Internationalisation: School of Acting and Kunstuniversität Graz
For many years, ArtEZ’ School of Acting has collaborated fruitfully with the school of acting of the Kunstuniversität in Graz, Austria. Students and lecturers exchange in groups or individually, from two weeks to six months.
What are the experiences like in Graz? And what do these exchanges yield? Werner Strenger (head at Kunstuniversität Graz) and students Bram Walter and Anne Rietmeijer share their experiences.
‘The exchanges and co-productions are a good experience for students’
Werner Strenger (professor and head of the programme at Kunstuniversität Graz and actor): ‘It was very important to use the connection with the Netherlands and to have students notice that acting and language are not only about the meaning of words, but just as much about musicality and sound. You can experience this when you act in a foreign language. I thought it was important to introduce that in the classes in Graz. Ernst Braches (head of course at the School of Acting at ArtEZ) was also interested in this and so we started working together.’
Every year a group of students comes from Graz to Arnhem and vice versa. ‘Our students and the students from Arnhem exchange with each other to develop their own work. We also do co-productions with two split classes’, says Werner. ‘The exchanges and co-productions are a good experience for students. They learn a lot and they meet new people. In the beginning, students find it a little scary, but once they get going, that wears off completely.’
Lecturers on exchange
‘Lecturers can also go on an exchange. ArtEZ voice lecturer Caroline Idema immersed herself for two months in the methods of voice teaching in Graz. And a series of subject lecturers visited each other’s classes for shorter periods in the Netherlands and Austria.’
More than words
‘Language is one of the many different parts of acting: experiencing language is part of experiencing sound. Acting means having a goal that you pursue and that can be with or without words. When you act in a foreign language, you recognise that the sound part of the language is also an instrument. You don’t recognise that in your own language, because then the meaning of the words is central. And to speak to each other I invite students not to speak English, but to talk to each other in their own language. Because it doesn’t take long to understand each other anyway.’
‘It is an enrichment for your studies’
Bram Walter was a guest student in the ‘Romulus der Grosse’ show in Graz. This production was awarded the Max Reinhardt Prize at the Theatertreffen in Berlin. Bram is a founding member of theatre collective Collectief Blauwdruk.
‘In the two months that I was in Graz I took voice lessons, did physical training, produced a show and, as the icing on the cake, played on a sacred piece of theatre ground in Berlin’, says Bram. ‘The education in Graz was great fun and good for my development as an actor. The German way of speaking and handling your instrument is now also landing in Arnhem.’
The Austrian and German theatre scene is booming. ‘Every medium-sized city has a City Theatre and a theatre ensemble of 20 or more actors. I speak German fairly well and have previously studied Dramaturgy. I found it interesting to enrich my experiences in Arnhem with experiences in Graz. You’re introduced to a different set of instruments there. And I wanted to be part of the theatre culture that is really appreciated in Austria and Germany.’
It is also interesting for people who do not speak German. ‘The focus differs. You can go there to acquire techniques and to absorb the theatre culture, which is so different from the Dutch culture. It is very enriching for your studies that there is a sister school where you can go without auditioning. I loved that that was possible.’
‘If you think you can find something somewhere, you should just go there’
Anne Rietmeijer, proclaimed Young Actress of the Year in Germany, played in the Club Fiction show in Graz. Just like Bram’s production, it was awarded the Max Reinhardt prize. Anne is an actress at the Schauspielhaus Bochum.
‘When I was younger, I was already interested in going abroad. I sometimes vaguely dreamt about spending a year in the US or an English boarding school, but it never really happened. In the second year of the School of Acting, Lena Entezami – still one of my best friends – from Graz joined our class. It was very inspiring to me that Lena, who hardly spoke any Dutch at all, dared to come and study in a language that was foreign to her. I wanted that, too. So I was very happy when the school organised an exchange with Graz for our whole class the following year. I went to Graz with half our class, and Lena came to Arnhem with half her class. In both cities we staged a show, which was a great and educational adventure
‘Acting in another language is fun. You’re involved in so many things at the School of Acting. But because – when I first performed in German – the language was already so difficult, I suddenly found the rest easier. Acting became easier. I had a great time in Graz. And when I heard that the students in their fourth year did a kind of small audition tour through Germany and Austria with the whole class, I thought it would be fun to participate. I wasn’t really looking for work in Germany, but it seemed very interesting (and dead scary) to experience something like that. Because time is rather limited at these auditions, everyone from the class gave up half a minute of their time to me, very sweet. That tour was very special to experience, but I heard nothing more about it. Until two months later I suddenly received an email from Bochum asking me to audition for Johan Simons, a Dutch director who works a lot in Germany. And I’ve been working there for three years now.’
It’s unreal and super cool to work here as an actress. We rehearse and play a lot with different pieces at the same time.
Anne made this mini film for the Schauspielhaus and Theatertreffen, about the empty theatres in corona time:
‘What I learned at the School of Acting and during my exchange is that it’s really okay to dream big. That everything goes differently than you think anyway, but that it’s fun to take unexpected or big steps. I never thought I’d join a German City Theatre. By taking part in those German auditions, I learned to actually put odd ideas into effect. Especially when you think you don’t fit in somewhere, for example because you don’t speak a language. If you think you can find something somewhere, you should just go there.’