declared there, that they work on the basis of civic associations (NGOs). Among them are commercial groups, small one- or two-person puppet theatres, communities working with mentally handicapped people and maybe four or five professional groups that can be labeled as alternative or experimental . On the other hand, on the list there are no groups outside of the capital, which in their artistic ambition and results could be considered as fringe or independent, but they are still part of an amateur network. That ambiguity in terms is a symbol of an ambiguity in values and is very significant for the contemporary Slovak theatre.

It is well known that in former socialist countries theatre had an exceptional status. Theatre professionals, especially actors, not only played a remarkable role in theatres controlled by the communist regime, but also supplied a lacking elite. After the changes, theatre professionals very naturally-but only briefly-slipped into the new political life.
Two years ago, the last of the great symbols of the theatre-politics connection, Václav Havel, left his position as the highest political authority in the Czech Republic. One of the commentaries on his accomplished mission should be: the golden age of theatre has passed. This means: the ideological support is over. Theatre can now only count on itself.
After 16 years, theatre in Slovakia is divided into those that are still stuck in socialist times, the ensembles supported by state and local authorities, and so-called independent theatres, which try to be dependent, because their existence is (with some exceptions) in permanent danger. Due to lacking legislative and financial support, it is almost impossible to establish and run a fringe theatre group over a longer period of time. Recently, there have been many promising one-shot productions that consumed enormous energy and stopped after some reprises. There have been a lot of ambitious productions damaged by compromises caused by the permanent lack of funds.

In the international context, Slovak theatre productions are very rarely invited to international theatre festivals, talented theatre people migrate, mostly to the Czech Republic (along the lines of the brain-drain in other areas of society). Young Slovakians are not only looking for better material conditions, but, above all, for more respect and a better social status for their work.

Of course, it is also necessary to point out the "theatres" contribution to this situation. In Slovakia, the nineteenth century bourgeois, so-called repertory theatre is still being promoted as a dominant theatre model. The whole institutional discourse (theatre system, state financial support, educational system) is organized with a strong dependency on this model of theatre: in this context, fringe theatre is something pushed to the very edge, and becomes the extreme fringe. "Bourgeois" forms of theatre have not been able to maintain contact with a young, progressive audience. Young people are not interested and, in general, think that theatre is something akin to a boring movie.

What can be done? How is it possible to promote fringe theatre, amidst the general decay of theatre in Slovakia? It is necessary to start from the very beginning. A friend of mine, a director, was recently very disappointed by a group of pupils from a school for gifted children. During the production, they were not able to accept any theatrical illusion and constantly explained all so called tricks to their neighbours. Many of them were experiencing their first visit to a theatre. Alternately, I was impressed by the system in Germany whereby groups of young people attend the theatre (Jugendclubs des Theatres). From my socialist childhood I remember very well organized visits at theatres. Although the quality was perhaps not the best, we loved the theatre for various reasons, and not only because we got out of our regular instruction. This program was cut after the change in government. I am convinced that one of the most important motivations for doing theatre today is its clear practical impact. For example, in schools, asylums, hospitals, and refugee camps: On the fringe, the periphery of society. This would strengthen the social dimension of theatre and would show people that theatre could be a positive presence in everyday life.

Anna Gruskova
Theatre Nota bene, Theatre SUD, Theatre Journal Salto

reported: January 2006
by Simona Semenic
All of the independent organizations in Slovenia are financially dependent on the Ministry of Culture and City Councils. The majority of their finances are provided by government and therefore we cannot speak of financial independence. Ministry of Culture and City Councils don't directly interfere in artistic programs and management of independent organizations, consequently their independence is artistic and managerial.

Unfortunately, financial dependence results in managerial and consequently artistic dependence. Slovenian independent organizations don't get enough money to establish a proper infrastructure for their activities. In most cases, artists work as producers, organizers, PR persons etc. Additionally, if independent organizations want to be financed by the Ministry of Culture and City Councils, they have to change (expand) their artistic program in order to comply with the stipulated conditions.

There are two forms of financing-program financing and project financing. Some independent organizations realize programs (several projects within a time period), while others produce only projects. The criteria for financing are: Quality of the program / project, references (realization, awards), international presentation and international cooperation.

If not employed by a public institution, artists can get a special status from the Ministry of Culture: self-employed in cultural work. If artists yearly earnings do not exceed a certain amount (which is 19,113 euros gross for 2004), the Ministry of Culture offers a possibility of financing artist's social security.
Last year there was a change in tax legislation-self-employed artists have to pay more taxes, which results in the greater financial need among independent organizations, and also in the greater financial need among self-employed artists.

In Slovenia, independent institutions can scarcely exist without public institutions. The biggest problem lies in space facilities. In Ljubljana, for example, there are only three small and badly equipped theatre venues, which are supervised by independent institutions. The relationship between the audience and the independent organizations is what enables the existence of an independent theatre praxis.

Last year we entered a new system of three-year funding cycles. This system guarantees cultural NGOs an average amount of finances for a three-year period. The three-year system of financing is not meant for all independent organizations, just for those with a program. The definition of program is very strict and therefore some independent organizations have to increase activities-to receive the same amount of funding. The three-year system also requires long-term planning, increased bureaucracy, etc., which is again one of the methods leading to an institutionalization of the independent sector. Pejoratively speaking about institutionalization, I refer, among other things, to the lack of artistic freedom, lack of liability for new practices, lack of inclination to experiment, lack of responsibility to artistic innovation, lack of interest in interdisciplinary approaches, lack of consideration for diversity of audience, and a lack of consideration of aesthetic diversity..

Independent organizations that have entered a proposed Culture 2000 project are experiencing ever greater success. Slovenia is supposedly one of the most successful countries in receiving financing through European cultural funds. Slovenian applicants are qualified and are not rejected because of bureaucratic error. Independent organizations apply for these funds based on the existential issue of survival rather than conceptual reasons. Local sponsors incorporate new EU supported networking into their policy - EU / international cooperation is advantageous for obtaining financing from the Ministry of Culture.

On the other hand, a smaller NGO involved in the Culture 2000 project must supply a great deal of energy and time to the initiator's project and other partners' projects. Consequently, it cuts its own program. Sometimes cooperation is successful in terms of feedback and follow up projects with individual partners, and sometimes it is not so gratifying if the cooperation is artificial (in cases where the initiator remains anonymous and is merely seeking partnership in one more country). Nevertheless, the impact of international support affects the financial, artistic, and of course organizational sphere of independent organizations.
Financial support helps in solving existential issues, which indirectly affects the artistic and organizational sphere.

There are two artists unions in Slovenia that are significant for the independent sector. First, there is The Association for Contemporary Dance, which was formed in 1994. The Association for Contemporary Dance is an association of dancers. Their main goal is to connect dancers and achieve better conditions in the field of modern dance. Their main activity is education, mostly organizing workshops. They were active in establishing the course '"artistic grammar school-dancing course, modern dance" at the Artistic school in Ljubljana. This course was introduced in Slovenia in the year 1999/2000 for the first time. Currently they are trying to establish an archive for Slovenian contemporary dance.

The Association of non governmental organizations and individual creators in the field of culture and art-Asociacija-was established in 2002 for the purpose of achieving better conditions for NGOs and individual creators. Their fundamental goal is to assure equal rights for artistic and cultural activities as compared with public institutions and general improvement of conditions of culture in society. They stand for modernization of cultural policy, which will stimulate cultural and artistic diversity and create conditions enabling access to different aesthetics.

Asociacija started its battle by gathering information (such as number of projects, spectators, awards etc.) on contemporary art from the years from 1998 to 2002. They compared these data to similar data from public institutions. Results were rather astonishing.

Asociacija exerts constant pressure on the Ministry and the City, which is an absolute necessity at this point. Asociacija insists on placing people from the independent sector in different governmental commissions, which distribute finances to independent organizations. Asociacija is trying to create a partnership with governmental institutions to recruit their assistance in preparing legal documents concerning the independent sector.

Since Asociacija was established, some initiatives have been taken, which resulted, for example, in another performing space (Bunker's Stara Elektrarna). There is still one space (former cinema - Kino Šiška), which is supposed to be renovated and Asociacija is constantly pressuring the Ministry and the City to invest in that space. Beside that Asociacija is trying to find other potential spaces for independent organizations.
Asociacija is also trying to obtain recognition for independent artistic projects and independent artists by the institutions that reward artists and artistic projects.

Slovenian independent institutions present their work throughout the world, whereas, public cultural institutions meanwhile present their work mostly nationally and in the states of former Yugoslavia. Organizations in the independent sector have a certain advantage - they are all internationally oriented. A strong need to present projects internationally and to present foreign projects in Slovenia is highly present in the independent sector. This is, of course, due to the above mentioned principles (artistic freedom, liability for new praxis, inclination to experiment, responsibility to artistic innovation, interest in interdisciplinary approaches, consideration for diversity of audience, consideration for diversity of aesthetics etc.).

I would just like to mention that despite the brutal growth of capitalism, there is no governmental initiative to draw in capitalistic companies as potential sponsors. This could be initiated by tax legislation, which is still not in favor of arts and culture. Income tax relief would most certainly result in better conditions for independent and also public organizations. I think that at the moment, the main needs are organizational, which are, of course, strongly connected with financial needs.

There are not enough producers in Slovenia, independent organizations mostly arise from creative needs; almost all independent organizations are founded and run by artists. All the artistic domains are developing quite normally. Considering the international interest in independent Slovenian organizations, I would say that the Slovenian independent cultural scene does not fall behind the European and North American cultural scenes. Slovenian artists (dancers, performers, choreographers, visual artists, new media artists) are working worldwide and are highly appreciated. The Slovenian independent scene is somewhat the inheritance of the NSK movement in 1980. The Slovenian independent scene affects the public sector. Slovenia is a very small country and the creators of the independent scene thus also create the public scene. The only artistic domain that is not institutionalized is dance. Contemporary dance exists only in the independent sector.

Simona Semenic
dramaturge, author and theatre critic

reported: January 2006
by Lena Gustavson
Fringe theatres are situated in most parts of Sweden, with a high variety in genre, artistic design, continuity, personnel and constitutions. However, a majority are to be found within the area of the three largest cities of Sweden: Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmoe.

The independent theatre companies in Sweden may receive subsidies from three main sources: the Swedish National Council for Culture (working for the government), the County Council and the Local Council. However, these subsidies are far from sufficient to properly support the companies.

To get a rough picture of the situation we have picked some figures from 2003:
This year the Swedish National Council for Culture supported the independent theatre companies with approx. 5.7 million euros. However, this only represented 4 percent of the government's total subsidy for theatres in Sweden (a total of 13 million euros). During the same year, the independent theatre companies gave 6,000 performances for combined audiences of over 600,000 people. The independent companies actually performed for 18 percent of the total audience reported in 2003. A large number of these companies perform theatre for children and young people; they make up to 44 percent of all performances to these audiences.

The figures above are solely relating to independent theatre companies or productions, which are receivers of governmental grants, 60-70 companies and 20-25 productions each year. Other than those, there are a lot of independent theatres that maintain their activities exclusively on local subsidies, co-productions, various combinations of other incomes and/or extensive touring all over the country. Thanks to creative ways of earning an income, many companies are up to 50 percent self sufficient.

For many companies, the possibility to tour has an immediate correspondence to how many months per year they can keep their staff employed. Over the past 5-10 years the public means for programming has constantly decreased. The cuts have also affected financing for children's and young people's theaters, which has resulted in less performances for many of the touring companies.

In 2001 the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs asked for an investigation of the situation of fringe theatre. The result was as bad as those working in the field already knew: The independent theatres are financed far below reasonable proportions to what they are presenting to the public. The society gets a lot of theatre for a very small amount of money.

Despite the circumstances, the opportunity to create one's own work, under one's own authority, and, the ability to choose one's own partners, still provides strong motivation for the independent companies to continue with their work, and for new companies to start.

Teatercentrum is a national non-profit members organization and network for independent theatre in Sweden. Our members are professional theatres, producers and artists working on their own commission, without external political or commercial claims.

Teatercentrum's main activities are:
- cultural politics, to improve the situation for independent theatres, for artistic diversity in the field of theatre, for the necessity of a good infrastructure of presenters to improve the access to theatre for the audience and the income for the theatres.
- sharing experiences on artistic and practical matters concerning theatre-activities, organising various meeting points for artistic development, further education, information, support etc.

Lena Gustavson
Teatercentrum Sweden

reported: January 2006
There is not one fringe theatre scene in Switzerland-there are about 10 different fringe scenes by Hans Läubli and Jost Nyffeler
First of all, there are great differences between the French, Italian, and German speaking parts of Switzer-land. They more or less work separately. So when I'm talking about the fringe scene(s) in Switzerland I'm referring to the Swiss German speaking part, which is the biggest one.

How many theatre people work in the fringe scenes? It's very hard to tell. It also depends on the definition. Who belongs to it? In the last decade, more and more actors and directors moved from the fringe scene to the institutional theatre and vice versa: There is no longer a strict borderline.

The Swiss fringe theatre developed a great diversity in the 1980s and early 1990s. A lot of groups existed as a counterpart to the highly subsidized municipal theatres. A special awareness for collective work and a highly political background was an important feature.

The New Capitalism of the 1990s, which affected cultural work to a high degree, forced a lot of groups to change their structures and their way of working. Continuous ensemble work became more and more difficult. As a result, fringe theatre tended to become a scene of individuals who worked in different groups and projects.

The fringe theatre scenes are located in the bigger cities of Switzerland where there are theatres, or rooms to be discovered and a certain public support. There are special fringe theatres for touring groups or producing groups in Zürich (Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Rote Fabrik), Basel (Kaserne, Roxy), Bern (Schlachthaus Theater), Luzern (Boa), Aarau (Theater Tuchlaube). And there are still a lot of small theatres in many communities all over Switzerland for productions with a small cast (1-3 persons), also showing a great variety of genres such as cabaret, pantomime, clowning, musical theatre, variété etc.

There is under a great deal of pressure everywhere. The municipal theatres reduced their ensembles to save money. As a result, a lot of young actors who formerly went to the institutional theatres are now starting in the fringe scene with their own projects. Actors with many years of experience in the institutional theatre also tend to switch to the fringe scene. The money for the scene of course hasn't increased.

The identity of the fringe scene has become scattered because the municipal theatres took over a lot of things which were first initiated by the fringe theatre: opening new rooms, discovering alternative places like old factories, projects integrating other art forms, getting closer to the audience, introducing new, provocative plays, projects and playwrights.

The fringe scene, however, is still very flexible, innovative and new groups are still appearing. The possibilities for fringe theatre groups to tour have increased in the last years. This is, of course, an important advantage compared with the institutional theatre. But depending on the city or town, the possibilities to realize a theatre project differ greatly. Zürich as the economic center of Switzerland, has the biggest fringe theatre scene. This works like a magnet for young people and new groups.

Financing a production mostly starts out with a request for subsidies from the city and the canton. When this is granted, there are private institutions and foundations that can be addressed. But the amount that can be raised differs greatly from city to city. The social security for fringe theatre workers is very low. The struggle to survive is hard. The problem will become more evident when people get older.

Switzerland is notorious for its many organizations for everything and everybody. So within this tradition there exist organizations for every branch of the fringe theatre:
- ASTEJ - young people and children's theatre
- KTV - organizing the interchange of (small) theatres and (small) productions
- UNIMA Suisse - figure and puppet theatre
- VTS - producing fringe theatre people

Touring has become more and more important in the past few years. It works with only a few groups nationally and internationally. But it could, and it still has to be improved. And of course Switzerland has a problem in the cultural exchange because we're not part of the EU.

Hans Läubli and Jost Nyffeler
VTS - Vereinigung Theaterschaffender der Schweiz/ Association of Independent Theater in Switzerland

reported: January 2006
Being an artist in Turkey by Ilkay Sevgi
There are art institutions in Turkey affiliated to state and municipalities as well as private art institutions. Especially after 1990s and particularly during 2000s, many theatre groups have been established in private area. Although there is an enormous number of theatre groups, and alternative theatre artists in Turkey, in these days, conditions seem difficult for them.

The theather culture in Turkey is in fact rich and well developed. For thousands of years, interactive theaters (with traditional theater actors called meddah), puppet theaters (with famous shadow puppet theater figure, karagoz and hacivat) have been presenting their plays generally in terms of street performances. From now on, theater has became a part of everyday life, and this tradition and interest still continues. Following Republican period after 1923, theater, and in general, the performing arts became more of a symbol of modernity and culture; state theaters, ballets and operas have been established, which provided high-quality education to bring up many honorable artists.
Turkey has been having close relations with big countries and close neighbours in Europe at state level and in artistic sphere since 19th and 20th century. Turkey has been the bridge between Europe and Asia, following art of Europe in close manner, giving inspire to west and also apply artistic inventions and developments in fast and continues manner. In this aspect Turkey has always supported western traditions on value production and self confidence of Europe.

At 1990s, there were many international art projects; cooperations, partnerships, education programs, platforms and festivals in the big cities of Turkey. Since these years, Turkish artists have free circulation all over the world. In the meantime, many private establishments have also been formed, but most of them construct their own budget and try to cope with high space rentals and taxes (no tax deductions for artistic work). Despite the high interest towards performing arts in terms of audience and the number and educational level of performers, economic conditions created an obstacle both for state and private establishments. And today, political conditions also seem to be getting harder.

Last general elections in Turkey gave strength to the leading party AKP. Although the party is able to attain political stability and the required peace of Turkey in the region, it is a conservative party with outdated attitude on artistic issues based on their free market economy approach towards arts. It has also old fashions of approach about women's social rights to be independent and free.

When art is viewed as a commercial product, it would only be a show rather than art. Art has an internal development and growing progress which consists of an idea of complete challenge; but, different from other institutions searching for change, art would achieve it with a consent emerging from awareness. This awareness arises of a healthy thought derived from the harmony with the nature and other beings.

There is now a fast work on pulling down theatre buildings and subvert theatre plays. Every people has a right to view artistic plays in a specific center which is historical structure. With an attempt to construct huge constructions for shopping and allocate one hall for theatre plays; AKM - Ataturk Cultural Center, which is the biggest theatre and opera hall is about to be pulled down. Muhsin Ertugrul stage is also a very important stage and it took its name from first Theatre establisher in Turkey
There is a limited support given by State to private theatres. By the way, it is important for privates theatres to reach more people. New stages have been established however the places far from city centers have been prefered.

Despite these, everyday number of plays, dance theatres and number of newly emerging artists are increasing. Thus, conflicting the bad conditions blow artistic feeling and creativity.

Dance, on the other hand, has been a neglected area even before AKP. For many years, Modern Dance Assemble (MDT) which works under state opera and ballet, has been the only group which could find venues to stage plays and organise international performances, platforms and activities in the country and world wide. There are modern dance departments under universities. Private studios, centers and private stages are other fascilities for making contemporary dance. There is a need of more stage plays, international work, and foreign artists coming for making performances to promote contemporary dance and performing arts in Turkey.

Despite the practices of current government, conditions for art is beneficial in Turkey. People demonstrate a huge interest towards arts.
There are also many public and private institutions supporting art performances and festivals such as municipalities, public and private universities, Cultural Centers, and media. Day by day new theatres and groups and also big stages having been established. Theatre festivals meet big crowds of audiences inspite of, often, very expensive tickets. Rather than dance, theatre is more organised but there is not a generally accepted authority or a civil unification which helps them to act together.


Examples of Independent art groups

We have asked some theatre groups about their conditions for making art.

Tiyatro Açikca explained that they carry out their presentation and production themselves. They admit it requires a lot of work. They have an atelier which has been established by artists themselves. They write and print their study documents and use internet for the promotion of plays.
Kadikoy municipality is the venue sponsor for theatre Açikca.

Alternative Theatre realised their plays in natural atmosphere, in villages and farms. They travel around Anatolia and they said that they are satisfied with people's interest. Nedim Bugral explains he gets support sometimes from civil society institutions and Bursa Municipality.

Lila Dusler Theatre make children plays. In fact, there is intensive interest for children plays in Turkey. Lila Dusler works with a professional team and meet with children by qualified, newly written, and joyful plays.

Tiyatro Alkis is another theatre making plays for children. They are working coordination with Istanbul Municipality and some public institutions.

Tiyatro Karsi Kiyi is a young theatre group led by a director who is their Literature teacher from high school. They have been working over ten years and work with young actors that are about to finish university. They staged several plays at national and international festivals and they got some awards. They get support from municipality and some civil institutions.

Anatolia Street theatre makes theatre on streets with support of municipalities. They make their big costumes and decors by themselves. Some private organisations give support to them.


Tugce Tuna has been working as a choreographer, performer. She staged many choreographies. She worked with enabled people in a dance project named "Dance of Different Bodies". She completed her doctorate degree at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Department of Performing Arts, Istanbul, with a thesis entitled "Relationship of Body and Space" (2003) along with the accompanying project "Vertigo" (2002). She teaches dance composition, improvisation, repertoire, contemporary technique at the same institution since 1996. She gets interest of media in her every project and she also dances with her students in her choreography named "Phronemophobia''.

Çiplak Ayaklar Kumpanyasi is a project based group and among the first real modern dance groups established independently. They staged national and international environment, contributed to festivals and produce experimental work. A part of their manifesto you find in the following:
"Çiplak Ayaklar Kumpanyasi prefers to be the broken string of the instrument rather than the player. It is open to any kind of dream. It is against all forms of violence. It might be useful for thinking, discussing, and talking. It does not have to be kept beyond the reach of children".
They get support from universities, cultural centers and municipalities as well as private groups such as Dans bulusma dance studio.

Çati Dance Studio is an independent dance studio established by Mustafa Kaplan. There are open lessons and activities in Çat? as well as dance projects. Artists cooperate and act together. International projects and partnerships are realised.

Sinan Temizalp works on body training. He develops his own technique called 'Meditative Dance'. Since 2002 he performed in open stage and plays. He developed a meditative dance style which is at surface, middle level and on air. He is choreographer and in festivals he staged "Unifying the Whole", "Superego", "Meditative Movement" and "Balance of Change". He is now working on the plays "Nightmare" and "Zero Point". He is classical ballet educated in state conservatoire, then he move on contemporary dance techniques and finally meditative dance. Following his education in the field of Classical Ballet at State School of Arts, Sinan Temizalp received training in many other contemporary dance techniques such as limon, alexander, risk, horton and high and low flying. His interest in the Eastern techniques on body as well as breathing techniques, his body's enormous flexibility made him combine elements of east techniques with the discipline of ballet. He is a choreographer of dance theatre Zigurrat Dance Company. He works independently but many reserchers, photographers, musicians, dancers and press have contributed to his work.
Sinan Temizalp's Project - Meditative Dance is the synthesis of east and west techniques. It is an independent art project that took place till 2000. It could reach thousands of people by seminars (on how to use body in daily life in a healthy way and how to get true habituates for movement), activities, stage and open air performances, lessons and workshops. Continuing project could be possible with the support of media. Conclusion of written work and researches and also photography work with famous photographers, we find chance to take place in eligible newspapers, magazines, television channels and internet sources. Artistic work through dance techniques and also body training disciplines depend on ancient greek and far east to people of different occupations. In 2004 we opened our dance studio Simya Movement Atelier.

Undernine Dance Project
Undernine dance & movement Project, has been well known through Ilyas Odman's choreographies which are fundemantally different from usual modern dance pieces by their production methods and their approach to human body. The main concept of all this pieces is "movement as poetry".Therefore, he looks in contemporary literature, poetry and philosophy for the core of his performences. The pieces of Odman has been performed in several places in Turkey and also on stages Antwerpen, Ghent, Brussel ( Belgium ), Skopje ( Macedonia ), Faro, Lisbon (Portugal ), Bra, Torino, Bologna, Catania ( Italy ). He has won the summer studio scholarship from P.A.R.T.S 2006 ( Belgium ). His last piece "Glassmen" has been one of the most succesful contemporary dance pieces of Turkey for the 2007 - 2008 season and has attracted favourable criticisms from Dance Europe Magazine and Il Suggeritore.


Istanbul is an inspiring and historical city. Across the country, there are thousands of archeological sites, historical places and ancient cities, as well as magnificent scenic spots and natural wonders. Istanbul hosts festivals and inspite of the time, the existence of art in the city is constant.

Ilkay Sevgi
meditative dance, Istanbul -

reported: April 2008
The short story of Turkey's autonomous theatre movement by Nihal G. Koldas
As in many countries, theatre in Turkey followed a divided path in the past. During the Ottoman Empire, there were vivid, musical performances during the festivities in the capital. Traditional dramatic games in the rural regions originated from rituals and myths. The shadow play-Karagöz-dates back to 16th century. It emerged as satirical opposition to the Empire's capital. At the beginning of the 20th century, Western theatre showed up on the scene in the form of independent Levantine companies. During the Republic period, the conservatories, and State and municipal theatres were founded and funded by the government.

The independent companies (or autonomous theatres as Dragan Klaic prefers to call them) still remained: mainly as vaudevilles or operettas. Only during the 1960s and 1970s (After the military coup in1960) did a group of independent theatre companies flourish, which today we may consider as the antecedents of the so-called fringe(or autonomous) theatre. Originating as university theatre clubs, these groups brought onto the stage, their ideological point of views, new ways of addressing the audience practiced by actors and directors, and new playwrights who dealt with social and political issues.

Between 1960 and 1980, Turkey was a haven for autonomous theatre companies. Although there was no funding from the government, they could survive solely from their audiences. The municipal theatres were also influenced by this movement. Some directors and designers worked on avant-garde productions, experimenting with theatrical space-audience relationships, working on contemporary adaptations of the classics, and taking theatre onto the streets. They had a great impact on the politicized society. They were experimenting with new styles. Following the 1980 military coup, the lively theatre scene came to an end. There was a deep silence in the country for a few years.

Starting with the second half of the 1980s, Theatre people who were expelled from the municipal and State theatres came together and founded one of the first private art schools in the country. Bilsak Theatre workshop was the first independent theatre school. I was one of the first to attend the acting school led by all the renowned theatre people in Turkey. It was the first initiative to get back the ground which had been lost after the coup. They were trying to set the independent theatre on its feet again. The training opened up a completely new way of looking at theatre, as did the productions. I was one of the founders of the company Bilsak after the acting school closed down in 1987. Small scale productions by the group had more impact on the theatre world of Istanbul than had been previously anticipated. More and more groups have emerged, one after the other, working in small spaces such as apartment houses, clubs, and basements of old buildings during the 1990s. All were confident enough to experiment with all the tools of the art. There were almost no subsidies from the government. (And there still is little or none for these groups!). Yet the members of the groups worked in other jobs to finance their theatre (and still do).

All through the 1990s and in the first years of 2000, this movement was growing and expanding but inversely became less influential than it was in the beginning. Not only in Istanbul, but in many regions in Turkey, young people's tendency to go into arts is increasing. A growing number of NGO's use art as a social tool in the deprived regions of Turkey. So young people, especially, are now introduced to art at an early age. The desire to make theatre begins at school. Almost every secondary school and university has a theatre club. These clubs turn into small amateur groups afterwards. Some become professional. But ironically, as the number of practitioners increases, the audience they can reach decreases since the lack of visibility becomes a major barrier, especially in metropolises like Istanbul.

Theatre makers are working other jobs to earn their living, so they can make theatre in their spare time. Today, none of the theatre companies (including commercial companies) can survive without funding, except for a few TV stars who also occasionally do theatre. They also need a lot of promotion and publicity. Although there is a great interest within society for all kinds of artistic activity, the State undermines this movement as always. The State, especially after 1950, when the liberal parties took control of political authority, has showed little interest in the country's educational and cultural life (this is clear from the State budget where only a very small amount is dispensed to educational and cultural activities).

The Ministry of Culture financially supports independent companies with a very limited sum (last year it was about 500,000 euros to be divided among 80 companies. A considerable portion of this money goes to the well-known commercial companies rather than young experimental groups and avant-garde projects.) Although the circumstances are difficult in all ways, an increasing number of groups and performance artists emerge every year. However, because the working and living conditions (also the performing conditions) are so limited, in my opinion, development is slow and problematic. The sponsors and the government subsidies usually go to popular stars or established companies. There are, however, some optimists who remain idealistic and try to create small-scale self-funded art spaces. They have to earn their living elsewhere to support these spaces. Nonetheless, there is still hope for the future ...

Nihal G. Koldas
Maya Performance Center, Istanbul -

reported: January 2006
Huge cuts in 2011

“I suppose in essence what I am trying to say is that although the UK theatre ecology has some very clear bastions of ‘high culture’,
the fringe/Off theatre maker can influence or change that ecology
by sheer force of vision.”

In 2011 the Arts Council of Great Britain removed its funding from over 200 arts organisations. The reductions, imposed by central government cuts,represented a 15% drop in support which in many cases coupled with the loss of local authority match-funding resulted in the closure of companies like Shared Experience, which had become part of theatrical landscape over the past twenty five years.

Yet within these cuts were clear indications of the form of work which the Arts Council wished to maintain and develop within its portfolio in the future. Punchdrunk, whose immersive theatre performances take place in ‘found’ spaces received a 141% increase in funding, and both the High Tide Festival which focuses on new writing, and the Fierce Festivala live art festival in Birmingham were also given increases in funding.

So, although the cuts were extremely damaging to the theatrical ecology, the repositioning of funds also provided opportunities within the sector for certain brands of work to develop. Over the past three years is has been evident that what might have been considered the in a European context the ‘Off’ producers (what the British refer to as the Fringe) has been embraced more firmly by the establishment.

Indeed it is entirely possible that the distinction between these two genres has become meaningless since collaborative projects between micro-producers and major organisations such as the National Theatre or the RSC have become more and more a part of the UK theatre’s ‘grund-norm’. The mainstream theatre and the Off-Network within the UK has always had a fluid, sometimes even symbiotic, relationship but increasingly regional producing theatres are actively trying to foster relationships with creative and innovative Independents (see link below to article in The Guardian).
Theatre buildings themselves whilst maintaining their significance in the commercial arena are becoming less and less of interest to funders within the subsidised sector.

The past few years has seen the closure of a number of regional repertory companies, and at the same time the expansion of large-scale free outdoor performances. The apotheosis of this model could be seen during the 2012 Olympic Games in Danny Boyle’s historical mash-up opening ceremony.
In my own region, the South West of England, festivals like Inside Out which describes itself as “a high profile, non-metropolitan model promoting site-responsive contemporary performances in dispersed heritage locations” has commissioned work from independent theatre companies/makers both within the UK and externally.
The festival, supported through Activate Performing Arts, has engaged with over 60,000 visitors by crossing over audience boundaries and by presenting its work for free outside. The ideas behind this form of performance in Britain were originally brought into the UK by companies such as Welfare State International, but in recent years they have been strongly influenced by work drawn from the French Creation Centres.
The arrival of Royal de Luxe’s Sultan’s Elephant in London in 2006 was a key moment which helped to define an approach that the Arts Council has used in some respects to deliver on its promise to provide “Great art and culture for everyone” as it promised in its strategic document first published in 2010 and revised in 2013. French companies have been popular outside London and EU initiatives like the Inter-Reg funding instrument have provided opportunities for collaboration in the fields of street-art/new circus through consortia like Zepa and Zepa2.
Generik Vapeur presented their touring show featuring a giant man made of shipping containers Waterlitz in collaboration with the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton through Zepa last year, while the PASS Emerge project brought Cirques Jules Verne to Great Yarmouth’s new Out Theatre International Festival of Street Arts and Circus.
Over the past five years a much broader network of performance festivals has been developing across the UK than was previously available. The Arts by the Sea Festival in Bournemouth, sponsored by the Arts University, has developed significantly since it began four years ago and is now a major regional cultural event joining more established events such as the Winchester Hat Fair or Brighton Fringe.

Whilst I began this report by mentioning Arts Council cuts in funding I will conclude by drawing your attention to an announcement made on the 16th of April 2014, by the UK Secretary of State for Culture Sajid Javid and the Arts Council England Chair Sir Peter Bazalgette, that a new £18 million fund would be set up to help promote the best of English arts and culture to overseas countries.
Not terribly interesting to me as an EU-based producer you might think, until you read the rest of the pronouncement which ends with the sentence: “and to encourage opportunities for collaboration and cultural exchange.”

A final thought. One of the most successful and talked about pieces of theatre in London in recent years, aside from the The Drowned Man based on Buchner’s Woyzeck and performed by the aforementioned Punchdrunk Theatre Company, is a production called You me, the bum bum train. The company who produce the show specifically request that anybody who wants to see it does not do any research into it as it works best if you know nothing about it. I can only tell you that it turns theatre on its head and makes you rethink completely what the actor/audience relationship is, can or should be. It is a show which is quintessentially Off Theatre, as it could never be exploited commercially.
I suppose in essence what I am trying to say is that although the UK theatre ecology has some very clear bastions of ‘high culture’, the fringe/Off theatre maker can influence or change that ecology by sheer force of vision. It is interesting that the National Theatre of Scotland neither has, nor wants its own theatre building. The first director of the company Vicky Featherstone borrowed from the itinerant, flexible, precarious fringe model and simply produced work where it was most appropriate. It is to be hoped that the future of theatre in the UK remains broad and open to re-definition in the future as it has been in the past.


Activate Performing Arts
Arts Development Organisation. Close association with the Inside Out Festival.

Arts by the Sea
Performance and visual arts festival Bournemouth.

Arts Council International Fund Announcement
Article announcing £18,000,000 investment in exporting culture.

The Hat Fair Festival
Oldest street theatre festival in UK. Winchester, Hampshire.

Brighton Festival
Largest International fringe festival in South East England.

Guardian – International Collaboration
Article by former director of Mercury Theatre Colchester, Dee Evans, on the value of International co-operation for UK regional theatres.

Inside Out Festival Dorset
Large scale outdoor festival featuring International artists.

Out There Festival Great Yarmouth
Street theatre and circus festival featuring some International work in the East of England.

Experimental theatre company.

Sea Change – Arts Development
Arts development organisation working with Out There Festival.

Visiting Arts
Visiting Arts promotes the flow of international arts into the UK and develops related cultural links abroad to help build cultural awareness and positive cultural relations. The organization awards funding and provides support for projects.

You Me the Bum Bum Train
Genre busting, description defying performance.

Zepa 2 European Zone of Artistic Projects.
Anglo-French consortium developing circus and street theatre performance projects in UK and France.

Sean Aita: Associate Professor -Theatre.
The Arts University Bournemouth
United Kingdom
by Sean Aita
There is a certain irony in the fact that in the twelve months since I posted a fundamentally positive report into conditions within the funding system and an overview of the cultrual opportunities for independent theatre companies in the United Kingdom, conditions have changed radically due to the advent of the Olympics in 2010.

As I write this it has been agreed by the government that £675 million pounds of funding will be diverted from the arts in order to pay for the Olympics. From Sunday April 1st 2007 nearly 35% of the primary source of lottery funding for independent arts organisations, the Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts scheme, will be cut. This means that instead of the £83 million budgeted in this financial year only £54 million will be awarded in the next. The DCMS (Department for Culture Media and Sport) and the Arts Council are awaiting the forthcoming Government spending review and despite Tony Blair’s assurances that the arts will not face the “boom and bust” funding cycles they had previously endured there is little belief in the arts community that the news will be good.

The impact on the Grant for the Arts budget will affect smaller companies the most, as the larger Regularly funded organisations (RFO’s) had special conditions applied to them, restricting their ability to apply for support from the fund.The smaller independent and fringe companies, or individual artists, who were the main beneficiaries of the scheme, rely heavily on project funding, to maintain and develop their programme of work. In 2007/08 and indeed in the financial years leading up to the games they will need to look elsewhere for support. Naturally this is likely to cause a “knock-on” effect which will mean keener competition for the funds of other trusts and foundations which support the arts.

It may be that a small percentage of the sums diverted for the Olympics will return to arts organisations to deliver the “cultural component” of the Olympiad, but those companies who are chosen, are likely to be based in London and are unlikely to be most in need of help.

Sean Aita
Forest Forge Theatre Company

reported: April 2008
by Sean Aita
In the UK overall responsibility for Arts and Culture rests with the DCMS (Department for culture, media and sport) which is responsible for the government policy on the arts, sport, the national lottery, tourism, libraries, museums and galleries, broadcasting, film, the music industry, press freedom and regulation, licensing, gambling and the historic environment. They are also responsible for the listing of historic buildings and scheduling of ancient monuments, the export licensing of cultural goods, the management of the Government Art Collection and for the Royal Parks Agency - an almost absurdly mixed brief overseen by Minister of Culture Tessa Jowell.

The DCMS provides funding for the Arts Councils (one for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) which describe themselves as "the national development agencies for the arts - distributing public money from government and the national lottery". The Arts Councils are responsible for providing funds for the large state theatres and for the Independent sector, and although a high proportion of funding is taken up in supporting an infrastructure of regional repertory theatres, since the arrival of lottery funding there has been an increase in support for independent and alternative arts. The UK has a thriving fringe and alternative theatre scene with a complex layer of "revenue funded", "project funded" and "un-funded" companies, organizations and venues. With regard to revenue funding (continuous full or partial funding of an organization - at a minimum of 30,000 euros per year ) in the South East region alone there are over 100 companies being funded in this way, from companies like Shiva Nova, a collaborative new music performance group to organizations like SEETA, the development agency for small and middle scale venues in the region and production and commissioning centres like Third Space, which provides co-production facilities and finance for companies interested in rural touring. The best funded of the independent groups in this selection is given over 300,000 euros a year (compare this with one of the regional state theatres - The Nuffield Southampton which is given 700,000 annually and you can see that the level of funding for independent work is good).

The Arts Council also oversees the National Lottery Grants for the Arts funding stream. This money is not available to regularly funded organizations and independent artists, either companies or individuals are allowed to apply for sums from a few hundred euros to hundreds of thousands of euros over multiple years (usually up to three). If you wish to apply for under 6,000 euros then they will give a decision in under five weeks. The lottery has also contributed to the construction and repair of a great number of theatre spaces and galleries, from the Tate Modern in London, The Lowry Centre in Salford and the Baltic in Gateshead as well as hundreds of smaller projects throughout the country. It has also been instrumental in brokering closer relationships between the arts "establishment" and independent or emerging companies, particularly those led by people from ethnic minority backgrounds - It has recently completed a two year programme of development for independent Black and Asian theatre in the UK called "Decibel".

There is a strange anomaly in the work of the Independent theatre in Britain in that outside London fringe groups are paid to perform their shows - there is a network of arts centres through which new and challenging work can be disseminated, and unknown companies can at least expect a box office split rather than a hire fee even if they are not given a financial guarantee - However; in the capital there are a number of venues which have a high profile but do not pay actors and charge extortionate rates to independent groups wishing to hire them - In spite of the fact that they often have low audience numbers for productions - This is often an exploitative relationship and relies on the companies' desire for recognition.

The ITC, the representative body for Independent companies, is a well established and strong organization, able to negotiate specific contracts with the actors union, Equity and providing examples of best practice in management through its training schemes - Companies wishing to join have to subscribe to existing agreements on working practices and wages ensuring that conditions for performers and administrators are suitable and fair.

In conclusion, I think there is much that is positive within the sector, though there are of course many areas that could be improved upon.

Sean Aita
Forest Forge Theatre Company

reported: January 2006
Professional independent performing arts - financially still on the fringe by Barbara Stüwe-Eßl
We estimate that approximately 300 to 400 professional, independent theatre and dance groups work in Austria. A turning point for fringe theatre came in 1989: Robert Harauer published the study "Zur sozialen Lage der freien Theaterschaffenden" (study on the social welfare situation of independent artists), which provided evidence of the lack of adequate social welfare and poor economic situation of Austrian independent performing artists; basing their argumentation on this study, artists have been able to convince the Minister of Cultural Affairs to finance the founding of IGFT - The Austrian Association of Independent Theatre and to initiate the project "IG-NET," which provides financial aid to independent performing artists to cover the costs of social security contributions. IG-NET is currently financed by the Arts Division of the Federal Chancellery and is administered by the IGFT. IG-NET provides approximately 280 000 euros annually to support performing artists.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, some fringe groups were able to start their own venues, or own working structures and the scene as a whole expanded with a very broad diversity of artistic approaches. In recent years, financial circumstances have deteriorated (living and working costs have generally gone up and the necessary financial means to market fringe theatre work is still missing). The struggle to make a living as an artist continues to intensify. Artists who have produced enthusiastically for 10, 15, or more years are now confronted with inadequate social security.

In 2001, KSVF initiated a fund to provide artists with social insurance. To the great disappointment of the many initiators (of course IGFT also did a lot for the development and implementation of this law and the correlating subsidies for artists), this fund now only subsidizes the regular social insurance payments (up to a certain amount). Artists with a very low income from their artistic endeavors have no access to this fund, although they would need it most; thus, there are still artists who cannot afford social insurance. This leads to the next political field in which the IGFT will invest a great deal of energy in upcoming years: the precariousness of work. International networking has already begun with "euromayday." As a member of the "Kulturrat Austria," the IGFT was able to create a video "Precariat ... so that the people can hear our voice" (available for viewing at

In Austria, fringe groups have limited opportunities to tour. Fringe venues that also show performance art often do not have a large enough budget or political support to risk non-event programming that does not boost spectator quotas. Many productions are on stage for very short periods. There are no real agencies in Austria in this field, so artists have an additional managerial job acting as their own agents, added to the many other things they already have to do, such as creating and promoting their work. Fringe groups in the field of children's theatre have already built up their own touring system, going to schools and other suitable venues. They show a very high degree of mobility, supplying children with quality art in even the smallest villages.

The budget situation of fringe theatre varies greatly among Austria's nine provinces and is dependent on how long an artist has been working (it was possible to obtain better conditions several years ago). Fringe groups' access to federal subsidies is contingent on state funding.

In 2003, the Republic of Austria dedicated 24.8 percent (173.3 million euros) of its arts budget (733.1 million euros-0.65 percent of Austria's total federal expenditures) into the sectors: music-theatre, theatre, and dance. Of these funds, 77.3 percent (134 million euros) went to the Bundestheatre-Holding (Burgtheatre, Vienna State Opera, Volksoper Vienna). Federal state and municipal theatres got 12.4 percent (21.5 million euros) of the funding. Twelve "big" and "midsize" theatres received grants from the Arts Division of the Federal Chancellery: 14.8 million euros (three theatres shared more than 60 percent of this amount). Eighty-six "small" theatres and independent artists share 2.1 million euros from the same source. The grants for independent theatre increased until 1997 and have decreased or stagnated since then. Grants in Austria's provinces vary greatly and correspondingly, the number of independent performing groups/artists varies.

In Burgenland, two groups are working with very small budgets (about 8,000 to 35,000 euros per production).
Kärnten (Carinthia): In 1998, professional fringe groups were granted 230,000 euros, in 2000, only 16,500 euros. Most artists left and went to work in Vienna-some do productions in Carinthia in the summer.
In Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), the host of the EUROPEAN OFF NETWORK, cultural policy seems focused on events, summer theatre, and festivals. By contributing to regional festivals, independent performers can benefit from this strategy. Four independent performing artists and groups were able to create their own venues.
In Oberösterreich (Upper Austria), one independent group-Phönix theatre-has been successful in transforming into a well-funded theatre. There are only minimal grants for independent artists although they have gradually increased in recent years. Yet only few groups produce. Structural supports have been initiated: a technical-pool (database, which offers user-friendly and efficient exchange of technical equipment, stage sets, and costumes) and plans for venues and rehearsal-rooms for independent artists.
Salzburg provides an annual budget of 264,560 million euros for fringe theatre. Most production grants range from 1,000 to 7,000 euros. International acknowledged dance groups receive about 11,000 euros annually from the province of Salzburg. The city of Salzburg gives grants for productions and annual funds, but the budget for fringe groups is small and is getting smaller. A small budget dedicated to touring has been set up.
In Steiermark (Styria) there is a regional association of independent artists "Das Andere Theater" It has been able to create a monthly poster with production-dates, open rehearsal rooms and recently opened its own venue for independent artists: "Kristallwerk." Graz and Steiermark have to recover financially from having been European Cultural Capital 2003, as this major event drained financial resources. About 27 fringe groups work in Styria and receive grants in the sum of 600,000 euros from Graz and 700,000 euros from Styria.
Tirol is probably the province with the most amateur theatre groups in Austria, they get grants for costumes, stages, lighting systems etc., but not for their work. The same principal in funding was the measure for professional performing artists. This strategy is changing only reluctantly. Grants for fringe groups are around 75,000 euros, there are also very low annual grants of 2,300 euros, production grants are between 1,090 to 10,500 euros.
Vorarlberg has about 15 independent performing groups with a very wide spectrum. Funding by the province of Vorarlberg has increased continuously during the last years from 300,000 euros in 1998 to 540,000 euros in 2004. The artists receive project grants (500 to 3,000 euros) and annual grants (8,000 to 161,000 euros).
Wien (Vienna) as city and federal province is the most generous supporter of fringe performing arts in Austria: 5.6 million euros in grants (10 percent of the total budget) was dedicated to fringe artists in 2001. Still, this money is not enough for appropriate funding of the broad variety of fringe theatre and dance in Vienna. Currently most Viennese theatres as well as independent artists are confronted with an ongoing reform. The reform had the cultural-political scope to reform fringe theatres. Fortunately the reform is now aimed at most of Viennese theatres. The general intention is to fund less independent artists with higher grants to produce "higher quality" in a financially and structurally improved environment. This means that fewer groups will get more money (in 2001, Vienna granted 199 professional fringe projects, annual grants and three-year-grants, 42 percent of the projects got funding up to 3,634 euros). Starting with September 2005, independent performing artists have access to two different systems of funding:
1. Production-grants (also for production concepts up to two years) with a total budget of 4 million euros. Within the production-grant pool, extra funds are dedicated to the promotion of young dance and performance artists, the field of theory, inter- and multicultural theatre and productions for children and youths.
2. Concept-grants with four-year-contracts. Within the concept grants, 14 fringe groups are funded.

Fringe theatre still means having a great amount of artistic independence - the main reason for a lot of artists to work exclusively in this field.

Barbara Stüwe-Eßl
Interessengemeinschaft Freie Theaterarbeit - IGFT/ Austrian Association of Independent Theatre

reported: January 2006
© 2008 IG Freie Theaterarbeit · Impressum