Dionysos Stadt Open Air: “The days in the periphery between Offenbach and Frankfurt were a feast”

This year the Opus Award goes to two winners. One of them is the "Dionysos Stadt Open Air", which, with a lot of courage and an impressive backdrop, has made art and cultural experiences possible for a larger audience while observing all restrictions.

1. Your "Dionysos Stadt Open Air" was awarded the Opus Award. Did you expect that?

Dionysos Stadt was one of the most successful and most acclaimed productions of recent years. In 2018 it came out at the Münchner Kammerspiele, and I was involved in the production as dramaturg. In response to the Corona pandemic, we, Künstlerhaus Mousonturm as well as Frankfurt LAB and its partners, built a "Corona-compatible" open-air stage on the Offenbach-Frankfurt city border in the summer and autumn of 2021, the Sommerbau, according to plans by the architects' collective raumlaborberlin. We invited Christopher Rüping, the director of Dionysos Stadt, to adapt and rework the production especially for this stage as an open air version. The rehearsal process was intense. The reactions of the audience were enthusiastic, however, and this energy-sapping process was also a great success for everyone involved. That the work is then awarded the Opus Award is a great surprise that rounds off our work in a very special way.

2. A theatre marathon under Corona conditions - that sounds like a mammoth task. How did the idea for it come about? And why at this particular time?

In fact, the project was a mammoth task - because the summer construction was created parallel to the planning for the play itself. The Sommerbau in itself was already a gigantic project and had to be discovered in all its peculiarities and characteristics as a stage in the rehearsals. The rehearsals and performances took place outdoors. We were lucky with the weather. It was changeable, but it held as ordered in the critical moments.
The constantly changing pandemic conditions were just as changeable and had to be responded to. Innenräume waren aus Angst vor Ansteckungen unsicher geworden und durften mitunter gar nicht bespielt werden. Dagegen hatte sich im Sommerhalbjahr 2020 gezeigt, dass im Außenraum noch die relativ meisten Begegnungen möglich waren, dass sich sogar eine starke Wetter-Toleranz eingeschlichen hatte, um eben jene Begegnungen zu ermöglichen. Wir wollten die unter Corona-Bedingungen stattfindenden und meist als defizitär empfundenen Kunsterlebnisse endlich in einen Mehrwert umschlagen lassen – eine spektakuläre, Corona-sichere Theaterarchitektur, bespielt unter anderem von einer der erfolgreichsten und großformatigsten Inszenierungen der letzten Jahre.

3. Ten hours of theatre at a play is certainly a spectacle for actors, staff and audience, but it is also a challenge. How was the play received by everyone involved?

After months of self-imposed or enforced isolation, it was palpable how much the audience but also we as art and theatre makers had longed for direct, physical and intense encounters. Dionysos City is based on an ancient theatre format, the Great Dionysia. During the Dionysia, the festival celebrating the god Dionysus, ancient Athens came together for days to watch and play theatre, but also to celebrate rites or negotiate democratic processes. In comparison, the ten hours of Dionysus City Open Air are almost a small bite. In this version, the actors were not only challenged by the duration, but also by the special situation of the Sommerbau, a hexagonal stage space in which the audience sits on five of six sides, distributed over three floors. So the actors have to play 360°, they have to address all directions at the same time and different floors. There is no place on stage to hide. That team took up the challenge and set about tackling it with enthusiasm. This was also palpable for the audience, who celebrated the production. The days in the periphery between Offenbach and Frankfurt were a celebration. We wanted to create community experiences with the Sommerbau and Dionysos Stadt Open Air. We succeeded in doing so.

4. What were the biggest challenges for you?

There were many of these. Pandemic, dispositional, financial, noise protection, artistic. A ten-hour production in a temporary open-air theatre building is a big task. In the end, we were able to realise the project because everyone involved got involved with the work and showed incredible flexibility and resilience. The fact that it was not possible to perform for so long certainly spurred ambition. This also applies to the Münchner Kammerspiele, who supported us on so many levels during the realisation, and whom I would like to thank again especially at this point. A big challenge was certainly also to get back into the public's consciousness at all after months of the pandemic. To make it visible that theatre still exists, that it is important and relevant, especially in the community experiences it creates and negotiates.

5. Would you tackle such a project again?

Artistically: Any time. But since this project came about primarily in reaction to the Corona pandemic, we hope that we won't have to do it again so soon, but will get back on track to some kind of normality with the next major projects. There are already enough major projects lined up. For example, with Politics in Independent Theatre in late summer/autumn 2022 and Theatre of the World 2023, we are organising two large international theatre festivals together with several partners in Frankfurt and Offenbach, for which we are currently pooling our forces.

6. The pandemic has hit the arts and event industry very hard. How do you see the future?

What helped us a lot in this crisis was the enormous trust, commitment and willingness to engage in dialogue on the part of cultural policy-makers and funding bodies. Without them, a project like this would not have been possible, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them once again. These extremely constructive working experiences have carried us through the pandemic so far. Nobody knows what will happen in the future, but I hope that we can take these experiences with us. Because there are enough challenges ahead for which we want to find similarly creative solutions in the future.

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