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From the UST History Book

NINE DECADES OF THEATRE POLITICS

 

The Union of Swiss Theatres (UTS) came into being in 1920. Cultural politics, issues of theatre and author ownership rights and employment law have been at the forefront of the organisation’s dealings from its very beginnings, and this continues through to today.

 

In Switzerland the idea to form an umbrella group for professional theatres was born in Zurich, in May 1920. The starting point of it all came from the position of the local theatres in contrast with the new collective labour agreements and normal contracts set up by the German theatres union and the German Stage Workers Association. Whilst one group of the Swiss theatre was not averse to becoming amalgamated into the German organisation as a sub-entity, a majority of the then present theatre representatives decided to form their own Swiss / German association. This formally came into existence on 7 October of the same year as the Verband Schweizerischer Bühnen. It built its offices in Zurich and was presided over by a Dr Ernst Zahn, a novel writer and also the head of the administrative council for the Limmatstädter Theater AG, between 1921 and 1950. The initial members were the city theatres of Basel, Berne, Lucerne, St Gallen and Zurich, as well as the Corso-Theater from Zurich. A little later, the Grand Théâtre de Genève came into the fold.

 

1920 - 1945

Immediately after its formation, the new union vied for the provision of federal subsidies and grants for the theatres, which were on the brink of survival at the time. Unfortunately, its re-quests were rejected by the Swiss Federal Council. Up until the Second World War, the union worked on many themes and issues: The rapidly increasing competition which came from travelling theatre production companies (which lead to the foundation of a travelling theatre centre); The high royalty fees; The arrival of legal authorities from foreign countries wishing to protect the copyright of their own artists; Free tickets; The issuing of the union’s own newspaper; The increasing reference to contemporary dramatists in the playing schedules; Coming to decisions on theatre mergers and construction projects for new fixed theatres in Switzerland which the new union took over. During the war years, there were questions about the compensation fund, the presence of the theatre at the nationwide exhibition of 1939, political interventions to prevent the closure of some operations, cooperation with other theatre organisations, a strong building up of contacts with the theatres in French-speaking Switzerland and other organisations in the wider field of culture and also relief operations for the benefit of those affected by war, which all came to the fore.

 

1945 - 1970

The period following the war was then characterised by the building of a drama information centre (1947), a sustained dispute with foreign police and the foundation of an umbrella organisation for copyright users (1952), a campaign for the promotion of professional theatre and the establishment of a pension scheme for Swiss theatres (1953), the introduction of the first ever ‘Theatre Day’ for the local theatres (1954), and the first conference of the directors of the administrations (1955). There was also a changing in the presidency during this period. From 1950-52, the publisher Dr Emil Oprecht was at the helm, and then from 1952-61 the director of administration for the Stadttheater Bern, Fritz Minnig, held the office.

 

Together with partner associations in Germany and Austria, a pan-German-speaking theatre union was established in 1952 - the Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft deutschsprachiger Theater. In 1956, Pro Helvetia, as a member theatre-operation of the union, performed pieces in foreign countries for the first time; and Dr Paul Wehrli absolved Dr Samuel Theilacker of his duties as union secretary after a considerable 36 years in that position. In 1961, Paul Kopp, the president of the Lucerne city theatre, was elected as the new president of the union. One year later the union had passed new statutes and henceforth called itself the Schweizerischer Bühnenverband (Union of Swiss Theatre) – the name it bears today – and called Dr Jules Goetschel (Basel) to be its syndic, or legal representative. Plans for a new labour act with special provisions for theatre, a revised agreement with the Schweizerischen Bühnenverlegerverband (SBVV) and the creation of uniform theatre statistics served as the main areas of focus for the union throughout the 1960s.

 

1970 - 1995

In 1970, Roland Morgenegg (Berne) took over the management of the union from his prede-cessor, J. Bezmann, and in 1975 Hannes Strasser (Zurich) became the new SBV president. During almost the entire decade, the union increasingly fought for the interests of theatre in radio and television and wrestled with the theatrical copyright owners over new royalty laws, as well as with the Schweizerischen Interpretengesellschaft (SIG) about the use of sound-playing media during plays and ballet productions.

 

An attempt at promoting an exchange of visiting theatre companies between the different regions was, once again, given up. For its 60th jubilee anniversary, the UST brought out a book “Theater – unsere Welt” – ‘Theatre – Our World’ – in 1980. In 1981, Dr Peter Mosimann (Basel) took the place of the deceased Dr Jules Goetschel as syndic. After this, a collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the SBV and the Schweizerischen Bühnenkünstlerverband (SBKV) came into force. In Western Switzerland the Union des théâtre romands was formed as a section of the SBV in 1986. Also in the 1980s, the union evaluated the use of computer-assisted systems for book-keeping and the tills of the theatres; it came to a communal resolution on retirement provisions (private pension); and introduced guidelines pertaining to the general safety and accident prevention measures in theatres.

 

The relationship between the UST and the SRG improved to the point where stagecraft found increased admission into radio and television. A framework agreement was made with the SBVV on copyright fees and also state recognition of theatre professions was advanced fur-ther. In the 1990s, almost all theatres felt the cutbacks from the culture acts. Additionally, these allowed federal authorities to introduce restrictive practices regarding work permits for foreigners and the levying of VAT.

 

1995 to Today

During the second half of the decade the revision of the copyright law, the retention period of protected works, the music performed during plays and the new employment law – put into place on 1.8.2000 – kept the UST busy. Following the election of Ivo Reichlin as new presi-dent (1993-2001) and Marco Badilatti as managing director (1994), the SBV strengthened its public relations, and introduced a price for theatre photography as well as annual develop-ment seminars for theatre personnel. It also released a new union bulletin (“Première”) and a publication concentrating on the technical stagecraft profession. Furthermore, cooperation was deepened with the travelling theatre companies, the Verband Schweizer Berufsorchester (VESBO or the Swiss Association of Professional Orchestras) and the Federal Ministry for Culture.

 

Since the autumn of 2001, Adrian Balmer has been the president of the union. During this period, the UST has been dealing with the many problems resulting from the new employment law (Sunday work, time-off, youth employment etc.), the revision of the copyright law and the coming arrival of the VAT law (flat rate). Other subjects up for discussion have been defining the liability for noise pollution, bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU, the ‘burnout-syndrome’ amongst many employees and also the accessibility of theatres and venues to the disabled.

 

On top of all this, the UST has been increasingly getting involved in culture-political issues (Culture Promotion Law/ KFG and the Pro Helvetia-Gesetz); education work (the recognition of theatre professions); and the publishing of reading materials and other publications. The organisation has worked very closely with authorities and colleges of higher education. It is also one of the founding members of the lobbying entity Schweizer Koalition (or Swiss Coalition), which is pressing for the ratification of the UNESCO Convention - on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions - in Switzerland. At the end of 2007, the SBV added some amendments to its statutes. The organisation is currently revising its collective bargaining agreement for solo and groupe with its social partner

 

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