The pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, and the theatre industry was no exception. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Tina Jucker, founder and director of Theater Marabu, a children's theatre company based in Bonn, Germany. In this interview, she shares the challenges and joys of creating theatre in the pandemic era, and her vision for the future.
Theater Marabu was founded over 30 years ago by Jucker and Klaus Overkamp, and has since developed into a leading theatre company for young audiences in Germany. Theater Marabu works in a wide variety of constellations. They work with a wide variety of creative professionals to create performances that are interactive, visual, and thought-provoking. They have theatre professionals (actors, musicians, dancers etc) play for young audiences as well as special projects where children and young performers take the stage. Additionally, they work together with local schools and invite school classes to watch their shows in the theatre. Their work includes a mix of autobiographical and abstract themes, and they use technology and tools like microphones, live cam, and film to enhance their performances.
When the pandemic hit, Theater Marabu had to close their theatre and stop performing. However, Jucker remarked that it was a welcome break, a chance to calm down and take a step back from the stress of constant performances. But soon, the company had to adapt to the new reality and find ways to continue creating theatre.
Initially, there was a lot of trouble to plan and coordinate work due to lockdowns being introduced (and removed) in a sporadic manner as well as last-minute illnesses and emergencies that came up for the team. They started making small digital projects to stay in touch with children and schools. This included offering Aufgaben (English: tasks) which were instructions and invitations for children to create art at home and present it on a digital medium.
However Jucker noted that for young audiences, theatre is an inherently collective experience, and digital ways can only take us so far. “We want them to laugh, and laugh together, in a group” Jucker adds, emphasising the importance of young audiences experiencing art alongside their peers, leading to more discussions and exchange between them.
They then turned to outdoor and open air performances, inviting audiences to witness live work whilst still being socially distanced. Herein, Jucker talks about the challenges of performing outdoors, including sound and crowd control. She mentioned a co-production with the Bonn-based company Fringe Ensemble that they performed entirely in a forest, which was a great experience for the audience. She says "We decided to go into the forest for the whole performance. It was a great experience for people to walk through the forest and experience the sounds of nature, along with the music of the show.”
The company then started creating more performances that could be done outdoors, such as the "Master of Disaster," a performance that aims to make children laugh and talk about their problems and fears.
Jucker remarked that the pandemic has made it more important to use less text and go more visual and interactive. They also shifted their focus to climate change and the world's problems, aiming to give children hope and a sense of collective thinking. Jucker emphasized the importance of making performances that are interactive and visual, so that children can enjoy them and learn from them.
She adds "We use lots of digital tools in our performance, especially live camera. We had a dance theatre performance with three male actors, aged 13, 30 and 63 years old, about the heroes of our childhood.” Using digital methods, the group was able to play around with scale and depth by experimenting with the placement of different camera feeds, crafting a unique digital experience.
Jucker believes that the pandemic has changed the world forever, and we have to be open to the things that will come. She thinks that the theatre for young audiences should be integrated more into schools and should be a political theatre that talks about issues like climate change and the world's problems. She remarked that schools in Germany are very focused on learning, and theatre is not given much importance.
Jucker also highlighted the importance of being in contact with the audience and taking time to communicate with them after performances. She said that they have a community of people who come to their theatre, and it's essential to have a relationship with them. They also conduct workshops and programs with children and parents to stay engaged with them.
Theater Marabu's work with schools has been a big part of their mission for over 30 years. Jucker mentioned that they don't focus on what children are interested in, but rather what is important for adults to talk about. They create performances that are engaging and thought-provoking, and then invite school classes to come in and participate in the rehearsals. Jucker emphasized that they don't fix the age of the performance beforehand, but rather create a performance and then decide what age group it is suitable for.
Theater Marabu's journey in the pandemic era has been one of adaptation and innovation. But the future holds its own challenges. Jucker noted that the pandemic has made it more difficult financially for Theater Marabu. In Germany, schools are not very focused on theatre and the arts, which means that they often don't get the funding they need. They have been lucky to receive some grants and funding, but Jucker is unsure how it will continue in the future.
Despite the financial challenges, Theater Marabu remains committed to creating performances that are interactive, visual, and thought-provoking, and that bring people together. They have found ways to create theatre that is interactive, visual, and thought-provoking, even in the face of a pandemic.
Jucker's vision for the future is one that is hopeful and inclusive, where theatre is integrated more into schools and talks about important issues. As we navigate uncertain times, we can look to Theater Marabu as a beacon of creativity and resilience.