Independent companies and groups in Vienna

In the late 1980s, during the term in office of then City Councillor for Cultural Affairs Ursula Pasterk (SPÖ), Vienna’s independent companies and groups successfully lobbied for a massive increase in public funding by the City of Vienna. The level of subsidies has remained broadly the same since then. In a major policy shift under the heading “theatre reform”, the City of Vienna attempted to restructure its funding so as to create professional working conditions for a number of independent companies, sometimes at the expense of limiting the number of grant beneficiaries . In a recent reversal, however, budget allocation has returned to a broader, more inclusive project grant policy .

Independent companies and groups first emerged out of the rejection by a younger generation of artists of what they considered to be increasingly irrelevant positions of the big, traditional performing arts houses; the fledgling independent scene was informed by a political interest in trying out new and different forms of artistic work and lifestyle. In recent years, this has given way to a stronger focus on new aesthetic positions and forms in the performing arts.

In Vienna especially, a rich and diversified scene of dance and performance art companies has evolved and gained international recognition since the turn of the millennium. Important names include Liquid Loft, a company founded and led by Chris Haring, choreographers Philipp Gehmacher, Doris Uhlich, Saskia Hölbling, Anne Juren, Paul Wenninger, Christine Gaigg, Willi Dorner, Elio Gervasi, Ian Kaler, Amanda Piña, Alexander Gottfarb, Georg Blaschke, and performers Akemi Takeya, Daniel Aschwanden, Barbara Kraus and the Superamas ensemble.

Most contemporary music theatre in Vienna is staged by independent companies. Major producers include the Sirene Operntheater, Neue Oper Wien, the Netzzeit ensemble, Wiener Taschenoper, Echoraum and the Wiener Musiktheatertage, a collaborative project by the groups Zoon and Progetto Semiserio, and other companies which work together under the banner Freie Musiktheater Wien.

In the area of puppetry and “object theatre”, performances of high artistic quality are staged by the Schubert-Theater and Kabinetttheater. The same goes for the drama company Klassenzimmertheater  and the dance and performance art ensemble schallundrauch agency, both of whom stage productions for young audiences. The puppet theatre Lilarum in Vienna’s 3rd district presents performances for children from the age of three.

Headed by director Claudia Bosse, the theatercombinat produces drama in different urban spaces, engaging in what may be called basic research into forms of dramatic expression. The performances of the company Toxic Dreams  under its director Yosi Wanunu are explorations of popular and media culture, in most cases presented in English. Gods Entertainment  is an ensemble of young performers who present their works in Vienna as well as at the Kampnagel venue in Hamburg and HAU in Berlin. Wiener Wortstaetten encourages and promotes the works of young playwrights. Salon 5 presents regular performances in Vienna and at the Thalhof venue in Lower Austria.

The Brunnenpassage, a highly accessible cultural venue in Vienna’s 16th district, diverCITYLAB Akademie run by director Asli Kislal and theater director Emel Heinreich's Cocon Theater are spearheading efforts by the Viennese drama scene to engage with today’s multi-ethnic urban environments.

Collaborations and exchanges with other genres, especially with the visual arts, are another mounting trend on the independent performing arts scene, which also engages in analysis of other art forms’ public reception. Projects include the Ganymed series of performances staged by director Jacqueline Kornmüller at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History), performances of a dramatised version of Thomas Bernhard’s novel Frost at the Museum of Modern Art (MUMOK, 2009/10), and a series of performances at the same location which were created by the producers of the ImPulsTanz festival in conjunction with an exhibition entitled Redefining Action(ism)