She She Pop was founded in 1998 by graduates of the Gießen Institute for Applied Theatre Studies. The permanent members of this originally women-only performance collective, Johanna Freiburg, Fanni Halmburger, Lisa Lucassen, Mieke Matzke, Ilia Papatheodorou, Berit Stumpf and Sebastian Bark, live in Berlin and Hamburg.
The artists who are She She Pop work outside the hierarchical structures of repertory theatre; they develop and perform their productions as a collective. The group’s trademark is the strong involvement of the audience as a force that helps to shape the course of their performances.
2010 they receive the prize "Wild-Card" of the festival Favoriten for their Lear-adaption "Testament" and in 2011 the prize of the Goethe-Institut at the festival "Impulse"
King Lear is a popular choice for anyone working at a German municipal theatre who wants to tell stories about, for instance, the conflicts between fathers and daughters. The members of the performance collective She She Pop have other fish to fry. What this means in practice is that, in their production Testament (2010), they too make use of Shakespeare’s drama in the shape of a both closely studied and heavily annotated pocket paperback edition – a move that is rather unusual for their working methods. Very soon, however, the text displayed on the stage wall using an overhead projector does little more than supply keywords. In fact, none of the group’s seven members slip into the roles of the King’s children, but four appear as themselves, confronting or talking about their own real-life fathers in this public forum to give an account of how generational exchanges of money and love are negotiated.
At one point, the childless Sebastian Bark calculates how much the time and presents his nieces and nephews have already received from him would be worth in euros. Lisa Lucassen works out on a pinboard how much space would be left in her flat if her father moved in with his bookcases – i.e. none whatsoever. And Fanni Halmburger lists the different categories of care to which her father will be entitled under the German health insurance system in the years to come – while he intones ‘I will always love you’ in a breaking voice. The fathers also make it quite clear they find it difficult to accept the sometimes self-revelatory things their daughters do in the theatre. And even so they end up standing on stage with their children, naked but for their underpants. The things we do for love…
As in Testament, She She Pop’s work usually engages with issues of real substance. The fear of failure, of ageing, of being insignificant. The feelings of shame that stand in our way in art as in life. And the difficulty of finding one’s own identity or role when surrounded by other strong individuals. The audience is faced with complex emotional situations and mental states, which the group explores with the aid of the dramatic structures offered by quiz programmes, competitions, therapeutic encounter groups, family celebrations, blind dates and nights of ballroom dancing, preferably with a bit of audience participation.
Johanna Freiburg, Fanni Halmburger, Lisa Lucassen, Mieke Matzke, Ilia Papatheodorou and Berit Stumpf formed She She Pop in 1998, to be joined somewhat later by the only man in the group, Sebastian Bark. It was a time when the independent scene was going through a euphoric phase of radical innovation. At the Gießen Institute for Applied Theatre Studies, in particular, the second half of the 1990s – when people were still talking of Germany as a society dedicated to pleasure – saw the establishment of directing collectives with names that sounded cool and mysterious like those of pop bands, such as Gob Squad, Showcase Beat Le Mot and Madonna Hiphop Massaker, which was actually a band as well. Like She She Pop, they were untrammelled by the hierarchies prevalent in the municipal theatre sector, with its divisions of labour and compulsory professionalisation, and looked to pop culture, their own everyday lives and social rituals everyone could recognise for their artistic material.
She She Pop’s early productions sometimes seemed like children’s birthday parties that had degenerated into the later stages of spin the bottle, with hosts who appeared strikingly well versed in critical approaches to capitalism and gender theory. In Trust! (1998), for example, they staged a table dance show and called upon the audience to take part in a detailed discussion of the performances’ merits and the prizes they deserved; in Live!, the women in the group vied against each other in a game show situation, while the spectators had to vote on the results of this interfemale competition. The group therapy session on a circle of chairs in Bad (2002), in which She She Pop sought to reformulate the sadomasochistic pact, proved above all to be a dogged exercise in coping with embarrassment. But does theatre not always involve a little bit of vicarious shame?
At least the nakedness of the She She Pop women always represents a frontal attack on the standardisation of female bodies – as well as pushing the relationship between spectators and actors to its logical conclusion.
There are not many ensembles one can grow old with as satisfyingly as She She Pop. Its members live in Berlin and Hamburg, most of them are still working in other jobs, and the shows they produce always reflect what is happening in their personal lives. In Lagerfeuer (CampFire, 2005), they attempted to cast aside the attitudes of metropolitan creative types who know all the ironic tricks in order to search for a shared utopia. During a period when grants for the arts were particularly hard to come by, they came up with Die Relevanz-Show (The Relevance Show, 2007), in which the female combo dressed as chorus girls from a variety revue in order to meditate on whether their artistic activities were justified and clamour for attention using tactics that ranged from the self-ironic to the despairing. With which they enjoyed considerable success, given that the production made it to the Impulse Festival. And in their most recent works (Familienalbum (Family Album), Testament), which no longer challenge the audience’s attitudes quite so aggressively now they are in their early 40s, they engage consistently with the locus where the seeds of all emotional chaos are sown: the family. After all, their own parents are growing old in real life, and some of the members have had children, while others have decided against parenthood.
Testament makes the watcher feel She She Pop’s long journey through so many entertainment formats and all their soul-baring have been well worth while. Their strongest and most touching work to date skilfully and entertainingly analyses the emotional ambivalences inherent in generational conflicts – without being judgemental or making a fool of anyone. It is evident from every second of this highly imaginative, intense evening that it is rooted in the performers’ own experiences – and yet the show allows others to identify 100 percent with what it depicts.
In view of the kinds of topic She She Pop are likely to deal with in the future, it is finally possible to look forward to the ageing process with real relish: We are going to get a whole lot of fun out of midlife crises and the menopause!
2012, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin
She She Pop is the Marquise of O. ...
2011, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
2010, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin
Träumlabor (Dream Laboratory)
2010, Theater Hebbel am Ufer (HAU 3), Berlin
2010, Theater Hebbel am Ufer (HAU 2), Berlin
Prize "Wild-Card" of the festival Favoriten 2010
Invitation to the Berliner Theatertreffen
Friedrich-Luft-Prize by the Berliner Morgenpost, 2011
Prize of the Goethe-Institut at the Festival Impulse 2011
Die Welt, in der wir leben (The World We Live In)
2009, Theater Hebbel am Ufer (HAU 3), Berlin
Familienalbum (Family Album)
2008, Theater Hebbel am Ufer (HAU 3)
Heimatmuseum (Museum of Home)
2007, Festpielhaus Hellerau
Die Relevanz-Show (The Relevance Show)
2007, Kampnagel, Hamburg
Für alle (For Everyone)
2006, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin
Lagerfeuer (Camp Fire)
2005, Styrian Autumn festival, Graz
Warum tanzt ihr nicht? (Why Don’t You Dance?)
2004, Kampnagel, Hamburg
Homestory (Home Story)
2002, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz (Prater), Berlin
2002, Kampnagel, Hamburg
2001, Rich and Famous Festival, Podewil, Berlin
1998, Junge Hunde Festival, Kampnagel, Hamburg; Rich and Famous Festival, Podewil, Berlin
Schlammbeißers Reisen (Sludgebiter’s Travels)
1997, 12 Stunden Festival, Gießen