Kroesinger, Hans-Werner

Hans-Werner Kroesinger © David Baltzer/Bildbühne
Hans-Werner Kroesinger © David Baltzer/Bildbühne
Hans-Werner Kroesinger © David Baltzer/Bildbühne

Hans-Werner Kroesinger was born in Bonn in 1962. He studied drama, theatre and media from 1983 to 1988 under Andrzej Wirth and Hans-Thies Lehmann at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies of the Justus Liebig University Gießen. In 1987, while he was still a student, Kroesinger began working as an assistant director and dramaturg for Robert Wilson, a position he held for two years. He was involved in Wilson’s productions of Hamletmachine in New York, Salome in Milan and The Forest in Berlin. In 1989, he was a member of the creative team for Heiner Müller’s production of Hamlet/Hamletmachine at the Deutsches Theater Berlin.

Since 1993, he has directed his own productions at prestigious municipal and state-funded theatres, such as the Berliner Ensemble, the Staatstheater Stuttgart, the Bayrisches Staatsschauspiel and the Maxim Gorki Theater Berlin, as well as on the independent scene, above all at the Hebbel am Ufer (HAU), the Sophiensaele, Radialsystem, the Staatsbank and Podewil in Berlin, the Forum Freies Theater (FFT) in Düsseldorf, the Festival Theatre at Dresden-Hellerau and the Theaterhaus Gessnerallee in Zürich.

Kroesinger has been invited to take his works to high-profile national and international festivals, including Politics in the Independent Theatre (Hamburg, 2003), Cultura Nova (Herleen, 2008) and Impulse (North Rhine-Westphalia, 2009).

In 2007, the director was awarded the Brothers Grimm Prize of the Land of Berlin for his Kindertransporte, a production for children and young people at the Theater an der Parkaue in Berlin.

    Hans-Werner Kroesinger: Portrait

    Hans-Werner Kroesinger © David Baltzer/Bildbühne

    Hans-Werner Kroesinger is one of the most important figures in contemporary documentary theatre. Back in the early 1990s, there was nothing to suggest the current renaissance of documentary drama, and some of the people he had studied with, such as She She Pop and Showcase Beat Le Mot, were busy inventing pop theatre. Meanwhile, Kroesinger, a graduate of the Gießen Institute for Applied Theatre Studies, was poring over files on the German Autumn, the architecture of surveillance in prison buildings or the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann held at Jerusalem in 1961. He presents his meticulously researched works on the independent scene, primarily at the Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) in Berlin, as well as at municipal and state-funded theatres. Rwanda Revisited – a production about the genocide of approximately one million Tutsis in 1994 in Rwanda – earned him an invitation to the prestigious Impulse Festival in 2009.

    Kroesinger estimates he reads up to 2,000 pages of books and documents in order to prepare for each new production. The five newspapers that he leafs through every morning as a matter of routine are not even included in this figure. Thematically, the director is never one to follow the latest trends. Although productions such as suicide bombers on air: PRIMETIME (2003) or Kindersoldaten (Child Soldiers, 2008) certainly touched on current political or social debates, topicality is not one of the criteria Kroesinger prioritises when selecting his subject matter. Rather, he seeks to track complex, historical trajectories in his theatrical analyses of war, genocide and political decision-making and, in this way, to delineate the relevant political or economic interests with the greatest possible precision.

    Kroesinger sees himself very much as carrying on the tradition of documentary theatre that goes back to the 1960s and 1970s, a tradition represented by names such as Rolf Hochhuth and Peter Weiss. Like them, Kroesinger, who was born in 1962 in Bonn, has a strong sense of the stage as a ‘medium for information’ and an ‘instrument of analysis’. However, what differentiates his approach from that of his older colleagues is his explicit refusal to take sides in any way. ‘Documentary theatre,’ as Weiss formulated it during the late 1960s in a programmatic statement, ‘is partisan’ and ‘campaigns for the alternative that reality, however incomprehensible the shape it may take on, can be explained in every particular.’ By contrast, Kroesinger’s works articulate the conviction that, especially in postideological times, ‘the truth’ is not an entity that is easily unveiled, but at best becomes perceptible intermittently as a result of the interplay of innumerable perspectives. Kroesinger has no desire to adopt standpoints, but wishes to ‘make it possible to understand the mechanism within which we are acting.’ That is why he always combines different points of view, texts and media together in such a way that they comment on, supplement and sometimes even deconstruct each other. Kroesinger’s works are experimental procedures in which documents are related to literary texts, live performers to video transmissions or statistics to eyewitness reports.

    In TRUTH – Commissioned by the Heart of Darkness (2002), for example, an evening that juxtaposed original documents from the history of Belgian colonialism with Joseph Conrad’s novella The Heart of Darkness and the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Kroesinger set up monitors side by side with the actors. The monitors showed nothing but close-ups of the cast’s faces, so focussing attention on the radically different ‘truths’ seemingly conveyed by the cropped, selective view of television, on the one hand, and the live immediacy of the whole person, on the other. Another example is provided by MorTal Combat (2000), a production about the Kosovo War in which the director divided up the audience into parallel groups in three rooms. The first group was informed in meticulous detail about the destruction of the Chinese Embassy at Belgrade, the second group was confronted with an objective account of the murder of an Albanian family in Kosovo, and the third group learned what conclusions can be drawn about causes of death from the wound margins found on fatally injured individuals as explained by two female doctors in the style of a lecture on forensic pathology. At the end, all three groups of visitors, with their contrasting ways of looking at the war, were brought together again for a staged NATO press conference, where they found their responses to this event being influenced to a massive extent by the different things they had heard about earlier in the evening. It is not therefore finished images or standpoints that emerge from Kroesinger’s works, but rather how they are constructed or their lines of argumentation. This is why, as a matter of principle, his actors perform not in an empathetic mode, but in a deictic, gestic Brechtian manner.

    It is apparent from Kroesinger’s sensitivity to theatrical architecture that, apart from Heiner Müller, on whose production of Hamlet/Hamletmachine he worked in 1990 at the Deutsches Theater, Robert Wilson has also been one of the teachers who have had the greatest impact on him. Mindful of the fact that, quite simply, the way we look at an event depends first and foremost on the position we take up at the scene of the action, the director starts from spatial constellations when he is thinking through what he wants to do in the theatre. Where the venue allows, Kroesinger likes to get away from the classic proscenium stage and lead his spectators through a number of different spaces that are usually decorated with documents and illustrative materials by the stage designer Valerie von Stillfried, and function as a kind of installation.

    Many reviewers admire the complexity of Kroesinger’s theatre. They praise the director because he demands concentration from his spectators and could certainly never be accused of wanting intellectual ambition, characteristics that are seen as tremendous assets. However, some critics describe his works as ‘dry’ or overly demanding and bemoan their lack of ‘sensuality’.

    Kroesinger gives no hint he feels insulted by such judgements, but counters them by pointing out that his works are, after all, ‘invitations to work hard rather than opportunities to wallow in some theatrical experience.’

    Christine Wahl

    Hans-Werner Kroesinger: Productions

    Hans-Werner Kroesinger © David Baltzer/Bildbühne

    "Musa Dagh – Tage des Widerstands" (i.e. "Musa Dagh – Days of Resistance")
    2015, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin

    2014, HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    "1914/2014 - Schlachtfeld Erinnerung" (i.e. "Battlefield Memory")
    together with Regine Dura
    2014, HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    "Failed States One: Somalia"
    2013, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    "Karlsruhe - Stadt der Gerechten" (i.e. "Karlsruhe - City of The Deserved")
    2011, Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe

    After Albert Camus "Die Pest oder Menschen im Belagerungszustand" (i.e. "The Pest Or People In A State Of Siege")
    2011, Theater Aachen

    "Unternehmen Hunger" (i.e. "Operation Hunger")
    2011, Schauspiel Hannover (Junges Schauspiel, Ballhof Zwei)

    "Darfur - Mission Incomplete"
    2011, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    2010, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    2010, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    “Vermauern” (i.e. Stonewalling)
    2009, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin

    “Ich. Cyborg?” (i.e. Me, Cyborg ?)
    2009, Theater Freiburg

    “Ruanda Revisited” (i.e. Rwanda Revisited)
    2009, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    “Die letzten Tage der Menschheit” (i.e. The Last Days of Humanity)
    2008, Staatstheater Stuttgart

    “Kindersoldaten” (i.e. Child Soldiers)
    2008, Theater an der Parkaue, Berlin

    “Der Bericht des Matthäus” (i.e. The Passion according to St. Matthew)
    2008, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Radialsystem, Berlin

    “König Alkohol” (i.e. King Alcohol)
    2008, Theater Aachen

    “Beirut Report”
    2007, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    “Vorsicht Schusswaffen” (i.e. Don’t move, we are armed)
    2007, Staatstheater Stuttgart

    “Grenzgebiet Heimat” (i.e. Borderline Homeland)
    2007, Festspielhaus Hellerau, Dresden

    “Werther – Letzte Briefe” (i.e. Werther – Last Letters)
    2007, Theater Aachen

    2007, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    “Peer Gynt”
    2006, Sophiensaele, Berlin

    “FREMD” (i.e. ALIEN)
    2006, Forum Neues Musiktheater, Staatsoper Stuttgart

    2006, Theater an der Parkaue, Berlin

    “Das Floß der Medusa” (i.e. The Raft of the Medusa)
    2006, Theater Aachen

    “Zu treuen Händen” (i.e. In Trusted Hands)
    2005, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    “Donnerschlag revisited” (i.e. Thunderclap Revisited)
    2005, Europäisches Zentrum der Künste, Hellerau

    “Plan Gelb - Liberators, Occupiers and Population” (i.e. Plan Yellow – Liberators, Occupiers and Population)
    2005, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, Rotterdamse Schouwburg, Huuse van Bourgondie, Maastricht

    “HERERO 100”
    2005, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin

    “Die Tage der Commune – Eine Performance” and “Die Zeit scheint gegenwärtig schneller zu laufen” (Die 11. und 12. Sitzung des zentralen Runden Tisches der DDR) (i.e. The Days of the Commune – A Performance and TimeSeems to be Running Faster at the Moment, based on the 11th and 12th meetings of the Central Round Table of the GDR)
    2005, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin

    2004, Forum Neues Musiktheater, Staatsoper Stuttgart

    “Road to Baghdad and Return”
    2004, Sophiensaele, Berlin, Junges Theater Bremen

    “Coming Home”
    2003, Theater Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, Forum Freies Theater, Düsseldorf

    “suicide bombers on air. PRIMETIME”
    2003, Sophiensaele, Berlin, Forum Freies Theater, Düsseldorf, Gastspiele: Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zürich, LOT Theater Braunschweig, Junges Theater Bremen

    “Gladius Dei”
    2002, Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel München, Haus der Kunst

    “TRUTH - Commissioned by the Heart of Darkness”
    2002, Podewil, Berlin

    “Journey through the heart of darkness”
    2001, Europäische Kulturhauptstadt Rotterdam – Goethe-Institut Rotterdam

    “TRUTH Part one”
    2001, Forum Freies Theater, Düsseldorf

    “MorTal Combat – The Kosovo Files”
    2000, Staatsbank, Berlin

    “Die Waffe Mensch” (i.e. Human Weapon)
    1999, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin

    “Don´t look now II”
    1998, Podewil, Berlin

    “SOP = Standard Operation Procedure”
    1998,Podewil, Berlin

    “Faustus 53" - ein Abend zu Hanns Eisler”
    1998, Berliner Ensemble

    “Chinesischer Vatermord” (i.e. Chinese Patricide)
    1997, Berliner Ensemble

    “Don´t look now”
    1997, documenta X

    John Cassavates “Twenty Minutes”. An Evening to “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie”
    1997, Theater am Halleschen Ufer, Berlin

    “Q&A - Questions & Answers” (about the Eichmann-trials),
    1996, Akademie Schloß Solitude Stuttgart, Podewil, Berlin

    “Stille Abteilung” (Silent Section), production for the installation “Camera Silens” by Moonen & Arndt
    1996, ZKM Karlsruhe, Podewil, Berlin

    Andreas Stahl “Sextett” with Klangforum Wien,
    1996, Podewil, Berlin

    Morton Feldman / Samuel Beckett “Words and Music” with  Ensemble Recherche
    1995, Tage für Neue Musik, Stuttgart.

    György Ligeti “Aventures – Nouvelles Aventures” with Ensemble Recherche and Peter Rundel
    1994, Gulbenkian Center Lissabon.

    “Man könnte Lust bekommen...” – Ein Wozzeck Kommentar (i.e. You Might Feel Like…, a commentary on Wozzeck)
    1993, Staatsoper Stuttgart