Directors of children's and youth theatre – Martina van Boxen

Biography

Martina van Boxen © private

Martina van Boxen was born in Mönchengladbach in 1960. She first studied graphic design at the University of Applied Science in Düsseldorf before completing drama training at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Hanover. This was followed by her first engagement in Ingolstadt. Since 1989, she has worked as an actress and producer, first in many independent projects, and from 1992 onwards as the artistic director, manager and partner of the Theaterwerkstatt in Hanover.

Also in 1992, she co-founded the Regional Association of Independent Theatres in Lower Saxony, of which she was a member of the board for five years, and later for a further period of three years. Cultural policy work is very important to Martina van Boxen, also in her present job. Since 2005, she has directed the Junges Schauspielhaus at the Bochum Schauspielhaus, surviving the change of management from Elmar Goerden to Anselm Weber. Her productions are invited to attend many festivals, and the project “Hauptschule in Bewegung” has set standards in the field of participative theatre work. From 2008 to 2010, Martina van Boxen was the spokesperson for the Working Group on Children’s and Youth Theatre in North-Rhine/Westphalia.

    Portrait

    Exciting Themes in many Forms – The director Martina van Boxen unites the directness of youth theatre with aesthetic diversity.

    Two soldiers go to fight. It is not a modern war in which people kill one another by pressing buttons. They are wearing historical uniforms. This is a campaign of 1812. They quarrel about trivial things. The younger solider is still a bit childish and they seem almost like clowns. The audience laughs and for that very reason it brings tears to their eyes when the soldiers later drag themselves across the stage, deeply wounded in body and spirit. “Kummer und Courage” (Sorrow and Courage) is a Dutch play by Flora Verbrugge and Herman van Baar. Martina van Boxen staged it at the Junges Schauspielhaus Bochum, where she has been director since 2005.

    What makes this an outstanding production is the two exciting actors, working in perfect harmony, who make the historical distance melt away. But there is another very interesting level. We see the story of two horses in the same battle played out using shadows, a dramaturgic duplication that has a very emotional effect. It is for the very reason that one only sees silhouettes and no anthropomorphising facial expressions, and that one only hears the animals’ thoughts, in human language, of course, that it brings tears to one’s eyes. There is absolutely no way of distancing oneself because although they have a very specific history, these shadows are recognisably representative of all living things that suffer and die in war. Few other productions of recent years have dealt more vividly with violence without becoming exploitative or voyeuristic.

    Martina van Boxen often combines different artistic forms. In her own children’s play “Troi” (for children aged three and above), a story about a father and a son, she uses music and visual art. She often integrates dance, too. The director does not have her own ensemble at the Bochum Schauspielhaus – youth production planning and casting takes place in the same way as for productions in any other section of the theatre. Until recently, they had their own performance venue, the Melanchthonsaal, for which Martina van Boxen campaigned for a long time. But as spending cuts put the squeeze on Bochum’s theatres, it had to be given up in summer 2011. “That is a hard blow,” says the theatre maker, but it is not the first she has suffered during her time in Bochum. In her very first season, she staged the family play “Das kalte Herz” before Christmas in the large theatre. It was a grandiose, poetic, clear production without any flippancy. It was theatre that takes children seriously as an audience. One child cried, it was reported in the newspaper, and schools cancelled their bookings. In the following years, the theatre director at the time hired other directors who staged Christmas plays that were of inferior quality but held mass appeal.

    Martina van Boxen can take her fair share of knocks and come back fighting. In spite of the fact that she is a small person, that is what gives her such credibility, even when she stands in front of pupils six feet tall and tells them to behave themselves. “Hauptschule in Bewegung” is the name of a project that has been going on for many years, enabling young people who are taught at school how to apply for welfare benefits to experience how it feels to finish a job, to be applauded, and to perform well. And they always did perform well, because Martina van Boxen sees such projects not as social work but art. The project has now been extended to all forms of schools, and many former participants are carrying on the work in youth clubs.

    Martina van Boxen began as an actress but soon realised: “That was not my path. I had so many ideas in my mind.” She directed the Theaterwerkstatt Hannover for fifteen years, staging productions there and in the independent theatre scene, for example Stephen King’s “Musterschüler” (Apt Pupil) at the Kampnagel in Hamburg. Then someone suggested that she set up a young theatre in Bochum. That is what she did. With her distinctive, aesthetically multifaceted approach, she clearly delineates the themes, and in the process has created a high-quality youth theatre venue.

    Stefan Keim

    Productions (selection)

    Lukas Bärfuss “Parzival”
    2011, Schauspielhaus Bochum

    Holger Schober “Hikikomori”
    2010, Schauspielhaus Bochum

    Cristina Gottfridsson “Honigherz” (Honey Heart)
    2010, Schauspielhaus Bochum

    Robert Musil “Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törless” (The Confusions of Young Törless)
    2009, Schauspielhaus Bochum

    Flora Verbrugge and Herman van Baar “Kummer und Courage” (Sorrow and Courage)
    2009, Schauspielhaus Bochum

    Martina van Boxen “Troi”
    2008, Schauspielhaus Bochum, a coproduction with the Theaterwerkstatt Hanover

    Gesine Danckwart “Girlsnightout”
    2006, Schauspielhaus Bochum

    Ad de Bont “Wolken sind ziehender Ärger” (Clouds are a Passing Irritation)
    2006, Schauspielhaus Bochum

    After Wilhelm Hauff, adapted by Kerstin Specht “Das kalte Herz” (The Cold Heart)
    2005, Schauspielhaus Bochum

    Erik Schäffler “Die Geschichtenverschwörung” (The Stories’ Conspiracy)
    2003 Theater Triebwerk, commissioned by the Goethe-Institut, Chennai, India

    After Stephen King, adapted by Erik Schäffler “Der Musterschüler” (The Apt Pupil)
    2003, Kampnagel Hamburg/Theaterwerkstatt Hanover/Theater Triebwerk

    Yoko Tawada “TILL - eine surreale Groteske” (TILL – A Surreal Grotesque Drama)
    1998, coproduction of the Theaterwerkstatt Hanover and the Berlin-based Japanese Lasenkan Theatre Company, sponsored by the Goethe-Institut in Kyoto, Japan

    Ad de Bont “Das ertrunkene Land” (The Drowned Country)
    1994, Theaterwerkstatt Hanover