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  • Ballhaus Naunynstraße intendant Wagner Carvalho on space for young artists


Ballhaus Naunynstraße intendant Wagner Carvalho on space for young artists

Since 2013, Wagner Carvahlo has been helping young people participate in theatre through the akademie der autodidakten.

Photo: @ze.de.paiva

The background of Wagner Carvalho’s phone is an image of a white stage. The longtime intendant of Ballhaus Naunynstraße, an institution dedicated to diverse and inclusive postmigrant theatre since its founding by Shermin Langhoff in 2008, explains to me that the stage designer who created this image was a former participant in Ballhaus’s akademie der autodidakten (ada).

An essential programme since the Ballhaus’s conception, the ada enables 16- to 27-year-olds from all walks of life to take part in a production directed by an established figure in the world of arts and culture. Carvalho, who has been the intendant since 2013 and has increased the theatre’s focus on Black perspectives, emphasises how important the ada is to the Ballhaus’s own success as a theatre.

Many of the people who went through the programme have continued to work at the Ballhaus – like Val de Licer, the stage designer whose work captivated Carvalho. In June, the ada will premeire Gegenrhythmen (“counter rhythms”), a piece that explores the everyday experience of people of colour in Germany, and in July, Kraftwandler*innen (“power converters”).

The Berliner spoke with Carvalho about the programme’s process and performance.

Would you characterise “The Academy of Autodidacts” as a kind of youth theatre?

It’s simply theatre. It’s not youth theatre because the questions come from another perspective. If you look at how the participants approach topics from a queer perspective – though youth theatre can also do something like that – these colleagues, who are already activists and have been involved in various movements, are asking questions from a very mature perspective.

They simply don’t have that much experience with the stage, but in other contexts they’ve been out and about a lot.

Gegenrhythmen. Photo: ©Zé de Paiva

The label ‘youth theatre’ doesn’t fit in this context because if you say that, then there are certain expectations. So, no, it’s not youth theatre, although we have taken part several times in the Theatertreffen der Jugend with our productions.

But that is not what we have in mind. It’s for the public – which includes the youth, but is not limited to them.

What is the production process like after you gather a new group?

So once people are confirmed, we’re asking, “When do you have time? When do you have time?” And eventually you have a day and a core group who meet then.

And from this moment the team can plan who will lead what, who will make music, who will do the dramaturgy. From this moment on, the project exists – because the concrete people are there, not the creative team but the participants.

And then we’re asking what kind of ideas or experiences that they’ve gone through… I always say that at the end it’s a mosaic, but you can’t make out the image in process – there are many colours but no specific image.

And then at the end you’re like, ‘ah, that’s what it is!’ Every time they meet, they develop the idea of the project a little further.

Where are you now in this process with Gegenrhythmen?

We already have images, video, music and costumes. We have stage design and concept, but we’ll see in the coming days how that becomes concretised – what kind of material can be purchased, et cetera.

Theatre can completely change the life of a person – the whole life of a person

The piece is already on the way, but it’s now, as it’s worked out, that there is this tension – always this tension – to know if it will actually work out as imagined. Because if it doesn’t work out, we’ll have to search for another alternative – and then time will be even tighter.

What are your hopes for the programme going forward?

It all depends on the protagonists, the participants. I think the ada is something that should be here for a long time, because its idea to work with people who are studying or in their academic development and give them the chance, regardless of their prior expertise, to go on stage should be maintained, to enable the space for this question, this desire, this need to be able to represent themselves differently.

And that’s what we offer here. I hope that many young people can take advantage of this possibility, if they have interest in trying something out. Because theatre can completely change the life of a person – the whole life of a person.

For example, a colleague here is now doing theatrical education as a Masters degree and emphasised that this choice was a result of what she experienced here. This means that the space of the future has much to do with the present – which in turn means that we have to do much in the present to enable the possibility that these people, between 16 and 27, have this space for development where the ideas they have can be facilitated. Where the stories they have can be told.

That is what I wish going forward – that that possibility can be maintained

  • Gegenrhythmen Jun 6-8, Ballhaus Naunynstraße, Naunynstraße 27, Kreuzberg, details.