In 2020, the Wiener Festwochen like so many other projects and institutions had to rethink the ways in which they produced and shared their programme with audiences.
Several weeks after the launch of our 2020 edition in February, we faced the impossibility not only of organising a large-scale international festival dedicated essentially to the creation of new works, but also of rehearsing and presenting performing arts productions involving many people from all over the world. But we didn’t give up: indeed, we remained faithful to our convictions and our commitments to artists and audiences.
During May and June, the original festival programme was turned into a series of digital gestures to be experienced online. This unexpected process led to interesting formats created specifically for digital platforms and able to inflect, transpose and extend the artists’ voices, intentions and ideas from the stage to the screen. These gestures gave rise to excellent and regular responses from our ‘switched-on’ spectators. The online programme ran for five weeks and contributed to the development of a ‘community’ around the festival projects and its missions.
At the end of August, we succeeded in presenting a somewhat reduced, but strong programme of (live) works, (re-)organising in Vienna the encounter between artists and spectators in real time and in real spaces. These encounters were as passionate as they were safe and relaxed in their setting. They prompted highly emotive reactions, (re-)activated commitments and convictions, and (re-)affirmed the value of the unique experience that a theatre stage is likely to provide. Sold-out performances and warm and sustained applause were clear evidence of a truly positive accomplishment. The Festwochen 2020 reframed was a celebration of the importance and necessity of the live arts, the collective experience they generate, and the transformative potential of imagination and creativity.
The context we now find ourselves living in is alarming. How is our society going to deal with growing uncertainty and precariousness? How will our structures, tools and actions keep adapting and evolving according to current necessities? Such questions will force us to engage even more, together with our artists and audiences, in a reflexion on flexibility, transformation and reframing processes. This special edition of our festival has been an encouraging and successful step in that direction.
Christophe Slagmuylder, September 2020
I'm still very attached to the idea of collectively looking at a world emerging from a theatre stage and to the conviction that some things can happen there and nowhere else. I am always very attached to making myself 100% available for what sound, light, voice, movement and music can tell me from the stage where they emanate. I wish to share this experience widely with fellow spectators, and I believe in its future.
It starts on 26 August and we are particularly happy that it will now take place: the presentation in Vienna of around ten new international stage productions.
We put a lot of effort into making it possible. This reframed version of the Festwochen 2020 doesn’t fully take the shape of a ‘festival’ and is to be considered differently. It consists of a rather reduced, but strong programme of works presented consecutively and individually rather than a large and busy space where artistic works, people and thoughts intensively meet and mingle. But we do believe, more than ever, that this is what we need to do now.
Following a slow pace, we will be able to listen to highly singular musical pieces and watch penetrating pieces conceived for the stage. It may not be a festival but it is a declaration of love and an act of resistance at the same time. It is a question of respecting our commitments towards the artists we wanted to present in Vienna this spring. The works they wished to create, with the festival’s support, have to be created and shared with audiences, even under fragile and extremely peculiar circumstances. It is a question of restoring all the value to the theatre stage, to the unique experience it is likely to provide.
And so it starts on 26 August with the world premiere of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Goldberg Variationen and this is a (very) good way to start over again and be together in front of a stage once again.
Christophe Slagmuylder and the Wiener Festwochen team, August 2020
In March 2020, the physical space – where we work, meet and engage collectively with one another – was taken away from us. A few weeks after publishing the programme of the 2020 edition of the Wiener Festwochen, we painfully had to accept that the festival we had planned would not be taking place, at least not in the form initially conceived. The ‘live’, collective experience of our programme had been made impossible.
We started to experiment with ways of translating it through different mediums. We published a printed supplement with Der Standard exploring the Festival’s content, echoing the voices of some of the artists we had intended to invite to Vienna. Digital tools provided another platform. From 15 May, we showcased online a collection of ‘small gestures’ that related to each of the artistic projects in our programme. Traces or promises, they were taken from existing material or gave insights into a creation still to be realised: moving images, musical fragments, short texts. They took the form of conversations, workshops, or video clips. Together, they formed a kind of fascinating digital archive for a festival that didn’t happen …
Today, we are happy to announce that a live and condensed version of our initial programme will take place at the end of the summer!
While the majority of the creations for the 2020 festival have been postponed until next year, we are delighted to be able to share already some of the festival’s co-productions and guest performances with you later this year. Musical, choreographic and theatrical forms will alternate on the stages. Major established names of the international scene will feature alongside up-and-coming figures. Carefully composed, this small yet impressive selection of works will receive a special resonance within the transformative context we are currently experiencing. They will in turn echo some of the questions and uncertainties raised by the global crisis we are going through.
After months of restrictions, this programme should be a celebration of the importance of the live arts, their ability to strengthen social interaction, their inherent potential to broaden our physical and mental spaces … and to envision possible futures.
Christophe Slagmuylder, June 2020
One of the many beautiful aspects of a festival is to create a temporary space of ‘exception’. Festivals are used to exist only for a certain amount of time. Then they disappear until their next iteration. Every year since 1951, the Wiener Festwochen have taken place within the city of Vienna. But that will not be the case in 2020. And we all know why.
The unique coincidence between an artistic programme, a specific time and a specific place cannot be replaced or re-created. Nothing can compensate for this absence. As we look forward to the future, we are now preparing a new edition of the Wiener Festwochen, with theatrical and musical performances, movements, words and sounds to be collectively experienced. But this year, we are trying to look for alternative ways of sharing our artistic programme with you.
On 16 May, the opening speech by Milo Rau and Kay Sara that should have taken place at the Burgtheater will be revealed online and through the media. This will mark the ‘start’ of the festival. On the same day, we will publish a printed supplement with Der Standard that explores the festival’s programme and content in 2020, and echoes the voices from some of the artists we intended to invite in Vienna this May/June. Rather than having a promotional intention, it serves as a testimony to a festival that doesn’t happen …
Another platform for sharing our programme with you are digital tools, which over the last few weeks have been experiencing their ‘big moment’: a vast quantity of artistic projects has been happening online since the confinement measures began. From 15 May to 20 June, we will use the internet and social media, but in moderation. Every day, following the chronology of their appearance at the festival, each piece of the programme will be virtually evoked. A collection of ‘small gestures’ will occur. They refer to every work that can’t be presented. They may be taken from existing material or they can give insight to a creation still to be realised. Moving images, musical fragments, short texts. They take the form of conversations, workshops, video clips. Traces or promises, together they form a kind of archive for a festival that doesn’t happen …
But we do not want to forget the real, public space. From 2 June, Ho Tzu Nyen’s No Man II will animate the Kärntnertorpassage on Karlsplatz. Also at the beginning of June, curator Miguel A. López will transpose a prologue for the exhibition And if I devoted my life to one of its feathers?, a joint project by the Wiener Festwochen and Kunsthalle Wien, to 250 billboards all over the city.
Finally, depending on what will be allowed and possible to realise, a small programme of performances, comprised of a few pieces that were supposed to have been presented this spring at the Wiener Festwochen will take place later in the year. After months of lockdowns and restrictions, this should be a celebration of the importance of the live arts and their ability to broaden the physical public space and strengthen direct social interaction.
Christophe Slagmuylder, Artistic Director
‘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.’
Christophe Slagmuylder, March 2020