• Stage
  • The Müller machine: Sebastian Nübling


The Müller machine: Sebastian Nübling

After Hamletmaschine, Sebastian Nübling brings another Heiner Müller piece to the Gorki stage – and it’s only 14 lines! If you're lucky, you can catch it on Sep 1 with English surtitles.

Image for The Müller machine: Sebastian Nübling

Photo by Esra Rotthoff

After Hamletmaschine, Sebastian Nübling brings another Heiner Müller piece to the Gorki stage – and it’s only 14 lines!

You could call Sebastian Nubling a late bloomer – active on the Baden Wurttemberg free scene as an actor and musician, he didn’t start directing until he joined the Basel Junges Theater in his late thirties, a career move that was to jump-start a profuse career across the German theater world: 60 plays in 22 years, and the enviable title of “young director of the year” at the tender age of 42! A resident director with the Maxim Gorki Theater since 2013, he’s produced repertoire staples such as Sibylle Berg’s The So-Called Outside Means Nothing to Me and Necati Oziri’s Get Deutsch or Die Tryin’, and last year’s acclaimed take on Heiner Muller’s Hamletmaschine. This August, the 59-year-old opened the season with Herzstück, another adaptation of Muller with the same cast of refugee actors from Gorki’s Exile Ensemble.

Why choose to stage two works by such a classic author as the East German Heiner Müller in a theater like the Gorki?

Heiner Muller would always cross boundaries, which makes him a hybrid figure – and he conceived of himself as such. He was privileged and underprivileged at the same time: banned in the GDR, courted in West Germany. He is an interesting character for Gorki because one can tell that his identity is a brittle, ambivalent one which combines multiple perspectives.

Hamletmaschine is indeed very ambivalent. Even Robert Wilson openly admitted to not having understood it.

Alexander Verlag released a collection of Heiner Muller recordings in which he reads his own plays in a bone-dry, almost robot-like voice. The collection was promoted with a quote from Jurgen Kuttner, who said: Heiner Muller is the only person who can read his texts because he doesn’t pretend to understand them. It’s not about understanding Muller. It’s about what you can take from his texts.

What have you taken from Herzstück, a text consisting of 14 lines that read more like a joke with a punchline than a play?

When reading the play we got stuck on the sentence “work and don’t despair”. We started to think about concepts of work and non-work. In an artistic context, you quickly end up with the idea of art as non-work. The Croatian artist Mladen Stilinović was a particular influence. He wrote a “praise of laziness” in which he says that as a non-state artist in the East, he had few chances to display his work. In one of his pieces, he just lay down in bed, accompanied by the caption “artist at work”.

And from that you launch a critique of work?

We have to define what work is for us. Who defines these criteria and why are we all so willingly busy? In her book MRX Maschine, Luise Meier writes that although as a class it’s become obsolete, there is an inner proletariat. We’ve simply internalised a lot of these processes. We’re prepared to develop ourselves optically, mentally and emotionally – unpaid, of course.

What’s wrong with a little selfoptimisation?

Why not just be lazy? Why not do nothing? Why not binge-watch TV series? The best version of ourselves is always thought of in terms of the market but the best version of me is often when I’m just hanging out at home. I feel good there.

What would your creative process look like if you were freed from the constraints of capitalist market-optimisation then? Imagine you had no deadline for your next play…

There’s a super film by Charlie Kaufmann, Synecdoche, New York, where the protagonist attempts to build a life-sized model of New York in a warehouse. I think it would be like that: I’d keep rehearsing until I kick the bucket. So deadlines actually give me a sense of freedom, a frame in which I can act. I have to churn out something in time for the premiere.

With a career spanning over 20 years and some 60 productions all over the German speaking theater world from Hamburg to Munich to Basel, what does the future hold for your career?

I really like my job, especially rehearsing. It’s more fun not to think about the result. I don’t want to become an intendant and I don’t want to run a theatre. I just want to produce plays.

Herzstück Sep 1, 20:00, with English surtitles Maxim Gorki Theater, Mitte | Also by Nübling: Die Verlobung in St. Domingo – Ein Widerspruch Sep 7, 24, 20:00, with English surtitles

Maxim Gorki Theater, Mitte