The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Berlin’s HAU as an epicenter of the performing arts — What’s the ideas behind its aim to “Create friction in the world?”
Berlin’s HAU as an epicenter of the performing arts — What’s the ideas behind its aim to “Create friction in the world?”
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.
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