Swiss theater director Till Wyler von Ballmoos initiated a dialogue on diversity by building different types of wooden seating in front of the Stuttgart Opera. Follow the story on how this came about and why there was a serious need for this playful political action.
Colorful posters with the title »Shakespeare in Love – A Cultural Festival for Everybody« started springing up all around Stuttgart in the last week of February 2016. What seemed to be an invitation for a cozy Sunday afternoon city festival at first glance had quite an unpleasant two-year history.
In 2014, a homophobic movement emerged caused by a change in the school curriculum in the state of Baden-Württemberg. These changes addressed the topic of diversity in general and among other things sexual identity. It was supposed to include all kinds of sexual orientation as equivalent in the school curriculum to encourage children and young adults to develop their sexuality individually in an open-minded environment.
In response to this theme of diversity, there were not only welcoming voices but also those who were afraid of »targeted sexualization« of their children. What started as a demonstration paradoxically called »Demo für Alle« (»demonstration for everybody«) in 2014 turned into a regular 4000-people strong demonstration, which currently seems to be more against cultural and sexual diversity in general than the curriculum specifically. On the initiative of the Stuttgart Opera, several of the local cultural institutions decided to respond to the »Demo für Alle« demonstration with a peaceful and more attractive, artistic counter-event »Shakespeare in Love,« flying the flag for diversity.
In fact, there was a huge rainbow flag hanging from the broad entrance of the Opera, which made even the columns look small on that cold and cloudy February afternoon. Everybody who passed by could hardly ignore the pile of wood and people sawing and drilling planks. Those who joined the festival later stumbled over the tiny benches or took a seat on a wooden throne to follow the diverse program presented on the steps of the Opera directly under the flag. Amid musical acts, collective singing performances, and a jubilant choir, the theater director Till Wyler von Ballmoos invited the audience to participate in a simple yet poignant action explained in letters taped to a wooden sign:
»We make room for dialogue and ask you all to take a seat!
Build seats with us for two people.
Invite others to take a seat or build with us!«
Within four hours, around twenty very different chairs were built from the same material with audience participation to accommodate two or more people and merged with the crowd as if everybody had been expecting them. Nobody seemed to be disturbed by the silent wooden participants and nobody asked if they were to be actually used as a real bench or chair. Instead, they assumed that as long as you can sit on it, it’s a seat. In that sense, the differently shaped chairs became not only a symbol for the opportunity to sit down and start a dialogue, but also a metaphor for the idea that, with love as the basic building material, people can connect in different ways in very individually shaped relationships.