Blaumeier is housed in a collection of buildings clustered around a cobbled courtyard. Inside, are rehearsal studios, artrooms, photography spaces and a theatre, all bursting with creative vitality. I’m in their bright airy café, talking with three of the company – Alfons Römer-Tesar, Viktoria (Viki) Tesar and Barbara Weste.
“Right from the beginning it was always about creativity. People with disabilities came with their carers so everyone pitched in together,” says Barbara, “we don’t ask about your disability at Blaumeier. You don’t have to have one to come. Everyone can find their place.”
“And it tends to be the carers that have issues about doing Art,” adds Alfons, “they’re more concerned about what others will think, setting up comparisons.”
Barbara continues, “When you’re in psychiatry you’re confronted all the time with your weakness, so art is an escape. The actors have had a lot of difficult experiences but they can build their confidence here and that expands into other parts of their lives. One actor wanted to come to Blaumeier so much that he overcame his fear of going out alone.”
Alfons trained as a fine artist and discovered Blaumeier in 1990 as work experience. He stayed for 25 years, developing the art school and touring exhibition programme. “The artists received training and advice so that they became professional, something more than outsider artists with a raw vision.” A couple of years ago, he handed this over to a couple of young artists so that he could focus on the organisation, developing the company and finding new money.
Viki is a founder member. Back in 1986, fascinated by the possibilities of making art and theatre with the people who had emerged from the psychiatric hospital, she was keen to create a supportive environment for and with them. And apart from a few years training as an actor in Paris, she’s stayed, acting and guiding the work. “Here, they’re using the possibility of what they have, not trying to control,” she says. “They tend to feel what kind of space it is. The stage is a world full of possibility.”
And Barbara came for one year to cover when Viki went to Paris and found she just couldn’t leave! “I’d had no experience of theatre by people with disabilities, but I became completely obsessed,” she laughs. “We built up projects, experimented with an ensemble – every day was so different.” And all the while Blaumeier kept growing. The acting ensemble became permanent. The first theatre show Carmen, played to the public in 2004. And in 2010, another director, Imke Burma, joined the company, and together she and Barbara evolved their directorial practice, pushing the form more and more.