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diverCITYLAB – a PERFORMANCE and THEATER laboratory

A person enters the stage.

Who is this person? Which stories is he telling? Which form does he find for his stories? For whom is he telling them and who listens to him? A living theater has to face this discourse continuously and react to the changes in the reality where it takes place.

A curious, flexible and bold conversation with the diversity of our society is particularly vital in a fear-driven environment where the fronts are increasingly hardening day by day. It’s not possible to determine cultural unity over the concept of a national state in a culture that was heavily shaped by migration itself. “Since such a close connection, supposedly pulsing within the body of the nation, has never actually existed in any society, the agents of memory worked hard to invent it.“

We need new strategies to form a social identity which grows stronger through the diversity of the individuals rather than fear it. The term ‚post-migrant‘ attempts to describe the reality of all of the individuals who build the society and to overcome the separation between us and them.

For quite some time, there has been a process going on in German theater which deals with the new realities in our (western) societies both theoretically and creatively. Lately, with the rise of the refugee movements, the Austrian theater scene has also begun to deal with the topic of diversity. Recently, a lecture series with the title Refuge, Migration, Theater has been launched at the Institute of Theater, Film and Media Science, Vienna University, held by Aslı Kışlal and other lecturers. Newcomers (newly-arrived immigrants) join the stages in the free cultural scene of Vienna, and their stories leave a significant imprint on it. This phenomenon reflects the almost forgotten, integrative character of the arts. Not everyone who enters the stage happens to be an artist, yet everyone still has the right to participate in the art scene of this city, either as a recipient, a discussant or an artist. In the current experimental phase in the theater scene, our theater laboratory confronts the above mentioned artistic and cultural-political debates. diverCITYLAB strives for a discursive, sensible and conscious way of dealing with the new artists and themes while constantly questioning theatrical means and methods.

It’s vital to offer opportunities to those who see their future in art, in order to facilitate a substantial change in the scene, which is necessary for the art establishment in order to cope with the rapid changes in society. Our experiences at Pimp My Integration indicated that there were hardly any professional prospects for artists with an immigrant background in the art and theater scene of Vienna back in 2011.

In order to overcome this deficiency, we established the performance and theater laboratory diverCITYLAB. As a synthesis of an art project and practice-oriented training institute, we set ourselves a target of opening the theater scene to all the members of our post-migrant society. We advise and support our students and our scholars in their progress toward becoming professional and autonomous artists.

diverCITYLAB emerges from the interaction between its participants and provides a flexible working environment for autonomous artists, which may be regarded as the most basic requirement for creative working. In order to ensure this, we redefine and modify our methods with every new scholar entering our program. We specify the curricula of our acting classes together with our students, considering their interests, strengths and needs. In this regard, diverCITYLAB understands itself as a competence pool, where the lecturers put their extensive experience in theater, as well as their artistic and pedagogical abilities, at the disposal of the students. This competence pool consists of theoretical knowledge, organizational assistance, dramaturgical support and technical principles. In rare cases where we have the feeling that our expertise is not sufficient, we gladly refer our students to other institutions.

diverCITYLAB – ACADEMY

The extensive performance and acting studies form the most important pillars of diverCITYLAB. In our current classes there are art students as well as refugees who are attending their first German courses, where they develop a common conception of theatre. Our goal is to prepare our students and even more so the Viennese theatre scene for the post-migrant 21st century.

Aside from our high quality acting classes, social commitment and positioning are the central themes of diverCITYLAB – ACADEMY. First and foremost we give our students an understanding of acting theories and techniques, and we focus on these together. It is our goal to train our students into actors who can think and act independently and develop sensitivity to new forms of theatre and social events. Since we regard actors as autonomous artists, we aim to equip them with acting techniques as well as other important skills that are vital in the increasingly trans-genre, performative and collective theatre work.

diverCITYLAB currently has two acting classes and the curriculum varies according to the disposition of the classes. For instance, the huge interest that our new acting class (class of 2015) for conceptual and performative works had a strong effect on the composition of our courses.

Every second year, we start a new acting class. For the selection process, we have decided against the classic entrance exams because otherwise some interested people would have difficulties entering this study due to language barriers or financial issues (e. g. Private lessons). Instead, the applicants take part in a workshop that lasts three months. At the end of this workshop they are required to deliver a performance. The admission criteria are the solid eagerness to work for a long period, working in and as a group, artistic creativity, and the level of the final performance. Naturally, the respective teachers are involved in this selection process.

The diversity and the high number of participants at our last workshop as well as the composition of our 2015 class indicate the growing public awareness of diverCITYLAB.

The reality of a post-migrant society has already been established in Austrian cinema, therefore our students at diverCITYLAB regularly attend acting for screen courses. In the third year of the study program they will take part at a movie project and subsequently a showreel will be made for each and every student.

After three years of intensive studies in theory and practice, we accompany our students on the free theater scene. In the fourth year of their training, our students will be able to present their skills in two theatre plays on national and/or international stages. Along with the artistic approach, these productions will serve the purpose of introducing our students to the professional stages whilst drawing attention to them from the theatre market.

Additionally, a tour through Austria has been planned to show our various works, introduce diverCITYLAB beyond the borders of Vienna and hereby increase our students‘ chances to perform on international stages. Accordingly, we are already in contact with several theatre spaces in the country.

In parallel, our students in the fourth year prepare for the stage entrance exam which will be held in front of a commission of experts.

Although the first generation of diverCITYLAB (acting class 2013) has not yet graduated, we already started harvesting the fruits of our efforts. Our students increasingly show a more professional approach in different fields of acting.

Our first generation students have started to establish themselves in Vienna’s independent scene after first two years of studying. Some were engaged as actors and actresses in film and theatre productions, while others work for various arts and culture institutions. Some of them even give acting lessons in vocational academies, secondary schools and youth organizations while others have had numerous public performances.

diverCITYLAB – SCHOLARSHIPS (FELLOWSHIPS)

Our markedly successful scholarship (fellowship) program is in a restructuring process due to current political situation.

Currently, many people with a high potential of knowledge and creativity arrive in Austria. If we assume that these people will find a new home in Austria, then it would be a mistake to believe that this “new home” would be complete simply by granting them the entrance to the Austrian health and welfare system. There are many intellectuals and artists among the people arriving who were working professionally in the areas of art and culture. In the longer run, primary care cannot and must not merely be considered as a mere combination of a sleeping place and food. True primary care must rather involve full participation in the social and cultural life. We are convinced that everyone is entitled to make use of their professional potential and make a living out of it. Conversely, it would be an irreversible mistake not to make use of this potential and lose it for good. For this reason, we have decided to support many international artists in their projects in order to enable them to enter the Viennese art and theatre scene.

Naturally, these people who newly arrived in Austria lack any form of lobbying or networking possibilities in the local art establishment. Most of them are not aware of open calls and art funding opportunities. To counteract this, we work in accordance with different communities and NGOs which are able to connect these people with us.

Currently we are working on building a pool of artists and provide them a forum as well as networking opportunities. Subsequently, we will select two artists who will become our scholarship (fellowship) holders and get intensive supervision. This program is meant to extend classic scholarship (fellowship) programs. Besides financial support, we will offer them support in translating texts, dramaturgical supervision, production technical support, provide them rooms and connect them with other institutions or initiatives.

Our previous scholarship (fellowship) program that we ran in the last two years was also fairly effective. All of our scholarship (fellowship) holders were able to establish themselves in the areas of art and culture.

Nataša Mackuljak and Ivana Marjanović are currently the artistic directors of Wienwoche. Partly through our mediation, Sheri Avraham worked at Volkstheater, at trafo.K and as project manager for theatre at Brunnenpassage. Emre Akal, another scholar of ours, was invited to the authors’ lounge at the Kaltstart Festivals in Hamburg. Furthermore, he wrote for Wiener Wortstätten, currently preparing a project alongside with makemake and is funded by the city of Munich following his international success with doyçlender: almanci as a playwright.

diverCITYLAB – ART MEDIATION

In order to create new points of access to the theatre, diverCITYLAB also develops projects aiming a cultural involvement with the city. In these projects, professional artists and/or people with no experience on a theatre stage meet one another and work together. To this end, diverCITYLAB often collaborates with other social organizations and NGOs, which deal with the cultural diversity in Vienna. We regularly visit schools and other educational institutions in order to advise the teachers regarding their work with children from a migrant background.

Particularly after the latest election results and the associated hardening of political positions, we decided to place special emphasis on this working field. We will focus our attention on the neglected areas of 12th district of Vienna and their inhabitants. The plans in place include workshops in schools which will be held by our acting students. Our trained and skilled students will use their social competence in order to present the pupils with alternative conceptions to populist politics on an equal footing.

In these aforementioned projects, which are planned for the short term, we intend to react on the current needs of the Viennese art scene as well as social hotspots that concern our society, therefore we believe that it is too early to plan any projects for the year 2018 and thereafter.