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Goodbye lone, male director genius: She She Pop

INTERVIEW! She She Pop’s Mieke Matzke on the flaws of democracy, the role of culture and the collective’s second production at Theatertreffen, Oratorium.

Image for Goodbye lone, male director genius: She She Pop

She She Pop’s Mieke Matzke on the flaws of democracy, the role of culture and the collective’s second production at Theatertreffen.

Image for Goodbye lone, male director genius: She She Pop

Photo by Benjamin Krieg

She She Pop have a hands-on approach to theatre. As performers, authors, dramaturgs and practitioners, they champion an experimental yet communicative style that has gained the German collective international recognition. Oratorium marks their second invitation to Theatertreffen – a Brechtian Lehrstück and participative production on private property, inheritance and wealth that will strike a chord with Berlin audiences feeling the strain of gentrification. We caught up with founding member Mieke Matzke to hear about the group’s journey.

Congratulations! Oratorium will be one of three female-directed pieces at Theatertreffen this year. Do you ever feel it’s a bit of a boys’ club?

It’s not just a feeling but a fact that predominantly male directors are invited. That’s not a phenomenon unique to Theatertreffen though. It’s a reflection of the gender imbalance in German Stadttheater. In 2011 we drastically increased the number of women represented at the festival and there was also a panel discussion on the topic. But eight years later, not much has changed. We just talk about it more!

Would a female quota help?

Ilia Papatheodorou from the collective called for one back in 2011 and there was a huge outcry. They said it should be about quality not quotas if they are to select the 10 “most notable” productions. But people often neglect the importance of visibility in the scene. Quotas can shift more attention onto productions that are otherwise marginalised. If you look at the free scene, for example, female and post-migrant voices are far better represented.

She She Pop is now in its 25th year. What’s changed for women in theatre since you started?

Back then, people said that collectives, let alone feminist ones, were too old-school, too 1968. And it was hard for a long time, especially when confronted with the Stadttheater structure. There were often conflicts with the technicians, who accused us of being unprofessional in our way of working. When we started producing in Stuttgart and Munich and working with their ensembles, we noticed that older women weren’t represented at all. Little has changed in the past 25 years, although I do feel that the younger generation of directors and actors are more aware of the topic. A good example is Nicola Bramkamp, former director of the Theater Bonn, who invited Theatertreffen’s Burning Issues conference on gender disparity to Bonn.

Your performances are quite unconventional in comparison to the more traditional, German theatre that typically dominates Theatertreffen. Did it take a long time to feel accepted by the theatre establishment?

Funnily enough, curators were always telling us to do a “proper drama”. But our style has always been a political stance too. We find our topics in pop culture, our backgrounds and our daily lives. We don’t write dramatic texts. We are our own authors. When we eventually decided on King Lear for our production Testament in 2010, all our fathers had just retired so we re-worked the story to feature them on stage. Interestingly, it was a huge success, both domestically and internationally, and earned us our first invitation to Theatertreffen. The idea of a lone, male director genius is under fire and there is increasing recognition for collectives like us.

In Oratorium, you use your collective experiences to tackle the issue of private property and inheritance. You seem more interested in human emotions than offering radical solutions, though. Don’t we need a fundamental system change if we are to effectively combat social inequality?

Yes, definitely. But I don’t think it’s the job of theatre to say exactly how society should look. We can create utopian moments by dealing with certain topics, bringing certain people on stage. If I had some magical answer, I would go straight into politics.

She She Pop was formed in 1993 by a group of students in Gießen and relocated to Berlin in 1998. The seven-strong collective has produced and performed at HAU since 2003, and have toured with a repertoire of over 30 pieces. This year, they will accept the “Theaterpreis Berlin”.