By Julia Pausch
The climate crisis is an intersectional crisis caused by capitalism, patriarchy and racism. The International Car Exhibition (IAA) is a symbol for all three of them. Therefore, the resilient revolt collective decided to participate on the protest camp against the IAA from in September 2021, in Munich. We wanted to support with our activist-exchange an ongoing, direct action protest within the climate justice movement.
To do so, we built up our theatre-yurt directly on the camp, so we could be part in the camp-life, waking up, sharing and eating with the other protestors.
The street-theatre-workshop was integrated in the theatre-yurt-program. The resilient revolt collective provided a broad range of workshops from street-theater interventions to self-care and poetry. The street-theatre-workshop were exercised as a closed working process with the goal of performance within a direct-action situation or as a means of intervention supporting other events around the exhibition (e.g. demonstrations etc.). Other workshops were conceptualized as an open space, where people could work collectively on ideas and impulses in a flexible environment, while being able to also participate in other activities in and around the camp.
Ultimately, the activist exchange had the goal to give people the possibility to connect, discuss and act with other activists from a broad spectrum of political work. Our presence in the camp was not only thought of as a pure theater-space, but also as a platform for people to reflect and engage in a broader political discourse, right at the center of political action.
We made an open call on different platforms and on the protest camp itself. In the end we were a group around 25 people coming from Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Israel, USA and Aserbaijan.
What is the power of street-theatre in direct actions?
Organizing the street-theatre-workshop on an ongoing protest camp was challenging for the organizer team and participants.
Participants came from different countries, some didn’t speak German, some haven’t had an European pass board, most of the people didn’t know the city and some were mentally challenged by the immense police presence. We as the organizers tried to address participant’s needs before arriving on the protest camp (e.g. food preferences, sleep preferences, individual needs). However, it wasn’t possible to address all possible challenges during the workshop.
Even before the workshop started we knew we have to be flexible and give space for participant’s feelings and daily concerns. Therefore, we implemented a buddy-structure. Participants coupled in pairs and were supposed to take care of each other. Furthermore, we organized everyday-plena before and after the workshops. We wanted to legally prepare the theatre-group for direct actions by talking to the legal-team of the protest camp. However, we also wanted to give space to step out whenever participants felt uncomfortable.
While going to the workshop and sometimes while entering the protest camp, participants got stopped by the police asking for id-checking. It felt like being criminalized simply because of wanting to join the street-theatre-workshop on the protest camp.
The street-theatre-workshop tried to follow a day-structure, we learned to become flexible and adopted to the dynamics in the camp e.g. times of the meals, since the KüfA (Küche für alle; kitchen for everybody) had daily challenges caused by e.g. very strict requirements for the kitchen team asked by the police.
Furthermore, we decided to have our workshops outside, since we wanted to practice theatre-methods in public space, be visible in the camp, plant joy and humor in daily camp-routines and encourage others to join. Doing so, we sometimes had to hide from the sun, be flexible with sharing tents and spaces.
The number of participants in the street-theatre-workshop varied, since some spontaneously joined by seeing us performing within the protest camp. Some others had to drop out because they were taking general reproduction shifts at the protest camp (e.g. camp security; support for activists who got arrested during their protests; care-work; preparation for demonstration). Others left because they were emotionally challenged being surrounded by so much police. Therefore, the group had to be ready to rebuild the group and include new participants.
During the workshop we tried to build a group dynamic and trust within the group, create new content and scenes for possible direct actions and also focus on basic theatre exercises.
It was important to listen and say “yes” to different improvisation offers. We incorporated the message “Ready to lead, ready to follow”, during the workshop days the group built up patience and trust in each other. Sometimes in street theatre, it can be more powerful to stand still than being active/ giving improvisation-offers to the group all the time.
In one workshop-session, we decided to explore the spaces outside the protest-camp. We dressed in funky clothes carrying a pink Bobby- car with us. All over sudden, we got stopped by the police. They asked us for our ids. Passengers who first enjoyed watching us, now tried to move, as they felt uncomfortable in this situation. Since this experience made us feel powerless, in a next session, we practiced some theatrical reactions for future police interactions. One idea was to make a two lines to cheer up the person who then was going to play their role in the “police-id-checking-play”. Another idea was to sing Slovenian protest songs; to turn into animals; to become the better police and help the real cops; to thank the police for their work saying “Ah finally you are here, we were waiting for you the whole day” or to pretend being at an airplane which is ready to take off. After the session, we gained more confidence, felt emotionally and artistically prepared.
On the day of the big demonstration, we started with our theatre intervention in the neighborhood of the protest camp. Later we joined the big demonstration.
Our interventions were powerful. We brought humor and irony e.g. we buried the Bobby-car, we played improvisation games and animated the audience to join.
People stopped by, were irritated, smiled, laughed and cheered to us.
The theatre group later discussed that the ironical interventions worked pretty good in public spaces. In a next direct street theatre, we want to interact more with the audience, show statue theatre and little scenes which address the topic of automobility, transportation, commuting, freedom of travelling in relation to climate justice on a deeper level. However, we have to consider that the audience is constantly moving, since they are part of the demonstration. We should check places and the demonstration route in advance. Furthermore, the beginning and end of the street intervention has to be clear, so the actress can manage their energy. Additionally, we should clarify what we would do if someone feels uncomfortable in direct actions and wants to leave (Where is our meeting point?).