One of the roles the Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles embodies is to promote theatrical creation as widely as possible, to allow works to travel and reach as wide an audience as possible. Juliette Thieme, head of distribution and international relations, discusses what happens when the rules suddenly change.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve unfortunately seen a significant number of cancellations depending on the measures taken in each country. Since tours are planned a year or two in advance, it’s rare to be able to rescedule a show within the same season, or even the following season, simply because theatre schedules are already full, not to mention the agendas of the actors, technicians, musicians, artistic creators, assistants. People are booked, so they’re not available. This makes the work of postponing planned shows even more complicated as we have to find possible dates when everyone’s available.
The important thing today is being able to honour contracts, that is, paying teams despite cancellations. Each theatre has its own realities, its own subsidies and funding, but we’ve seen an enormous amount of solidarity on a national and international scale in the theatre and the performance world.
The public health crisis also has an impact on programmers’ research trips and of course on professional gatherings. We were planning a Focus Pro [Professional Focus] event in autumn 2020, an annual gathering that’s very important to us. It’s is a key moment when we invite international programmers to the Théâtre National to experience several projects that have just been created or will be created next season. There are presentations, performances, meetings with the artists. It’s a place where potential partnerships meet, co-productions come together. This year’s Focus Pro couldn’t go ahead. So, in collaboration with the theatre's communication department, we looked at the web space dedicated to productions and diffusion. We decided to focus on creating a richer professional space with presentation videos, extracts, recordings, additional content, specific information. These are tools that we would have put in place in time anyway and were already under production. The crisis has made them indispensable. We’re making this effort to rethink ourselves, to give visibility to performances.
During the first wave, we postponed some performances because we thought that we’d be back to normal by autumn, but then the second wave struck. For some productions, this is the second cancellation. We end up having a very short term vision, not knowing how long this crisis will last. But we’re moving forward because these shows have to exist.
— Interview on November 25, 2020.
→ Juliette Thieme is head of distribution and international relations in the production and distribution team of the Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles. She is in charge of managing and organizing tours for shows distributed by the Théâtre National.