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Brandon Woolf, University of California, Berkeley, Theater, Dance and Performance Studies

Paradigmatic Institutions: Cultural Policy and Contemporary Performance Nach der Wende

Throughout the Cold War, there persisted a commitment to the national value of Germany’s rich theater history. On both sides of the Wall, legislators, arts administrators, and artists alike maintained a stubborn commitment to a national tradition of public support for the arts – most especially the performing arts. The costly processes of reunification, however, catalyzed a dynamic transformation of theater structures. In Berlin, the proposed capital, serious financial shortages accompanied by deep political and cultural divisions sparked a slew of highly publicized, policy debates about both the present and future of state-subsidized theater. After a first round of cutbacks and administrative adjustments in the early months of 1990, the ensuing years saw a series of truly dramatic shifts: the closure of a number of longstanding theater institutions, the advent of new institutions, and the re-functioning of older institutions with new purposes and orientations. Amidst these shifts, however, Berlin has become a – if not the – epicenter of European aesthetic innovation, above all in the realms of contemporary theater and performance. How has Berlin’s cultural scene adapted in the face of this systematic reevaluation of state support? What new institutional models resulted from such structural transformations? How do these new institutions necessitate a renewed understanding of the bounds of cultural policy? And finally, how have these new institutional and legislative paradigms inspired and/or provoked new modes of performance practice?

My research investigates the transformations of Berlin’s theater institutions, the policy debates and decisions that caused these restructurings, and the performance practices that both responded to and emerged from the shifts. Despite a growing scholarly interest in the aesthetics of contemporary performance in Berlin, there has little work done to situate these aesthetic developments alongside concurrent policy shifts and institutional overhauls. Through a series of case studies, this project addresses the crucial questions left unanswered by this aporia: questions essential to understand the infrastructural and aesthetic underpinnings of Berlin’s (re)emergence as Kulturstaat; questions also essential to challenge important theoretical assumptions in longstanding and controversial debates about the relations between art and government, between aesthetics and politics.