Category Archives: interviews

Adelaide Festival (somewhat overdue)

Dear reader,

At the beginning of March, I went to Adelaide Festival as a member of the Guardian Australia team, and I spent six or seven intense days writing, interviewing, podcasting, and occasionally eating and sleeping. It was a wonderful, and very worthwhile experience. During these few days, I produced a miraculous amount of writing.

I reviewed Adelaide Festival shows:
Sadeh 21, by Batsheva Dance Company, one of the best performance works I’ve since in my entire life. Like all best dance, it was both indescribable and sublime.
The Seagull, by State Theatre Company, which was unfortunately very poorly made. I felt cornered by this production, which I could not rate very highly, and I wondered why it was included in the Festival program – it couldn’t compete with the high calibre of international work. The Seagull is such an important play for the history of acting: not just because Chekhov is famous for extremely nuanced naturalism, but also because Stanislavsky practically developed his famed ‘method’ (you know, like ‘method’ acting?) while directing the first serious premiere of The Seagull. To this day, Moscow Art Theatre has a seagull in its emblem to mark the importance of this play to its artistic project. So, you cannot stage this play with imprecise acting, with a lack of nuance. There are playwrights and plays in which very careful naturalistic acting is not that important: Brecht, for example; expressionists; Moliere; even Beckett. But Chekhov dies on stage if the acting is not fine. If you take nuance out of Chekhov, there is nothing left to talk about.
Blackout, by Stone/Castro Project. I love physical theatre, but it requires extremely well-rounded performers, trained both in movement and acting. This work was more ambitious, I felt, than many of the performers in its big cast could do. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it, and it was worth our while, because a highly ambitious work that doesn’t quite fulfill its promise is almost always more interesting than a successful work of modest ambition.
Continuum, by Australian String Quartet. This was a really great experience, because 1) both the program and ASQ were amazing, 2) I probably appreciated it beyond the average because I just very rarely get to attend classical music recitals these days, 3) I never ever review classical music, and 4) I realised I do actually know a thing or two about it.

At Adelaide Fringe, I saw:
Glory Box, by Finucane & Smith. I find Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith’s bizarre burlesque a bit hit-and-miss. They are such an unavoidable presence in Melbourne, so definitive of alternative burlesque here, that one by necessity sees a lot of their work, and it’s uneven both in concept and in execution. But this one worked perfectly for me. Perhaps because I had just returned from Western Europe, and was a bit fatigued by the world in which women with armpit hair are inconceivable, it just felt great to experience a terrifying striptease in which milk and cornflakes became horror props, a diva in a dress with a sequined vagina pattern, and similar over-the-top feminine self-expression. It was genuinely cathartic. (As I get older, and I put less and less effort in not looking like a boy – because I naturally look like a boy – the more I genuinely enjoy silly femininity. Perhaps because I feel less oppressed by it? Who knows.)
Run Girl Run, by Grit Theatre, which I thought was simple, but clever, but simple. In Australia, live art and performance basically happen in Sydney, which has a rich living performance culture centred around the university programs and Performance Space. Melbourne has never had that. As a result, ‘live art’ and ‘performance’ in Melbourne tends to be made by artists basically trained in theatre, not specifically in performance. The works often seem a bit naive, a bit unaware of the history of the form, their own artistic context. This was definitely one such work. Nonetheless, it was good. But simple.

I interviewed:
Ohad Naharin of Batsheva Dance Company. I thought Naharin would be a stern and scary person, because I’ve found his choreographies cerebral and abstract – but he was genuinely one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I was so taken by his description of his work. Dancers who get to train with Batsheva Dance Company are very, very lucky people (I think).
Alexander Devriendt of Ontroerend Goed. The interview overran by 2 hours, I bummed cigarettes off Alexander, we were talking about how to make a theatre show about love, I told him how abused I feel about O.G.’s show ‘Internal’… It was a slightly insane process, but I was very glad to have a chance to chat with one of my biggest idols of contemporary theatre. I am a huge fan of Ontroerend Goed, and it was amazing to be able to quiz Devriendt on his process, motivations, and ideas.
Robert Lepage, of himself. I had such a good time talking to Lepage, who has such an interesting mind – I mean, we were talking about the birth of existentialism, the origin of theatre in communion, about urban sprawl… – that I really wanted to revisit his work, which I had often found maximalist, spread rather thinly. I am now looking forward to seeing his works with a better insight into the man that he is.

On the podcast, you can hear me:
on episode foud, discussing Batsheva’s Sadeh21, and
on episode five, interviewing Sharon Draper from the Australian String Quartet, and summarising my experience of the whole festival.

And I also did a video interview with Paolo Castro, with Bill Code, but you can’t see or hear me, I am just there.

incendiary performance: christoph schlingensief (Interview: Anna Teresa Scheer)


First things first: Schlingensief is almost entirely unknown in Australia.

In 2008, when I returned to Australia, I realised Schlingensief’s work was among that which had really impressed me during my 14 years in Germany—especially when I realised how apolitical Australian art had become in the Howard years. For example, there was no attempt to test the sedition laws. People seemed afraid of losing the support of the funding bodies. Schlingensief, by contrast, had gone out on a limb time after time, in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. He was arrested twice and wasn’t bothered about the consequences.

In Germany, I was used to him being a household name—an unusual position for a theatre artist. It became especially apparent to me that his work needed to be written up when I began my postgraduate studies. He’s not mentioned in any of the ample literature that was coming out on politics and performance. American and British perspectives dominate the field, and still focus on people like Augusto Boal. Even Baz Kershaw, in The Radical in Performance, still talks about The Living Theatre and the Welfare State International from the 1960s.

After nearly 30 years of work, not much has been published on Schlingensief. Of course, there were articles in German papers and magazines, but that’s not the same as a scholarly, referenceable book. His work wasn’t considered serious—which didn’t detract from its power, from it being always sold out at the Volksbuehne in Berlin. The writing that did get published was primarily from his own collaborators. I was interested in how other people thought about the work, how it could be understood. In this book, we move from Adorno to Brecht to Goffman, looking for interpretive context.

We know Schlingensief as a theatre-maker, but his theatre career was an accident. He was an underground filmmaker when Matthias Lilienthal invited him to work in the re-established Volksebuehne in former East Berlin.

An incredibly smart move for Lilienthal, to pick up on a man who says his films were only ever going to be shown in cellar cinemas. Schligensief was invited after making the third film in his German trilogy, Terror 2000: Intensive Station Germany, which lampoons Germany’s memorial culture—politicians laying wreaths at every opportunity, the Gladbecker hostage disaster, the plight of the asylum seekers—piling up a lot of stuff together using very unaesthetic, trashy means. The film was called sexist, racist, every negative epithet you can imagine. And he was invited by Lilienthal to retort to critiques in a stage production.

I am intrigued by Rocky Dutschke ‘68 (1996), an early theatre work in which he tried to confront the Left’s nostalgia for the 60s and uncritical emulation of kinds of protest that are now futile.

It tried to re-create the 60s: Schlingensief in a Dutschke wig inciting people to go into the theatre, then out again for a protest, a love-in in the theatre…It inquired into the leftist mythology of Rudi Dutschke [assassinated leader of the West German student movement in the 1960s], seriously asking: is anything like this still possible, or are we all postmodern super-cynics and resistance no longer imaginable?

He really targeted the Left’s idealism: ‘We’ll still find the working class, who will revolt and take over.’ He wasn’t interested in that sentiment. You could absolutely not describe him as a leftist in those terms. He was an anarchic spirit, whose line was one of inquiry.

In your book cinematographer Sandra Umathum reflects very personally on what it meant to experience Rocky Dutschke ‘68.

The difficulty of writing about Schligensief’s work is that it was different every night. He throws dramaturgy overboard, gets rid of previously made agreements with the actors; he will on the spur of the moment upturn the whole thing. Key sections may remain—or maybe not! Schlingensief’s theatre work was not fuelled by a great love of theatre, of wanting to follow in Brecht or Grotowski’s footsteps. He was experimenting with theatre like a child with plasticine. What can you do with this? He was interested in the way theatre was never finished, but happened anew each night.

Rocky Dutschke ‘68 was the first performance in which Schlingensief used non-professional performers, a practice he continued throughout his career: people with disabilities, the homeless. In Hamlet in 2001 he conscripted a bunch of reformed neo-Nazi youths. He was not interested in the ‘show me your wounds’ approach in which we turn up to be compassionate. The audience is not allowed complacency.

He was not doing it to elevate the status of a minority, but to get to the core of societal problems—and not in a linear or simple, causal way. People forget how turbulent Germany was in the 90s. Moving the capital back to Berlin, the ‘media chancellor’ Gerhard Schroeder, then the bombing of Belgrade, the first time German troops were employed since WWII. Germany was outraged: this happened under a red-green government! Then the ongoing reunification debate: will we become the great nation of fascists again? All these things swirling around, as if in a washing-machine. And that is how these productions looked: like questions, with actors representing contemporary politicians, with references to the Nazi past…but always as this “past that will not pass.”

Was he an heir of Brecht in that sense?

Yes—the audience had to sit there and critically engage with their own society and socio-political problems, because he wasn’t telling them what to think.


Passion Impossible was an inquiry into the city of Hamburg. Schlingensief was invited to create a work at the Deutsches Schau-spielhaus in Hamburg, Germany’s largest theatre [whose production Pornography was presented at Melbourne Interntional Arts Festival in 2010].

At that time, Hamburg station, which sits opposite the theatre, was literally a camp for the homeless and drug users. To get to the theatre, you had to step over their bodies. Schlingensief was essentially a moralist and found this situation unbearable. He first suggested to the administration they tear down the facade of the theatre and turn around the seats, to face the theatre across the road, the theatre of misery. The theatre rejected the proposal ‘for technical problems.’ Instead, they agreed to sponsor a benefit gala, to raise money for a mission.

The seven-day event Schlingensief staged was a mission in the former police station down the road and a series of mass events in public space. You had him standing outside the theatre in a policeman’s jacket with a megaphone, encouraging the theatre patrons to “come away from this ugly bunker! There’s nothing in here for you!” Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, he would encourage people, having bought their ticket, to leave the building and come to the mission, which was a real mission—with beds and a soup kitchen. Here they had an open mike, a small stage and people could speak about whatever they wanted. He had an accordion player, the Salvation Army band, people singing songs…All sorts of little moments of what could be called entertainment.

Was this real or just a provocation?

It wasn’t clearly outlined. The theatre had publicised the event. The audience would buy tickets, then walk 200 metres up the road to the mission. You were paying to be involved with the people you would normally completely ignore, would never encounter in your daily life, or could have easily dealt with for free!

Participating in it was a provocation to oneself. Some of the stories of the homeless people were just awful. Early on, at the benefit gala, Schlingensief appeared with a decrepit battery chicken, and asked: “I want to see how much money can be raised to save the neck of this chicken!” People in the audience started protesting but he said, “We eat these chickens every day. What do you care about its life? I want to know how far people will go. We’re all addicted” — addicted to one’s own sense of doing good, of being a good citizen. We responded to the phone call, turned up at the benefit gala, did our little bit, even if otherwise we don’t really care. But now we’re really worried about the chicken!

But the main provocation was to the Lord Mayor by getting the citizens to eventually march up to the Town Hall, asking for the mission to continue. It became permanent.

I found Passion Impossible fascinating because it took it right out onto the streets. It is not dissimilar to Augusto Boal’s invisible theatre. There was a lot of media around. Questions were asked: Is he serious? Is this a charity campaign? Is it performance? Of course, it was all these things. And it evolved into an actual campaign, which he couldn’t have planned in the beginning. The work really asks: can art do something that politics can’t, create impetus for change? It questions our idea that artists can at best be pranksters. This is very different from watching The Chaser boys having a good time.


I remember the reverberations from Please Love Austria (2000) as it made news throughout Europe that summer. There were riots!

2000 was the year when the liberal Austrian government became the only one since WWII to form a coalition with a far-right populist party, FPÖ, led by Jörg Haider. Sanctions were imposed on Austria. All of Europe was aware of Haider’s anti-immigrant campaigns.

Schlingensief was invited to create a work for the Vienna Festival. It was planned that shipping containers would be placed in the centre of town, on the Opera Square. These containers would be the living quarters for 12 asylum seekers for a period of seven days. Inside were webcams streaming to a website and Austrian citizens were encouraged to vote out their least favourite inhabitant, who would be taken to the border and deported. The winner would get 35,000 schillings and the possibility of becoming an Austrian resident by marriage. It followed the Big Brother format, which had just appeared.

It was only when Schlingensief, opening the show, revealed a large banner on the container, which said “Foreigners Out.” that it stopped being a game, or even funny. This is a well-known right-wing slogan: “Germany for Germans, Foreigners Out.” Jaws dropped. It attracted growing attention. People were coming through town for the festival and Schlingensief was there with a megaphone, exhorting tourists to take photos: “This is the future of Europe, this is Austria, send this to your friends at home, dear Japanese, dear Americans!” Austrians were shocked: “Besmirching our country!” Schlingensief kept publicly inviting Jörg Haider to meet with the asylum seekers—involving him in the performance, in absentia. The national boulevard press, the Kronen-Zeitung, were writing every day: “This Schlingensief clown is costing you money, dear readers.” Schlingensief retorted that they were just writing the program notes to his event.

The Left were campaigning against Jörg Haider. They saw the “Foreigners Out” banner simply as a provocation, accusing Schlingensief of misusing asylum seekers for his project. They marched around the container, demanding that he set those inside free, showing mind-boggling naivety — these were real asylum seekers, all with cases pending.

In the end they stormed the container.

Jumped on the roof, destroyed the banner, demanded a meeting. The asylum seekers had to be evacuated. The protesters then realised these were real asylum seekers and had to question their own activities. When they finally left, Schlingensief raised the ante by putting up an SS slogan that had been used by an FPÖ member: “Loyalty is our Honour.”

In that moment, it was as if Schlingensief reminded everyone that we were watching an art performance and that the real issue was only being represented. It questioned the efficacy of removing a symbol as a political action.

The Left-Right binary looked pathetic. The Right couldn’t take down the sign and government officials taking down an artwork would look pretty stupid. On the other hand, leftist protesters, making insane demands, weren’t effective either. Set the asylum seekers free — for what? Where?

The show wasn’t so much about the asylum seekers. Austria was televised around the world—the theatre was the Austrians, watching each other perform. Whatever happened, Schlingensief incorporated it into the work. That was the fun aspect of it. He didn’t have to rise to the bait or argue that this was a serious piece of political art. He would say: “I’m just repeating what Haider has been saying.”

Kerstin Grassmann, "Kandy" Mamounata Guira, Amando Komi in Christoph Schlingensief's award winning 2010 work Via Intolleranza. Photo: Aino Laberenz.

Slavoj Žižek calls this “radical overidentification”— an artistic position where you critique by overstating, by taking a claim to its absolute extreme to reveal its ugly possibilities.

Please Love Austria was a perfect example — the asylum seekers being forced to learn German, do callisthenics… It’s not as if Austria changed when the project left. That didn’t see the end of the coalition. But it showed how art can be directly involved in events of the day, in a very radical way.

In the book you point out the connection between Schlingensief’s work and the neo-avant-garde of the 1950s. You write about “an art practice that emerges from the social sphere—and that develops out of the active, creative participation of the viewer.”

The comparison with happenings is not wrong — everyday life, spontaneity, experiments. Schlingensief didn’t start something with a blueprint of how it should end, but set it in motion like a wind-up toy, to see where it goes. In Germany he is often considered the inheritor of the legacy of Joseph Beuys. Beuys’ discussions, definitions, ideas—of social sculpture, of an expanded form of art — Schligensief co-opted for his own ideas on an expanded form of theatre. Getting rid of the fourth wall, people leaving the theatre for the streets. That became really clear in 1998, when he ran his own political party in the German election.

Christoph Schlingensief (right), Chance 2000—Vote for Yourself (1998). Photo © Aino Laberenz.


It started off with an event at the Volksbuehne. Schlingensief had a circus performance set up in a tent—the “electoral circus.” But at the same time, he started his own media campaign on national television about Chance 2000 – Vote For Yourself (1998). He was encouraging the disabled and the unemployed to run as political candidates. “None of these people in the Bundestag represent you. The idea that you will be represented by someone else your whole life is ridiculous—you have to prove you exist. Get involved in starting your own campaign.”

He toured Germany in a bus, campaigning non-stop. It wasn’t a completely serious attempt to form a political party. He would say, “Unlike all other politicians running in this election, the only promise I am going to make is that everyone will be bitterly disappointed.” Then he decided that the people who joined the party were too boring, left it and set up the Schlingensief Party. He wouldn’t let those he rejected into his new tent, but after two days they reunited. A very clever German reviewer commented that Schlingensief gave us a short run-through of democracy in a week. Parties, factions, reuniting, splitting up, another leader emerging, and all happening with such a turbulent tempo!

Germany was baffled: vote for yourself? Is he lampooning the election? The party got 30,000 votes. But the idea wasn’t that they would take over the Bundestag, but rather “prove you exist.” In this world, where the only voices we hear are those of rich politicians, who are these faceless unemployed people, apparently numbering six million? He was demanding you make yourselves visible in a world that’s trying to erase you.

There was a lovely offshoot action of Chance 2000. Schlingensief announced that the six million unemployed would join him to jump into a lake, Wolfgangsee, where Helmut Kohl’s villa is, to raise the water level, flood Kohl out and give him cold feet. The police were sent to the village, all sorts of preparations were in place. Schlingensief turned out with about 300 people. But Kohl ‘participated,’ against his will, in a performance. It doesn’t really matter if it did or didn’t happen. People saw the clips, it was national news that there hadn’t been 6 million people, only 300.

Schlingensief really understood the sound-byte world we’re living in—he created a mythology around the work, pretending things would go further than they actually could, and were bigger than they actually were.

How did Schlingensief’s work fit into the German theatre context? I remember when Denise Varney [Theatre Studies, University of Melbourne] showed a clip from Please Love Austria in class there was incredible consternation about whether such an action was legal or not. In Germany, Schlingensief reached the status of a star. He directed an opera for the Bayreuth Wagner festival. He was not living in a live art ghetto, the way one would expect here.

Events such as the one he staged in the election campaign of 1998 made him nationally prominent, while internationally it was Please Love Austria. He became the biggest name in art in Germany. After years of people saying it wasn’t real theatre, the fact that he wasn’t going away and was finally invited to direct Parsifal at the shrine of Wagner in Bayreuth, meant that he was finally accepted. On the other hand, he never became an intendant of a theatre — people didn’t trust him on that level. But after he contracted cancer, when he was only 47, he released a book—his cancer diary, titled Heaven Can’t Be More Beautiful Than Here — and it became a bestseller.


He started a website, Shocked Patients ( The first thing he found out as a cancer patient is that you lose all autonomy. People start shoving tubes into you, no one talks to you, they talk over you. You are again erased. He created a forum for people diagnosed with terminal diseases, cancer and ALS [amyotropic lateral sclerosis] to write about their experiences, to have their own voice.

He had previously created a performance called Art and Vegetables (2004) at the Volksbuehne, in which, centrestage, was a woman with ALS, in bed, able to write messages by blinking at a computer screen. The woman, Angela Jansen, was quoted in the program, saying, “I’ve got everything I need, it’s just that I can’t move.” He used that as a reference to German society of the time. The woman now became the forum moderator.

It’s not as if he avoided scandal, he sought the media, did things knowing they would provoke a reaction—saying unkind things about Lady Di, for example. But there is also his metaphorical language: “Jump into the lake and give Kohl cold feet,” or relating physical sickness to a social sickness and lethargy.

One of the reasons it’s hard to talk about Schlingensief’s work is because he covers so many forms: happening, performance, theatre, film, activism, politics. It’s hard to sum up his work. One motif is, perhaps, visibility, the other is putting himself in his work. And particularly interesting to me, in these times of complete social inertia — I’m thinking Australia now — is his idea of movement, getting out of torpor and lethargy. He often took to the streets with groups of people. “Move! It doesn’t matter where we’re going. I don’t even need a plan.” No need for direction – you just move. “We’ll figure it out as we go.”

Tara Forrest and Anna Teresa Scheer eds, Art Without Borders, Intellect Books, 2010;

First published in RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011 pg. 24-25.

Note: I am particularly proud of this article, which is, to my knowledge, the first mention of Christoph Schlingensief in the Australian media, arts or otherwise. Schlingensief is without a doubt one of the most important theatre artists of the 20th century, and the publication of Scheer’s book was an important occasion, not just in Australia, but worldwide.

Anna Teresa was a fantastic interlocutor. I cut my questions down to the bare minimum, giving most of the space to her, to describe the importance and social impact of Schlingensief’s work. Even so, the article ran at twice the word-length commissioned.

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Interview: Matthias Lilienthal, AD of HAU (Berlin)

I am cross-posting this very interesting interview found at Performing Arts Network Japan, with Matthias Lilienthal. Lilienthal re-established Volksbuehne am Rosa-Luxembourg-Platz, in former East Berlin, in the early 1990s, turning it into an important experimental stage (and giving a platform to a number of directors that would become very important in the German-speaking theatre, such as Christoph Marthaler and Christoph Schlingensief – which is how I found the interview).

I am cross-posting this in contravention of reasonable copyright, and I envisage having to pull it down eventually. But I am posting it, because it’s tremendously interesting, and because PANJ’s website is impossible to browse – if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, you’re not going to find it. (The original interview is currently hosted here.)


Presenter Interview:
Berlin’s HAU as an epicenter of the performing arts – What are the ideas behind its aim to “Create friction in the world?”

(24 June 2009)

Matthias Lilienthal is a vibrant “warrior” of the German performing arts world who re-established the former East Berlin’s Volksbuehne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz as an experimental theater after the fall of the Berlin Wall and in 2003 took the post of artistic director of Hebbel am Ufer (HAU), an organization with three performance spaces in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, which is home to a large immigrant population today. Working with performance groups like Rimini Protokoll in the pursuit of reality and documentary theater, Lilienthal has given birth to chain of performing arts projects unapologetically aimed at creating “friction” in the world. These activities have made him one of the most talked about figures in his profession. With 2009 marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city is now in the midst of a rush of commemorative events and festivals. Lilienthal is also involved in the planning of a “Japan Festival” scheduled to take place in Berlin this October. In this interview we talked with Lilienthal about his stance of always presenting projects that look at contemporary society with a sharp and insightful eye, HAU’s activities and his outlook on culture generated by cities like Berlin or Tokyo.
(Interview: Makiko Yamaguchi)

Early in the 1990s you worked with director Frank Castorf in founding and leading the re-established Volksbuehne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. This theater is considered one of the theaters in Berlin that presents more experimental and more political productions. Could you tell us about some of the important re-orientation and changes that went on during that time?
That was just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and one of our important themes was how this theater in the former East Berlin be re-positioned amidst the dramatic social changes of the day. At the time, the people of the former East Germany were trying desperately to get closer to the standards of West German society, while on the other hand, within the process of re-unification, there was a tendency to ignore the former East’s own unique issues. In light of that situation, what we tried to do was to say that the people of the former East Germany had problems that shouldn’t be ignored and pose the question of whether the re-unification of Germany wasn’t actually a colonization of the East by the West instead of liberalization based on democratic principles as one nation. For that purpose we employed metaphors to induce debate concerning the issues of East Germans. One of those was to use the retro-design style that was used in East Germany in the past. Using visuals of that type we tried to promote interest in the problems of former East Germans who were suddenly unemployed and the other social conditions they were subjected to.

Can you tell us about some of the specific theater works that dealt with the problems of the people of East Germany?
The most successful work in that sense was Murx den Europaer (“Bump Off the European!”). It was written and directed by Christoph Marthaler and developed around songs that were often sung in Germany’s Nazi era. The surrealistic stage art was designed by Anna Viebrock, creating a strange sort of waiting room, like a Salvation Army waiting room, or it also had the appearance of something in a home for the aged. On stage there were ten actors, each sitting at their own desk and each in their own world, not speaking to each other. And the concept was that their only consolation came when they sang together. The perception was that within this surrealistic setting Utopia could only be attained through coral singing, as a kind of negative consequence that could only be born in the context of German re-unification. Marthaler achieved his first big success with this work and it has been performed regularly in the 14 years since its premiere. This is an exceptionally long run that surely can be considered a record in the German theater world. Also, Castorf brought King Lear to the stage during that period. As a story about power struggle and holding power, he used it to explore his thoughts about the East German regime.

You served as director for the 2002 Theater der Welt festival. It’s an international theater festival organized by the German center of ITI (International Theater Institute) since 1981 and, as the name suggests, every holding invites theater works from around the world. It is held once every three years in different German cities, and in 2002 it was held in the four cities of Cologne, Duisburg, Bonn and Dusseldorf. We would like to hear about that festival. In particular, we hear that you had an “X-Wohnungen” (X-Residences) project where artists did installations at private homes and unused buildings and audience members went in twos to visit different residences.
This festival is basically one that invites foreign works that meet certain international standards, and in 2002 we invited productions like theater company ZT Hollandia’s Euripides’ Bacchae directed by Johan Simons. At the same time we wanted to make it a festival with local orientation, and we did a numerous of projects with that aim. One of the projects that we started at that festival is the “X-Wohnungen” project, which is still continued today. We did this in Duisburg, which used to be an area where poorer Ruhr valley coal miners lived and today has a large immigrant population.
We made private homes in this area the sites for installation works, and when members of the audience visit these homes they are confronted with realities that are very different from the preconceptions they brought to it. What I like most in this projects was the installation by the Polish artist Krzysztof Warlikowski. He used an abandoned building that had been a grocery store for coal miners in the 1950s and ’60s and later housed a Mosque for Turkish laborer in the 1970s and ’80s and did an installation based on Sarah Kane’s play Phaedra’s Love. In this installation a naked man lay on a bed and a woman walked around the room, which had a Polish Catholic shrine, reminiscent of the large numbers of Polish immigrants who came to this region in the era of the industrial revolution. At the same time it revealed potential interest in homosexuality and sex in the subconscious due to the presence of around twenty Turkish children who were always gathered outside trying to get a look at the naked man.
We asked not only directors but also painters and video artists to do installations, which not only inspired their imagination but also asked whether or not the audience would be encountering unexpected realities in the works.
The audience departed in twos at 10-minute intervals and spent three to four hours visiting eight different houses. There were also measures taken to provide encounters on the streets in between, and there were surprises prepared, too. It also provided a good opportunity for encounters between German directors and foreign directors. As the directors worked on their installations in neighboring houses, there were opportunities for exchanges to develop. Unlike a 100% protected theater space, the houses created situations where a performer would be alone in the same room with one or two audience members, which led to a situation where you could not anticipate what was going to happen. In some cases erotic situations developed as well. After that Theater der Welt the same project was conducted three times in Berlin, and once in Caracas and in Switzerland. We also have plans to do it in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Waiting in 2010 are Johannesburg and Warsaw.

Do you think you could do it in Japan, too?
Aren’t people in Japan reluctant to let other people enter their houses? Also the houses are small, so it might be difficult to get adequate conditions. However, Tokyo has very modern areas and other areas that are small village-like neighborhoods. I think it would be very interesting to do the project in a place with such marked inconsistencies. My impression of Japan is that of a rather closed society with a strange sort of insular mindset common to islands. In other words it seems distant. And it is strange, because it is just a 10-hour flight from Berlin to Tokyo and the only country you have to cross is Russia. These kinds of discrepancies it fitting for the project and I think a truly Tokyo-specific project could be held that doesn’t lose Tokyo’s uniqueness.

Since 2003 you have been serving as both the artistic director and administrative manager of HAU (Hebbel am Ufer). HAU is a consortium of three theaters (Hebbel-Theater [HAU 1], Theater am Halleschen Ufer [HAU 2] and the small Theater am Ufer [HAU 3]) located in the downtown Kreuzberg district of Berlin where many Turkish immigrants live. How did you come to this position?
At the time I was recommended as the next artistic director of Hebbel Theater and I was given the job after the usual application and interview. The 500-seat HAU 1 theater is not really suited for inviting international productions, either from the standpoint of building facility or its size. The addition of the 200-seat HAU 2, which is well suited for invited international productions, and the 100-seat HAU 3 made it possible to conduct a wide range of programs.

Can you give us a rough outline of HAU’s budget?
Each year we receive a budget of 4.5 million euro from Berlin State. There is a separate 400,000 euro budget for programs. Together that comes to just under 5 million euro. We also make efforts to supplement this by obtaining outside funding, and the 1 to 2 million euro we gather from these efforts is added to the program budget.
We have a staff of 24 people. We have separate curators for the dance and theater divisions. Despite our limited staffing, we do 120 projects a year, and this means that each staff member has to perform a wide range of duties. For example, the publicity specialist may also be involved in festival curating. Our annual theater attendance is about 70,000, and on average we fill about 70% of the seating capacity.

Could you tell us about programming at HAU?
Our aim with the HAU program is to try to constantly create friction. For example, in the work Hell on earth by Argentine-born, Berlin-based choreographer Constanza Macras, half of the cast was dancers and the other half children of Palestinian, Arab and Turkish immigrants. We deliberately chose to stage this work at HAU 1 because of its traditional building.
There are two main focuses of the HAU program, and one of those is issues relating to immigrants. Fifty percent of the population in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin where HAU is located is of immigrant origin, and half of those are Turkish. So, at HAU we have projects involving young Turkish directors, curators, stage artists and actors and we have been successful in our attempts to treat the immigrant situation in our program through these projects. Opening our doors to this community through our programs dealing with the issues and meaning of the immigrant situation at our theater is still in itself quite a sensational thing.

Do members of the immigrant come to HAU as audience? Do you see many immigrant residents or foreigners at German theaters?
In Germany’s Turkish immigrant communities the ties of the family unit are very strong, so when the curator or director of a production or the actors are from the Turkish community, their families, relatives and friends come to the performances as audience. The determining factor as to whether they come to HAU or not is not the contents of the program but whether their community friends are involved or not. This fact is very clear. Although they tend to be reserved in terms of response, they are very interested in these programs.

What is the second of the HAU’s focuses that you just mentioned?
It is a joint effort we have been involved in for the last six years with the Rimini Protokoll. They are a group of artists from the performance movement who have continued to create works that present questions directly concerning their reality as a realm of the unknown. The Rimini Protokoll group is involved in the same type of process as Bruce Chatwin and Claude Lévi-Strauss undertook when they traveled around Australia encountering unknown people as a form of research into cultural phenomena.
Just recently Rimini Protokoll performed Das Kapital in Tokyo as a joint production of the Dusseldorf’s Schauspielhaus and HAU. It is a fact that Karl Marx was a central figure in the history of German humanities. On the other hand, he is very strongly connected to all socialist thought. Despite this fact, very few people have actually read the book Das Kapital. The Rimini Protokoll production investigates the flow of capital and its movements in today’s society are explored through the life experience of ten people and shows how money is spent and invested. For example, Thomas Kuczynski, the son of an East German editor who published the works of Marx and Engels, makes an appearance in the play to lecture the audience about the work of editing those manuscripts. Another appearance is made by an investment consultant from Hamburg who tried to make money through a pyramid scheme by collecting money from rich members of tennis clubs. The system collapsed and all the money was lost, and you can see this as a kind of precursor to the present economic crisis.

The Rimini Protokoll production of Cargo Sophia – Berlin was also a great work. The audience get in a freight truck outfitted with audience seats and it takes them to a number of places like a parking area for long-distance trucks on the Autobahn, a wholesale market for fresh produce and warehouses. During the trip the audience looks at unknown parts of Berlin with new eyes through the full-wall window of the modified truck’s cargo compartment. At the same time they listen to long-distance truckers talking about their work and lives in a two-hour experience. It is a fresh theater experience full of discoveries that show the audience another face of the city of Berlin.
This is a work that was born originally in Sofia Bulgaria. A German long-distance trucking company acquired a Bulgarian nationally-run company. That company employed 8,000 long-distance truck drivers. They ended up doing long-distance trucking at dumping-level rates for European corporations. Rimini Protokoll’s Stefan Kaegi got a long-distance freight truck and modified it. He put high-tech equipment in and outfitted it with passenger seats. He also installed a one-way glass window across one side wall of the truck’s freight compartment that allowed the passengers to see out without being visible from the outside.
In effect, for the audience, the city they drive through becomes the stage set. The audience sits in parallel with the road and experiences the world of the long-distance truck driver. They are shown the kitchen-fitted driver compartments built into some of these trucks stopped at gasoline stands, learn about the drivers’ low salaries of just 500 or 600 euro a month and other facts about how this previously unknown world functions. The truck also takes the audience to warehouses and a port with shipping docks where the cargoes are unloaded and thus experience the city as one large theater set. Furthermore, the two drivers in the drivers’ compartment tell the audience about their lives. This work has been performed at Avignon and other cities around Europe. We want to find some Asian truckers and do this work in Asia, too. Presently, Singapore and Yokohama are two candidate cities for this.

I heard that Rimini Protokoll’s newest work has premiered at HAU.
Yes. It is Kaegi’s Radio Muezzin. When he was in Amman for a performance of Cargo Sophia, he learned about the plan to integrate the “muezzin.” The muezzin is a chosen person who calls the faithful to prayer in Islam. The muezzin traditionally makes this call over large areas with loud speakers from the top of the minarets of mosques in cities. Since there is difference in the voices of the muezzin, a total of 36 muezzins were selected to make the call from one mosque, which would then be broadcast by radio to all the other mosques. The decision to integrate the muezzin was also made in Cairo, Egypt.
Kaegi created this work about the muezzin for a joint production by the Goethe-Institut Cairo and HAU. He had four muezzins and one radio technician tell their thoughts about this muezzin integration plan. It begins with the chanting of the “Adhan” (call to prayer). Then they tell about their daily routine, how rising at 4:30 am to open the mosque, and about their faith, about the fact that Mohammed said that only men should be muezzins, and about the strict separation of men and women. They also talk about being selected as one of the 36 central muezzins, and about not being selected.
The four muezzins talk about their lives and their daily routines, about the blind muezzin of Egypt, about a muezzin who used to work as a construction site technician, and about the fact that it is hard to get by in Cairo on the low muezzin salary equivalent to just 50 euro a month. Although it is not an often-noticed job, for those who get it, it is a job that assures their passage to paradise after death. For those who lose their jobs because of it, this integration of the muezzin is a very grave matter.

Are there other artists besides Rimini Protokoll that you have been working with on a long-term basis or in close collaboration with?
There are always about 10 to 15 such artists and groups. The Argentine-born choreographer Constanza Macras does works with dancers and children. The young group Andcompany & Co. emerged with a work titled little red (play): eherstory’ that used the Little Red Riding Hood fable as a framework to present anew interpretation of the history of the communist party. Starting with that work, a trilogy of works about communism has now been completed. Other artists we work with are Gob Squad and She She Pop. We also work with Hans-Werner Kroesinger. He is a veteran in the genre of documentary theater with a very deep sense of issues and a strong political commitment. He recently wrote a work about the genocide in Rwanda and made a play out of it.

In your Volksbuehne years you did themed weekend projects. You set themes and invited the unemployed or 3rd-generation Turkish immigrant young people and held discussions and workshops with philosophers and you did concerts as well. Do you do projects like this at HAU?
We do projects that take a journalistic approach to various phenomena. Recently we did one on the music industry. Because of the growth of the internet, people can now download music, so CDs are not selling anymore. This has been forcing the music industry to reconsider their business model. We explored this issue with concerts and discussions.
Lately, electronic music is very popular in Berlin, and every weekend from Friday till Monday morning the clubs in Berlin are packed. Young people fly in by the hundreds on cheap flights of carriers like “easyJet” from cities like Barcelona, London, Paris and Moscow. Berlin is a sort of capital for them, although very few of the artists performing at the clubs are actually from Berlin. EasyJet now connects the major cities across Europe. It’s like taking the train from Tokyo to Yokohama. We did a project based on this phenomenon. The idea was my own actually and the curation was done jointly with the former chief editor of the music magazine Spex, the critic Christoph Gurk. We organized a concert with artists including Matthew Herbert Big Band and Young Marble Giants.

In a 2004 survey by the German theater magazine Theater Heute polling theater critics, HAU was voted the best theater in the German-speaking world. Is this because you have a different system from existing public theaters?
I wonder. One thing I can say is that, a specialized theater like ours that doesn’t employ the traditional theater system and doesn’t have its own company or stage staff is naturally better suited to creating works with groups using non-professional casts like Rimini Protokoll or “professionals of daily life.” Our new system offers us greater freedom. The traditional German theater system requires large budgets. In Berlin each theater gets an annual budget of between 12 and 15 million euro. But in our new system as well, creating works requires a lot of money.

What effect has the re-unification of Germany and the integration of the EU had on HAU?
We are strengthening our relationship with the important theater world of our neighbor, Poland. Also, it has become very important for theaters to establish their presence within Europe. The idea that after unification under the EU its member countries would still retain distinct policies is a complete myth. So much is being controlled from [EU headquarters in] Brussels. Europe has become in effect a single country like North America. All that is left in terms of separate governments in the individual countries amounts to little more than provincial puppet governments.

Nonetheless, the German theater world does have its own unique cultural sphere even after the integration of the European Union, don’t you think?
With regard to dance, Europe definitely does form one cultural sphere. In terms of theater, the German-speaking part of Switzerland, Austria and Germany do form a distinct German-language cultural sphere. However, Johan Simons (Note: Dutch director, incoming intendant for the Munich Kammerspiele) and the British artist group Forced Entertainment are becoming more influential in the German cultural sphere, as they are in the rest of Europe. And in Berlin there are now many artists from other countries performing in English, and in fact it is now possible to live in Berlin using English. There are movie theaters that show only English-language movies and there are a growing number of English-language newspapers. Berlin has perhaps become a more international city than Tokyo. And when you look at the various international projects going on in Berlin, you will see immediately that it is no longer just a German cultural sphere.

What is the underlying concept running through the HAU programming as a whole? I have heard the words “a hysterical longing for reality.” Is that the theme?
I think it is boring if you believe that theater has to be based on a particular kind of performance or has to always involve internalized artistic process. For me it is important that theater attempt to make some kind of statement about reality or connect to reality, or put forth a debate about it.
The expression “a hysterical longing for reality” is one that was born when I began working on the X-Wohnungen project. What this project attempted to do was to create a conflict between the people who lived in a building or the condition of the rooms in an apartment and the director’s artistic approach. At the same time, there was the aim of freeing the works from the theater environment. And, with regard to the term “a hysterical longing for reality,” can say that it is indeed a concept that runs through all the HAU programming.
Also, there are the terms reality theater and documentary theater. Since 20 years ago, Hans-Werner Kroesinger had been writing quite dry documentary theater. Then there is Rimini Protokoll, who create works that explore realities that are unknown to us by putting real people on stage. When we add X-Wohnungen to these two, we see that documentary theater certainly has an important place in HAU’s activities. But that is not all we do.

What do you try to communicate to your audience through these types of works?
I don’t really know. At the very least, what we are trying to do is to make things that can be differentiated when seen from the outside. Especially, in may case, I want to see us put things out there that are unknown, or that involve issues that still incomprehensible. I am interested in bringing focus on problems that the society has not expected. I am not interested in taking issues that I already know about and making a statement on them.

Why do you wish to see reality in theater works so strongly? What is it about documentary theater that interests you so much?
For someone born and raised in Germany, theater has always been deeply involved in ideology or the collapse of ideology. When thinking about ideology, the important thing is to have a grasp of reality and researching the nature of the realities we are confronted with. The important thing is to grasp realities and put them in forms that can be seen.
The project “Foreigners out! Schlingensiefs Container” created by director Christoph Schlingensief was one where he put actually foreign exiles seeking political asylum in a shipping container set up in the square next to the Vienna National Opera House and allowed spectators to peek in at the process of selecting those among the exiles who were to be deported. This was done as an extreme version of the popular reality TV program Big Brother that broadcasts footage of people living on closed quarters 24 hours a day. I abhor works that present reality just as it is, or naturalism. I believe that we rediscover reality when it is put into mechanisms or film, for example the video images in games.

Could you tell us about what projects HAU will be undertaking in the near future?
We will continue our projects on the theme of immigrants. We are thinking about projects with the Vietnamese and Arab communities. In September, we are having general elections in German, so we are taking this occasion to run performances of a work on post-democracy and hold discussions. The theme is the hollowing out of democracy with the behind-the-scenes activities of lobbyists. It may be the same in Japan, but in Germany the people are losing interest in politics and elections and in fact it is mostly the media that is playing out the campaigns by remote control. The work to be performed is Rimini Protokoll’s Wallenstein. This is a work in which politicians who have actually run for office in regional elections will appear. We will also invite the British political scientist Colin Crouch who promotes post-democratic thought for lectures and an installation project.

You also have a festival that programs cross-over works, video and dance works. Can you tell us something about the contents?
As a cross-over project involving multiple genre, we did a project with a group of unemployed architects called Traumlabor (dream lab). This project involved flooding part of the former East German “Palace of the Republic” (Diet building) and having visitors paddle through the building in inflatable boats. It was a joint project between Sophiensaele and HAU and it ran for six months. Could we do it in Japan’s Diet Building too? (Laughs)
For the festivals we usually have a theme. In the festival held in June the theme is family structure and immigrants and child education. It tells stories about the system in which poor immigrants are used for educating children and stories of some families. The title is “Your nanny hates you.” It deals with the situation where wealthy North American families hire poor South American women as nannies to care for their children and the way these women work hard far from home and send as much as they can back to their families. In this way, we set a different theme for each festival. But we avoid the common pattern of inviting a selection of the best works from a given region or country and instead do research into subcultures in search of leads.

You also have regularly held festivals.
For dance we have our Tanz im August festival and our Brazil Festival. We also have one involving Poland. We would also like to have a yearly Japan festival as well. (Laughs)

I understand that HAU is the center of an independent art scene, but are there other similar centers in Berlin?
We sometimes do collaborations with public theaters, such as works by Johan Simons with Munich Kammerspiele, but that is the exception rather than the rule. HAU is indeed the center of an independent art scene. As for other such centers, there is the Sophiensaele for theater, DOCK 11 for dance and RADIALSYSTEM V for early music and contemporary music performance.

Do you have a network or particularly strong ties with other European theaters?
We have ties with the KunstenFestivaldesArts and the Kaai Theater in Brussels, Theater Frascati in Amsterdam, the Theater Rozmaitosci in Warsaw, the Nowi Theater in Moscow, and in New York, we have Performance Space 122 in New York and in Tokyo, Festival/Tokyo and others.

In October, you will have a Japan feature scheduled and this is your third visit to Japan for that.
We have gotten funding from Berlin State for a Japan Festival within the framework of the Asia Pacific Week 2009. I am here in Japan to do research for that. Seeing Festival/Tokyo and the Tokyo Performing Arts Market, I realized that young theater people here seem to be experimenting with new things. I suspect that in the last few years they have come in contact with theater scenes outside of Japan and have been stimulated in ways that have broadened their perspective and sense of theater. The young theater people’s works deal with street culture and sex almost to an extreme. One of these is a pop work by the young performer group Fai Fai. It asks questions like can’t a price be set on the body and the value of sex in this globalized world. While recognizing the treat of having a price set on the body, it also wants to show the naked body. It portrays Shibuya, techno culture, sex robots and the commercialization of sexuality.
The work Love’s Whirlpool by the Potudo-ru company is a play telling a story about group of men and women at a secret club and giving the audience a peek at a world of orgiastic behavior. It portrays society’s obsession with sex as a form of terror against sexuality. While on the one hand it shows a hard reality in which there is a clear division of sex and love, on the other hand it brings to mind images of Bruegel paintings, like a scene from the Middle Ages with bodies piled on top of each other. Furthermore, it deals with individual action regarding the approach to love and sex. What was intended to be purely sex ends up evoking feelings close to love, and jealousy. It was very interesting to watch, like a section cut straight out of the Shinjuku nightlife.
Like last year, we will be inviting Toshiki Okada and his Chelfitsch company again this year. I think he is one of the most important directors in Japan today. His work Air Conditioner is a story about two people working in an office where the air-conditioning is always on too strong and the two gradually draw close to each other with dance-like movement. If this can be seen as another form of sexuality, then I think the suggestion I made half jokingly before the start of this interview that one title possibility for our Japan feature might be “Sex and the City” isn’t actually too far off.
Also, amidst the background of the realities of Japanese society and the issue of the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor, I got the impression that a small but significant movement of social commitment is occurring. For example, there is the “Amateur Rebellion” of Hajime Matsumoto. He runs a shop that repairs and sells second-hand household appliances in Koenji and I had the opportunity to meet him and hear about his anti-consumerism “Amateur Revolution” movement. He is someone who is trying not simply to keep rising prices down but to search for new values outside the framework of consumerism and liberal economics. I am thinking of inviting him to our feature and having him participate in a dialogue with the German philosopher Guillaume Paoli. Paoli is promoting the concept of “happy unemployment” and criticizing the idea of constant development of labor. I also want to have the music and literary critic Atsushi Sasaki come and talk about his vision of cultural development from the 1990s to the present. He speaks of the ’90s as a decade trapped between the death of the Showa era and Nostradamus prophecies. This is a view that you won’t find often in the West.
I also saw the video Super Rat by the artist group Chim-Pom. It is about catching the rats that feed on the garbage of Shibuya and stuff them to make dolls the animation character Pikachu. All of this, the pop culture, the Shinjuku-Shibuya-Koenji settings and the sexual obsessions are things born of the unique metropolis that is Tokyo.

Does this mean that your Japan feature will be an attempt to bring the expressions of the images and phenomena of Tokyo to the stage?
We put them all on the stage. And then we think about what we do when we have no more money for consumption. Wouldn’t it be a fine party of desperation? We have no money but still we dance. And I am also thinking that maybe we can connect Berlin and Tokyo through a bond of electronic music.

It may be a question out of the blue, but can I ask you why you are doing theater?
I don’t know. I don’t know the answer myself. It just happened this way.

What do you think you have gained and achieved by doing theater?
I haven’t gained anything. If there were anything, it would only be that to some small degree I have opened the theater to the immigrant population and got them to come to the theater a few times. I can say with certainty that they have been given the opportunity to encounter art in a broad sense. Or, by showing the near-sighted German audience something of the things that are happening outside their world, we may have succeeded in opening the possibilities for internationalization. That’s about all. I don’t think that art can change society or the cities anymore. Thinking that it can is nothing but a dream.

But you will still keep doing it, won’t you?
Of course.

For the sake of world revolution?
It is true that I have sought to resist the realities of society in the past and it is still an important thing for me. But for me world revolution sometimes means doing an art project.

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