State of the Arts is an account of the unique German public theatre system through the prism of a migrant artistic institution in the western post-industrial Ruhr region. It analyses how artistic traditions have responded to social change, racism, and cosmopolitan anxieties and recounts how critical contemporary cultural production positions itself in relation to the tumultuous history of German state patronage, difficult heritage, and self-cultivation through the arts. Based on long-term fieldwork with professional actors, directors, cultural policy makers, and activists, the book unravels how these agents constitute theatre as a site for extraordinary ethical conduct and how they grapple with the pervasive German cultural tradition of Bildung, or self-cultivation through the arts. On a methodological plane, State of the Arts wants to exemplify how anthropological ways of researching provide a way to understand the entanglement of cultural policy, institution-building, and subject-formation – and provide an entry for students and scholars of theatre into social scientific modes of research.
This book takes the Theater an der Ruhr as a case study of an odd artistic tradition, as a school for the development of ethical and political sensibilities through art that both seems to fit into a very ‘German’ narrative of public theatre and politically detached criticism and yet appear at odds with it; by breaking with the idea of theatre as a cure or therapy. Instead, the narrative of this book is about the institutionalisation of a situated, migrant-led and -situated artistic critique of sociocultural homogeneity; about what happens when institutions are formed on the back of long- standing national traditions, and what forms of artistic and social critique are rendered possible through them.
This account also scales up as a comparative description of art (including theatre) as a form of ethical practice where engagement with the self is not an antipode to an engagement with others, or even society at large. Such a scaling up brings us in particular to the remarkable German network of public ensemble and repertoire theatres and the country’s tradition of Bildung, or self-cultivation, but it equally relates to other contexts of performance traditions that I elaborate in this book, especially those connected to refugee collectives that formed through forced migration into the Ruhr region.
Every anthropological inquiry, even comparative ones, begin from a concrete context and a partial locality. As an anthropological anchor point, this book situates the institutional form of the Theater an der Ruhr and its notion of art in the wider context of German cultural policies and state patronage. Indeed, the book shows how theatre can be a prism for making sense of and critically analysing the romantic notion of Germany as a ‘state of the arts and culture’, a Kulturstaat. It documents how an institution positions itself as an alternative to both, the flexible labour conditions of the ‘creative industries’ and the bureaucracy of state institutions. I therefore focus on how Ciulli and his ensemble conceive of and enact the Theater an der Ruhr as a site for self-formation and political deliberation in and through art. This enactment occurs through a range of means, including recourse to (critical) theory in the field itself and what I call ‘institution-building’ labour practices, the creation of an internal training of conduct during rehearsals, as well as transnational public engagement through theatre with international artists, and migrants in the aftermath of the 2015 and 2016 ‘refugee crisis’ in Germany.