It’s difficult to cross that common street without glancing at the crowded entrance and lots of green banners around it. The Compagnie Theatre (a festival main place) absorbs not only the drama students or theatre enthusiast but also an accidental pedestrian in Amsterdam, for whom a smell of artistic journey could be more fascinating than smoking…
It’s one of the main idea of the festival: to annex the space for art and by art. Mostly, it takes place in Compagnie, which is the modern objects with two stages and cosy bar for unofficial talks, but there are plenty of another localization, such as: a stage at the rear of the small book shop, a summer stage in the public park, similar to the ancient amphitheater, the academic stage and finally, an open public space, which is situated on the both sides of The Nord Sea Canal.
It’s obvious that the biggest festival project is the most spectacular realization of that idea and at the same time the most challenging task. The Odyssey Project is the most complex theatre collaboration, which I have ever seen during a student festival. It gives uncommon opportunity of an international teamwork, which means: learning another way of thinking about art and production, comparing habits in acting, directing and perceiving, crossing culture borders and drawing inspirations from these differences. The performance consists of eight individual parts and each of them takes place in another localization in a public space. So sometimes the stage is under the tree in a park, another time in a ferry, next to the parking or in front of the restaurant’s windows, so not only people with tickets have a possibility to see the piece of art. Every time the space has an interesting influence on the show by giving a deep metaphor and contemporary context. It also pushes the public to the interaction and give them a choice of a way of participation. And however, the idea is not new (it was quite popular for example in the 1960s or 1970s in the performances of Grotowski or Schechner), there is still a lot of possibilities to explore.
“It’s the first time for such an ambitious project and we consider it as an experiment” – the organizers emphasize. In fact, the participants can feel a little (typical for en experiment) chaos, during their work on “the island”, which is separated from the main festival place and where the atmosphere is totally different then in Compagnie. Of course, there are some people from the technical crew and one boss – a head of the Odyssey office, but it is not the same cosy place with plenty of people wearing festival lanyard. It can remind the atmosphere of a scout camp and some students use that name. However, as at the beginng it can be stressful or annoying, it creates a wonderful way of collaboration and a sense of responsibility for whole project by each student at the end. It even has something in common with the history of the Odysseus’s journey and, in my opinion, most of the student find it out and enjoy as a really special part of the project.
It’s should be said that the success of the Odyssey Project and whole festival would be impossible without everyday office meetings with brainstorming and looking for the solutions. Everyone can feel that the huge amount of people work for an efficient functioning of the festival: from the technical to theoretical layer. And because of it, literally everything was designed to encourage to festival activities: from taking a beer before the show in a festival club, which look like a real students’ flat, to having a small, intimate talk with the artists after the performance, which was organized by IYMA crew. Not only the real world was infected by festival. There is an applications for smartphones created special for that event, which help you get to know new people and stay in touch with them. The interactive game also pushes you to discover new places step by step with sense of humor.
But it’s not the last thing, where you can see the idea of annexing space for and by art during the festival. The huge diversity of subjects and types of performances can cause a vertigo. They raise a question about almost everything and in each possible style.
It’s amazed how many theatre genres was included in a program. The dance performances with a clear narration or just beautiful dancers’ moves, quite minimalistic or full of splendor. The short dance shows explode unexpectedly in the middle of the opening ceremony and take place between still drinking people, mixing the atmosphere of the party with a professional performance. One intriguing and based on an new style of an improvisation, using an electronic device, site specific show, which make the participant embarrassed, even because of the big talent of the young artist and her idea to make you think about your personal life. The surprising mime show with totally unexpected way of thinking about the classic genre, which shows how many possibilities the body can give on the stage by itself or in an interactions with another body or an object. And finally, the one man show with simple but moved scenography and light, focused on the emotional dimension of acting or the big production with breathtaking computer projections and a hologram as an actor! And the same variety of subjects, which shows how different histories we can see on the young stage. Students don’t hesitate talk about the current political situation, what is not easy for sure. The Odyssey Project is an example of such a dialogue between art and news or report about the points of view for the refugees problem. Each group from eight countries interoperates the story about Odysseus’ journey by prism its local politic. The result is quite postmodern because the mythology gets a new context and meaning (often embarrassing or though-provoking). Also the performance from Iran (that one with the hologram) concerns the current problems: a soldier’s life during and after the war. It is interesting that again the documentary theatre, as in the first half of XX century, gets very modern form, with using new media in the most experimental way. And – like most examples of political art – it still has to face the problem of censorship… In spite of the politic, social or economical problems, the young artists still like big subjects, such as love, God, family relationship or meaning of life. Many of them use world literature and convert the old stories in to the new shape. Some of them invoke the archetype and spin their own yarn on the stage. But there is also easily to observe that students from drama academies like explore their own personal experience and memories to create an unique show not only about themselves.
So the host of places, types of stages, genres of performances and diversity of subjects shows the incredible power of theatre and strong need to create and create something new. It’s not a falsehood, it’s truly worth to be at the next edition to see how the city can be bombed by art and heads by new ideas.
Monika Przespolewska (Art student in Warsaw)
Photo by Neeltje Knaap