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La Strada strikes a chord with Graz

Creative people contributing to European culture are used to thinking long-term. Habits and attitudes change slowly. Yet sometimes an idea chimes perfectly with a particular city. That’s how it was in Graz in 1998. Then, for the first time, Europe’s best street and puppet theatre ensembles got together in the city for a festival. Over a period of 9 days La Strada presented 11 productions from Spain, France, Belgium, Italy.

The city itself as a stage was a completely new concept for Austria. Outdoor summer theatre only took place at designated locations, in palace courtyards, parks, palace gardens. Only the initiative ”Kunst im öffentlichen Raum” [art in public spaces] promoted the display of sculpture in the vicinity of public buildings. At the close of the 20th century in Austria, physical theatre, cirque nouveau, puppet shows and theatre and object theatre were well outside artistic tradition. In the meantime this has changed altogether radically. Whilst, in La Strada’s first year, 100 percent of invited productions had to be commissioned from outside, today a third to a half of festival productions originate locally. With the support of the pan-European IN SITU network, 22 of the acts originated or co-produced in Graz have enjoyed success at festivals all over Europe.

Over the years, the immediacy of artistic performance in public space has attracted audience and artists. Since the beginning La Strada has built up a network with the city’s institutions. Collaboration with them has already culminated in several sensational co-operations; for example, in 2011 the public transport authority made the city’s central transport hub area available for artistic interventions for an entire week – these events even spread out into trams and busses. Here too it was clear: La Strada strikes a chord with the city. And the impact is all positive.

This was La Strada 2011
More than 130 shows in 9 days, 23 groups of artists from 8 countries and yet still La Strada 2011 was the most ‘Grazish’ of all festivals for street performance and puppet theatre we ever had. 

Seventeen Austrian dancers, actors and athletes showed new ways of dealing with urban architecture in Willi Dorner’s “Bodies in Urban Spaces”. With unusual city tours, Sophia Laggner and the Graz Guides offered new insights into the urban character of the city. The Bezirksgericht West District Court turned out to be an unorthodox venue for an unorthodox drama of stations for young Graz-based theatre group t’eig. And, for the duration of ten days, Jakominiplatz square became both venue and theme of a performative ‘multi-venture’ experienced by up to 90,000 people per day.

Anyway, what would a festival be without its visitors? Some claim that art stands in its own right and is sufficient in itself. La Strada wants more; La Strada needs its audience – without these interested visitors it would have no spirit, there would be no-one to marvel, no quizzical reaction, no-one to laugh till they cry, no-one to dance. This year too, we were again able to experience magic moments between artists and audience. Statistics also confirm this enthusiasm with ticket sales averaging 92% per ticket-entry show. At this point we would like to thank all artists, workshop-participants and our numerous team members, but mainly and last but not least the audience from Graz, Austria and indeed the whole world and hope we will be able to see each other again next year – from July 27th till August 4th, 2012!

Cordially and on behalf of the entire team

Werner Schrempf, artistic director