IETM Dublin meeting: Tried and Trusted
More Information

IETM Dublin 2013 was an initiative of The Arts Council in partnership with Culture Ireland, produced by Project Arts Centre and supported by Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland. It was part of both the Arts Council’s and Culture Ireland's Culture Programme to mark Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Future IETM meetings take place in:

Athens October 17-20, 2013

Spring Plenary Meeting in Montpellier April 17-20, 2013.


Main Image: IETM Dublin Conference bag

Other Images:
Theo Dorgan delivering the Plenary Address
. The Speech can be heard on Project Arts Centre's Sound Cloud
Opening Party at Meeting House Square

Michelle Browne and Dominick Thorpe in Between You, Me and the Four Walls which was part of the artistic programme curated by Cian O'Brien.

L-R Kate Heffernan, Lian Bell and Cian O'Brien, IETM Dublin meeting team team_ietm2013.jpgin celebratory mood.


IETM Dublin meeting: Tried and Trusted

The theme of IETM’s Spring Plenary, held in Dublin this past April 11th through the 14th, was trust. It was a theme that at the outset infused itself into nearly everything about the meeting, from its most structured discussions to brief, casual exchanges outside Project Arts Centre, which hosted the event. The idea of what trust is proved difficult to firmly pin down. The range of contexts within which trust was explored during the meeting only proved to multiply the possible meanings trust may have for each of us as members of a diverse artistic community.

IETM’s primary purpose has always been about networking and ‘if anything, [it] is built on trust,’ says IETM board president and artistic director of Dansen Hus Virve Sutinen. ‘It is a network of people and ideas, and it is at the same time informal and formal.’ Producers and artists from around Europe and further abroad come together every six months to reconnect, exchange ideas and forge new relationships. For the uninitiated, it can seem intimidating the first time around, and indeed that was the abiding sensation as I attended sessions and shared the odd encounter with others there. But it was impossible not to be enthralled by the depth and complexity at the heart of a three and a half-day debate over what trust means for us as members of an artistic community and as citizens of a Europe that is changing faster than anybody can keep track.

‘I tend to trust people who share their doubts,’ declares newly appointed Secretary General of IETM Nan Van Hoete at the General Assembly, held at the Abbey Theatre on Friday morning. ‘Doubt is often mistaken as a sign of weakness and cynicism, and is far from fashionable nowadays. But in my opinion, both doubt and emotion are real sources of wisdom and creativity.’ Van Hoete is taking over the position held by Mary Ann DeVlieg for eighteen years, and one can imagine that working to earn the trust of the approximately 500 organizations and individuals who make up IETM’s membership isn’t far from her mind. Van Hoete is coming to the position at a critical time, when a number of the IETM membership is feeling the dire effects of austerity. ‘The idea of parent states taking responsibility for the well being of its citizens is being undermined,’ she says, ‘ideologically and financially.’ What is at stake is not just the future of an artistic community, but the nature and meaning of citizenship. ‘Every democracy needs citizens trained to imagine, to analyze, to empathise, and to feel the power of community. This is exactly what our art form can offer,’ Van Hoete says. Low-key organisational forms, like theatres and arts institutions, are becoming more relevant as large institutional structures are decaying. ‘I hope IETM can help restore the trust that we’ve lost.’ Virve Sutinen’s tenure as IETM board president is coming to a close, and this adds futher to the valedictory mood that permeates the proceedings. But this also brings good news for Irish theatre and performance: Willie White, IETM board member and director of the Dublin Theatre Festival, is chosen to replace Sutinen as president of the new incoming IETM board. White’s ascension to the role will no doubt help put Irish theatre and performance closer to the centre of the debate about how the support for, and promotion of, European performing arts moves ahead.

The experience of IETM, at least for someone attending for the first time, can feel a little fragmented. Moving from session to session, from venue to venue breaks up the day in a discontinuous way. With the amount of activities programmed, from a variety of working sessions, networking functions and performances chosen to represent the broad array of theatre and dance work in Dublin, it’s impossible to take in everything. With this in mind, the theme of the meeting doesn’t just act as an abstract point of debate. It actually locates you in your own overall journey of the event. The theme doesn’t necessarily act as a guide, but rather as path revealed in retrospect, helping you to piece together the disparate opinions, experiences and ideas that flow through each session or interaction.

theo_1-(2).jpgPoet Theo Dorgan lays out the start of this journey for us by speaking with gifted eloquence at Friday morning’s plenary session at the Abbey on how the establishment of trust is the foundation of common purpose. Trust, he says, ‘is the social contract into which we enter, and if I am describing a high and noble process, I’m doing so in the full knowledge that I am describing it in ideal terms, in the full knowledge that we are imperfect beings, and that the reality of what we do only rarely manages to achieve such perfect fullness.’ In the current economic and cultural climate, that fact of our shared human fallibility cannot be used as an excuse to shy away from trusting in the power of community and active citizenship. ‘In the face of doubt, cynicism, despair or terror, when the options are balanced, trust is not only a choice, it is always, no matter the circumstances, the better option.’

Dorgan’s thoughts still hang on me as I head across the river to Dance House to attend the second round of News Round. News Round offers IETM attendees an opportunity to make an announcement about any upcoming projects and make a call out for possible collaborators, either from within their own country or across borders. The rules are simple: presenters have three minutes to give their presentation, a timeframe that’s strictly maintained. Traditionally, if a speaker goes over three minutes, their punishment is to take a shot of whiskey or whatever the local alcoholic beverage of choice is. And even if they stay within the three minutes allotted, they’re still invited to take a shot if they wish. Unfortunately for presenters, the treated wooden floors in Dance House need to be maintained, so alcohol is not allowed in the studio where the event is held. Drinking two large glasses of water in quick succession is the alternative (and less fun) punishment.

Every presentation is like a call out to the ether, and common words crop up in each one. ‘Collaboration’ is the watchword, followed by ‘community’, ‘new’, and ‘children’ or ‘young adults’. Playwright Glenn Kaufmann, an American writer based in Ireland, asks for help with a unique children’s show he’s proposing about introducing kids to foods from different cultures. He wants to know if there’s anyone out there in the IETM masses who has dealt with smell as a major production element, or with preparing and cooking food onstage. The request is about practicability, devoid of any kind of grandiose abstraction, and it’s hard to think there isn’t someone there in the standing room only audience who wouldn’t be able to offer some small bit of advice.

After News Round it’s back across the Liffey to the The Ark children’s cultural centre where a discussion about representing and working with marginalised communities is underway. Ireland is well-represented here, with musician and theatremaker Dylan Tighe, Owen Boss from Anu Productions, Gary Keegan from Brokentalkers, and playwright Rosaleen McDonagh making up the bulk of the panel. Elli Papakonstantinou, artistic director of the ODC Ensemble in Greece, and Gabriel Gbadamosi, a Nigerian-Irish playwright, poet and novelist from the U.K. round out the list of presenters. Anu’s work representing the social history of the Foley Street area ends up having a lot in common with Gbadamosi’s work in south London. Both are based on a geographical response to an area the makers are intimately familiar with, but that has seen significant changes over the decades. Gbadamosi’s work in the Vauxhall area of London is aimed at bringing together the disparate communities (gay, Portuguese, Maltese, South Asian, Polish, Jamaican) within the neighborhood he grew up in. ‘The ethics of that are like the ethics of me coming to Dublin and talking to the Irish: I’m clearly a foreigner. But I have a relationship [with the area] and...I can connect things to other things, and that’s kind of the ethos with which I do this.’ Rosaleen McDonagh, who is both a member of Ireland’s Traveller community and is disabled, says that we need to tease out the purposes behind collaborations between marginalised communities and artists from outside those communities. ‘There is no map for these types of mutual projects,’ she says. ‘The Traveller, or disabled person, needs to always be in a position where they can call a halt when they feel they are not being respected and imagined or realised.’ How and why marginalised communities are represented in particular modes needs to always be examined. ‘The burden of representation is ever-present. The burden is not just polemic diatribe.’

opening_crowd_ietm_small.jpgSo much about the establishment of trust among people, be they fellow citizens or collaborating artists, is about the clarity of communication: trusting that you’ve been heard and that what you’re saying is being accepted and taken as legitimate. After listening to Gbadamosi and McDonagh, the trust established between artists and the marginalised communities they seek to work with and represent suggests a wary, transactional relationship, where trust isn’t immediately forged but earned through a successive give and take where clarity of purpose is sought.

The transactional element of trust is discussed vigorously at the second session of the Big Debate, an event taking place over three days at IETM. The question of how to communicate with those agencies and governmental bodies that grant funding is a prime point of the debate. Since the language of governance has taken on more of the slick sheen of the language of business, several participants wonder aloud if arts organisations need to translate what it is they do into a more business-friendly vernacular in order to establish trust with agencies. ‘Sometimes we need to not be shy about meeting the agencies and the government bodies halfway, of finding a way of teaching them our language and accepting elements of theirs,’ says Paula McFetridge of Kabosh Theatre Company in Belfast. Jocelyn Clark, representing the Arts Council, warns against a tyranny of trust: ‘Trust presupposes an agreement, that when we trust someone we agree with them, and that’s not necessarily true.’ Mary Ann DeVlieg concurs. ‘I think we should make a differentiation between a healthy wariness and blind trust,’ she says, ‘because what I get from some of the conversations I’ve heard today is that we should always trust in every situation, and it’s always seen as a good thing to trust. I think that it’s also a good thing to survive.’

Saturday I attend the panel ‘Who’s Opinion Do You Trust’ which aims to discuss the dynamic and at times contentious relationship between critic and artist, and whether or not in-depth criticism has a serious role to play anymore in how the performing arts are received and understood. Panelist and Irish Times theatre critic Peter Crawley sees the critic as a member of larger ecology that includes audiences and the arts community at large. The health of that ecology is dependent on how its members, particularly the artist and the critic, regard one another. Fellow panelist Grace Dyas, playwright, director and one third of the company THEATREclub, notes that the quality of newspaper theatre criticism in Ireland is erratic at best, with the Irish Times and Irish Theatre Magazine usually providing exceptions to this. Both Dyas and Crawley have, over time, developed a critic/artist relationship based on lively debate and mutual respect, putting paid the ‘imagined enmity’ (as Crawley says) between critic and artist — at least in their case. While Dyas may not always agree with Crawley’s critical assessment of a piece of her work, she says that ‘there’s something satisfying about being heard’ in having that work given serious consideration by an informed critical point of view (something that may not always be the case in the totality of Irish criticism). But is the introduction of social media into the mix, where artists can connect directly with their audiences through platforms like Facebook and Twitter, begun to marginalize the critic? Yohann Floch, an adviser to ‘Unpack the Arts’, a mobility programme for cultural journalists, tends to think so. Artists are always trying to reach out to and educate their audience, and social media has proven an effective way to do that. ‘They see the critic as an obstacle,’ he says, rather than as someone offering an educated, considered viewpoint through which to view performance. Added to this, says Floch, is this issue of mobility. ‘Critics and journalists are quite isolated,’ and just as artists strive to bring their work across borders and into other cultural contexts, critics and journalists should also be given the opportunity to follow them and cover how that work is received and understood within those varied contexts.

Between_you_me.jpgThe artistic programme, curated by Project Arts Centre artistic director Cian O’Brien with the help of an advisory panel, offers attendees a flavour of the performing arts scene in Dublin right now. The programme includes the work of Pan Pan Theatre Company, Brokentalkers, John Scott Dance, Liz Roche Company, and the Abbey Theatre. Added to this is a programme curated by visual artist Michele Browne called Between You, Me and the Four Walls that also gives a glimpse of performance art practice in Ireland. ‘The breadth and the quality of the work we’ve curated for you bears witness to the trust we place in the vision of our artists,’ says Cian O’Brien at the plenary session. ‘The programme of work curated for this meeting is really only a snapshot of what is a much broader theatre and dance landscape.’ With a reduced price for IETM attendees, tickets were snatched up and could prove hard to come by. After registering, members were seen lining up at the Project Arts Centre box office in long queues in order to ensure they got to go the performances they wanted to see, suggesting that there was a great deal of enthusiasm for experiencing what the Dublin performing arts scene has to offer.

In between sessions I get the chance to speak briefly with Carlos Costa, artistic director of Portugal’s Visões Úteis. Carlos has been attending IETM meetings for the last five years, and when I ask him what he thinks of Dublin so far, his answer surprises me: he really hasn’t noticed. ‘That is one of the things about IETM,’ he explains, ‘that although it is in different cities, it’s so absorbing... We are in Dublin, but we could be anywhere. The most important [thing] is the relationships, the people.’ Carlos also provides one of the more apt analogies for what IETM is and what it aims to accomplish. Imagine, he says, you’re a kid living in a building, where all your friends love to play rugby. You, however, are a soccer player. One day you get taken to a park where you meet other kids love to play soccer, just as much as you. ‘And you start playing with them,’ he says. ‘Of course that will change your life.’ While I’m speaking to Carlos, the abstraction of IETM as a means of connecting people from different cultures and contexts becomes suddenly concrete. Another IETM attendee interrupts us and asks Carlos if he’s received an email from him about someone he saw in News Round yesterday. The attendee says that a playwright — which could only be Glenn Kaufman — was looking for advice on how to prepare and cook food onstage. He thinks Carlos might be able to help.

When I ask Carlos about how the financial crisis has affected him and his work, he offers a wry laugh. He comes from Portugal, he says, so he probably knows more about financial crises than we do. IETM has helped him temper the effect that crisis is having, though. ‘When you are in IETM, you are always a couple of years ahead of what’s going to happen,’ says Carlos. ‘It doesn’t mean that you will be able to change it, because some things you cannot control.’ But with the exchange of information from different countries that IETM provides, it’s possible to prepare. ‘Portugal is at the edge of Europe, so whatever happens is usually like a wave that comes from the centre of Europe and hits Portugal after a couple of years,’ he says. ‘So if you prepare, if people from the centre share information with you, you have a picture of what’s going to happen, because it’s the same wave coming.’

The same could be said for Ireland. As a country on the edge of Europe, it’s important that Irish artists remain connected to their European counterparts, not just in terms of co-production and collaboration, but also in terms of exchanging strategies on how to approach an extremely challenging political and economic landscape, on both a national and international level. Being an active part of IETM is key to that. The high level of participation by Irish artists at this meeting hopefully heralds a long-term commitment by the Irish performing arts community to being even more active members in the discourse of European performing arts. As Carlos Costa says, active participation is key. ‘IETM as an organisation has always been a very open organisation for its members,’ he says. But it’s necessary that members speak up and express their ideas and opinions to IETM about how best to move forward. So long as IETM continues to earn the trust of its members by providing an open forum for the free exchange of ideas, and as long as those members continue to contribute to that exchange, then facing the future won’t be nearly as stressful than if members had to do it all on their own.

Jesse Weaver completed his doctoral thesis at University College Cork in 2011. His research focus was on the changing roles of the playwright in Irish theatre production from 1980 to 2010.



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