New stages - between courage and reliability

The world is a stage, both for the Vienna Burgtheater and PALFINGER. It is obvious that the stages on which these two partners perform are very different. An acting stage of the world on the one hand, a world market as a stage on the other. Interaction between actors and audience meets interaction between human and machine. Nevertheless, a closer look reveals many similarities. Especially when it comes to the courage to think of new and unconventional solutions, the Vienna Burgtheater and PALFINGER have very similar approaches. Both face challenges such as digitalisation and transformation. These challenges are turned into opportunities and added value for audiences and customers, and both are absolute drivers of innovation and are not afraid to take a certain risk. These processes of evolution and regeneration have been given a boost by the pandemic. Robert Beutler, Commercial Director at the Vienna Burgtheater, explains how big challenges and new technologies not only alter one’s self-perception but also expand it.

© studioVIE (1)

“At least we are allowed to rehearse,” says Robert Beutler, Commercial Director at the Vienna Burgtheater. During the first lockdown even that was banned, but now rehearsals can again take place in all four of the theater’s venues – so progress is being made in the effort to overcome the challenges created by the pandemic. “The biggest thing was being forced to close and not being allowed to perform in front of an audience,” explains Beutler. A theater without an audience is not just a challenge, it is a complete contradiction. "In spoken theatre we have the interaction between the audience and our actors. Certain performances require the audience to actually be a part of the show and that simply does not work in an empty room.” In other words, an enormous challenge.

Innovation is a matter of course

The Burgtheater faces up to these challenges with the courage to be new and unconventional, and in this it resembles its sponsoring partner PALFINGER. The Haus am Ring turns challenges into opportunities. Beutler: “A new theater director takes the helm every five or ten years. And they bring with them new approaches, new processes. Every year we stage 24 opening nights across our four venues, hosting both national and world premieres. We cultivate contemporary theatre literature just as we interpret classical literature. For the Burgtheater, innovation is a matter of course.” And that is why it was not enough for the Burgtheater to just stream its plays. Beutler does note, however, that streaming is a very attractive option for operas or concerts, even though the feeling of being part of a live experience is clearly lost.

Award-winning recordings

Just as PALFINGER developed a new, digital format in the shape of its PALFINGER World Tour, allowing it to interact with its customers and partners directly, the Burgtheater is turning to innovative formats too. “In one play [Die Maschine in Mir; original title: To Be a Machine],” recalls Beutler, “the audience could interact and take part in the performance live – so that was a huge technical challenge we set ourselves.” Wiener Stimmung (Viennese Spirit), in which members of the ensemble read short monologues composed by Austrian authors, was awarded the Nestroy Theater Prize 2020.

Return to live experience

The Burgtheater resembles its sponsor PALFINGER in seeking, finding and treading new paths. Where the technology and mechanical engineering company is providing its customers and partners with comprehensive systems and services, the Burgtheater too is surpassing its previous limits and expanding its stage. So is the pandemic changing the theatre? Will the post-coronavirus Burgtheater be a different Burgtheater: more digital, more virtual? Beutler waves the idea away. “We will be delighted to return to live events with no digital barriers. The formats we have recently been forced to adopt were actually around previously, just on a smaller scale. We do not wish to run a program of online-only events.”

The expanded theater

Like PALFINGER, the Burgtheater is using digital technologies to unlock new dimensions for its audience. “We have resolved to become more international and permit a much more diverse range of languages. We have one production in our repertoire that is set in Berlin, New York and Jerusalem, hence it is performed in Hebrew, Arabic, English and German. We provide simultaneous supertitles for the piece by projecting a translation onto the set,” explains Beutler. Written text as a key prerequisite and bridge to understanding: That is innovation. “We have also developed an app that allows everyone to read a translation of the lines being spoken on stage on their mobile phone,” adds Beutler. This option is available for every play. “The app is currently available in German, English and Russian, but we are expanding on that. It is part of the task we have set ourselves to become more multilingual and international.” When the stage is finally set once more and the curtain goes up. In front of an audience. Challenge accepted.

© Marcella Ruiz Cruz