What the Volk?! – a musical theater play on language and identity
[Völker and Frauke]:”You! Refugee?”
[Hamoudi]: “What do you want to know, when you ask? What? What? What? I am Hamoudi. 21 years old. Newcomer. A student of freedom studies. Is that enough?“
The premiere of the musical theater play What the Volk?!, by Theater X- JugendtheaterBüro Berlin begins as Völker and Frauke enter the stage. Völker and Frauke are caricaturally typisch deutsch, “typically German”. They sit down on a leather couch to watch politicians´speeches on German culture and nation and their achievement on TV and celebrate them, when, suddenly, it starts raining shoes on stage.
And then, shortly after, enter newcomers: refugees. As a reaction to their appearance, borderlines are drawn: first, with questions, definitions – with words, in fact. Words that gain traction. „Volk“, for instance, which means nation or the people. What the Volk?! The question is in the title.
„Outside of the shark-nation
At the margin of society
At the edge of the world´s economics
people have a different perspective
how they appear and how they are“
(Chor, third act, on the perspective of marginalised communities)
The play is the result of the participatory project launched at the beginning of the year, which involved a bit more than 30 young people from Berlin, Kosovo, Syria and Afghanistan in 4 months of workshops and production process.
An all-round participatory project
Völker and Frauke are not just first on stage: they were also the first characters imagined for the play in January, during one of the first workshop. The character of „Völker“ was born out of a reflection on the word „Volk“ and a discussion on identity, belonging, migration, and the power of language. This reflection and discussions were carried to the stage with humor, irony and multiple references to popular culture and current political debates, not least in the musical contributions of the orchestra.
Young participants were involved in all aspects of the production of the play. Dramaturgy workshops took place every second Saturday for 4 months after a collective breakfast buffet. Tuesdays evening were for musical training, Thursdays for performance training, and Fridays for language and voice training. The workshops were open to all participants according to their interests and needs.
A play with and about language, created entirely in German*
The entire process took place in German, although not all participants were fluent. At first, other group members offered translation. 4 months later, all actors know their text and speak it loud and clear. One participant confessed that the language trainer, Robert, had become a very important figure for him. He spoke very little German when he first joined the workshops and it is a real achievement for him to now be able to perform on stage in this language.
This is all the more impressive since the play´s language was not simplified for the benefits of the participants, and language was at the core of the process. The content and text are not primarily autobiographical, but mostly exploratory and reflective. The group was committed to use the entire complexity of language in order to tackle complex issues.
Thus, a part of the first act is dedicated to a fast-replay of Germany´s population history. The second act consists of a visit to an underwater shark-nation, in all its glory… and its shadows. In the third act, words are sorted out, disposed of and replaced. But language is reclaimed and reflected upon throughout all three acts.
„ How should we call this people?
– No clue.
– Hmmm…. How about we just call it… the people?
– good idea.“
(Taner and everyone, on the origin of the word deutsch, “german”, first act)
Three acts and many more surprises
Transitions between the acts are underlined by stage design, lightning and costumes. The costumes developed for the fairy-tale-like but slightly dystopian second act, Heba´s visit to the shark-nation, are particularly visual and very entertaining to look at.
Another highlight of the play and example of the creative and humorous direction is the re-staging of the birth of one participant to answer the question of his origin, in which the uterus is played by the rest of the group.
“Where am I really from…
It was such a warm place
I felt so safe
There was a lot water there
but not fishes. And that smell!
It smelled so wonderful. Honestly, I believe everyone comes from there.
[opens his eyes]
You do have an understanding of the concept of “uterus?”, right? (Emre, first act)
Young participants taking responsibilities
The play´s text is based on research and discussions by and with the participants which took place mostly during dramaturgy workshops on Saturdays, where working groups were dedicated to developing specific characters. All working groups and workshops were mixed and included long-time Berliners and newcomers.
On the side of musical, performance and language training, the collective reflection and discussion on content and language were an occasion for all participants to develop a culture of criticism and dialogue. The production process can thus also be regarded as political and civic education.
New participants recruited for the project had the opportunity to work closely with older peers, former young participants to workshops who now play key roles in the Theater X – Jugendtheaterbüro organisation. These encounters have an empowering effect on the young participants, who were also consistently encouraged to take responsibility for the entire production and performance.
350 people saw the performance in June
The two performances of the play on June 2nd and 3d at the Jugendkulturzentrum Pumpe in Berlin were both very well attended and applauded.
The cooperation with Theater X – JugendtheaterBüro Berlin has been extremely satisfactory and the final production exceeds expectations for this project. We are thankful for the great work done by the team in conducting this project and creating What the Volk?!. Every person involved deserves a special mention – from the musical, performance and language trainers to the organising team at Theater X – JugendtheaterBüro Berlin and, last but not least, the participants who gave so much of their energy during rehearsals and on stage.
*quotes from the play were translated for this report from the original german version.
“What The Volk?!” Aufführung in Berlin am 03. und 04. Juni 2017
Wer oder was ist dieses Volk, von dem alle sprechen? Wir reiten auf der Deutschlingswelle, tauchen ab im Tiefgang in die Volksmenge. Wir fragen: Was wäre, wenn Haifische Menschen wären? Wir schauen, wer Volksmund spricht und den Volkston trifft. Völkisch – Rechtes Sprechen taucht wieder an der Oberfläche auf.Können wir durch Sprache hindurch System,Herrschaft und Grenze erkennen? Und mit eigenem Sprechen Vielstimmigkeit in Bewegung setzen?
Das VölkischNationale bekämpft ein Menschenrecht – Migration… oder HaiNation?
Mit Theater, Tanz, Gesang und Musik betreibt das Theater X eigene Forschung zu Migration,Grenzen, Zugehörigkeiten und der Macht von Sprache. Wie können wir dem Gerede von „Leitkultur“ und „deutschem Volk“ etwas entgegensetzten?
Wann: Sa. 03. Juni // 19.30 Uhr PREMIERE und So. 04. Juni 2017 // 18.00 Uhr
Ort: JugendkulturzentrumPumpe, Lützowstr. 42 10785 Berlin
Who belongs to the nation? Who are the others?
About 40 young people between 14 and 25 years old took part in the first theater workshops organised on Saturday January 18th and on February 4th in Berlin.
The two workshop-days started with a common breakfast that brought together the young participants from the neighbourhood and from welcome classes*. Then the group joined a two hours theater and drama training followed by a session that focused on the dramaturgy.
Through games and creatives methods, participants discussed and analysed the main topic of NICeR project: Identity. They divided it in three sub-topics: Nation, Culture and Language. In the two first workshops, they mostly worked on the concept of „Volk“ – „Nation“. Splitt up in 3 groups, the young people invented an imaginary character named „Völker“ and tried to answer together the following questions: Who belongs to the „Volk“/Nation? Who does not belong to it? Who are the others?
The questions were not easy to answer but most of the young people had a critical opinion towards the word „Volk“ and mostly linked it to discrimination, exclusion, nationalism, right-wing ideologies, conflicts between people, etc.
From February to April 2017, each participant will have the opportunity to join an orchestra training and develop their skills in music and singing. This workshop will take place every Tuesday in the early evening from 17h to 20h. The theater and drama session will take place every Thursday in the early evening at the same hours. On Friday, in the early evening, the whole group can join the cross-cultural language training that will focuse on pronunciation, elocution, breathing, etc.
In Berlin, Citizens For Europe gUG is working in partnership with JugentheaterBüro Berlin a self-organised CommUNITY-Theater where staff members and young people collaborate together in the creation of theatre performances. Their performances generally combine artistic and cultural action with political education, campaigning and the construction of an alternative and jointly designed theatre program in the neighbourhood. The theater is based in Moabit, a cosmopolitan neighborhood in the core of Berlin.
*German schools have special welcome classes for young refugees.
About the project
Started in December 2015, the two-year NiCeR project aims at empowering refugee youth through performing arts workshops as well as at fostering a welcoming culture and intercultural education through awareness campaigns in the cities where they live.
30 young refugees and locals come together, create and perform a musical based on their personal stories and the testimonies of their families. On top of the creative workshop, a language and cross-cultural training give them the tools to understand each other and be part of the city where they live.
The project takes place in Berlin and is replicated in 6 European partner cities: Rome, Brussels, Sevilla, Timisoara, Liverpool, Nicosia.
Target group: in each partner city, 15 refugees and 15 non-refugees between 9 and 25 years old
- Strengthen youth participation in cultural and social life at the local level
- Develop their creativity, self-esteem and socialisation
- Empower and give a voice to young refugees
- Promote exchanges and friendships between refugees and locals
- Promote tolerance and mutual respect
- Provide with creative and languages skills
- Go beyond stereotypes
- Creative writing and theater workshop: 4 months, 4 hours/week, guided by a theater instructor: intercultural icebreakers to get to know each others, writing the screenplay, dialogues, songs of the musical, acting and performing class: distribution of roles, rehearsals, choreography, create costumes, setting up the scenery, lights, sound and props
- Language and cross-cultural training: 4 months, 2 hours/week, guided by a language teacher: locals share songs and stories from their country with the refugees, role Play
- Production of a transeuropean documentary on the project
- Awareness campaign in primary and secondary schools in the Berlin area.
Citizens For Europe supports the implementation of the activities at the local level. We work together with our European partners to develop a methodology for the workshops, and foster a welcoming culture and intercultural education.
Dissemination and exploitation:
- Final performance of the musical in each partner city
- Documentary film
- Awareness seminars in the schools to inform about the project and better inform young people about the situation of refugees.
- Photo book about the project
- Final event: presentation of the film
Phase 1: January-September 2016
- During 4 transnational meetings, the European partner organisations develop the methodology, prepare the workshops, define the monitoring and evaluation tools.
- Selection of the local teams : coordinators, theater instructors, language teachers
- Establish collaboration with local partners : schools, refugees centers, NGOs, cultural and social district centers, local authorities
Phase 2: September-December 2016
- Selection of the young participants recruited in partnership with schools, refugees centers, NGOs, cultural and social district centers.
Phase 3: January-Mai 2017
- Implementation of the creative workshops and the language and cross-cultural trainings
- Transational meeting of the European partner organisations
- Shooting of the documentary: workshops, interviews with the participants
- Final performance: presentation of the musical in each partner city
Phase 4: June-November 2017
- Final evaluation of the project: final report
- Editing of the documentary
- Transnational meeting of the European partner organisations: final press conference
- Awareness campaign: presenting the film, educational videos and publications to the schools, media and local authorities
- CIOFS – Lead Partner (IT)
- Alfea Cinematografica Pisa (IT)
- MCCS Commune de Molenbeek (BE)
- AIDRom Bucharest (RO)
- IIT Bucharest (RO)
- RARe Studio Liverpool (UK)
- Citizens for Europe (DE)
- KISA Cyprus (CY)
- Pluralis ASBL (BE)
- Fundaciòn Juventud y Cultura (ES)
Our partner in Berlin
The JTB Youth Theatre opened in 2009 in the district of Moabitin Berlin. It is an arts organisation where staff members and young people collaborate together to the creation of theatre performances.
The performances combine artistic and cultural action with political education, campaigning and the construction ofan alternative and jointly designed theatre program in the neighbourhood
Among their most important projects:
- Theater X: a young, alternative theatre in Moabit, conceived and managed by young people
- Organisation of the annual youth theatre festival FESTIWALLA
- KulTür auf!: a campaign for young people’s access to the established cultural institutions