Marta KeilHeiner Goebbels – artist, curator, teacher, …?
A music critic once said that he prefers Heiner Goebbels working in the theatre rather than composing. Theatre critics, on the other hand, couldn’t disagree more. The man in question manages to escape all judgements, clear definitions or genres. What is more, he has turned this changeability into his trademark and a source of great fun for him as an artist. At the same time he remains an artist that subjects theatre to self-reflection, questions the mechanisms of the performing arts, and the structures within which the artists have to function. He continuously explores the relationship between theatre and the other arts (visual arts, music, literature). He mastered the art of collage to the point that it became his own language. His relentless precision (also towards his co-workers), precision, excellent intuition, persistence and undeniable talent allowed him to create new, sometimes breath-taking creative landscapes.
He is, after all, one of the greatest contemporary European composers and performing artists, a professor and a director (until 2012, when he decided to choose the festival) of one of the biggest sources of talent in Germany: the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen (founded in 1982 by Andrzej Wirth and run by Goebbels since 2003). He also remains a teacher, a lecturer, and an uncompromising advocate for independent theatre. However, in Germany his status is still quite ambiguous. The experimental artists consider him too mainstream, while the so-called season ticket audience still see him as something of a radical. His ability to continuously balance between these two worlds is a defining quality of his personality and place in the theater. His frequent comments criticising the monopolist position of repertory theatre and the opera in the German system are often refuted for their lack of consistency, whereas the independent artists consistently express envy at his privileged position and status as a star – a status that makes his production of new projects that cost hundreds of thousands of Euros a whole lot easier. He chooses to place his status as “in-between”; in between music and theatre, independent art and the mainstream. And he never stops working, ridiculing the attempts to classify his works according to genre or system. A notorious theatre revolutionary has transformed into one of the most popular and distinctive stars of the European mainstream theatre.
What is so interesting is that he entered the world of theatre as a renowned avant-garde musician. Who remembers the So-Called Left-Radical Brass Band of which he had been a member or the Cassiber group, which astounded the European and American avant-garde in the 1980s? This was the time when Goebbels started composing music for performances and directing radio plays mainly based on lyrics by Heiner Müller. In the mid-80s they became close friends and collaborators and since then Goebbels has frequently called this collaboration one of the most important in his life. In the 70s and 80s he founded numerous alternative music bands participated in the radical left-wing movement in Frankfurt am Main and started a long-time collaboration with Ensemble Modern. It wasalso at this time that he started playing his first stage concerts of his own music. The moment of Goebbels entering the theatre world was, therefore, a farewell to the aesthetics of mimesis, and a welcoming to the time of the second great performing shift on the stages of Europe with the birth of independent preforming arts spaces around the continent (such as the Kampnagel in Hamburg or Kaaitheater in Brussels). It was also the time of important performances byRobert Wilson, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Robert Lepage, and The Wooster Group. Heiner Goebbels had a meaningful role in this influential international movement. He was the co-founder and spokesman for radical changes in the way we think about theatre. His art. was inspired by such artists as Heiner Müller, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Maurice Blanchot and Gertrude Stein. He has often referred to them in his subsequent performances, concerts and texts. At the same time, he remained a strongadvocate for changing etheatreproduction system: all of his performances were created in opposition to the structures of institutional European repertory theatres and operas. Up are: Klaus Gruenberg (responsible for stage and light design), Stephan Buchberger (dramaturg), Willi Bopp, Hubert Machnik, and Matthias Mohr (one of the new members of the team, working as an assistant or collaborator). However, their collaborative work is always signed by only one name: the director’s. It does mean that the praise often goes to only one person, on the other hand, that same person is entirely responsible for gathering funds for the projects, as well as dealing with the audience’s response. It is Goebbels who appears in the media, but he guarantees that the company will survive and stand up to even the most cutting critique.
A large part of his professional activity is committed to working with students (he is a professor at the Institute of Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen and the head of Hessische Theaterakademie). What is more, he is eager to travel around the world to conduct seminar classes. He is also a devoted manager. One of his achievements is reforming the Institute in Gießen and substantially extending its international collaboration. A recent success in his work as a manager at Gießen is inviting the renowned researcher and dance dramaturg, Bojana Kunst. Goebbels has not ceased to fight for more space for young artists, but he is far from being a radical or rebel. That time in his life is past, right now he is one of the most influential figures of the mainstream world, no matter how much he resents to being called that.