4th Conference in Lingen 2014

Welcome Speech and Introduction to the Programme

Dear friends and colleagues,

I would like to welcome you to the 4th edition of our conference for Palestinian-German Dialogue on Theatre and Theatre Education. I’m particularly happy that you have joined us from Palestine, where the spiral of violence is only intensifying, where collective acts of unjust reprisal threaten the civilian population too, where the humanitarian situation is disastrous and the aggressive settlement policy continues unchecked. Welcome to each and every one of you. We call for a stop to this and for negotiations to take place that lead to peace and justice.

With their commitment to culture in the face of such terror, our Palestinian friends demonstrate in exemplary fashion that “whoever is in search of cultural understanding automatically enquires about new ways to shape the world, shows a desire for innovation and is looking for a more humane world” (Räume der Begegnung. Religion und Kultur in evangelischer Perspektive. Eine Denkschrift. 2002). At this conference too, we are both looking for a more humane world and working out new ways of shaping the world as it is. 

This time round, the subject of our conference is “Theatre with Children” and takes place within a broad international context, the World Children’s Theatre Festival, with children’s theatre companies from 18 countries taking part. At this meeting, the children will be showing us the sort of world they wish for. We need such meetings in order to gain new insights and unusual perspectives, to question fixed habits and structures, to develop a culture of mutual awareness and to learn to give credit to the other rather than allowing fear to separate us from the foreign and the different. 

We also chose “Theatre with Children” as our theme because Palestinian society is a young society. More than half of the Palestinian population is below 19 years of age, which is why theatre for children and young people is such an important subject. Our conference works based on the hypothesis that the creative, constructive potential of theatre is capable of overcoming destructive social and mental conditions and that it is particularly important for children growing up in crisis situations and difficult social surroundings. Children suffer to a striking degree under social wrongs, military conflicts and repression.  

Our central questions here are how the power of theatre can be made effective for solving conflicts and problems as well as for social and personal development. Which aesthetic and methodological experiences have theatre producers and theatre educators had in the different countries, what forms of effectiveness and sustainability could be observed, how can children’s right to take part in art be realised and their involvement in theatre be made a reality? We will be exploring the life perspectives of the performing arts in round table discussions and concise presentations, as well as by taking a critical look at selected theatre productions from around the world and holding conversations with theatre directors. One important part of the discussion will be dedicated to the creation of structures and collaborations both within Palestine and between Palestinian and German theatre producers and theatre educators in order to generate better qualification, political implementation and public acceptance for theatre with children.

Culture and theatre in particular are to do with self-determination. It is a basis for expressing who you are and communicating who you would like to be. Culture is the place where we determine who we are, where we are able to define ourselves rather than being defined by others. In addition, culture also acts as an important bridge between Palestine and the rest of the world. Encountering others is also always important for being able to understand one’s self.

Our project does not seek to and is anyway not capable of solving foreign problems. But we can support local theatre work, provide targeted funding for artists, act as a champion for training and further education, give advice on forming curricula, promote professionalism, help with creating infrastructure and generating public support and intensify political discussions.

Two of the organisers of this Palestinian-German Dialogue are close to the Evangelical Church, the Arbeitskreis Kirche und Theater in der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland and the Dar Al Kalima University College for Arts and Culture in Bethlehem, which is funded by the Lutheran Church.  Both institutions carry out cultural educational work with a Christian motivation and theological underpinnings, although they also work in a consciously intercultural manner with people of other beliefs. In a paper outlining the position of the Evangelical Church in Germany, we called for forums to be strengthened that deal with cultural phenomena: “a pluralist society with its open interpretational structures needs spaces for meeting, exchange and inspiration ... These must be hospitable places shaped by professional cultural management that do not leave any lingering impression of art and culture being instrumentalised. First and foremost, events should be funded that stage meetings. The church presents itself here in the role of a moderator, taking in the interpretational patterns of our era with suitable respect and a thirst for knowledge, imbuing them with the language of open discourse and endeavouring to create an inspirational atmosphere for discussion.” Our focus here is on the shared, non-distorted perception of reality and on searching for truth, which enables us to learn from one another and make some surprising discoveries.  

Both institutions are particularly close to the Lutheran church and see themselves within the Reformatory tradition: both their cultural education and theatre work is governed by the tension between the divine promise of a full life and the state of a world threatened by repression and destruction. This cultural work is each time a new attempt to support people and encourage them to liberate themselves from everything which negates life. Another world is not only necessary, it is also possible. At the same time, humans, having been “made in God’s image” (Gen. 1:27), have an inalienable dignity and value which is to be protected by everyone. “That they may have life, and have it to the full“ (John, 10:10) could be a motto for theatre work. It calls for changes to be brought about in society. In this sense, theatre is an important expressive medium for cultural and democratic life, an intellectual challenge for society and a space to promote freedom of opinion and critical thought.

I hope that our conference can also make a contribution to this and thank those who have funded our meeting, in particular the Bread for the World – Protestant Development Service, the Hanns-Lilje-Stiftung der Evangelische Landeskirche Hannover and the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.

by Klaus Hoffmann, 4th Conference for Palestinian-German Dialogue on Theatre and Theatre Education on the Subject of “Theatre with Children”, Lingen,  July 25th to August 2nd