I headed off to the IETM plenary in Rijeka , not really knowing where Rijeka was. what a plenary was or indeed what IETM was. As part of my Theatre Bristol job as an ASA I had agreed to go and discover what the event had to give. It proved to be a great opportunity too to try out my new no fly policy for myself, Rijeka being tucked up near the Italian/Slovenian border without its own airport. So I passed through France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy by train and bus to arrive 2 days later having experienced both the joys, passing through the Alps, and the lows, there not being a connection train from Ljubjana.
Rijeka bathed in hot sunshine laced by the bluest Adriatic sea, once a thriving industrial port, now a container drop off point, cranes reminiscent of Bristol’s M Shed relics, dotting the small city. Old ornate churches, burnt umber facades of grand buildings, a modern city centre with wide wide streets, a relaxed street cafe feel to the place. With a fine river and waterways, features of the centre of the city, Rijeka is hosting European Capital of Culture 2020 and the IETM plenary meeting was bringing theatre makers of all sorts together to explore key issues identified by the membership. This year featured a lot about audience.
About 150 attendees from across Europe, mostly members who had been part of building this network since the 1990’s. Some independent artists like myself and 2 others from Bristol, who had never been before, a great group of British artists supported by the British Council who were the only people of colour. A conversation about diversity revealed that diversity in Eastern Europe referred to Slovenians, Czechs, Macedonians, Italians etc. The venue was not disability friendly so representation was distinctly limited.
I threw myself into the programme, the opening and erudite speech, joined an arts and the market discussion, felt out of my depth, booked into 2 shows, an immersive experience about authoritarian regimes and their appeal and discovered by 8pm that I didn’t have the energy for 2 shows but met up with a couple of women and went to have supper at the local bar. Having travelled for 2 days and nights I was exhausted. But we had a great meal and exchanged stories and ideas. I might have even met someone who would help me take my yoga project to another level .
Managing the days ahead, choosing what to go to, coming to terms with the fact that a lot of it seems very intellectual and non participatory, (not my best way to learn and absorb) proved to be a common theme amongst the other independent artists, wondering quite what it was they had come for.
I joined an immersive theatre workshop which was brilliant and we got to explore working together and creating different pieces, this was my highlight. I discovered inspiring projects in Italy, France and Germany that I will follow up. I spent a glorious morning by the sea on a tiny pebble beach and swam in the cold turquoise waters, wandered with an arts guide in the disused industrial areas hearing of the plans for 2020 and the Rijeka artists involved, grew a fondness for the city, with its tower blocks climbing the hills behind, a mixture of all the decades of the last 100 years with all the passing regimes from fascism to unfettered capitalism.
I met a young Afghani refugee making his way to UK with no passport, phone or money. I met artists and theatre makers from Latvia , Malta, Ireland, Coventry, Berlin, Glasgow, Belfast, Italy and Poland. I listened to poetry about audiences, grew frustrated with the arts and activism discussions, attempted to be inspired by building digital communities, began to get to know the weekend community and left Rijeka with a broader sense of a European Theatre community.
Was it worth it? In the discussion about the event at the end, I was in the members section and the consensus there was that it takes about 3 conferences to begin to get the best out of it. That seems like a luxury in this day and age. Other independent artists didn’t seem to get what they wanted but member artists seemed happy to reconnect and deepen relationships. I felt the organisation missed the opportunity at the beginning to have a session where we all got to met each other and find out what people did and speed up the networking process. I think if you are in the membership then there is more chance that you will get what you want from being at an event like this and it is a great opportunity to meet theatre makers from across Europe. I was inspired to look into the next event in Tromso, Norway high up in the arctic circle with Arts and Activism as the theme. My no fly policy means it would take about 4-5 days to travel there! I’ve not ruled it out.
If you are interested in attending industry events such as these then we offer bursaries of up to £300 in our TB Agents initiative.