By Heidi Schoenenberger
Ten days ago I arrived in Linz, Austria to meet and live with a group of 11 strangers from around the world for the ASSITEJ Austria Next Generation Conference. This invites up to 25 young professionals to the Schaexpir Theatre Festival for Young Audiences to watch plays and contribute to an international conversation about children’s theatre and theatre for young audiences (TYA).
Among our group were directors, actors, singers, dancers, playwrights, teachers, and arts administrators from Austria, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Germany, Luxembourg, Hungary, USA, and Turkey. Together we saw thirty plays for audiences of ages 1 to 100+ in approximately 10 venues (including inside a bus, in a school classroom, outside in the woods, and on an outdoor stage). The plays brought up topics including identity, growing up, gender, sexuality, physicality, violence, friendship, nature, and freedom, to name a few.
We spoke with leaders in the field. We took a masterclass with a choreographer from Belgium. We enjoyed the arts culture of Linz. We jumped in the Danube to escape the summer heat. We taught one another songs and dances from our countries. We saw work in multiple languages and various styles. We leaned forward in curiosity and leaned back in discomfort. We exchanged perspectives. We were challenged and we were enlightened. We were over-stimulated and inspired.
On the final day of the festival we stood together to share our manifesto for the next generation of TYA. It claims that the future of theatre for young audiences, should:
- communicate to an international audience through the body and mind
- balance between the head and the heart, the emotional and the intellectual
- take risks but remain consistent
- take responsibility
- create for the audience
- offer new perspectives.
This list is a jumping off point for all of us. As we move forward in our individual countries we need to translate what we experienced to our own communities. This collective conversation is forming goals in my own mind at the moment and I realise some of my very own goals have been reached and have ignited new ones.
During this experience I became a part of a recognised international exchange, traveled on my own to a foreign country and made long-lasting connections with strangers, learned to watch theatre in German and interpret story through communication outside of the verbal, found inspiration for my own work, and supported myself financially to do something I believe will develop me personally and professionally.
After this experience I am inspired to keep connected, finish writing a play I started years ago,attend more conferences in this field around the world, program TYA at festivals and theatres, open a theatre company with my sister, remain inspired by surrounding myself with people who make me want to be my best self and create my best work, work for and with young people, keep moving and developing international perspectives but let where I’m from keep me grounded, and think about the future but act now.
When I think about this experience an image from one of the plays we saw comes to my mind. In Bis Später, a play about time for audiences ages 3+, a character is trying to understand the meaning of past, present, and future. When she tries to understand the present, she repeats the word for ‘now’ in German: ‘jetzt’. Each time she does so, she can’t complete the word before it turns to a hiccup. It’s something she can’t hold onto despite her effort.
Thanks to this experience I understand that our unique Next Generation group met now for a reason. We exchanged past customs, stories of our individual journeys, recent ideas, perspectives, opinions, and future hopes. Since we share many of the same goals it feels like we have known each other forever. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of the day we all dispersed with full minds, inspired hearts, and “see you soon”s, but I know we all left with our heads high, grasping at the jetzt and moving gracefully toward a separate but collaborative future.