Paula Artkamp and Manfred Kerklau have been successfully directing the „Theatre Sycorax” in Münster for the past 10 years. They are the curators, organizers and hosts of the world festival „madness & arts II”. This is a conversation about experiences and wishes.

Paula Artkamp, Manfred Kerklau, on the first World Festival Madness and Arts, which took place in Toronto in 2003, you appeared with the Sycorax production „Woyzeck”. Looking back, was that a formative experience?

Artkamp: First of all of course, the work interchange with other groups was very exiting. The conditions were great, the productions were appreciated, receiving broad attention, and it played in the biggest theatres in Toronto.

Kerklau: Art was put into focus. Artists met with each other. The subject illness was not the center of attention, and that was refreshing.

When was the idea born to continue this festival in Münster?

Kerklau: The Madness and Arts Festival Director Lisa Brown expressed her wish during a symposium, the festival should move around the world. So Paula said right away: We will do it in Munster. That's when my heart slipped into my pants. But then, it worked.

Artkamp: I thought:  Münster is the ideal city for such a festival.  Here people often try to go the straight way. So it suits to bring the edges into the middle and self-consciously show other facets. That's good for Münster as well.

Is there a danger of sometimes losing sight of the art due to the organization work?

Artkamp: At least not your own art. Sycorax will present itself with a new premiere, on which we work with concentration. Of course, putting up a festival like this is a big job, which takes organizational craftsmanship, but the artistic approach is equally important.

It is an extraordinary theatrical art, there are groups working with mentally impaired. How do you encounter the stigma of „niche art”?

Kerklau: You don't think in these categories when you work. You look at the people with whom you want to bring something good onto stage. That alone will get you out of the niche, and it will bring the actors out of the niche they're in as well.

Artkamp: The interesting thing about Sycorax is that the people pick us, not vice versa. That creates a different basis to deal with the potential these actors have.

What are the criterions you use to select the groups that you want to invite?

Kerklau: First of all, an intensive research was necessary. Who can actually be considered? Then we examined and checked: Does this or that group take up interesting or new artistic paths, even if they don't suit your own taste? But it is really a delicate thing. Often, you are left with many question marks.

Artkamp: You can not eliminate theatre-aesthetical points of view. Many times you see productions where the people involved are only minor figures, where those who are different are just decoration - I can not support that. But we did succeed in selecting extraordinary groups from different countries, which convinced us with their quality, and which represent very exciting approaches.

How did you as theatre producers find your way to the mentally impaired?

Artkamp: For personal reasons, I wanted to make new experiences as an artist, though I had thought it to be a one time project. But then this work gave me so much power that I had to stick to it. And I believe we learned more and more to deal with the existing potential.

Kerklau: I jumped in for an actor in the final stage of the first production, and it was such a great experience to be on stage with these groups. There was vulnerability, an honesty that touched me.

What is more frustrating: To play against a society that considers itself healthy and excludes others? Or to be given a benevolent handicapped bonus and be embraced?

Artkamp: First of all: being excluded is hard and painful for those involved. Here we create new space with artistic means. Secondly, it would be awful if we were only praised for doing this type of work.

Kerklau: Basically, that is another disassociation from people you don't want to get involved with. Surely, the mentally impaired do not want to be appreciated because of their illness.

Artkamp: Often, after a show, someone from the audience will ask: How many from the group are mentally ill, how many are schizophrenic? Then I ask myself, what would it mean if I were to answer that question? What kind of a categorization would that be? Maybe it is a thrill for some to speak with someone kissed by madness.

To what extent can and wishes the "madness & arts festival" to be  integrating?

Kerklau: The festival should be the center of the city, a topic you can't ignore. Whether the critical debate by itself works integrating might be questionable, but at least we can give new impulses.

Artkamp: Even during the preparatory stages we received a lot of positive response from many different sides. That strengthened our work and inspired it.

What are your wishes for the festival?

Artkamp: I wish to find new contacts beyond the festival for possible temporary cooperations. Also, that by the artistic approaches presented we will find new momentum for our own work.

Kerklau: And of course, we hope it will be a good time. That people will not just visit the performances but that there will be real encounters.

Interview: Rita Roring and Patrick Wildermann