Making a Spectacle

The Spectacle is one of Zurich's top cultural attractions

Zurich's annual Theatre Spectacle is underway on the city's picturesque lakeside, offering an unusual setting for some equally unusual acts.

This content was published on August 17, 2002 - 10:38

Among the highlights are Chinese mythology, Alpine folk-dancing and American rock and roll pensioners.

Now in its 23rd year, the Spectacle has grown into one of Zurich's top cultural attractions but the emphasis on street theatre and community productions remains largely unchanged.

"The idea is to present contemporary artistic developments," insists artistic director Maria Magdalena Schwaegermann, "which are of course as varied as the positions taken by each individual artist."

This year's programme certainly seems to back up that view - one of the more unusual items is an Australian interpretation of Swiss allotment culture.

Even before the spectators have taken their seats, though, the setting should make it clear that this is no ordinary theatre experience.


Although no longer held in the circus tents that staged the opening Spectacles in the early 1980s, the current productions remain close to the event's roots with performances taking place in temporary theatres built on the western shore of Lake Zurich.

A neighbouring dockyard and the nearby Rote Fabrik theatre, itself a former factory, provide additional space for the burgeoning event.

Plush velvet seats and ornate architecture may not be in abundance here but that it seems is exactly the point.

"I hope we can provide a way in for people who are normally a bit reluctant to step into a theatre because they perceive it as belonging to the bourgeoisie," says Schwaegermann.

"I think there's an enormous difference here with the beautiful location and the restaurant areas where people can talk openly about the various performances.

Word of mouth

"Word of mouth helps to generate a lot of the interest here, and I think people coming along will be prepared to take more of a risk than they normally would."

Dislocated joints might be the biggest risk faced by those onstage during the Spectacle's first few nights with the ageing rockers of America's Young@Heart Chorus opening proceedings at the dockyard.

With its youngest member aged 68 and the oldest clocking in at 94, the Chorus can hardly be classified as youth theatre, but the organisers insist that the "Road to Heaven" show, comprising rock classics of the past few decades, remains within the contemporary remit of the Spectacle.

"When you hear these famous rock songs being interpreted by this chorus of old people, it almost seems as if you're hearing the lyrics for the first ever time," insists Schwaegermann. "And the songs are connected in a loose narrative that has a lot to say about life, love, dying, being lonely and having hope."

Road to heaven

While the "Road to Heaven" show is likely to strike a chord with visitors accustomed to mainstream musicals, there is plenty in this year's Spectacle line-up for those who like their theatre a little more 'difficult'.

"'Yuè Ling Jié', or 'Moon Spirit Feasting', is quite something," says Schwaegermann when asked to name a more challenging piece. "It's an Australian/Chinese production which combines South Chinese mythologies with contemporary music and should present the audiences here with something they've never encountered before.

"The only thing we expect of the productions is that they are open enough that people can come to them without any introduction," Schwaegermann continues. "Perhaps they will come out with some questions but there is certainly enough space and opportunity here for people to discuss those questions."

Swiss talent

As in previous years, there will be plenty of Swiss talent on display along with the international productions.

Among the likely home-grown highlights is 'Danza!' billed as "a sensual spectacle of folklore", which again seeks to cross traditional genres - this time combining traditional dances from southern Switzerland with jazz, blues and circus music.

Also seeking a wider national audience will be the Basel-based project "Anti-Schublade" or 'anti-drawer' which was set up in an effort to encourage undiscovered Swiss writers to get their works out of the cupboard drawer and on to the stage.

The Theatre Spectacle runs until September 1.

by Mark Ledsom, Zurich

In brief

Started by three Swiss theatre fans back in 1980, and based on a street theatre festival which the trio had seen in Munich, the Zurich Theatre Spectacle is now in its 23rd year.

Assembled by new artistic director Maria Magdalena Schwaegermann, this year's programme includes more than 30 productions and acts from 13 different countries.

The Spectacle, which is staged in temporary theatres on the bank of Lake Zurich, runs until September 1.

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