Talking with playwrights about theatre

This photo was taken in Vienna, after a long and fascinating walk around Rotes Wien, the living fabric of 20th century social democracy in Vienna – public housing, baths and schools, all designed and built to such a good standard that many remain in use 70 or 80 years after their construction. This is what Creative Europe is about, what the European Union itself is about, when it’s paying attention – bringing citizens of different countries together to share their experiences, learn to understand and value their distinctive cultures, and recognise their essential interdependence.

Almost everyone in the photos in this page is a playwright, those who are telling our stories today and to the generations who come after us, and who might wonder what was Rotes Wien, or why so many Hungarians live in Romania, or how Berlin and Barcelona are accommodating their new citizens. These and so many more stories formed the basis of a series of three day workshops that Cristina Da Milano and I facilitated for Fabulamundi between 2018 and 2020.

The last of these sessions happened at the end of January last year, in snowy T and was one of my last trips before the lockdown. Ten playwrights squashed into a small room at the University of Târgu Mureș, to talk over oranges and coffee, hear from local experts and make connections with each other. None of us knew that the final event, the big conference-cum-festival we’d planned for Rome in September 2020 would be reduced to three online webinars.

None of us knew that that would be the least of out worries.

Last summer, I interviewed eight of the playwrights for a series of short films, over zoom, of course. I was at the edge of my comfort zone (and my competencies) and some of them were too. Fabulamundi wanted to continue to raise awareness of the writers’ work, despite the pandemic –I say despite because we tried not to let it dominate the conversation, nor to pretend it wasn’t happening either. Now I’m doing eight more interviews, and the lockdown is, frankly, the principle subject. How are these writers coping? What is happening to their work, and to the theatre sector in their countries? How is new technology helping them – or not? What are their hopes, or fears, for the future?

I’m writing this between two interviews, the first with Vít Peřina, speaking from his home in the Czech Republic, and the second with Romanian playwright Elena Vlădăreanu. I feel immensely lucky that I get to listen to such artists speak about some of the things that matter to them most. But I’m also very aware of what we lost, since we last saw each other in Nancy, Warsaw, Vienna or Rome – that easy human connection, shoulder to shoulder and maskless, hugs and kisses of greeting and laughter over our food. This was my life, and it will be again. There’s not much I’m sure of, but I am sure that our friendship, creativity, hope and activism will always bring us together, no matter what barriers stand in our way. For now these photos of the Fabulamundi Mobility programme are a reminder of better times as well as a promise of their return.

With thanks to my dear friends Cristina Da Milano, Claudia Di Giacomo, Valentina De Simone, and all the writers I got to meet during those Fabulamundi session: until we meet again.

One comment

  1. Yes, every now and again I have a sad moment of thinking how much I miss the experiences that Creative Europe and similar projects generate. Online has its advantages but you don’t get those informal moments over a coffee or a beer. I also feel those are the times when I can relax and not worry about making sensible comments! Those pictures nicely encapsulate the sort of (intangible) discussions that happen.

    Lovely to see Cristina da Milano too. Always enjoy working with Cristina.

    And wonderful Vienna – totally agree about that district. My favourite part is the housing complex that is about a mile long (forgotten its name right now) – beautiful in its functionality. We haven’t advanced much in 80 years it seems.

    Looks like an interesting report – look forward to reading it.

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