Statement March 2020

‘A few weeks ago, on 27 February, the Wiener Festwochen announced their 2020 programme under the motto Last Time, This Time, Next Time. A quote from Bertolt Brecht was published on the first page of our printed programme, asking ‘In the dark times / Will there also be singing?’ . The poster campaign that was designed to promote the Festival through out Vienna featured a photograph of an abandoned cinema, empty seats in the middle of a deserted landscape where no humans are to be seen anywhere.

Among the diversity of artistic projects to be conceived for the Festival, many underline the urgent necessity of a transformation in the way human beings live: to make a future possible there must be a change.

Today we have to accept that the Festival we were intending will not take place, at least not in the form in which it was initially conceived.

For health reasons, access to public spaces has been drastically reduced; people are being asked to self-isolate; and borders are shutting down all over the world. Theatres and opera houses, concert halls and museums are closed. People are not allowed to travel anymore. Public life is on hold. Without knowing when the situation will return to normal, but knowing that it will never return to what we were experiencing as being ‘normal’ a few weeks ago, we have no choice but to reassess and reinvent the Festival we intended to make.

Commissioning new works and premiering them is one of the focus of the Wiener Festwochen (as we write this statement today, 21 of the 28 new artistic works co-produced by the Festival are yet to premiere). Currently, these pieces cannot be rehearsed, and all the work needed for them to see the light of day in May-June 2020 cannot be completed in time. The Festival is an international project, and yet the majority of the artists involved in our programme will probably be unable to travel over the coming weeks or months.

Lockdowns should remind us, beyond any celebration of quiet domesticity, that the world does not end with the walls of our homes. They should remind us of the importance of social interactions and international connections, not just as virtual experiences. They should emphasize how enriching it is to hear diverse spoken languages, stories from other parts of the world. Social Distancing should remind us how essential the places dedicated to the arts actually are. Festivals, theatres, operas and cinemas are social spaces that bring people together, that generate encounters between people, and help circulate ideas.

To date, a great deal of work has already been done to prepare for this forthcoming Festival. Many artists, technical crews and other staffmembers were planning to collaborate on a large and diverse programme spread right across the city. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of them for their efforts.

The 2020 Wiener Festwochen will have to remain a Festival that is to be imagined, yet never experienced. The Festival programme had been conceived as a whole, as a complete score which, sadly, cannot take place the way it was imagined. That’s why we are considering the possibility of sharing some small or larger ‘gestures’ with our audiences, parts of the original score that could be particularly relevant to the current situation. But not everything is in our hands.

Social Distancing should be followed by a large movement of solidarity with our colleagues, partners and artists in order to guarantee the sustainability of our actions.’

© Kaupo Kikkas
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