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Graz Annual Playwrights’ Festival 2022: Concluding day

Of elusive answers

Print edition : Aug 10, 2022 T+T-

Of elusive answers

Nancy Rubins makes a statement on industrial consumption through her sculpture made from plane parts.

Nancy Rubins makes a statement on industrial consumption through her sculpture made from plane parts.

Himali Kothari contemplates the battering the arts has taken in our conflict-ridden times as she attends the grand finale of the Graz theatre festival.

The last day of the festival is upon us.... Time for the final bow. And, from what I have seen over the past few days, that is a pretty big deal around here. We have been asked to assemble outside the Graz Opera House, where buses await to take us away from the city. The customary black dress code that has dominated the theatre space has been abandoned. Summer colours, oversized sunglasses, and straw hats have taken over.

Skulpturenpark, where sculpture and nature interact to create new narratives.
Skulpturenpark, where sculpture and nature interact to create new narratives.

A half-hour journey brings us to our destination, the Austrian Sculpture Park. The park is an attempt to bring sculpture and nature together and encourage visitors to observe their relationship and the stories that they tell. Of the 75-plus sculptures, some are permanent. Some are abstract, while others have been created by condensing found objects into a form. Some interact with the setting by incorporating the surrounds into their story. The oldest one is a bronze statue of Atlantis, created by Austrian Expressionist Herbert Boeckl in the 1940s. One of the more recent ones is one that will evolve with time. Conceptualised by the Austrian artist Bernard Leitner, the Aspen Dome consists of eight young aspen trees that have been planted in an octagonal layout. With passage of time, the tree crowns will come together to form a dome, creating a space where the rustle of the leaves will create dialogue with the slightest passage of air.

But, today at the Skulpturenpark is not simply a stroll in the park; it is the grand finale. The final year acting students of Kunst University have put together a collection of monologues that weave a path through some of these sculptures. The monologues were developed through a writing exercise by aspiring authors at the university. A range of themes have been explored. One is about the relationship between three generations of women in a family, as seen by the youngest. Anke, who performs it, tells me later that it was written as a conversation between the three but she converted it to a monologue. “I felt the frame represented the framework of their relationship,” she explains about her choice of sculpture.

Depicting the framework of relationships across generations.
Depicting the framework of relationships across generations.
The story of the Danube and its people.
The story of the Danube and its people.

Another act staged next to a lotus pond narrates the journey of the Danube, the largest river of Central Europe. The story explores the connection between the river and the people at its bank as it flows through different cultures. One particularly powerful performance is centred around the history of a Slovenian family from the Holocaust to the present. It reflects on secrets within families and how they can lead to eliminating some voices from our past forever.

The secrets of a family that lived through the Holocaust.
The secrets of a family that lived through the Holocaust.

There is much to mull over on the way back to the city. The last couple of years have seen the arts take a real beating as it has been relegated to the non-essential. Back home in Mumbai, theatres were shut for months on end, being amongst the last places to open up. And when they did open, fear and tightened pockets made it difficult to draw audiences out. But, for theatrewallahs, it was not simply about the loss of work and income. It went deeper. It was the loss of the stage. The lack of the opportunity to create, to perform. Both the fluttering butterflies and the leaping inner child were being missed. Things crawl back to normalcy, but the uncertainty looms. Yet, what these last few days have shown me is that the need to tell stories persists. And is perhaps expounded by the adversities around us. After all, what is a story without a conflict?

A final curtain call draws the festival to a close.
A final curtain call draws the festival to a close.

A theatrewallah said to me after reading my ramblings of my time in Graz: “Theatre has been around for 2,000 years. What keeps the damn thing going? That’s the ultimate question, na?” Perhaps, it is best that we keep looking for the answer.

Author and editor, Himali Kothari is a self-proclaimed nomad at heart. When life gets in the way of her travels, she takes flight through her stories.