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?”
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.
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