Fence 21 took place from June 14-18, 2015, as part of the biennial Schillertage festival at the Nationaltheater Mannheim. The festival's theme: GESCHLOSSENE GESELLSCHAFT (Closed Society).
Generously hosted by both the Nationaltheater itself and independent Mannheim theatre TiG7, we felt fully embraced by the festival.
We had the opportunity to attend several evening shows while we worked among ourselves during the day.
Upon arrival in Mannheim on Sunday, we settled in, and also attended festival performances, the majority of us at a show in the Benjamin Franklin Village, a former US military base – normally closed to the public – that had been adopted by the Festival for special performances.
The first day of our workshops started with a get-to-know-each-other session, giving old and new Fence members an opportunity to get acquainted and catch up on each others’ projects.
In the afternoon, we met Nationaltheater dramaturg Stefanie Gottfried and artistic director Inka Neubert of TIG7 who gave us a short overview of the German theatre scene – both the state-subsidized Stadt- und Staatstheater and the independent Freie Szene.
In the evening, the Nationaltheater (Director: Dominic Friedel, Dramaturg: Stefanie Gottfried) staged a reading of a number of Fence members' work in German for the festival public. Nationaltheater actors performed at the independent venue TIG7 – a novelty as well.
On Tuesday morning, we met with a group of international emerging artists who were being hosted as "scholarship students" by the festival. Our meeting took the form of "group speed-dating" – spending 30 minutes at a time rotating discussions of authorship, the theatre scene in our home countries, and how an informal theatre network like The Fence actually works.
In the afternoon, there were rehearsals for our "Scratch Night" – an improvised, very informal staged reading that is part of almost every Fence meeting. Scratch Nights typically involve Fence members appearing as actors in and directors of excerpts from each other’s work – whether or not they are actors and directors in real life. The process is an attempt to break down the "sacred" nature of the text and to give each other an active insight in our present work.
In the spirit of opening up the "closed society" of our network, however, we opened our Scratch Night process to public view, performing extracts from a further 11 works of Fence members in English and French.
On Wednesday morning, we discussed the outcome and experiences of the Scratch Night and the future plans of the network, including ideas for future meetings and other forms of collaboration.
Some members – in particular Neda Nezhdana, Adel Abdel Wahab and Christian Papke – described their current projects, their festivals and ideas in details to the group and we discussed ways for other members to participate.
In the afternoon, we met with director Dominic Friedel and other members of Nationaltheater and TIG7 again. We debated the nature of authorship in the context of multiple countries' approach to the relationship between playwright, director and dramaturge.
We again attended performances in the evening and continued our discussion of the topics broached in the previous day’s smaller groups.
Thursday was departure day for most of the group – but some of us stayed a little longer, participating in the festival (for example Utopie Station with focus on South Africa) and exploring the area around Mannheim.
Participants in Fence 21 Mannheim:
Adel Abdel Wahab (Egypt) - Abdelrahim al Awji (Lebanon) - Alain Foix (France) - Andras Gerevich (Hungary) - Christian Papke (Austria) - Dan Bye (UK) - David Lindemann (Germany) - Debbie Seymour (UK) - Fred Fortas (France) - Hakan Silahsizoglu (Turkey/UK) - Liana Avetisyan (Armenia) - Janice Poon (China / UK) - Jonathan Meth (UK) - Kamelia Nikolova (Bulgaria) - Kazem Sharyari (France) - Kemal Basar (Turkey) - Malgorzarta Semil (Poland) - Mike van Graan (South Africa) - Neda Nezhdana (Ukraine) - Neil Blackadder (US/UK) - Neil Fleming (UK) - Penny Black (UK) - Samuel Buggeln (Canada/USA) - Sara Shaarawi (UK/Egypt) - Sarah Punshon (UK) ) - Terry Ezra (Netherlands) - Ulrike Syha (Germany)
Listen here to a German-language radio interview with playwright and Fence21 co-organiser Ulrike Syha.
Click here to download articles by Fence members (Adel Abdel Wahab, Abdelrahim Alawji, Neda Nezhdana, Ahmed Fagih) on the topic Fortress Europe which appeared in the Festival's daily newspaper (Editor: Jürgen Berger).
The Fence 21 Mannheim was organized by Penny Black, Jonathan Meth (Curator of The Fence) and Ulrike Syha.
Many thanks to Nationaltheater Mannheim, TIG7 and Goethe Institut Zentrale München for their support.