Directors of children and youth theatre – Yüksel Yolcu


Yüksel Yolcu © Ferhat Yildir

Yüksel Yolcu was born in Igdir near the Armenian-Turkish border in 1966. He came to Berlin in 1972. There, he attended school, passing his Abitur in Schöneberg. He studied education and began to train as an actor at the Berlin University of the Arts in 1990. After completing his studies, he became a member of the ensemble at the Caroussel Theater (now the Theater an der Parkaue).

In 1997, Yolcu was awarded a scholarship to study stage management in Paris. This was followed by his own productions and the founding of the “Compagnie Yunus” (funded by the Berlin Capital Cultural Fund).

From 2001 onwards, he staged an increasing number of productions at the Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam. His production of Nick Wood’s “Fluchtwege” (Warrior Square) at the Otto Theater (2002) was invited to perform at the “Augenblick mal!“ festival and was presented with the Brothers Grimm Award of Land Berlin as the season’s best children’s production. As a playwright, Yolcu has adapted works including the novel “Leyla” (2007) by Feridun Zaimoglu for the Hans Otto Theater and Leo Fall’s “Die Rose von Stambul” (The Rose of Stamboul) (2005a for the Neukölln opera in Berlin.

In recent years, he has also staged productions at other large children’s and youth theatres, for example the Theater der Jungen Welt in Leipzig and the GRIPS Theater, Berlin.


    Yüksel Yolcu: A Wayfarer in Human Landscapes

    An initial approach to the director Yüksel Yolcu is via the mask, a theatrical means of distancing. “It allows the actor to act freely,” he says. This approach accompanied the actor Yolcu on his path to stage management. Yolcu, who was nearly 30 years old at the time, experienced this effect during a scholarship from the German-French Cultural Council and his encounter with Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil.

    Yolcu, who trained at the Berlin University of the Arts in the early nineties and who then worked at the Theater an der Parkaue, knows what it means to have a zest for acting but also knows about the actor’s stage-fright and inhibitions. As a director, he seeks ways to overcome these inhibitions and also ways to make room for diverse individual experiences. In 1999, Yolcu staged one of his first productions, Chekhov’s “A Marriage Proposal”, which used masks and was accompanied by a four-man Turkish band. Zitty, a guide to what is happening in Berlin, hailed it as a “truly multicultural, magnificently sensual, timeless piece of popular theatre“, and a reviewer noted that there are alternative ways to stage the great Russian, a representative of great spoken theatre: “It is fantastic that Chekhov ... can simply be great fun.”

    The masks have largely disappeared from Yolcu’s productions, but they remain a tool at rehearsals, linked with the idea that something universal can be told under the protection of typification. Thus, while stage characters emerge, the director also wants to show each person’s unique individuality.

    The background to this is an understanding of the theatre that is emotional and holistic. Yolcu does not take a primarily literary approach to drama scripts. What is outstanding about this director is his unconditional interest in the characters and their conflicts in the plays he refers to as “human landscapes”. In an interview, Yolcu describes Shakespeare as a wayfarer between the worlds ... between the godly, the secret and the mortal“ who “understood the essence of human characters.” By analogy, one could describe Yolcu’s work as wayfaring in human landscapes that he would like to discover with his actors and present to the audience.

    Specifically, that means that on the stage, a playful (non-verbal) opening is sought for many scenes in order to place greater emphasis on the situations of the play, making the physical enactment at least as important as the spoken word. In these productions, precision does not mean literal textual fidelity, but the interplay of the characters and precise observation. Yolcu does not stage texts, but people.

    Emphatic access of this kind is particularly appealing to audiences consisting of children and young people. It is enhanced in many works (such as Yolcu’s production of Nick Wood’s play “Warrior Square”) by placing the audience on at least two sides of the stage. The performance becomes a shared experience and event. At the same time, the audience experiences an epic distancing in plays such as “Warrior Square”, “Haram” or “Der Junge mit dem Koffer” (The Boy with the Suitcase), in which two or three actors play many characters and the change of roles on the stage (which is usually only sparsely decorated) is made to look like a theatrical act, an epic distancing in which the motif of the mask described at the beginning is used again. The way in which Yolcu plays with perspectives illustrates another of his notable qualities: his pleasure in telling a story combined with the ability to stage swift changes.

    Yolcu would probably not deny that this pleasure derives partly from an oriental narrative tradition that he has himself experienced, although he has little interest in gaining a profile as a “director with a migration background”. After all, he is not seeking a niche for himself, but theatre’s universal qualities. These are taking up a stance, standing up for what you believe in, and relating the stories presented to the emotional world of the characters, actors and, not least, audiences.

    Winfried Tobias

    Productions (selection)

    Mike Kenny “Der Junge mit dem Koffer” (The Boy with the Suitcase)
    2011, Theater der Jungen Welt, Leipzig

    Jörg lsermeyer “Ohne Moos nix los” (No Money, No Fun)
    2010, Grips Theater, Berlin

    Yüksel Yolcu “On the Road”
    2009, Mime Centrum, Berlin

    Ad de Bont “Haram”
    2008, Grips Theater, Berlin

    Volker Schmidt “schwarzweissLila” (blackwhiteLila)
    2007, Grips Theater Berlin

    Feridun Zaimoglu (Yolcu / König) “Leyla”
    2007, Hans Otto Theater, Potsdam

    Suzanne v. Lohuizen “Das Pferd in der Nacht” (The Horse in the Night)
    2006, Staatstheater Braunschweig

    David Craig “Agent im Spiel” (Danny, King of the Basement)
    2005, Hans Otto Theater

    William Shakespeare “Viel Lärm um Nichts” (Much Ado About Nothing)
    2005, Theater Altenburg,  Gera

    Leo Fall „”Die Rose von Stambul” (The Rose of Stamboul)
    2004, Neuköllner Oper, Berlin

    Melanie Peters “Paulas Paul” (Paula’s Paul)
    2004, Hans Otto Theater, Berlin

    Colleen Murphy “Herz schlägt Tod” (Beating Heart Cadaver)
    2004, Hans Otto Theater, Potsdam

    Charles Way “Ein Hauch von kaltem Wetter” (A Spell of Cold Weather)
    2004, Caroussel Theater, Berlin

    Alexander Gruber “Aladin”
    2003, Hans Otto Theater, Potsdam

    Torsten Letser “Der Kleine Prinz von Dänemark (The Little Prince of Denmark)
    2003, Theater Altenburg, Gera

    Bertolt Brecht “Dreigroschenoper” (The Threepenny Opera)
    2003, Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, Berlin

    Nick Wood “Fluchtwege” (Warrior Square)
    2002, Hans Otto Theater, Potsdam

    Adam Röel “Übermorgen” (The Day After Tomorrow)
    2002, Hans Otto Theater, Potsdam

    Michael Bartenev “Von einem der Auszog das Fürchten zu lernen” (He Left to Learn Fear)
    2001, Caroussel Theater , Berlin

    Athol Fugard “Hello and Goodbye”
    2001, Tiyatrom, Berlin

    Anton Chekhov “Der Heiratsantrag” (The Marriage Proposal)
    2000, Caroussel Theater, Berlin

    Plinio Marcos “Zwei Verlorene in einer Schmutzigen Nacht” (Two Lost in a Filthy Night)
    1997, Ballhaus Naunystrasse, Berlin