Berlin is internationally one of the most important centres of contemporary music theatre. Aside from its three opera houses, an independent music theatre scene developed here that is unparalleled. Nowhere else can there be found a larger number of players, groups and ensembles who have committed themselves to an alternative music theatre beyond the format of opera. Neither in Vienna, London, New York, Tokyo or Amsterdam are there more daring experiments in new combinations of sound and theatre action.
BAM! is the festival of this independent music theatre scene, organized and curated by the non-profit association “ZMB – Zeitgenössisches Musiktheater Berlin”, into which the scene joined three years ago. With 14 world premieres commissioned by the festival, more than 30 performances and two debate-panels, BAM! provides a platform that for the first time unites a larger selection of independent Berlin music theatre creators, their different aesthetics and approaches, into a kaleidoscope of contrasting views of a music theatre of our time. BAM! takes place at 13 locations between Oranienburger and Invalidenstraße in Berlin-Mitte, all within walking distance of each other. Festival guests can stagger from one performance to the next, meet other visitors and gather for discussion in the festival lounge.
Elements of performance art, installation and, frequently, such of immersion unite at BAM! to create theatre forms that focus on a language of sound, merging theatrical with musical experience. Theatre groups contrast in the festival programme with ensembles for contemporary music that venture into the interdisciplinary. Projects that seek their way to the theatre by starting from the idiom of contemporary music meet with others that are conceived from the perspective of theatre while being dedicated to the deconstruction and recomposition of “classical” music. The equal participation of both such approaches, marks one of the features that make BAM! unique in comparison to the few other festivals for contemporary music theatre in Europe.
Berlin’s music theatre scene is international. Its artists bring in influences from around the globe. However, they do share some common ground. One trademark of almost all projects being presented at BAM! is their yearning to overcome conventional limits of profession. This shows in the flat hierarchies and the sharing of tasks within artistic teams. It is evident also from the fact that composers often appear with equal rights as visual artists and directors. And it becomes apparent not the least, as in most of these projects, musicians venture into the field of theatre performance, leaving behind all the security being provided by their academic profession.
Another important feature of most of the festival’s productions is their common effort to overcome the abstract formal language of the classical avant-garde while trying to find methods for new and self-reflective ways of narration. While different paths are followed here, the existing narratives almost always focus on social or political problems of our time. Furthermore, one of the striking things about BAM! is that, although no operas are performed, almost a third of the projects deal with opera in one way or another. Many of the young generation of independent music theatre makers seem to be interested in bridging the gap between opera and new music theatre, at least at a meta level.
One of BAM!‘s most important topics stems from the special nature of its locality. Renowned venues of the independent theatre scene join here with last bastions of alternative subculture from Berlin-Mitte and with site-specific use of public space. Berlin’s independent music theatre scene – as can also be seen in this respect – possesses a keen awareness of current political issues. Several of the works presented by BAM! deal with the history and especially with the current gentrification of this quarter which has come to be one of the more touristy places in the city. Thus BAM! becomes a festival not only in, but also about Berlin Mitte.
Berlin’s independent music theatre scene is facing up to the uncertain questions of our present-day by transforming the five hundred years of European music theatre tradition into a language of contemporary theatre. However, this scene still lives hand to mouth. Without renovating existing structures of funding it can be lost as rapidly as it has developed in recent years. BAM!‘s aim is to make its fascinating diversity known to a wider public.