Theatres - defining urban structures?
In ancient Greece, theatre and city have the same origin: the polis – a citizen of Athens considered theatre and city as an entity. A citizen of Dortmund, Essen or Bochum would come up with some decent directions if you asked him where the theatre was. But at the central station in Castrop-Rauxel, you wouldn’t get any information about the theatre - because there is none.
Content affects structure. Structure affects content.
What about the exchange between theatre and city? Theatre has its origin in the city and the city in theatre. Theatre serves as a location of reflection, thinking, exchange of ideas among the citizens, and also as an up to date mirror, critically reflecting venerable traditions and social behaviours. That is theatre originating from a local structure. The urban territory and its limits define this structure filled with people going abut their social and economical relations and dependencies. But the rules of their coexistence aren’t defined or communicated by theatre nowadays - they haven’t been for a long time. Often, people meet somewhere else than in a theatre, unfortunately losing the common ground of the past.
Is there anything left from the genuine function of the medium theatre in modern cities? POTTFICTION, a youth theatre, converts this postulation by declaring: create your future. Here, theatre is regarded as a field of experiments, a laboratory for young people, in which they can play and prove their wishes, fears, and wills. It makes the youth strong for the tough urban life. A project like that takes away some of the anonymity and one-dimensionality of a city – and you get to know each other much better.
"High culture" - city gems in the off
Who needs theatre these days? Opera and municipal theatre are gladly considered part of the formative urban structure. Their high culture becomes a brand, a label for the respective city which wants to be attractive on the highest possible level. Mostly, this fails due to the architectural (dis)integration of the theatres.
In Dortmund, you stroll through the town’s centre, but you hardly pass theatre and opera because they’re just off the busy paths of the pedestrian precinct, in spite of their central position. If you finally have found it, the main entrance of the opera is identifiable by the building’s architecture, but the theatre entrance looks more like the back door of an office building – so much for taking away a considerable part of the expectation, fun, and willingness to reflect on the subjects offered on stage.
The children and youth theatre section is even far more out, in a residential area near the Westfalenpark. But lately, Dortmund has demonstrated there is another way to handle that challenge: in the heart of the city, in direct vicinity of the pedestrian precinct (which is among Germany’s most profitable ones), a small and grubby corner of the town near the main station called Brückstraßenviertel has been revamped and provided with a real gem of mus ical high culture. Among all those busy scene hot spots, jeans boutiques, bistros, hair salons and jewellers sits the new Konzerthaus Dortmund – during your lunch break, you can buy the soundtracks of all the classical music or Jazz performances (you’ll perhaps attend the next day) directly on location. Hard to imagine that these opposites exist in the same city... All Ruhr area cities have peculiarities like that. Shouldn’t theatres and operas be in the heart of the town?
If you’re approaching the Schauspielhaus Bochum from the central station in Bochum, you have the feeling to move away from the city centre. The Grillo Theater in Essen is located in the centre, but still a bit hidden, and the Aalto-Oper is in a totally different part of the town. In Duisburg, you don’t even notice the big, representative theatre building behind the König-Heinrich-Platz with its obstructed view. The striking and great Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures in the wide pedestrian precinct lead the eye to the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum – and not to the theatre. Was it the war – the air raids which destroyed the Ruhr metropolis region almost totally and extinguished the neo-classical or partially even medieval town structures and landmarks?