PRODUCE LESS, WORK BETTER! Performing Arts Beyond Growth (2023)

Academy as part of the Impulse Theatre Festival 2023
15.-18. June 2023, Ringlokschuppen Ruhr

Constant growth is simply not possible on a planet with finite resources. Transition to a post-growth society is unavoidable. But the independent performing arts are also determined by the dogma of growth: Especially in the years of the Covid pandemic, there was more research, conferencing and production than ever before. However, for most artists nothing has changed in terms of their working conditions or social security: their situation remains precarious. How can we get off this treadmill? The Academy dealt with this question in several lectures and three workshops.

Students as well as practitioners from artistic practice, production, dramaturgy, administration, labour unions and funding went on a joint search for new working and production conditions: What does a different kind of theatre work look like when there is less but more sustainable production? If workers, ideas and materials are not burnt up fast, but used over a longer term? If our focus is placed on caring for each other and for creating shared assets and practices?


The Academy began with reports from the research project “Systemcheck”, which examines working conditions and social security in the independent performing arts. In three exdended workshops, the focus was then on what new theatre work could look like in concrete terms in the future. Finally, representatives of associations, labour unions and initiatives invited to table discussions on the question of how the drafts from the workshops can be concretely introduced into political work.

The Academy itself also wanted to put a stop to hyperproductivity. Therefore, there was room for collective cooking in the Tiger Kitchen with Nadja Duesterberg and Svea Kirschmeier, browsing in the Academy library or relaxing in the park. The academy participants also visited the showcase of the Impulse Festival in Düsseldorf on the evenings.

System Check: On the state of work in the independent performing arts (Thursday, 15.06., 11:00-13:00)

Lectures and discussion with the participants of the research project “Systemcheck” Sören Fenner (ensemble-netzwerk e.V.), Janet Merkel (Institute for Cultural Governance), Elisabeth Roos (Bundesverband Freie Darstellende Künste), Hannah Speicher (Institut für interdisziplinäre Arbeitswissenschaft der Leibniz Universität Hannover).

From 2021 to 2023, the research project “Systemcheck” of the Bundesverband Freie Darstellende Künste will investigate the working conditions of solo self-employed and hybrid employees in the performing arts. At the ACADEMY, the project’s key themes and the most important results of its research are presented by Elisabeth Roos. Dr. Hannah Speicher reports on the evidence from the interview study “In Free Fall. Forms of employment, social safeguards, self-conceptions and coping strategies in the liberal performing arts”. Janet Merkel provides insights into how the concept of work has evolved in the arts and creative industries. Here she points out how passion for a profession is linked to working conditions, and raises questions about cultural governance. Sören Fenner talks about experiences of self˗employed individuals and hybrid workers from the artists’ point of view. After an outlook on the further steps of “Systemcheck”, there will be time for exchange on what has been heard.

Workshop program (Thursday, 15.06., to Saturday, 17.06.)

Workshop 1: Commoning our work, commoning our institutions. Post-capitalist training in shared work and production

With Emanuele Braga and Gabriella Riccio (Institute of Radical Imagination)

Can artistic practice be a model for ways out of the crisis? In the workshop ‘Commoning our work, commoning our institutions’, artists and activists from the Institute of Radical Imagination talk about their practice: they try to create spaces for the growth of the commons against privatisation, gentrification and exploitation – from the micro-level of the individual to reclaiming or occupying urban space and influencing planning and politics. Together with the participants, they try to shape the idea for a theatre of the commons. The concept of the commons is based on the experience of self-managed art and cultural spaces such as L’Asilo (Naples) or MACAO (Milan) that focus on collective work for shared space in the city that belongs to everyone.

Workshop 2: We have no art: we do everything as well as we can. An experiment in Maintenance Art

With Inga Bendukat and Eleonora Herder (andpartnersincrime)

What if our understanding of art focussed not on production, but on reproduction? If care-giving relationships did not inhibit artistic collaboration, but enriched it? How do artistic work processes function when they are no longer thought of in terms of neoliberal production logics, but rather as maintenance, as resumption and reconnection? What can art learn from radical care work activists? And what if we understood art itself as care work? Would that then become Maintenance Art? Together with the participants, andpartnersincrime investigate a form of independent theatre that combines art and care work and experiment with this Maintenance Art in the city of Mülheim an der Ruhr.

Workshop 3: Producing for the common good. Balancing our work with the economics of the common good

With Oliver Eller and Sandra Paul (Gemeinwohl-Ökonomie)
Impulse by Carlsson Kemena (Theater Göttingen)

The economy for the common good is a movement that wishes to base our economy fundamentally on the democratically defined common good and the concept of co-operation. In the workshop Oliver Eller and Sandra Paul introduce the movement and, together with the participants, study examples of balancing the common good in and beyond the independent performing arts and ask: how can we rethink our work in view of the limits of the planet and increasing social crises? How can we realign production in the independent theatre and integrate values such as solidarity, justice, ecological sustainability and transparency into our actions? Carlsson Kemena from Theater Göttingen, which was the first municipal theatre in Germany to go through a common good certification, furthermore deals with the pros and cons of a certification from the theatre’s point of view and gives an insight into how the DT Göttingen is currently developing the process further.

Fighting Together for Better Work in the Liberal Performing Arts (Sunday, 06/18, 11:00-13:00).

Round table conversations with Esther Bajo and Ulrike Kuner (IG Freie Theaterarbeit/European Association of Independent Performing Arts), Mareike Holtz and Mona Rieken (Performing for Future), Sharon Jamila Hutchinson and Marque-Lin Pham (United Networks), Susan Schubert and Romy Schwarzer (Arbeitsgruppe Elternschaft und Kunstbetrieb/Tanznetz Dresden), Ulrike Seybold (NRW Landesbüro Freie Darstellende Künste), Ina Stock (ver.di).

To conclude the Academy, we focus again on specific action: in round table discussions with representatives of associations, labour unions and initiatives, we discuss what must and can be done to achieve lasting improvements in working conditions in the independent performing arts.


(c) Impulse Festival & Robin Junicke

A co˗production between Cheers for Fears and the Impulse Theater Festival together with the programme “Verbindungen Fördern” run by the Bundesverband Freie Darstellende Künste e.V. Cheers for Fears is funded by the Ministry for Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine˗Westphalia. “Verbindungen Fördern” is funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.