With a backpack, a pair of hiking boots, and well-worn passport, theatremaker Jack Paterson set out to explore theatre practices across the world. Part travelogue and part interviews series, we meet with international producers, artists, and creators exploring their creative process and their projects.
With numerous successes as a producer, director, and dramaturg, my work is rooted in ensemble creation and the actor/artist creator. I have found myself chaffing against the result-oriented necessities of the Canadian production models and the ripple effects it has across training programs and practice. With Flausen, I had discovered a process-based platform dedicated to the creation of new forms and practices. As an artist, the idea of a process-driven residency with no required final project was enormously exciting. Perhaps this could be recreated in Greater Vancouver for local and national artists.
I was in Munich for personal reasons in December, so I packed a backpack and booked an overnight Flixbus (Germany’s Megabus) to Oldenburg, determined to meet Winfried Wrede and learn more about the platform.
Getting off the bus at dawn, I found Theatre Wrede +’s venue near the bus depot, just past the most enormous bicycle parking lot I had ever seen. I was greeted with fresh coffee, a shower (essential after the bus ride), a tour of the venue, and a show: sching schang – hui, an absolutely lovely meditation on curiosity for two- to six-year-olds featuring Winfried, who is a musician as well as a producer, director, and actor, and dancer Marco Jodes. It could have been residual from the overnight transit, but I found myself tearing up as Marco danced with a feather, just seeing what he could do. Winfried later said, “The children see me as just a silly old man. Not a performer—I am like them,” with a huge smile.
Winfried Wrede is the founding artistic director of Theater Wrede + and has worked as a director, writer, actor, and composer across Europe, South America, Canada, New Zealand, and Asia. Established in 1985, Theater Wrede + is known for its innovative creations with programming for the very young to the very old and everyone in between.
As Winfried was performing in a second matinee, I went to explore the Lambeti Markt, Oldenberg’s famous Christmas market. Later in December the importance of going to Christmas markets would take on a greater meaning. For now it was about trying curried mushrooms, checking out the wooden Christmas crafts, and watching children ride small ponies in the rain. I thought it was little too early for mulled wine, but many locals on an early lunch break clearly disagreed with me.
Winfried and I spent the rest of the day over beer and grünkohl, a kale and sausage comfort food, and he described the platform. Translated to English, flausen means fantastical or crazy idea. It is a four- to five-week residency dedicated to experimentation open to artists of all disciplines. It is intended to be a focused, research-based incubator to develop new ideas, forms, and facilitate new voices through risk. A selected ensemble is housed together, and are provided twenty-four hour access to working space and equipment, mentorship, a small budget, and stipends.
With a mandate of Fail, Fail Better, and Fail Harder, the residency is entirely process-based where the final public presentation is an examination, discussion, and exploration of the discoveries of process rather than a result-oriented performance.
“I tried to think of what I needed when I was a young artist,” Winfried said between sips of beer. He continued:
Theatre is and was at all times about understanding and to debate the world around us. Our world is changing so fast technologically, and so are human perspectives. It’s becoming more and more important for artists to get flausen in the head—it means to go a bit crazy, it means to take a personal risk and look for new ways to reach out.
In economics, we found out, new ideas can only be found in a sheltered free space without economic pressure. So we created a research stipendium for young artists that’s open to all ages: directors, actors, stage designers, and and and... They need a risky idea, what they want to research, it can be a theme or aesthetic research, or technical research.
By engaging funders, peers, and the public in the ensemble selection process and discussion practices, Theatre Wrede + is successfully communicating the needs of and the need for process driven work beyond artists in the rehearsal hall. From over 200 submissions, ensembles are selected on:
1. How big is the risk to the ensemble?
2. What will the process mean to the artists?
3. Does this allow flausen things to happen?
“At the end of the residency, they take the public on their research journey,” Winfried said. “It is their first meeting of many with their future audience. The audience loves it—they get a peep at how artists create, and they give spontaneously back.”
After seven years of Flausen, Theatre Wrede + is collaborating on residencies at theatres across Germany and is reaching out to the rest of Europe. Residency participants are now being presented by larger German companies and at national festivals, and in 2016, a Flausen group, Pulk Fiktion, received Germany’s prestigious George Tabori Award.
After several hours, beers, and cigarettes in the Oldenburg grey December rain, I wandered back to the bus depot. The conversation had been one of those ones that comes along infrequently, and that I treasure: with an older artist who shares their passions, their knowledge, and their experiences. We had exchanged stories from our various travels, with Winfried telling me about his early days traveling the world as a busking musician and me sharing my journeys across Canada and discoveries in Bali and Moscow; we spoke about the daily challenges faced by freelance artists and how to address them; we discussed ideas, approaches, and the political and social importance of theatre. I felt I had been given permission to dream again.