Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

Postmigrant Theatre: The Ballhaus Naunynstraße Takes on Sexual Nationalism

Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

Postmigrant Theatre: The Ballhaus Naunynstraße Takes on Sexual Nationalism

Article excerpt

Always this number with the headscarf, sexual emancipation, I'm fed up with playing your Turkish stereotype. Now I'm gonna do a Tarantino film.. .1

Postmigration in theatre and theory

Theatre, as an art form, is seldom considered a major social or theoretical mover today. However, since its founding in 2008, the Ballhaus Naunynstraße theatre in Kreuzberg, Berlin-the first theatre to actively position itself as "postmigrant"-has been instrumental in bringing the concept of postmigration into the public realm. The approach of the theatre is exemplified in the opening quotation above, a meta-theatrical moment taken from what is arguably the theatre's most successful production to date, Verrücktes Blut (Crazy Blood). Verrücktes Blut by Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje, is a co-production between the Ballhaus and the Ruhrtriennale which premiered in 2010, and was invited to the prestigious theatre festival the Berliner Theatertreffen, in 2011. In the closing scene of the play, the script has the actress playing Mariam, a headscarf-wearing schoolgirl, "break character" in a fit of rage at the stereotyped nature of the roles she is expected to play in the German theatre: rather than continue to play the ethnicised roles ascribed to her, she claims she will create her own-and that this new role will contain some of the beauty but also the violence of a Tarantino. This claim speaks very much to the Ballhaus' programmatic assertion of the need for active work on the diversity of the German theatrical landscape and its own reputation for quality, yet disruptive theatre which "barks from the third row".2 The success of plays such as Verrücktes Blut and its association with the label of postmigrant theatre has been such that "postmigrant" has emerged as a potential alternative, self-chosen descriptor to the more sociological categorisation of "people with a background of migration", while young theatre practitioners today ask themselves whether their work is, or wants to be considered, "postmigrant theatre".3

In its very construction, the term "postmigrant" clearly has associations with the postcolonial4 or even postracial.5 The Ballhaus theatre's leadership apparently first came across the concept of postmigration at an anglophone academic conference,6 the very sphere in which the theatre's own work is now often discussed.7 Which conference this was is not clear from the existing interviews but a conference titled "Postmigrant Turkish-German Culture: Transnationalism, Translation, Politics of Representation", which included readings from future collaborators of the Ballhaus such as Feridun Zaimoglu, was organised by Tom Cheesman in Swansea in 1998,8 only a few years after Gerd Baumann and Thijl Sunier's book Post-Migration Ethnicity appeared in 1995.9 In Cheesman's own work, which evolved into his highly regarded Novels of Turkish German Settlement: Cosmopolite Fictions (2007), the term "postmigrant literature" in fact disappears to be replaced with "literature of settlement".10 "Postmigrant" then re-emerges as a descriptor of literature only after its adoption by the Ballhaus, for example in Laura Peters' monograph Stadttext und Selbstbild: Berliner Autoren der Postmigration nach 1989 (2012). Similarly, the adjective "postmigrant" only really establishes itself in the social sciences in the German context following its success in the cultural field: in their studies of contemporary German society both Regina Römhild and Naika Foroutan highlight the term's theatrical history over and above its development (or lack of) in earlier social science applications.11 This intersection between theatre and theory has continued as analysis of the theatre's work becomes the basis for new theorisation in itself: for Deniz Utlu, an author associated with the Ballhaus, postmigrant theatre emerges as a label "under which political theatre is made by theatre practitioners 'of colour'", and for researcher Azadeh Sharifi, this means "telling stories from the margins and still knowing the centre". …

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