Thorough preparation and nerves of steel
From 4 to 14 April 2019, the Meiningen Court Theatre held its first ever International Festival Week, featuring guest appearances by award-winning productions of drama classics from Great Britain, France, Lithuania and Heidelberg. During the festival, the theatre also presented an opening concert and a stage production of its own. Below, the technical director shares his diary of the preparations for and running of the festival.
The International Festival Week was launched to update the Meiningen Court Theatre’s rich tradition of drama by showing current productions of theatre classics. The aim was not only to recall the theatre’s former glory and significance for German theatre but also to show the region and beyond that Meiningen is still a hotspot of contemporary theatre. For over a week, from 4 to 14 April 2019, the Meiningen Court Theatre was host to prize-winning productions from Great Britain, France, Lithuania and Heidelberg. In addition, an in-house production of “Leonce und Lena” by Georg Büchner was premiered, which is due to go on tour in the coming season. The festival week was kindly supported by ThéâtredelaCité – CDN Toulouse Occitanie.
The technical director’s diary
Initial talks are held with managers Ansgar Haag (director) and Ulrich Katzer (commercial manager) and with project leader Crista Mittelsteiner.
Five months later
We receive the first inquiries from France concerning ground plans, material lists, staff and schedules. It’s getting serious. The plan for the 2018/19 season must be done by December 2017.
We are eagerly awaiting the guest performances’ details. The theatre’s day-to-day operations continue as normal.
The first guest productions are arranged, and their paperwork has arrived. “Measure for Measure” from Moscow (Pushkin Drama Theatre). They send along a very in-depth rider; obviously they have plenty of experience of guest performances. They have thought of every eventuality and suggested various alternatives.
Two more productions for the festival week have been fixed. “Die doppelte Unbeständigkeit” seems to be a lighting production: there are three pages full of requests and demands for the lighting. My first thought is, we’ll have to buy up all the hire companies in the nearest city. A production from France is also agreed. It’s a video space for presenting Georg Büchner’s “Lenz” as a monologue – requiring minimal technical outlay.
The summer break is approaching – the documents for the last two productions are still outstanding. The schedule for the festival week is already fixed and the dates for the sets and premieres arranged. As we break up for the summer, we are looking forward to the festival week but also a little nervous about the challenges it presents.
The technology and logistics for the last two productions are now being planned.
We have stepped up communication with all the guesting theatres and I’m glad we have such an experienced festival director.
Each festival production is allocated its own team of stage, lighting and sound technicians.
We are now approaching the final planning phase. The festival week still needs its own centre but all the court theatre’s rooms are booked, the performance and rehearsal schedules can’t be changed. We come up with the idea of making the Kammerspiele (chamber theatre) foyer the centre for all the festival’s artists, guests and participants. The workshops will have to convert the new venue on the side!
A few alarm bells are rung by the technician team managers: After consulting with the guesting theatres, it appears there are still some open questions.
The hire companies for light and sound technology have hinted at higher costs. We need to keep calm and concentrated. Some problems are resolved during meetings with the festival director and thanks to direct contact with those responsible at the guesting theatres. In this way, for example, we establish that existing technology or resources can be used in some cases. Our connections within the theatre network prove helpful here.
4th April 2019
Our first “24-hour day”. The dress rehearsal and the opening concert are taking place on the main stage. Afterwards the director gives a short speech in the foyer. Change of scene: at 7.05 pm the festival week centre is opened in the Kammerspiele. At 7.30 pm the dress rehearsal of the theatre’s own festival production starts.
5th April 2019
The first production arrives, “Measure for Measure” with the Pushkin Drama Theatre from Moscow. The truck arrives at 6 am; at 8 am we start unloading and setting up. We discuss the day’s schedule in detail; the two theatre teams’ responsibilities were coordinated in advance. Two interpreters are on-site to help with communication.
4.30 pm: The first event takes place in the festival week centre: A “Lieder Salon” with a Shakespeare concert, performed by Meiningen Theatre artists.
7.30 pm: The opening premiere of “Leonce and Lena” in the Kammerspiele begins.
All the effort that went into creating the production pays off and it goes without hitch.
6th April 2019
The main stage is showing “Measure for Measure”. Lighting, dress rehearsal and premiere.
The director oversees the rehearsal himself; the performers know exactly what they are doing. Conversion work is no problem at all; the lighting is well coordinated. The experienced technician keeps compromises in mind.
7th April 2019
A dress rehearsal and film presentation of “Trommeln auf dem Deich” by Ariane Mnouchkine is taking place in the festival week centre. Main stage, 7.30 pm: second showing of “Measure for Measure”, then dismantling and loading up. At midnight the 12-ton truck rumbles out the yard. “Measure for Measure” is history; we have mastered the first production. At 2 pm the truck from France arrives with the next production.
8th April 2019
9 am: We set up “Die doppelte Unbeständigkeit” from France. Black stage, carriers with hanging elements, architecture on it, printed! The stage space is initially mystifying and only takes effect when the individual elements are put together.
10 am: The van with the “Lenz” production arrives – lightweight frame, projection material, two video beamers. In three hours, the rotunda-style set is up.
9th April 2019
“Die dopplete Unbeständigkeit”: Second day on the main stage, lighting throughout.
“Lenz” is rehearsed for the last time in the chamber theatre before the premiere at 7.30 pm.
It shows a fascinating world portrayed in Flemish with German subtitles; Büchner’s story given new accents. At 10.30 pm the production leaves Meiningen again.
10th April 2019
Main stage: Lighting, dress rehearsal and premiere of “Die doppelte Unbeständigkeit”. Another tight schedule for the teams from both theatres and tension is high among all staff.
At 8 am, the people from the theatre in Vilnius start building a second ceiling in our chamber theatre. “The Seagull” by Chekhov is well known, but this production takes a radically new approach, relying partly on the complex lighting roof and partly on the surprisingly minimalist space concept. Set up, installations, lights ready by 7 pm.
11th April 2019
Kammerspiele, in the morning: Set up the sound for “The Seagull” and dress rehearsal before the premiere in the evening. 7.30 pm: Second showing of “Die doppelte Unbeständigkeit”. Then dismantling and loading up. The French theatre leaves us part of their stage set. I am planning to use it for our summer festival.
12th April 2019
The only German guest production at the festival is from Heidelberg. They have adapted the “Good Man of Szechuan” to be a guest performance. The people from Heidelberg arrive in good spirits and with their own band of employees. Setting up goes smoothly and swiftly with experienced hands on both sides. Lighting is completed in the evening. Kammerspiele: Second and last performance of “The Seagull”.
13th April 2019
11 am: Full rehearsal of “Szechuan” on the main stage, followed by four hours leisure time for all hands. 7.30 pm performance. The stage area is a large rake with many options for reconfiguration. It’s a strong production with a great ensemble.
9.30 pm: Closing party in the festival week centre. Relief and joy among everyone involved.
14th April 2019
The last day of the festival week: Second showing of the Heidelberg production, dismantling and loading up; the team leaves the next day. Now we have hosted some guest performances, too. The last chance to see a Brecht revue in the festival week centre.
At around midnight the lights go out. The end of an intense and interesting festival week.
15th April 2019
With thanks to all our staff, we set about dismantling the festival week centre.
A festival week is a logistical and personal challenge. We in Meiningen were all aware of that and arranged the performance schedule with that in mind. The biggest difficulty for the technicians is the running order. Technical documents are often not available, and requirements not known, until after the contracts have been signed, allowing little time and scope for reacting. And financial and staff arrangements are previously fixed. Preliminary talks and negotiations could hold potential for improvement here.
The guesting theatres and their teams were well organized and cooperated methodically. We as hosts enjoyed discussing questions of implementation with them directly and contributing new ideas. But when you’re working with a high frequency of different performances, such as during a festival, it is important to make sure that all the necessary preliminary work is confirmed by contracts.
Arranging the festival week centre, the accompanying programme, the refreshments, advertising, funding, accounts etc. – we managed it in Meiningen thanks to the commitment of all the staff involved. A festival week is invigorating for the theatre and the region. I would be happy to do it again.