Everything remains different. When we were finally able to celebrate our reopening 6 months ago after a long downtime, we had already gone through a long process of self-discovery and questioning. Never before has our theatre been closed for such a long time. The constant efforts to secure tour company and its employment relationships were enormous and the intense meetings with the severely affected artists raised many questions for us. What do we want to achieve? What do we want to change? What do we stand for?
It has become clear to us that we want to live our identity as a production, creation and performance venue for contemporary circus even more resolutely in the future. As a large first step, we have repositioned ourselves in accordance with our content-related task, artistic vision and social responsibility. Furthermore, our corporate structure has been expanded by a small but decisive “g”: The Chamäleon is now operating as a “gGmbH” – an approved non-profit company (Translator’s note: the small g stands for “gemeinnützig”, the German equivalent to “non-profit”).
For us, a non-profit status is a logical conclusion as well as a form of recognition of our work to date, because it solidifies what we have long since been at heart: “For 17 years, we have striven to achieve a complex balancing act between art and economic constraints as a private venue” states Artistic Director Anke Politz. “In doing so, it was always our goal to support artistic exploration and the artists themselves throughout the entire creative process.”
All the while, the desire for structural change has been our constant companion. On one hand, we wanted to find a better way to represent the entire Chamäleon cosmos together with our associated ideals. On the other, as a GmbH (limited liability company), we were often confronted with the distorted perception of the “commercial”, whereby the meaning of it or an unequivocal definition often remained unclear. It has to be noted that for a classically operating limited liability company the profit motive is in the foreground; however, we have always worked with other objectives. In the process, the most significant achievement probably is that our main shareholder pursues a rather philanthropic approach and that monetary returns play a subordinate role – complemented by an extremely trusting working relationship, this has resulted in a unique mixture. “It has always been our primary objective to practice and develop a sustainable method of operation in the cultural sector”, states Managing Director Hendrik Frobel. “We have always considered it a kind of voluntary commitment to reinvest any revenue back in our work. It is the only way to keep the cycle of artistic creation alive.”
Only a minority of people working in the cultural sector are in it for material reasons. We are all motivated by the desire to have something impossible become reality, to make ideas tangible and perceptible. As a production and performance venue, we think holistically about the artistic creative process and the situation of the artists. “Our endeavours are determined by three essential issues”, states Anke Politz. “We are a production and premiere venue for contemporary circus; we provide protected space for the independent scene for their artistic creations and we live theatre as a social venue – responsible, open, sincere and respectful.”
Dennoch sind uns natürlich Grenzen gesetzt. Unsere künstlerische Vision, unser Anspruch an die Arbeitsbedingungen für Künstler:innen und Mitarbeitende sowie die notwendige Arbeit für eine stärkere künstlerische Auseinandersetzung kann auch in den besten Zeiten nicht allein von Ticketeinnahmen finanziert werden. „Dank des Gemeinnützigkeitsstatus öffnen sich uns neue Möglichkeiten, unsere Arbeit auch finanziell zu unterstützen“, sagt Hendrik Frobel. „Wir können uns nun an Fördermittelgeber:innen wenden, die uns ohne die anerkannte Gemeinnützigkeit gar nicht hätten berücksichtigen dürfen. Hoffentlich können wir damit für mehr Sichtbarkeit für den zeitgenössischen Zirkus an sich sorgen – und dafür, dass diesem wunderbaren Genre mehr Zuwendungen zugänglich gemacht werden, die für andere Kunstformen selbstverständlich sind.“
Still, there are of course limits to what we can do. Our artistic vision, our demands on the working conditions of artists and colleagues as well as the necessary work for greater artistic engagement cannot be financed by ticket revenue alone, even at the best of times. “The non-profit status has opened up new opportunities to support our work also financially”, says Hendrik Frobel. “Now, we can approach funding agencies which would not have been able to consider us without the approved non-profit status. We hope that this enables us to generate more visibility for the contemporary circus in general – and that more funds are made available to this wonderful genre, which are commonplace for other art forms.”
To this effect, a non-profit company is exactly the right thing for us. It is a clear commitment that we have all revenue flow back into the creation cycle and thus unequivocally commit ourselves to the promotion of art and culture. For other supporters, the regular audits of the non-profit status and the associated conditions are a type of “seal of approval” and a clear commitment for the use of the funds. “In the past, we had several dialogues with cooperation partners, who would have liked to get involved more intensively in the patronage of art and culture, but wanted to implement this in the form of cultural sponsorships or donations. I hope that we are able to develop our potential even more diversely and achieve a more stable financial position in the future”, states Hendrik Frobel. Particularly in view of a pandemic, the implication of which will have long-term effects.
Despite the gravity of this time, we feel enormously validated regarding the content of our work and encouraged in terms of fostering artistic innovations and facilitate a more barrier-free access to the stage and the programme. As a producer, we are driven by a desire to support ideas and voices that represent a counterbalance to the mainstream and take relevant artistic, political or social positions. Especially our previous season with its rather unconventional programme and the many additional programmes and guest encounters has demonstrated that our audience meets an innovative stage programme with openness and interest.
“In the future, we want to enable even more cultural participation, we want to become more accessible and reach different people in all their diversity”, says Anke Politz. To this end, there will be more moderated audience discussions, more panel discussions and performances accompanied with German sign language. We want to create resources and stage representation for feminist, queer, inclusive and postcolonial positions and further expand our networking to strengthen contemporary circus as a whole. “There is still so much to do and so many exciting ideas that we are very keen on,” says Hendrik Frobel. “For us, a lot and yet very little has changed. We work with the same intention and the same conviction as always – only even stronger, with even more passion and a whole lot of wonderful new options.”
Photos: Mats Bäcker, Lucia Gerhardt, Darcy Grant
Title image: Jana Kießer