“The rules of civilised society were suspended,” explains Helmut Raeder. “The wild activities that went on in honour of Dionysus were the first manifestation of theatre.” Dionysus (also known as Bacchus) is the god of wine. When his followers celebrated, this involved masquerades, a tolerance of disorder and the anarchic carousing of the ancients.
Wine and theatre belong together, as is apparent once a year in Radebeul, a town in Germany’s north-easternmost winegrowing region. The normal standards of decorum are put on hold for one weekend every autumn.
On the one hand, the Radebeulers are celebrating the wine harvest – the sweet young wine known as Federweisser has just been bottled. But at the same time, it is also an occasion for art, clowns, musicians and actors. Under Helmut Raeder’s artistic direction, the Autumn Wine Festival has been combined with the International Itinerant Theatre Festival since 1996. The town and its streets are transformed into stages, very much in the spirit of Dionysus.
In a wry reference to the city’s professional theatres, Raeder says: “The festival is not necessarily aimed at theatre specialists. Obviously, they are welcome too. Here, they will see how to reach a wider audience and to move them emotionally and intellectually.”
In among all the stalls offering regional specialities, around 60 performances will take place. The festival in Radebeul regularly attracts 50,000 visitors over the three days. They are treated to social critique, charm, wit, copious music and huge improvisational talent delivered by theatrical troupes from all over the world. The theme chosen for 2019 is Jugendträume (Youth Dreams).
Leaving the nest
The festival is traditionally opened on Friday by the God of Wine in person. This year, the first show of the weekend will feature a cast of actors aged between ten and twelve. The Landesbühnen Sachsen theatre workshop will be putting on a production of Ich bin so frei, a title with a double meaning: ‘I am so free’, but also ‘If I might be allowed’. Naughty, adolescent and buzzing with energy, it’s about how to claim your own space between school and home.
With their performance of Public Viewing, the JuWie Dance Company aim to show how we can cure ourselves of mobile phone cramp and social media pressure. Meanwhile, Liebe Knall Yoga All is a farewell to self-centeredness.
The French company Adhok literally leaves ‘The Nest’ – this is the title of their play which gets along completely without words and relates how it feels to leave the parental home. Raeder poses the question: “Do you stand on your own two feet, do you lift off or do you go under in the storm of life?” Life offers both beauty and adversity. You just have to get stuck in.
Until Sunday, the dramatic offerings run almost non-stop. The festival concept also includes a healthy dose of democracy – visitors are encouraged to rate each performance. “Our promise is that we will invite the ones you like best to come back next year,” says Raeder.
For example, the Canadian clown Dado, who is returning to the festival after being such a crowd pleaser last year with his highly original sense of humour and baffling magic tricks.
The show must go on
A fair number of traditions have established themselves since the first festival. For example, the theatre carousel with Georg Traber and live band. “I want to go on a roundabout at least once a year, and that’s only possible at the Itinerant Theatre Festival,” says Raeder, identifying a very adult dilemma. On the roundabout, you have to hold on very tight to your wine glass.
The grand finale every year would be unthinkable without Richard von Gigantikow. The conceptual artist runs the surreal and mysterious Lügenmuseum (‘Museum of Untruths’) in Radebeul. He also practises the art of confusion at the Autumn Wine Festival. He has built a maze using wood, refuse and natural materials – an embodiment of the fleeting nature of art. “This will symbolically go up in flames,” says Raeder. “Correction – not symbolically. The festival actually does go up in flames to return even better the following year.”
Autumn Wine Festival Radebeul / International Itinerant Theatre Festival
27th – 29th September 2019