Milan. Munich. Landshut. Jens Hillje moved around a lot as a child. But does this explain his interest in the subject that he’s currently pursuing in his work? “Definitely,” says the dramaturg whose contribution to this year’s Berliner Theatertreffen has conclusively established him as an important player in the post-immigrant theater scene. “I grew up as a Protestant German in Italy and then moved with my family to Bavaria,” Hillje explains. “I’m very familiar with the feeling of not belonging.”
In the play “Verrücktes Blut” (Mad Blood), written in collaboration with Nurkan Erpulat, a Turkish-German playwright and director, Hillje examines a society of diverse groups who are trying to find a way to live with each other. With this story about transcultural youth and supposedly enlightened “native” Germans, the Theatertreffen turns a cautious eye to post-immigrant theater for the first time.
In France or Britain, where there is a deep colonial history and a corresponding desire to come to terms with this, Hillje would be one among many. In Germany he is a pioneer, setting at the center of mainstream theater issues which, despite Germany’s own tradition of immigration, have hardly found access to this country’s stages up to now. While it is true that Berlin, Hillje’s place of work for many years, offers sites and niches for theater makers of immigrant background, these dramatists, directors and actors are only now gaining recognition among the audiences of the big theaters.
Hillje contributes to this growing awareness in part through his popularity. He is known to broader audiences, especially through his work at the city’s major theaters. On completing his studies, he went straight to an auxiliary stage of the prominent Deutsches Theater, where he and school friend Thomas Ostermeier rose to become the late-nineties dream duo at the Baracke, captivating a predominantly young audience from 1996 to 1999. They became an important part of the German theater scene and their version of “Shoppen und Ficken” (Shopping and Fucking) a good-humored hit. Then came the move to a yet larger theater. Jointly with Sasha Waltz and Jochen Sandig, Hillje and Ostermeier assumed the directorship of the Schaubühne in 1999. And suddenly they were working before a huge audience.
It was a luxury that Jens Hillje, as the theater’s head dramaturg, happily gave himself over to until 2008. Another move then followed, this time to the off-theater scene. Hillje remains responsible for the Schaubühne’s discussion forum “Streitraum” (Fight-Space), a position he would maintain if for no other reason than his passion for debate. Today, however, his primary interest is devoted to the local theater scene in his immediate surroundings in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Hillje has joined forces with the theater-maker Shermin Langhoff, at whose theater he is increasingly active. “It’s very interesting to work at Ballhaus Naunynstrasse,” he says, “where for a change I’m not part of the majority.”
Hillje’s next station is the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, whose work is based on the pursuit of intercultural understanding. Here he is charged with the quite different task of conveying to the audience the plays of performers from all over the world. This year, for the first time, Hillje is curating IN TRANSIT, the HKW’s signature performing arts festival. Produced in collaboration with his former Schaubühne colleague, Irina Szodruch, this year’s edition, “Spectator,” focuses attention on the viewer. This reversed “politics of expression” isn’t new, but in this case will be taken up and further developed by artists including Ming Wong, Ann Liv Young and Ivo Dimchev – all of whom in recent years have dealt intensively with the role of the spectator.
How will the audience react to being handed responsibility for the content of a performance? This question has motivated Jens Hillje for some time now. As has the question of the influence of cultural productions that are created beyond the “normal German” way of looking at the world. In the latter case, at least, he has already found an answer in his own Kreuzberg neighborhood.
Author: Elisabeth Wellershaus
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
(15 June 11 - 18 June 11)