The man behind Theater Spektakel

Sandro Lunin, Artistic Director

I got to sit with Sandro Lunin, the Artistic Director of Theater Spektakel less than 32 hours before their official opening! I was amazed and thrilled to be granted this interview amidst the stress and chaos of the pre-production phase.

Anyone who has ever been involved with a production, especially of this magnitude, knows that nothing is ever even close to being completed until the Eleventh hour. And generally emotions run deep, very deep.  Those final hours before the big reveal are filled with both nervous anticipation and excitement.

To my big surprise, although Landiwiese, house to the event, still looked like a big construction site, the crew, including Sandro was abnormally calm and collected. To me, the energy was a clear display of great leadership. The crew’s desire to deliver a positive experience for both their leaders and the audience transcended the stress of time.

Construction site
Construction site

When I first laid eyes on Sandro Lunin, I immediately felt at home. His energy and warmth were not only welcoming but also contagious. If he’s as serene at work as he was with me, then no surprise that everyone was so calm!

Sandro Lunin, Leitungsteam ZŸrcher Theaterspektakel (KŸnstleris
Sandro Lunin. Photography ©Christian-Altorfer

When did you become the Artistic Director of Theater Spektakel?

In 2008. I’m happy to have lasted that long 🙂

But I was involved in different ways long before 2008. 1980, the year the festival was born, marked a new era in Zurich. It was the year of the youth riots which gave birth to a new wave of cultural life in the city.

The youth riot initiated the birth of Rote Fabrik and Theater Spektakel. Both fought for a new independent culture in the city. 1980 was the birthday of a new Zurich, characterized by a new mood and feel. To discover all these new productions at 22 was pretty awesome and liberating. Especially because Zurich at that time was quite conservative, classical in its cultural approach and design. There were no Rote Fabrik or Gessneralle then!

In 1986-1987, I worked here as a Technician then moved to Rote Fabrik to program their dance sections and finally came back here as their Artistic Director!

What does an Artistic Director do?

Mainly he’s responsible for the programming.

There are two more Directors working with me. Delphine Lyner, responsible for the Organization and Finance and Veit Kalin, responsible for the Production and Technical Direction.

What is your leadership style?

I try to lead by example. I believe in working as a collective to empower everyone and also think outside the box. Feedback and sharing of ideas are imperative to the success of a festival like this one.

How do you select the program and artists?

It’s the accumulation of my encounters and travels over the past 25 years. I have a big network worldwide from past projects. When I started working here in 2008, it was extremely important to give this festival an inter-continental shape. Today Zurich has a rich theatrical and experimental landscape with Gessnerallee, Rote Fabrik and Schiffbau so it was important for us to have a distinct hook and voice, which in our case is “Continents of the Class”, namely Africa, Latin America and Asia.

I had worked with these countries before. And because of the whole migration issue, they are socially and politically very important. I realized that they are very rarely represented In the performing arts.

I enjoy discussing our society through the arts. I believe in a social conversation which is not didactic. It really is an artistic message enabling us to see the artists’ life and struggles through their eyes.

To explore these landscapes is quite fascinating.

How do you find these artists?

By traveling! As I mentioned before I have gathered a huge network of artists, festival organizers, producers..

How long do you need to prepare the festival before it starts?

Oh I start as soon as the last one ends! It never stops! I travel the world to find talent. Basically the perfect job!

In 2 years however, on my 10th anniversary I will pass the torch to someone else to make room for new blood, ideas and artists. Time for someone else to take the center stage!

How involved are you in the artists’ performances? Do you have a big say in what will be performed and how?

Most of the time the shows have been selected because I saw them and liked them. Other times, I know the artist, have seen his or her work previously and trust that he/she will deliver something up to part with my expectations.

If possible we also try to attend rehearsals and give our comments and recommendations.

But generally, I believe in complete artistic freedom.

What if you don’t like a performance?

It can happen, which is not the end of the world. Of course it hurst at first because it feels like a failure but you learn from it and try to do better next time.

The only thing that would anger me is feeling like there was no preparation before and it came together on the fly, at the last minute.

Who funds the travels? I imagine that a lot of these artists may not have access to money.

The organization pays for everything. The festival is 1/3 financed by the city of Zurich, 1/3 by big sponsors like Fachstelle KulturZürcher Kantonalbank, Swiss Re. And lastly, 1/3 of the income is generated through ticket sale.

Zurich has been such a hub for disruptive ideas like the Dada and gay movement. Do you feel like there has been an evolution in the thinking of Swiss people, especially thanks to events like this one?

In Switzerland, there is still a distinction to be made between the cities and the landscape around them which can be sadly quite xenophobic and fear driven. But the cities on the other hand need disruption and access to intercultural events. They know that they want and need this kind of vibe to break the monotony of their daily routine. And economically, these events are a huge financial booster for the city.

It’s crucial that these kinds of festivals have a positive connotation with the public to bring awareness and acceptance to otherwise unknown cultures. All in a natural and fun way.

Sometimes, as success comes along, it seems like the chore values seem to get lost in the name of profit and big brother. Do you feel like Theater Spektakel has been able to keep its original purpose and DNA?

Actually it is quite astonishing how it has kept its essence. I can say that with total certainty. For example you will never see any sign of sponsors on site. It’s a rule that we have followed ruthlessly all these years. And it’s probably a big advantage to be mainly funded by the city which allows us a certain amount of freedom. We don’t have to worry about employment, insurance, etc. If we had to depend on commercial funding only we would be forced to abide by those commercial rules which would completely change the mood and character of the festival. For instance, the less known commercial artists would not survive or even be considered in the first place.

We refuse to become this machine fulfilling a need but rather acknowledge and support experimentation.

Having said that we also believe in providing popular shows like the contemporary circus. It adds buzz to the festival contributing to more sales.

What show should I not miss?

I would say see Marlene Monteiro Freitas, a very young Portuguese Director with a huge imagination. I am very curious to see if it finds its audience because this style is so new and different. Worth discovering!

A closing thought?

Use these 18 days to discover incredible artists. 

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