The current situation – in Zurich and elsewhere

12.05.2021 – Great news for all of us: The Zürcher Theater Spektakel 2021 will take place – with performances, not only at the Werft and Rote Fabrik, but also at two venues on the Landiwiese. Additionally, we are developing ideas on performances and installations for the festival site. In order to realise this, we have been discussing ideas with international artists to hear at first hand what the situation is elsewhere in the confusing world of the pandemic. Their response has not always been optimistic.

For example, in Columbia Mapo Teatro is working on an art project for Zurich, which was originally planned for 2020 and has now been scheduled for this summer: Having got through the past year relatively well, the country is now experiencing a massive third wave of the virus, resulting in a strict curfew, which has hit a large sector of the population particularly hard: those who work in the hidden economy. Hospitals are full and oxygen is scarce. The government has imposed a VAT on staple foods in order to boost hard-hit public finances. Hence, only one member of Mapa participated in a video call last week – the rest of the company was involved in a national strike against these draconian measures. Meanwhile the minister of economic affairs has resigned and the tax reform has been withdrawn. At the same time, South American countries are fighting for the distribution of vaccines. To create art amidst this madness may be absurd, and at the same time a moment of hope.

The members of Mapo Teatro are not the only ones working on ways to present international art to an audience in these circumstances. In Hong Kong, for example, the artist Royce Ng is experimenting with avatars to present his works live in Zurich – without being physically present. In Canada, the musician Feist is developing «Alone.Together», a corona-safe concert setting.

Whereas many details continue to be unclear in our planning for this year’s Theater Spektakel, others have become apparent: We will present a festival in a mostly-vaccinated country with many artists from countries where vaccines are hardly available – and won’t be for quite some time. This has always been an aspect of international festivals: Artists from less privileged countries travel to countries such as Switzerland. What is new is that we are witnessing how those inequalities are further exacerbated in the face of a truly global challenge.

We continue to believe that international art can open up new perspectives, especially in situations like this: For their latest project, the artists of the Peng! Collective have asked Biontech collaborators to leak the manufacturing instructions of the vaccine. With posters placed outside the production facilities in Marburg and Mainz, a website and a YouTube video, Peng! demands the #peoplesVaccine. The Indian ethnologist Shalini Randeira has recently hosted a talk with experts at the Wiener Burgtheater: What does vaccine equity mean – and how should it be implemented, especially in the southern hemisphere? You can find a recording of this talk here. Incidentally, Mrs. Randeira wrote an essay for our programme three years ago. It was entitled «Shared Globalisation». This concept should continue to be the case. With this in mind, we hope that our shared reality may be a better one this summer as we look forward to an international festival at the Theater Spektakel 2021.

Sarah Wendle, Veit Kälin, Matthias von Hartz

Festival co-directors